Saturday, June 08, 2013

To This Day

"To This Day" is a video which was released in early 2013. It is a remarkable animation of a spoken word poem written and performed by Shane Koyczan. It was launched as part of an anti-bullying campaign. It was remarkable then and it's still remarkable. So I thought it might be a good idea to post it again, for those who hadn't come across it before, and again, for those who have.

It's still good no matter how many times you see it.

To This Day from To This Day on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rethinking the Bucket List: Kathleen Taylor at TEDx TampaBay

I like to tell people that I work at Hospice because wonderful things happen there every day. Hard as that might be for some people to accept, it's the truth.

My sister-in-law, Trish, who is a real TED fan, came across this wonderful TED Talk from Tampa, by Kathleen Taylor. I'm glad Trish sent it along because its all about the stories that we hear at Hospice every day. And it confirms that wonderful things happen.

Rethinking the Bucket List: Kathleen Taylor at TEDx TampaBay (The Future of Stories) - YouTube: ""

(Via @pjmcadie.)

Friday, March 01, 2013

No more remote work at Yahoo

As a long-time advocate of remote work, both as a participant and as a manager, I was going to sit down and write a piece about what a misguided decision Yahoo has made to ban the practice. But then I saw this piece from Jason Fried the Signal vs Noise blog.

I think David nailed this one.

No more remote work at Yahoo:

Employees at Yahoo have had a rough decade. The company has been drifting aimlessly with little vision, an endless parade of CEOs, and a flatlined stock price. That’s not exactly a conducive environment to be inspired and motivated within, let alone do the stellar work that Yahoo needs to pull out of the rut.

So it’s no wonder that they’ve been suffering from severe brain drain for a long time. But Yahoo is a big company, and there are surely still lots of talented people who don’t want to leave (or can’t)—waiting for better times. Unfortunately, it appears they’ll be kept waiting, if Yahoo’s announcement of “no more remote work” is anything to go by:

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

The leadership vacuum at Yahoo is not going to be filled by executive decrees issued on such flimsy foundations. Imagine you’re a remote worker at Yahoo and you read that. Hell, imagine you’re any kind of worker at Yahoo and you read that. Are you going to be filled with go-getter spirit and leap to the opportunity to make Yahoo more than just “your day-to-day job”? Of course not, you’re going to be angry at such a callous edict, declared without your consultation.

What this reveals more than anything is that Yahoo management doesn’t have a clue as to who’s actually productive and who’s not. In their blindness they’re reaching for the lowest form of control a manager can assert: Ensuring butts in seats for eight hours between 9-5+. Though while they can make people come to the office under the threat of termination, they most certainly cannot make those same people motivated to do great work.

Great work simply doesn’t happen in environments with so little trust. Revoking the “yard time privileges” like this reeks of suspicions that go far beyond just people with remote work arrangements. Read this line one more time: “please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration”. When management has to lay it on so thick that they don’t trust you with an afternoon at home waiting for the cable guy without a stern “please think of the company”, you know something is horribly broken.

The real message is that teams and their managers can’t be trusted to construct the most productive environments on their own. They are so mistrusted, in fact, that a “zero tolerance” policy is needed to ensure their compliance. No exceptions!

Who cares if Jack is the best member of the team but has to live in Iowa because his doctor wife got placement at a hospital there? Or if Jill simply can’t deal with an hour-long commute anymore and wants to spend more time with the kids? With a zero tolerance policy, there’s simply no flexibility to bend for the best of the team, and thus the company. The result is a net loss.

Now imagine all the people who actually have a choice of where they want to work. Does management really think that the best Yahoo employees currently on remote work arrangements will simply buckle and cave? Why on earth would they do that given the wonderful alternatives available to remote workers today? No, they’re simply going to leave, and only those without options will be left behind (and resentful).

Yahoo already isn’t at the top of any “most desirable places to work” list. A decade of neglect and mounting bureaucracy has ensured that. Further limiting the talent pool Yahoo has to draw from to those willing to relocate to Sunnyvale, or another physical office, is the last thing the company needs.

Companies like Google and Apple can get away with more restrictive employment policies because they’re at the top of their game and highly desirable places to work. Many people are willing to give up the improvements that remote work can bring to their life to be part of that. Yahoo just isn’t there. It’s in no position of strength to be playing hardball with existing and future employees.

The superficial trinkets, like a free phone or free meals at the cubicle compound, are simply not going to serve as adequate passage for a zero tolerance work place that’s still fumbling its way out of a haze of disillusion. In fact, it cheapens those initiatives when the things that really matter, like the power of teams to recruit and retain the best, are curbed.

The timing of all this couldn’t be worse either. Remote work is on a rapid ascent, and not just among hot tech companies like Github, Automattic, or thousands of others. It’s been taking hold in supposedly stodgy big companies like Intel, IBM, Accenture, and many others. Worse than simply being late to that party is to try to turn back the clock and bait’n’switch your existing workforce.

