Cape Spear, NL

Panoramic Newfoundland

There’s nothing like staring out over the ocean in Newfoundland.  Oftentimes, it is a stark landscape of sea-battered rocks, salt spray stinging your face and a fierce wind howling around your ears. On rare occasions the fog bank that hovers menacingly to the east gets pushed even farther out to sea and blue sky shines bright. On these same occasions, it’s not uncommon to have gusts so hard that you can lean 45 degrees into the wind.

This past week, I was back home in Newfoundland and it was a rare sunny, clear and windy affair. I had wanted to experiment with some panoramas using my iPhone and am happy to post the results!

Please note, none of these have been modified in any way.

Cuckolds Cove, St. John's NL

Cuckolds Cove, St. John’s NL

Cuckolds Cove, St. John's NL

Cuckolds Cove, St. John’s NL

Cape Spear, NL

Cape Spear, NL

Cape Spear, NL

Cape Spear, NL

Cape Spear, NL

Cape Spear, NL

5 Reasons I’m tired of these titles

numbers_in_titlesHave you looked at your Facebook news feed lately? Or perhaps it’s your Twitter? Here are the titles of the blog posts that people are linking to on my Facebook feed:

  • 31 DIY Ways To Make Your Backyard Awesome This Summer
  • 25 Kids That Gave Absolutely Brilliant Answers On Their Tests. These Are Hysterically Genius.
  • 200 Wise Words For Everyone. Number 28 Is Gold
  • 8 Beers That You Should Stop Drinking Immediately
  • 5 Companies That Excel at Screwing Over Customers

It’s become a very common trend to get use numbers as a way of attracting you to the title of a blog: 31 Ways, 25 Kids, 200 Wise Words, 8 Beers, 5 Companies. I bet you wanted to click on those articles, I know I did. There are many reasons why bloggers love to use these kind of titles and they make intuitive sense, even if it irks me to no end that the only reason they do it is for you to click, share and hope for viral growth.

1. Numbers, just like this list that you are now reading, help focus your attention.

2. Numbers, just like this particular point, set expectations.

3. Numbers, and you know I’m going to go to five, let you know how long it will take to read. 200 Wise Words, god that’s just too much y’know, but yeah I’ll scroll to Number 28…

4. Numbers… we like to count, no I’m not the Count. It’s probably something left over from grade school. I think I should write an article on the 1,356,218,235 Awesome Raindrops I Counted Today.

5. Numbers indicate a list, and boy do we like ranked lists.

I know that we all are busy and we don’t have time. I know that bloggers, journalists, writers, including humble moi, just like to be read and shared, so yes we need to make things as easy to digest as possible. However, we readers should be asking more from our bloggers, writers and journalists, lest we get the exact type of journalism and blogging that we deserve: 10 Photos Of Crimea That Will Blow Your Mind. No actual dissection of issues, reasons or discussion to make decisions with. I sincerely hope that Obama or Harper’s daily briefings aren’t titled the same way … “10 Facts That Will Blow Your Mind About Putin“.

We, both as readers and writers, need to be less driven to that quick laugh, that quick share or that quick hit. We as a society should be demanding more. Yes, it’s okay to watch a funny cat video, heck, funny cat videos make the world a better place, but imagine if that’s all there is? Imagine if all you saw in your news feeds and newspapers were articles like the above. That would make me sad.

I know. Easy to say and very likely I’m overreacting. I’d like to think that we are all smarter than those that try to manipulate us with flashy headlines, quick soundbites and numbered lists. What say you? Is it time to have 5 Reasons To Boycott Numbers In Annoying Blog Posts That Drive Me Mad?

Thank you Empire Avenue Community!

eavleaders_badgeIf you are on Empire Avenue you may have noticed some rather major changes on the platform. And yes I’m being pretty understated. Let me see if I can summarize…

Empire Avenue is a platform of social media influencers, marketers, enthusiasts and creatives. Using Empire Avenue’s Missions and Social Stocks game, you can truly grow both your social audience and your social engagement. The core of the product lies in a couple of virtual currencies: one an in-game currency and one a rewards points system that you can convert to Amazon gift cards (as an example) for helping spread content to your social networks.

