COVID Math

The problem with statistics is sample variety and size. If you look at 3 apples in your house, you may think that all apples are red. Omicron statistics are heavily weighted towards the sub-65 demographic right now, which is giving early indications that this variant is milder, up to 2/3rds milder. Larger sample sizes will determine this as being accurate or not. As to why the sample size is smaller, there’s a laundry list of reasons, though primary is that older people (who have survived so far) are being cautious and limiting risks of exposure. Recall that there are 5.4 million less people on the planet due to this disease, and that only accounts for countries who accurately report numbers.

But the stats portion, where there are lower odds of require hospitalization is the interesting metric. Let’s take that 2/3rd number and simply state it at 66%. Compared to 100 cases of Delta requiring a hospital visit, only 33 afflicted by Omicron would need similar treatment. Again, super preliminary, but argument all the same.

The challenge with % is that they are not reflective of absolute volume. If I gave you 10% of $1,000 you would get $100 and it would be a decent gift. If I gave you 10% of $1,000,000 you would have $100,000 and that would probably change a lot in your life. Hospitals don’t work on %, they work on number of beds. If they have 200 beds, when it hits 201 they need to make choices and someone is going to get less service.

Statistically, to occupy the same amount of beds as Delta, Omicron would need to infect ~3x more people (100 Delta vs 33 Omicron). Omicron has a 2 to 3.5x increased transmission rate, again with preliminary statistics. If it’s on the low end, then the hospital load will increase but hopefully be manageable as compared to Delta. If it’s on the high end, then things are going to go downhill pretty quick.

Perhaps we’ll luck out and all future strains will be mild and this can turn into an annual cycle similar to the flu. That’s about the most hopeful thing I can think of right now. Until then, stay safe folks.

When the Bottom Falls Out

All civilizations are predicated on a disposable workforce. The measure of how disposable has changed, but it takes only a minor look across the globe to see how well that has worked out. Your Nike shoes aren’t made by adults with retirement plans…

The way most of this works is that a pyramid of financial power has things go forwards. People at the top do next to nothing of use in the day to day work, and yet share a massive amount of the financial rewards. The people at the bottom are what makes the world go round. Lose the board of a company, things still roll for quite a while. Lose the people running the store, then there’s no money coming in at all.

The workforce has undergone a massive shift due to the pandemic, with dozens of causes, a few of which below.

  • The largest one is simply death. 5.3m people have died. Not all of them are working age granted, but it’s still a massive global impact.
  • Retirement. When sh!t goes sideways, people take a sober look around them. A lot of people simply decided to nope their way out and move on out of the market. The age curve has a massive amount of baby boomers all leaving the market within a very small window. The lack of training/information sharing also means the people retiring are creating gaps in the ability for a business to conduct business.
  • Birth rates. The replacement rate is 2.1 In 1990, the global rate was 3.2, primarily driven through massive medical breakthroughs in 3rd world countries (lower child death rates). Today, it’s 2.3 globally. In the US it is currently 1.64.
  • Immigration reforms. This one is touchier… but if there are less country-born people to replace the workforce, those people need to come from somewhere. There are very few people in Canada/US that are willing to pick fruit in an orchard for 10 hours a day for $50. If these jobs are not filled, then food rots and doesn’t get to the supermarket/table. Global travel restrictions and reforms have certainly dropped overall immigration rates.
  • Stimulus packages have dramatically favoured the already financially stable, especially in the US. Even in Canada, the stimulus package was substantially higher than minimum wage and allowed people the time to assess their state.
  • Abusive practices are highlighted. The restaurant industry is a big one, where people are paid minimum (or less), have shifting hours, often work evenings/weekends, and have to put up with Karens on a daily basis. Many people have taken the opportunity during the closure to gain a new skill or new job, and found a better life balance. In particular replacing that other group that finally retired. I would be remiss not to point out r/antiwork
  • Employer/Employee relationships are transactional. Corporations have made it clear that money matters more than people, and the current generation of workers has very little attachment to the company they work for. Maybe the people, or the tasks, but not the company.
  • Wages vs inflation are not reflective of wage vs cost of living.
  • Remote work allows people to perform many types of tasks from anywhere. Particularly in locations where the cost of living is much lower than an urban setting. This increases the number of jobs available to an individual, and therefore choice.

