Findings, Nerdery, Slack

More Brain, the tantalizing promise that persists

I was recently looking for a better writing tool and came across Obsidian, a “powerful and extensible knowledge base that works on top of your local folder of plain text files.”

I saw this on their homepage.

And thought to myself, that seems familiar. So I went searching through some archives and found –

That second screenshot is from August, 2013 when I was working with the team at Slack and we were figuring out our positioning prior to launching.

Now, I don’t mean this post to say that Obsidian are ripping off a Slack that never existed because they’re not. Slack launched with a different homepage and positioning, and the chance that anyone saw that Slack copy above is pretty near nil.

What I do mean to point out here though is that the promise of a “second brain” or a “scalable, infinite brain” is a tantalizing thought that persists still today, pretty much unsolved.

And will we ever solve it? Maybe?

And if we did ever solve it, my sense is that it would change what it means to be human.

There is a reason the zombies seek and eat “Braaaaains!”

Findings, Vancouvering

Robert Davidson at Vancouver Art Gallery

Last week I had the chance to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery’s show Guud san glans Robert Davidson: A Line That Bends But Does Not Break and I found it exceptional.

I remember the first time I saw Davidson’s work at Coastal People’s when searching for wedding rings, and I have lazily followed his work for the 11+ years since. But I had no real sense of the full range of his powers, the trajectory of his work or the scope he has invented in what’s possible for Haida art.

A Line That Bends But Does Not Break is a perfect title for the experience. Since the late 1960s Davidson has been creating exceptional art, starting with traditional forms to a level of mastery, and then pushing the boundaries to new inventions. Abstraction is introduced. Colours grow vibrant and divergent. New materials create new options for form.

Exceptional and memorable. Thank you.

Inside Voice

Thank you, Darren Barefoot

My close friend Darren died this past week.

He wrote an excellent (and heartbreaking) message to the world toward the end of his life: They Were All Splendid.

The company he co-founded and ran with his wife Julie Szabo posted the wonderful In Memory of Darren Barefoot.

And many more folks have written warm, thoughtful, caring messages about Darren’s life and what it meant to them. He touched a great many people.

With a few others I had the priviledge of speaking with Darren a few weeks before he died. I knew then that Darren’s time was very limited. Here is what I wrote to share with him.


Hold on Tightly, Let Go Lightly

I started to call this “A life…” and then I thought, no, that’s not enough.

The life. This only life that Darren has. The life that is still here, today, in the present. This present we share with him. Now. Here. What we have is now and here and Darren who is still with us.

And Darren, I still hear your voice in me.

“Ahhh, Julie,” he will start. He’ll hold out his hand and say, “You know, I was wondering.” And I remember now most of all, “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.”

His voice is alive in my head, his presence is alive in my mind, his words are here with us today. And I want this moment I have with you to be a thank you for that presence and that voice.

So thank you, Darren, for your voice.

Thank you for what it said when we walked and talked and wondered aloud about anything that came into our privileged wanderings.

Thank you for teaching me about the love of hermiting yourself away in private while remaining committed to an eminent curiosity about the world.

(Darren once told me that this was basically why he started his blog – to write down his research into the things in the world that tickled his curiosity. If only, he had mused, if only he had some researchers to go out and do the work on all the things that tickled his mind.)

Thank you, Darren, for agreeing in 2006 to our first man date to go fishing to Squamish and for letting me outfit you in poorly fitted waders to catch a few fish. 

(Did you really care about fishing? Enough to give it a go that time and about a half dozen more. Enough to indulge your curiosity.)

We talked in the car on that first fishing trip in a way that men going fishing don’t usually talk. We talked about how the music of Van Morrison touched us even though later he had turned out to be a crank. We talked about our respective stories – both of our parents divorced, each of us partnered up with amazing women early on.

As we set out Darren asked me to drive. “Julie usually does the driving. My eyesight’s not so great and truthfully I don’t really like to drive. I know it’s not masculine to say so, but what can you do?”

There was that voice. There was that willingness to be vulnerable, to trust in me, to not really giving a damn about male posturing. Thank you for showing me that was possible and lovable and honest.

And, “truthfully,” he had said. Truthfully. That’s an adverb I have heard Darren say often, and I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that he is a seeker of truth. A curious puzzler investigating the world.

Around that same time in the 2000s we started working on Northern Voice, a loosely organized conference of idealists, technologists and nerds. Darren fit into each of these categories and showed up to build a community.

“Ahhh, James, I need another business adult to help.” I remember him saying. So long as he can check in and check out as he pleases, Darren loves a group or team event with good people. So long as he can keep his social fuel in check. So long as he always knows where his next meal is coming from.