Yahoo deserves better than this. It’s one of the classic brands of the internet and it’s painful to see it continue its missteps, especially on something so fool-hearted as trusting its employees and attracting the best talent.

But if recent history is any guide, I guess Yahoos without options to leave can console themselves with the fact that the average CEO term in the past six years has been a mere one year. So the odds are good that a new boss will be in place within long.

Interested in learning more about remote work? Checkout our upcoming book REMOTE: Office Not Required. It details all our lessons from more than a decade working remotely along with those from the growing list of other companies reaping the same rewards.

(Via Signal vs. Noise)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bradley Manning: the face of heroism | Glenn Greenwald

Bradley Manning talked for the first time about why he leaked top-secret information to Wikileaks. It's a fascinating and inspiring story, believe it or not. Glenn Greenwald's column today explains why Manning is a hero, and deserves to be mentioned with Daniel Ellsberg:

This was all achieved because a then-22-year-old Army Private knowingly risked his liberty in order to inform the world about what he learned. He endured treatment which the top UN torture investigator deemed "cruel and inhuman", and he now faces decades in prison if not life. He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.

Heroism is a slippery and ambiguous concept. But whatever it means, it is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged today he chose to undertake. The combination of extreme government secrecy, a supine media (see the prior two columns), and a disgracefully subservient judiciary means that the only way we really learn about what our government does is when the Daniel Ellsbergs - and Bradley Mannings - of the world risk their own personal interest and liberty to alert us. Daniel Ellberg is now widely viewed as heroic and noble, and Bradley Manning (as Ellsberg himself has repeatedly said) merits that praise and gratitude every bit as much.

Bradley Manning: the face of heroism | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free |

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Questions for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Review Panel

My cousin, Jim Traynor, is a remarkable guy. He now lives in Lillooet but has been a lifelong hiker and outdoors enthusiast. When we've met over the years, I'm always impressed by his gentle confidence and his remarkable life history.

Recently, Jim put together a personal presentation for the review panel looking at the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. It's a remarkable story, in which he talks about his own relationship with that area of the world and asks the panel to consider six significant questions before they make a decision.

It's a fascinating read and Jim's questions are thought-provoking, at the very least. I admit I'm cynical about the outcome of this process. I fear that the outcome has already been decided and despite the near total public opposition to this project it will move ahead.

But Jim's passionate words, and those of many others who have presented their views through the public review process, have impressed me. And I hope they impress the panel members too. Our world will survive without this pipeline project - but I'm not at all certain that it will if the project goes ahead.

Here's the text of Jim's presentation.
January 15, 2013
Oral Presentation to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Review Panel Jim Traynor, Lillooet, B.C.
Hello panel members.

It is good to be here - I am thankful this process is in place.

After retiring at age 65 from a career in project management in the field of architecture, I started my own small business, and also became a volunteer advisor with CESO working with aboriginal communities for example, with the Gitsan people at Kitwanga on the Skeena.

I have been hiking in the B.C. mountains since the age of 12 - 65 years ago, including in the mountains close to the pipelines route. As a former member of the executive of the Orienteering Association of B.C., and former member of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.,I can say that the outdoors is like a second home to me.
About a year and a half ago, on a bright day in May, I headed up into the Stein Park alpine to back country ski. Half way up the active logging road I was stopped by a roof top high wall of ice and embedded rock - an avalanche not in a recognized avalanche zone. Avalanches and major mud slides are being observed in many places not previously identified for slide events. - Lillooet lake for example, and Johnstons landing, where the town had to be evacuated last summer.

What is going on here? Environment Canada historical records show coastal mountains intercept more than 7 times the annual precipitation of Calgary, for example. However, as reported in the Vancouver Sun, climate scientists have estimated expected increases in up to 50% above the historical averages, for precipitation in coastal mountain areas to more than 10 times that of Calgary. Also many glaciers in B.C. are observed to be in retreat, probably from warming temperatures. The observed result is an increasingly very high volume of mountain water load moving downslopes, increasing slides into areas that are not historically designated as avalanche zones. With the complexity of climate change, there appears to be no way at present to accurately predict where the rogue avalanches and mudslides will occur.

My first question then is:

Other than at the two proposed tunnels, how can the engineering design be done to protect the pipelines from the unpredictable slide events, when the historical records are no longer adequate - how will the engineering deal with unpredictable change? It no longer works to say 'we designed according to the best information available at the times - the times are changing too fast. At this time in history we need to use the precautionary principle.

Since an avalanche is unstable, it is not practical to rebuild over, under, or through it, so when the rogue avalanche hits, creating massive damage, what happens?