The ‘bottom’ of the workforce therefore has less workers available to do the jobs, and the businesses now need to compete with the market. If Burger King offered $100,000 to flip burger, they wouldn’t have a staffing issue. Combine that with less company loyalty, people aren’t exactly willing to take any amount of stress when they can easily find somewhere else for either better hours or more money, or even both.

Seems like the disposable workforce has been disposed of. Fancy that.

Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is an iconic Canadian establishment. A village turns into a town when it gets a Tim Hortons (and then a city when it gets a Canadian Tire). It’s been around since the 60s, and currently operates in 14 countries. Roll up the Rim was a matter of parliamentary debate in terms of odds of wining (it actually changed some of our laws).

From ’67 until ’90 it remained a rather small scale operation – Canada wide for sure, but really focused on coffee & donuts. In the mid-90s it merged with Wendy’s, which main benefit was figuring out how to get hot meals into the pipeline. It was not viewed as a positive by the Canadian public. Early ’00s, Timmy’s overtook McDonalds as the fast food location of choice in Canada, split off from Wendy’s and owned 76% of baked goods and 63% of the coffee market. That’s damn big.

In 2009 Cold Stone Creamery (ice cream) was put into 50 stores. That shut down in 2014. The coffee chain continued to grow, and in 2014 was merged with Burger King, or more accurately an international conglomerate of faceless capitalists. By 2018, its reputation had fallen to 67th in terms of Canada’s most reputable companies.

Now you’re asking, what the heck does this have to do with anything? Well, it’s related to yesterday’s post about nostalgia and the feeling of friendship with a company.

Timmy’s grew on a very simple concept. Decent coffee and baked goods, served quickly, at an affordable price, and early in the morning to boot. There were certainly donut shops prior to this, as well as diners, but the sheer brand appeal of a consistent experience was the seller. I mean, that’s why brands exist in the first place, right? There aren’t too many non-franchised donut shops around, right?

The fast-food boom of the 90s was not lost on them, and the partnership with Wendy’s allowed them to integrate processes to quickly get food to customers. When I say quickly, I don’t mean the 5 minute wait at a burger joint. I mean 90sec and you are served and out. This mattered most at the drive through, where people were used to ordering, showing up at the window with all the items prepared, and simply paying. The time it took to process payment was the time it took to get food prepared for the next person. The logistics in this are impressive… but for another topic.

This worked for a very long time, as the choices made on what food items to serve fit within the service standards – at least for a while. The ice cream integration is a really good example of poor planning. DQ gives you ice cream cones in 20 seconds, soft-serve. SCC uses a mixing palette to get you ice cream, a process that takes 2-3 minutes per order. While the novelty was interesting at the start, it eventually caused massive queues in the stores that prevented the “coffee and donuts” folks from getting what they wanted. It also cost a pile to keep things cold and clean (it’s much more space than keeping things warm).

This experimental phase of adding and removing complex menu items kept going. A sandwich seems like an easy thing to manage, but when you have options and substitutes, things get complicated. The workers are doing an amazing job, given the area to work in, but it’s nearly as much effort to make a Timmys sandwich as a Subway version. At low demand, this is manageable. When someone orders 4 different sandwiches in one go… things buckle.

Further, the need to increase franchises means that the quality of ingredients has to suffer. It’s a matter of scaling… there is only so much AAA product available on the market after all. If you mix with AA or A level products, it’s still comestible but will costs WAY less. Price points are important in quick serve food joints, so those businesses need to work on volume with smaller margins to make a profit. Starbucks can sell a $9 coffee, and 4x slower speed of Tim Hortons $2 version.

The value of Tim Hortons was based on food quality, speed of delivery, and price point. As the menu and franchises expanded, the quality of the food suffered. As more complex menus abound, the speed of delivery suffered. As other companies started to offer alternative options for coffee, the price point itself became a debate. As a result, the opinion today of Tim Hortons a lot lower than it once was, and sales are down. They still do great work in the community (TimBits hockey is a sort of ritual passage), but as a company, the type of loyalty they used to command has long since moved on. There are no boycotts here… simply that people have seen alternative options that meet their needs and shopped elsewhere.

Which begs the question, would Tim Hortons have taken a different path if they opted not to enter the food market? Time travel is the only way to answer that one.