I’ve been proud to serve this amazing product, company, team and Community over the past 4 years and more but we all knew a change was needed. While I remain on the Board of Directors, I have resigned as CEO. However, while we will continue looking for that amazing management team to take Empire Avenue to new heights, we decided to do something radical. We’ve empowered our Community to take the helm of our platform and service. Our Community has been incredibly outspoken and passionate about the product and we couldn’t think of a better group of people to harness the power of social.

Our initial foray was to launch the Empire Avenue Leaders Community, which we hope will become a 2000 strong Community that helps funnel and fuel the changes going forward. This we announced the day that I stepped down with an open letter many would have received. The outpouring of support should not have surprised us, but certainly it took my breath away.

When we approached a few people in the Community to help us, the process took a life of its own and today, I am proud to watch the Empire Avenue Community launch the next phase of Empire Avenue.

The Empire Avenue Community through the Empire Avenue Leaders will lead the way as brand managers, driving marketing and outreach. The Empire Avenue development and technical team will back the Community with support and technical changes and product updates as requested. Already this group has organized themselves, helped figure out rewards for the first 500 in the Leaders Community and been a vocal supporter of the changes on behalf of the Community! And that’s just over the weekend.

I cannot wait to see where you, the Community Leaders, will take what we have built!

To get a bit maudlin’, my time at Empire Avenue has been amazing. We have attempted and launched ideas that no one had ever tried in Social Media, we went global, we attracted a great many people, lots of press, fantastic investors and we all learned the startup game! Along the way I got to work with some of the most amazing people in the world and built a truly unique company with my co-founders Niall Brown and Michael Mannion as well as a host of talented people over the years. We’re very proud of the baby that we’ve birthed and amazed to watch it grow up and be stewarded by, well, you.

I’ve met many of you and believe me when I say, I will be on Empire Avenue every day. I will be one of you, talking with you, supporting you, and heck, being a Community Leader myself!

After all on Empire Avenue and Social Media, it’s all about the Community!

Talkin’ about a Revolution

South Africa was part of my everyday life in university. I have never been to South Africa. I have never met Mr. Mandela. And yet for much of my university career South Africa loomed large. And now, I find myself looking back, as many are doing, and thinking about what Mr. Mandela meant to the world and to them personally. Some, like a few US politicians and commentators with no understanding of history or substance, want to use him to proselytize their immediate goals (don’t get me started). Some, including politicians I find fairly distasteful and dictatorial, are suddenly talking about the great son of humanity while their people and freedoms continue to suffer.

I have never met Mr. Mandela. Yet, I am sad he is not part of this world. I am incredibly glad that he was part of this world. I have no need to expound on what he did, or what he didn’t do, just do a Google search (oh and Google, I suggest a Google doodle for Mandela this coming Saturday). I can only tell you what the idea of Mr. Mandela meant to me. I can only tell you this in the context of our amazing modern world’s ability to create a certain mass hysteria around a specific person, event, topic.

South Africa fascinated and continues to fascinate me. A country ruled as a colony even after the colonial masters left. A country that evolved to create a system which controlled a racial majority using a complex system of pass laws and skin-colour-based subjugation to fuel economic might. A completely anachronistic system that seemed to be “supported” by so many countries and so many politicians and yet reviled by anyone with any sense if it were applied to them, their people or their cultures.

Apartheid led me to study and earn my Masters in South African History under my mentor Dr. Christopher Youe. In that period, I learned about Mr. Mandela, the Sharpeville massacre, the accidents that lead to revolution, to grass-roots uprisings and the eventual usual end of most of these struggles. When I entered university, Mr. Mandela had just achieved freedom. When I started my studies on South Africa, Mr. Mandela had achieved what had been thought impossible. He had just became the leader of a South Africa that had previously imprisoned him. By the time I had left university, he had turned down what seemed like immense power as a leader and suddenly found himself wielding even greater power around the world.

And my fascination with South Africa wasn’t that Apartheid ended. Do not get me wrong. Wherever there is true systematic intolerant subjugation of a people in this world, they will rise. People will revolt, violently. Their masters will always pay the price of discrimination and dictatorship. If you deny people access to economic fundamentals and force them to live a life not worth living, understand that you will one day be looking at the situation from the opposite end.

Nay, my fascination was with how it ended. Throughout history the most common result of the rising of a disaffected majority against a controlling minority leads in the short term to an amazing amount of violence as the new world order is founded and put into practice. Even India under the guidance of Gandhi could not achieve his fervent dream of a unified India and Pakistan. South Africa, due to the brutality that they experienced, and the amazing amount of mistrust on both sides, was meant to go down a path of civil war.