My second question is:

In the case of a slide event hit taking out the pipelines, how will Enbridge get the dil-bit to the coast, and the condensate to Alberta.? The increase in moisture load in the mountains also results in more days socked in - zero visibility - when helicopters and ATV's are grounded. Sloping terrain is dangerous, especially when wet if you can't see, you can't move. I have been trapped for 3 days in a tent. On one occaision, it was only because my german shepherd/husky could retrace our climb route by scent that I was able to get out unstressed when weather went from clear to socked in inside of 30 minutes - I could barely see 3 metres ahead.

My third question is:

How can the spills be quickly accessed for containment in these socked in conditions speed being essential to success?

The spills can be as widespread as the width of the avalanche, having high probability of getting into water courses on sloping ground. Other than the highly controversial chemical dispersants, the present clean up technology relies mainly on containment by booms for absorbing and skimming which can work on flat water, but are ineffective in fast moving, high volume mountain watercourses.

My fourth question is:

Even when weather does permit access to the spills, where is the proven specific technology that can be used to clean up a dilbit and condensate spill in these sloping terrain conditions, once they get into fast moving, high volume water courses?

Next I would like to show evidence from extraction industry remediation history in Canada. According to a Scott Vaughan, Federal Commissioner of Environment, report, out of the 22,000 abandoned contaminated industrial sites in Canada, more than half could be putting Canadians environmental health at risk, requiring remediation now costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

For example, the Faro lead/zinc mine near Whitehorse, abandoned by the mining company simply through the act of creating bankruptcy after a decline in the world prices of the metals. The estimates of the remediation costs to our taxpayers for the Faro project alone vary from 523 million ( Scott Vaughan ) to 1 billion dollars over the next 100 years - 4 generations! We know that very large bankruptcies happen in Canada - Nortel for example. I have read that clean up costs of a bitumen/condensate spill can be more than 10 times the costs of a conventional oil spill.

So, my fifth question is in several parts:

Who will pay for the clean up and multi-generational remediation when Enbridge declares bankruptcy acting in the best financial interests of the shareholders?

Where is there any requirement for performance bonding?

Where is the legal/contractual structure in Canada to force Enbridge to pay the costs of remediation of the large bitumen and condensate spills when the avalanche or mudslide hits the pipelines?

These questions are so fundamental to this Enbridge concept, that the proposal must not be given approval in principle until these questions are answered to the satisfaction of all stakeholders - it is not acceptable to claim to be able to answer these questions at a later stage - it would be irresponsible to the taxpayers of Canada, to the residents of B.C., and it would be irresponsible to Enbridge who will spend more money on a prohibitively risky concept if approval in principle is granted.

Is Enbridge underplaying the risks - the slide risks, the earthquake/tsunami risks, the navigation risks? How else can we interpret for example, their removal of the islands in Douglas Channel in their commercials?

So my last question to the panel is:

What independent technical sources can the panel consult with to evaluate the soundness of the Northern Gateway risk estimating process?

I would like to leave these questions with you with confidence in the valuable work you are doing here.

In finishing, I would like to go back in time 62 years - I was 15 years old when a surveyors helper summer job came up in a remote mountain mine south of Smithers. On weekends, I would climb high through tallus and skree slopes listening to the shrill warning whistles of marmots. Finally reaching ridge top I saw spread before me as far as eye could see a world that took my breath away - white ribbons of water falling from emerald lakes into lush green valleys below red chevrons of rock topped by bluegrey stone under white sails of glaciers and permanent snow - so vast - so striking - so magnificent - I was sure it was Shangri-la. I fell in love with this sacred place - it set the course of my life outdoors - I want to hike my grandchildren there. What I was looking at to my north was the Northern Gateway pipelines route.

Thank you panel - If I could make a wish for each of you, I think it would be for "courage."
If anyone wants to comment directly to Jim, his email is

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek - Multimedia Feature -

This is a remarkable piece of reporting, making full use of pictures, video, graphics, and remarkable imagery, woven together in a gripping narrative.

It took six months of work, but the result is remarkable. It shows how storytelling remains the base of any good tale, but how technology, used wisely, can add a lot to the telling.

The best way to read this is on the New York Times website, so that you can get the full benefit.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek - Multimedia Feature - ""

Saugstad was mummified. She was on her back, her head pointed downhill. Her goggles were off. Her nose ring had been ripped away. She felt the crushing weight of snow on her chest. She could not move her legs. One boot still had a ski attached to it. She could not lift her head because it was locked into the ice.

But she could see the sky. Her face was covered only with loose snow. Her hands, too, stuck out of the snow, one still covered by a pink mitten.
Using her hands like windshield wipers, she tried to flick snow away from her mouth. When she clawed at her chest and neck, the crumbs maddeningly slid back onto her face. She grew claustrophobic.

Breathe easy, she told herself. Do not panic. Help will come. She stared at the low, gray clouds. She had not noticed the noise as she hurtled down the mountain. Now, she was suddenly struck by the silence.

UPDATE - There's a Part Two to this story, about how the story was created.