And thank you, Darren, for showing me too that men can care about fashion and style, though we don’t always agree on what’s fashionable or stylish. I remember well you saying, “Clothes are costumes, costumes are symbols, symbols are powerful.”

Thank you for caring and showing me that these subtle, assumed things are worth paying attention to. Thank you for bringing your sense of theatre to those early events, to our travels together, to my wedding to Monique that you stage directed.

And more recently, to our walks together, always up the block on your route, along Heather Street to Douglas Park and past the kiwi trees we stumbled on. I’d get a coffee, you’d get a hot chocolate. Thank you.

And thank you, Darren for pulling me to new places in the world. In 2005, Pender Island for the first time. In 2006, Keats Island. In the following years: Malta, France, Victoria, France again, Mayne Island, Tofino, Reid Island, Ireland, Spain. I am forgetting others that I loved you for pulling me to.

When we visited you in Malta we roasted a turkey for Christmas and created an alluvial pump to empty your swimming pool. When we lived in Dublin and wanted to visit the Canary Islands, the only people we wanted to travel with were you (and Julie, of course) and you met us there for another Christmas turkey.

In short, thank you for expanding my life with your presence and your voice.

Thank you for the life and adventures you have shared with me and with so many others here today and beyond.

I will always remember your voice and your words and you saying: “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” And I will do my best to do just that. Thank you.


If you would consider, we have created the Darren Barefoot Legacy Fund to carry on Darren’s good work and extend his values.

Coaching, Nerdery

200 Workouts Per Year

One of the goals I have set for myself the past two years has been to get in 200 workouts a year. Why 200?

It’s a nice round number so it feels more important that 204 or 196. It’s a reference point for doing something big and hard and consistent that matters to me (more on why it matters below).

It’s easy to remember and easy to break down into manageable chunks and a reasonable pace. If I hit a regular pace of 4 workouts / week or a rolling 16/28 days of working out, then it all rolls up to exceed 200 in a year.

200 workouts per year is also easy to remember and communicate. I don’t need any barriers to doing the work of the workouts and the easier it is to refer to and have others understand, the better.

In 2021 I made it just by the skin of my teeth to 200. My December was full of workouts to make my goal.

In 2022, I exceeded my goal by a solid margin.

How did I get to 200 workouts?

I don’t mean to be trite by saying the simple thing, but that’s what it is: I took it 1 day at a time and 1 workout at a time.

And I started by changing the default for every day so I had to opt out of a workout instead of opting in.

Every day in my calendar is a workout. Do I have time? Maybe. But having the workout already in there changes the question from if I’ll do something to when. For me, that splits the internal conversation into 2 parts and makes for easier answers:

  • Part 1 is the planner part of my brain. The planner decides when to do the workout and what workout to do. That requires balancing out all the other things I need to do and what workout I’m going to do.
  • Part 2 is the execution part of my brain. Now, I tell myself, just show up and do the work.

When I book the calendar event I make sure to put in enough time to do the full workout routine: fill my water, get on workout gear, get equipment together (if needed), work out, cool down, shower, get dressed and back into life.

For me, that almost always equals 90 minutes, so that’s the default calendar event I have every day. Sometimes I lengthen it or shorten it, but that’s the default.

I log my workouts on my phone in the Health app. I manually enter each of them. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. Then I can always see how I’m doing on the rolling 7-day and 28-day calendars.

What counts as a workout?

It’s up to you what you want to count. I have arrived at a place where will count any time I’m focused primarily on exercising my body. I might be doing something else at the same time, but the time is primarily exercise.

So a workout can be walking for an hour (~6 kms) while I have my weekly call with my brother. It can be riding my bike to do a bunch of errands, if I’m getting in enough distance and focusing for a period of the time on just working out.

A workout can be a solo workout at the park or outdoor stairs with bodyweight resistance. It can be a gym workout while I’m travelling. It can be a programmed workout at a studio. It can be a hike in the woods. It can be a half hour swim while my son does his swimming lesson. It can be a hockey practice or skating session. It can be a day skiing.

Those are all things I’ve counted.

Things I haven’t counted are times when I haven’t been focused on exercise, like riding with my son to school, running a hockey practice, commuting by bike or walking with a friend.

But I also give myself some flexibility to the criteria of what gets counted.

I had a total hip replacement surgery almost 2 years ago now and when I was recovering I counted my physio sessions, though they weren’t particularly taxing. They were focused on just my body and they were dedicated time. I counted shorter, slow walks that I could take – a few hundred meters on crutches at first. Anytime I was focused on just exercise or serving my body and its fitness for a sustained period, I counted.