Mr. Mandela forestalled that. It is personally hard for me to place so much on any one person’s shoulders. Individuals lead, but at the end of the day, great leaders have amazing teams behind them. It is therefore even more fascinating to me that Mr. Mandela managed to take an amazing amount hatred and spin it into peace on his individual shoulders. I do not know who in my living memory, as a world leader, has done that. This is the man, who, with gentle dignity, took to the stage for his coming out party on the grounds of the country whose leader had been the lone hold out on sanctions against Apartheid in the Commonwealth.

South Africa is not free just yet. Many more generations will be needed to undo centuries of inequality. And Mr. Mandela knew that. I hope I can learn a tiny bit of the peace with which he brought peace.

To that end, I also fully realize that in a very small way, had Mr. Mandela not walked out of prison with a fist afloat, I would never have studied what I did and who knows how much of my life would be different now. So thank you Mr. Mandela, you inspired me and I know that the idea of you will inspire me for my entire life.

This isn’t about Mandela, it was performed in 1988 by Tracy Chapman while Mandela was still in prison.

New Gmail Inbox is making me more productive

I’ve been using Gmail now for so many years that I’m not sure I remember what email software I was using before… oh wait… it was Outlook and Exchange Server… never mind. But anyway, regardless, I’ve tried wrappers around Gmail, I’ve tried so many mail clients on my mac and regardless I always end up on Gmail in my browser during the work day.

Running a Social Network means that you end up with a lot of e-mail. As people ping me on all the networks, I rely on e-mail to inform me when something is happening or for me to go check at a set time during the day. This could mean I get an e-mail every few seconds. If you can imagine a person getting bombarded with a super fire cannon filled with small golf balls… well that’s what I feel like. Add a mail notifier to the mix and basically now I have a kitten-like brain. You have no idea how easily distracted an email notifier can make you.

Now, typically the only way I survive any given day is to use Filters, but to be honest I hate filters as sometimes I miss important mail.

And then there was Gmail’s new Inbox. Okay, I’m sure some of you hate it… but not me.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 9.35.17 PM

In all honesty, outside of the truly filterable email (server messages and the like), I only have three types of mail, and having them as tabs on top of my inbox is absolutely the smartest and simplest thing ever. I have mail from social networks (a ton of it, including from Empire Avenue), newsletters (I subscribe to a lot of information that I need to keep abreast of) and everything else.

So thank you Google!

In just three days since I turned it on (if you don’t have it, use Configure Inbox in your settings to turn it on), I have managed to keep my mail more focused, my time more productive, and yes it has even given me the 15 mins I needed to write this blog post. Now if some kind soul could create or modify a mail checker so that it only checks my “Primary” inbox…

2-07-1919_D-088_46_Berryman

The Greatest (Social) Game Ever Built

2-07-1919_D-088_46_Berryman

Buzz words are the lifeblood of the Internet. We have “Web 2.0″, the “Cloud” and of course “Gamification”. Empire Avenue of course has Gamification on many levels but certainly if you are listed on the Empire Avenue Stock Market then you are essentially playing a game out of all that you do online. With the concept of Gamification and the fact that people contact us all the time to talk about our game mechanics “in the real world”, it’s as if adding so-called “game layers” to applications and web sites had suddenly sprung out of the ether. Well, I’m not going to give you a treatise on what is and what isn’t “Gameification” but let me tell you about the greatest (social) game ever invented. Zynga probably wishes they could have invented it I’m sure, Electronic Arts and Activision could take lessons, and well, the rest of us?

Filing Income Tax.

Yes, in my mind, Income Tax has all the qualities of a game and the government should be patted on the back for having created something so incredible. So why is it a game?

With US and Canada Income Taxes we are presented with a whole host of possible tax deductions (I cannot speak for other countries). As individuals and households we have to choose which options make the best sense. Similar to how we might have to create different options in a SimCity game or even in a Dungeons and Dragons situation where we are kitting out our party with the correct options. Take the Deduction for Education for your child out of state and you lose out on that Deduction on proposal XYZ in state. But the government is the game designer, they know that the end goal of the game (for us) is to keep as much money in your pocket. Throughout the year you will spend your time “playing the game” and buying items such as Hybrid Cars, doing certain renovations on the house… all just so you can get specific deductions at the end of the year.

