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.

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, Inside Voice, Nerdery

A model for creating great advertising: inheritance, product, pretending

A model for understanding the key ingredients of great advertising: inheritance, product, pretending.

Have I’ve spoken to you about this before?

If so, now I’m following up with some early-stage draft ideas. If not, here’s the background.

I’m working on a bit of a model for creating great advertising.

My idea is that great advertising emerges from 3 things: an inheritance, a product and pretending. The image above presents a conceptual model.

The idea rose from reading this post by Russell Davies on pretending.

When adverting can hit the middle of this model, it succeeds. Big time.

The trouble is: everyone has their own version of the above model in their head. That’s what makes good advertising so tough to do.

Everyone has their own frame of reference (inheritance), usage patterns (product) and imagination (pretending). So everyone’s experience of the advertising is different.

Okay, that’s assumed. But can this model help us understand the ingredients needed to get beyond that unique experience and to a common experience?

That’s what I’d like you to help me with.

I’m trying to work out some clever, salient things to say that make sense of this idea and this model. I’d love to hear what you think about the model overall and about how useful it is.


(and comments way below too!)

Findings, Inside Voice, Nerdery

The great game of Moral High Ground

Ask Metafilter asks: What clever relationship “hacks” have you come up with?

Stuck on an island replies:

At last it is time to reveal to an unwitting world the great game of Moral High Ground. Moral High Ground is a long-playing game for two players. The following original rules are for one M and one F, but feel free to modify them to suit your player setup:

1. The object of Moral High Ground is to win.

2. Players proceed towards victory by scoring MHGPs (Moral High Ground Points). MHGPs are scored by taking the conspicuously and/or passive-aggressively virtuous course of action in any situation where culpability is in dispute.

(For example, if player M arrives late for a date with player F and player F sweetly accepts player M’s apology and says no more about it, player F receives the MHGPs. If player F gets angry and player M bears it humbly, player M receives the MHGPs.)

3. Point values are not fixed, vary from situation to situation and are usually set by the person claiming them. So, in the above example, forgiving player F might collect +20 MHGPs, whereas penitent player M might collect only +10.

4. Men’s MHG scores reset every night at midnight; women’s roll over every day for all time. Therefore, it is statistically highly improbable that a man can ever beat a woman at MHG, as the game ends only when the relationship does.

5. Having a baby gives a woman +10,000 MHG points over the man involved and both parents +5,000 MHG points over anyone without children.

My ex-bf and I developed Moral High Ground during our relationship, and it has given us years of hilarity. Straight coupledom involves so much petty point-scoring anyway that we both found we were already experts.

By making a private joke out of incredibly destructive gender programming, MHG releases a great deal of relationship stress and encourages good behavior in otherwise trying situations, as when he once cycled all the way home and back to retrieve some forgotten concert tickets “because I couldn’t let you have the Moral High Ground points”. We are still the best of friends.

Play and enjoy!

The great game of Moral High Ground

Inside Voice

Toyota Pruis: Greenwashing a Guilty Conscience with a Crap Car

So let’s get this out of the way right away: I have no f-sharp love for the Toyota Pruis.

I hate the car and I hate what it stands for.

The car? Here’s a credible Toyota Pruis review:

Nothing about the insides feels familiar in the traditional sense, unless you are a prior Prius person. The new interior is swathed in low rent plastics which emit nauseating vapors, leather seats (if so equipped) that made me long for Naugahyde and gauges which were not only situated well out of sightlines, but rendered in a primitive digital manner which were indecipherable even up close. Of course I could always tell how slowly I was driving from the desperate looks on the faces of the drivers eager to get past me.

The 2010 Prius’ ergonomics were designed for only two kinds of creatures: those who like to sit five inches back from the front windshield and orangutans. Everyone else will find that the steering wheel, adjustable now for tilt and reach, is still too far away for a proper seat position. There is a nice new electric lumbar support in the seats, which are otherwise unsupportive and ill-shaped.

The driving experience was engineered by faeries. There is an Unbelievable Lightness of Steering, flagrant disregard for handling and a general sense that you are not in a car at all but some anti-gravity device which yaws and rolls without regard for normal physics. I would rather visit my dentist than drive the Prius again—at least he gives me laughing gas.

And what the car stands for? 3 reasons:

  1. Because its environmental credibility is a lie.

    It maintains the myth that if people make the right purchase decisions we can buy our way out of our pollution problems. This is perfect horseshit. A new Prius is incredibly costly to the environment.

    Want to help out the planet? Keep your existing car and keep it in great working condition. Or buy a used one. That sunk cost is gone so use it to its max.

    Because the Prius will be old one day too, and then what?

  2. Because in North America it obscures the bigger problem: that our living arrangements are the main reason we’re polluters.

    If you want to create less pollution, live in a place that doesn’t require you to create pollution for all your travel. Screw the suburbs.

    I have little sympathy for commuters looking to assuage the guilt of their housing decisions with a new toy.

  3. Because of the way it’s sold to consumers as a decision they make to love people. Who could be against that?

    I am. Imagine a Venn diagram with 3 circles: narcissism, guilt and disposable income. The ad above (the making of the big Prius ad) hits straight at the heart of the overlap of those 3.

    And since I think the product benefits are a lie it makes the selling of those product benefits, dressed up with a children’s song and costumes, more reprehensible.

And that’s all after I had a day to consider my reaction to the new Prius.