Why I shoot for 200 workouts per year

By this point you might be wondering why I do this. Maybe I should have started answering this question.

In any case, I find there are a few layers to my answer.

First up, I have gone through periods of my life (adolescent and adult) where I have been more active and fit versus less active and fit.

I have definitely been happier in the times when I’m more active and fit. I’m also more balanced and more emotionally stable. Body and mind go together. Go figure.

Second, I have seen what a lack of fitness does to my life, and it sucks and scares me.

I had osteoarthritis in my left hip, diagnosed in my early 20s. On and off, that has caused me some pain over the following 20+ years. But the pain is only part of the story. The other effect has been that it has narrowed the range of things I can / will do. My physical world shrank as the disease progressed. I no longer could run and play soccer with my son and his friends. I couldn’t or didn’t want to walk to the corner store because it would hurt for the rest of the day.

Third, I’m really competitive. Focusing that competitive drive into something positive that I can win at is good for me and people around me. I like to think the maturing element of my competitive drive has become I’m only really competing with myself. But if you are ahead of me on the bike path, I’m going to try to keep up and / or pass.

Lastly, I feel a sense of duty to the people I care about to be able to show up for them as my best self – capable, stable, balanced, happy. For me, that means dedicating time to fitness.

I also coach kids and feel a significant drive to provide a working model of fitness they can see in action. It’s impossible in my mind to ask them to exert themselves with their best effort if I haven’t earned the right to do so by doing it myself.

So, that’s it. Questions? Feedback?

I’d love to hear what works for you.


SOFEX: The Trade Show for the Business of War

“You know, it’s weird, man. It’s like everybody’s real cordial with each other. But, at the end of the day, we’re, like, buying weapons to destroy each other. I don’t want to, like, sound too liberal or anything. But it’s really not glamorous. This s*** f***** kills people.”

Amazing web documentary on SOFEX, the bi-annual trade show at the centre of the business of making war.

Impressive stuff from Vice. I remember when they were a punky zine in Montreal.

Inside Voice

Google: “Sorry, there seems to be a problem.”

For the past ~6 months Google has been giving me this message when I try to reconcile my business email address (james(at) because of a change they’ve made to accounts managed through Google Apps for Domains.

As a result, all the data in my account prior to their change has been dumped in the kludgy account. But when I try to add that account to an existing account or move it into a new account, I get nowhere. Or, more specifically, I get the error in the attached screenshot.

So I carry on with for my Reader account and a few other Google services. This felt like a small first-world problem for many months but now feels like a Kafkafian purgatory.

I cannot merge the data into another existing account. I cannot migrate the data into a new account. So persists.

The larger story is that Google wants me to use its products like Google+ and to pay for Apps for Domains so I can access Docs and Calendar and Mail. But I have no confidence in them delivering on reliability.

And then what? Who resolves the problem?

They say, ‘Sorry, there seems to be a problem.’

And they’re right. There is a problem.

Findings, Inside Voice

It is not the critic who counts

I like this.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

— Theodore Roosevelt

Found on Destraynor.

Inside Voice, Nerdery, Vancouvering

2 New Year’s Resolutions: Gymnastics and Drawing

Welcome, 2012.

I have 2 new things I’d like to do with you: gymnastics and drawing.

Gymnastics? Yes. I’d like to try out gymnastics, again.

Last time I was taking any gymnastics I was in the 5 to 7-year-old range, so it’s  return to youth, to recess, to trying to do something new with the body.

I’ve done a little searching and the options in adult gymnastics are scarce. Most are geared towards high-level gymnasts who want to keep training and stay in shape. I am not one of those.

I am an amateur looking to try gymnastics for 1 to 3 months. I have taught myself handstands with low consistency but can’t master the cartwheel. I’d like to be able to do a handspring and to feel comfortable with my body upside down and flipping.

Best option thus far seems to be Phoenix Gymnastics.

And drawing?

Yes. I am a terrible drawer. I have some difficulty with stick figures. Flowcharts I can must in a tortured fashion but I need some basic skills: shape, perspective, composition, scale. The fundamentals.

The search is on for a class. If you have anything to suggest, please let fly.

And all the best in 2012.

Findings, Nerdery, Stories

Ernest Hemingway Quotes of Hard-Won Wisdom

Been thinking a lot about Hemingway quotes of late. Collected a few particular favourites here, below.

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.

— A Farewell to Arms

Never mistake motion for action.

The shortest answer is doing the thing.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.

The first draft of anything is shit.

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

In our world of excess and super abundance of words, entertainment, distractions and information, the spareness and clarity is refreshing.

Each quote a refreshing breath of hard-won wisdom.