Wait, could I call these “Missions” with a predictable and rewarding outcome in the end?

So now we have a game where the government has given you “Missions” from which you can save Money at the end. If you fail in your mission, you get to pay the Government more money (unless you roll a lucky number 8 in something else). The game mechanics are such that “gaming the system” in a good way rewards the behaviours that the designers (lawmakers) want you to act upon: environmentalism, entrepreneurship, education and so on. The choices you make determine your eventual outcome on tax day. Finding a great deduction, by the way, is the equivalent of unearthing a sword +10 by accident. Gaming the system in a “bad” way is attempting to find loop holes or tax havens to squirrel away money.

A good game lever to have is a loss/punishment mechanism. In the case of Income Tax, that’s obvious. Get Income Tax wrong or not pay at all and you will end up in jail far faster than a mass murderer. Al Capone,
after all, was caught by the IRS. But the simpler punishment mechanism is exorbitant interest rates on unpaid amounts and certainly loss of further money on an audit.

The Income Tax system even has “levels”, the more money you make the higher your tax bracket. For those that want to, they can brag about their tax bracket. All that’s missing is for the government to send you a Facebook Badge icon that you could share with all your friends and family. For others it’s a reverse level system: your goal is to not climb to the next tax bracket.

The amazing thing is that this game even features the equivalent of World of Warcraft’s so-called Gold Farmers. Depending on how much you can spend, you can hire tax lawyers and accountants that will do your taxes for you and will actually “Farm” the maximum amount of money from you!

The last thing that the Government does is take a page from the Zynga playbook. Every year, the government looks at the metrics of payments and the role of other parts of the economy and iterates the game to another version. We can’t possibly get bored with the tax guidelines of today because “Taxville version 345″ is on its way.

I applaud the government: here is a sticky game of Missions, Levels, Rewards, Battles and even Gold Farmers worthy of some of the world’s best game designers. For those that say “I don’t play games” take a closer look at the real world and you will see the human penchant for playing games with real life is clear and ever-present.

Now I have to go do my taxes. I think I might even have found that Sword +10 this year.

Our Dad, 1931 – 2013

My Dad: On his 75th birthday celebrating with friends from Canada in Colombo

My Dad: On his 75th birthday celebrating with friends from Canada in Colombo

My brothers and I, we all share his name. Geekiyanage Wijayawardhana. He was born in a small house in a tiny village in Millewa, Sri Lanka, late December 1931, in a room specifically prepared with cow dung as was tradition then (listen to the audio file at the end to get this). And I truly wish you had known him. Those that did… well, let me just tell you a bit about him.

My father was born to an avyuredic doctor and housewife. He would eventually, in a rather roundabout way having worked through a cheeky adolescence, find his way to medical school after graduating from Ananda College in newly independent Sri Lanka. He would sit the medical exam twice, not because he was inept but because he was so tired from studying the first time, he fell asleep. He would finally pass that exam with honours at the top of his class. He married my mother in November 1962 and they celebrated 50 years together in 2012. His entire life was in the public sector serving health institutions in Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. He travelled the world, went to the USSR in the early seventies, to Europe, lived in Liverpool, UK, Australia and further, not to mention dragging wife and kids to live in Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong.

I cannot tell you much about his youth, I was born much later in his life. In many ways, I was an accident and therefore was lucky to witness what he had made of himself rather than the man who was trying to find his way. I’ve heard stories of elephant stampedes, crazy university trips, parties and more. My earliest memory of him is standing at the base of massive Jetavanarama, holding his hand (I was 4 I think) and asking him why trees were growing out of the giant stupa. Rather innocuous, but probably why I feel so attached to the giant stupas of Sri Lanka.

If you knew my father, you were one of many and he cared about each of you deeply. You were family. His circle of friends was unbelievable. He was a born extrovert, a fantastic storyteller, generous to a fault and if there’s one thing he liked, it was a good party. He would be there to help any friend or family member. Many a night he would get up and drive over to a friend or family member to solve whatever medical crisis without complaint. He might never have been rich in the traditional sense, but if you measured wealth by his relationships and how much people cared about him, he was wealthier than almost anyone I know.

The curse of being an immigrant in another country is that you only get to see your parents age from a distance with snippets of short visits sprinkled in for added measure. Over the years my father battled the onset of old-age, sciatica, diabetes, a massive heart attack (whence he famously refused the ambulance) and even a bout of severe dengue fever at age 78. Through all that he continued working and helping to run the University of Kelaniya Medical Centre till November, 2013 at the age of 80. Unfortunately, cancer is not something you can easily battle away. In late November, my father was diagnosed with a massive brain tumour. Such was the love for this man that while waiting for brain surgery to remove the fist-sized mass, so many people crowded his room between 6am and midnight for a solid week, the hospital finally instructed my mother to put a “No Visitors” sign.

His sense of humour is legendary. As he was being pulled into the operating theatre his parting words were “Well, in Sri Lanka sometimes they take off the wrong leg. At least I only have one brain!” He did survive the operation and the congestive heart failure following that. He even made it to mine and Jenna’s wedding a couple months later. In a wheelchair and truly in pain, he gave a speech and forced everyone to get up and sing. That is my last memory seeing him in person and it is a great one. Three weeks later my father has passed away, his body riddled with cancer and likely a resurgent brain tumour. His final words on the phone to me a few nights prior was “I am not doing that great” when I asked him how he was. His speech had slurred, his ability to swallow had been compromised. He passed away peacefully in the early hours of March 5th at a small coconut estate 4 hours north of Colombo with my mother and brother at his side.

I know he was proud of all his sons and our accomplishments and always wished he could have done more for us and our mother. He would always say he wished he had made a lot more money. But he made us enough, we never went hungry or want of anything.

As with all of us, our parents live inside of us. My father will live inside of me and my brothers and it is up to us now to make sure that he is remembered with every action we do. He was a giant of a man and I want you all to know he was very human, very flawed, and to know me or my brothers is to know something of our father. It is because of him that I am a Canadian. How often he would talk about the love he had for Pierre Elliot Trudeau while I was growing up. To him Trudeau was a leader that the world should aspire to. When I came to Canada he said I was coming to the land of Trudeau. He was so proud when I received my Canadian citizenship. I am a Newfoundlander because of my father. His friend who was as close as a family member lived and worked at Memorial University and is a large part of why I went there over Saskatoon. It is because of him that I write, love economics and stock markets, love history, love trains, love old British cars and even climbed Kilimanjaro. It is because of him that I love Guinness.

He truly cared about others’ health both mental and physical. Even while waiting for his operation I witnessed him asking a visitor if the medication he had prescribed was working. Years after he arrived back in Sri Lanka from Hong Kong he would often sit in the small porch in the coconut plantation in rural Sri Lanka and see patients from around the village. Theoretically he practiced medicine for free. One day someone came with a bag of lentils as payment and my father took it. I asked him why he did that; after all this man was poorer than we were. He said: “Never forget. The most precious thing someone has is their pride and dignity. To a proud man, charity is a degradation of his pride and him forever feeling I am his debtor. This man is holding his head high and paying what he can, now he will not owe me anything and he keeps his pride and dignity. That’s worth a bag of lentils.”

My father passed away as he wished: outside of a hospital with pride and dignity and relatively quickly. He always said the day he stopped working was the day he would die. My father died without officially retiring from the University of Kelaniya, I suspect he was still “employed” there.

He hoped, he said, that I would one day write a eulogy that captured his life and a biography from his many diaries. I am sad to write the first and I hope I have done him justice. The biography will be mine or my brother’s pleasure.

I leave you with a recording I made with my dad, my brother Harsha and my niece Panchali a few years ago on Christmas Eve in Sri Lanka. My Dad loved Christmas music and he loved BoneyM. It’s 11 mins and he talks about his birth in 1931 and we sing. It’s a small slice of life with my Dad.

Dr. Geekiyanage Wijayawardhana, MBBS (Ceylon). Born December 1931, Millewa, Sri Lanka. Died March 2013, Wariyapola, Sri Lanka, He is survived by his loving wife of fifty years, who knew him better and has lost more than his sons will ever know. He is also survived by three sons of whom, my brothers, Harsha and Miuru I couldn’t be prouder of. They did everything for my father in the last few months. He is also survived by one grand-daughter who thought he was pure awesome, two wonderful daughters-in-law, three sisters and countless family members. Finally, he is survived by the deeds he accomplished and those that he helped cure, save and changed the lives of on a daily basis. I will miss him, but I know he’s there when I need him, within me and my brothers.