What does merit discussion is how this particular thought process, of growth for the bottom line impacted the client’s perspective of the company. They have moved from the conceptual mom and pop family friendly location to a cleaner corporate image. That has distanced people’s attachment to the company, and once trust is lost, it’s incredibly hard to regain. That particular nuance is something that we are clearly seeing in the AAA game space… Will Tim’s take a different approach here, with a return to a more customer focused experience, or stay with the corporate objectives? Will we see that in the video game industry?

Nostalgia Bias

rant-ish post here…

I was at the US/Canada women’s hockey game last night, quite a good show. It was at full capacity and about 90% women. Normally when I got to any sporting event, the lineup for the men is extremely long – this time I was the only person in the washroom. Felt odd.

The rink we were in was the OHL (top junior level in Canada) and I went to quite a few games as a child with my grandfather. I’ve also played in the rink quite a bit. I remember it being bigger, with a specific set of sounds and smells. I’m not saying that my memory is accurate, simply that it was an odd feeling of broken deja vu. I expected a certain experience and got something different – still good, just different.

We tend to use nostalgia as a safety blanket of sorts, to be wrapped in the familiar. Folks trying to make money certainly do capitalize on this – the mini-NES, pretty much every movie remake, heck Stranger Things is pulled right out of the glamorized childhood. Which is all fine and dandy when you only look at the good parts. You may listen to a playlist of the “best songs of the 70s” but that is ignoring every bad song that was also released. We look at the gold standard and just cut and paste it again.

Video games are there too, what with progression servers on EQ, or emulated UO realms. They purport to be clones of the time, but the reality is that these are nigh unplayable today if they took their original ruleset. WoW Classic had to rejig a pile of rules to fit modern game expectations. The entire FF series has been relaunched more times than Skyrim at this point… and all sorts of quality issues abound.

But nostalgia relates to more than the game itself, but the idea of a relationship with the developer. There was a time, believe it or not, where you could just talk to the developers of a game! Or that they wanted to talk to you. Lord British’ infamous speech / firewall death is a great example of that perception of “one of us”, or even Brad McQuaid’s approach to community development. The Blizzard mantra of “it’s done when it’s done” actually meant something. There was an agreement between the players that the devs put something out, and we’d just assume it was good.

Then we got horse armor. I’ll pick on this particular event, because it best exemplifies the act of a developer moving away from being gamers and into the mechanics of game development. When development matured from a passion to a business.

From that point forward, we’ve had the DLC revolution, the MTX/F2P craziness, and the pre-order shenanigans to get the most amount of money out of gamer pockets as possible. But why? How can indie studios be “successful” in today’s age, where the AAA studios can’t seem to launch anything without it looking like Anthem? The problem is us.

We keep rewarding the behaviour. Gamers continue to pre-order. They continue to support companies that have absolutely horrendous practices, holding out hope that they will change. Why would they? They only want your money, and once they have it, then don’t really care much past that point. “Oh, next time they will actually do what’s right.” Please, let me know where this actually occurs. Let me know when “positive messages” to a cancerous tumour had an actual effect, or that “thoughts and prayers” actually did something.

There’s a false equivalency that says gamers supporting bad company practices are as guilty as the companies themselves. That’s certainly not true, just like the getaway driver for bank robber didn’t actually commit the crime. Are gamers an accessory if they have knowledge and still make the decision? Yes, that’s rather clear as well. If a company made the absolute best cookies in the world, but you knew that they needed to use kittens to make the machines work, a lot of people would still buy them. If they used children instead?

Yes, it sucks that the things you enjoy are often made by people with no actual morals or ethics. Yes it sucks that the things you used to love are now controlled by capitalists who will do anything to make a dollar. But none of these things are actually required to live. This isn’t a choice between heating a home and putting food on the plate.

But what about the employees? Won’t they lose their jobs? Do you think any doctor goes “well, it would be a shame to amputate this leg, the toenails are painted so pretty, let’s just let that cancer be ok?” Should you give time to see if there’s a treatment that can be applied? For sure, and it’s up to gamers to determine when that clock is due. People take chemo before giving up after all, they fight until the last edge. But there’s a point where chemo/treatment stops working and people simple have to accept their fate. And good golly does it suck to lose someone to an indiscriminate disease, through no fault of their own. And it sucks to have to give up a part of our past, the joy that a game can bring.

Nostalgia only gets you so far. At some point, reality hits and decisions need to be made. You want things to change, be that agent of change. “Thoughts and prayers” don’t count.

Incentives for Poor Behavior

While Blizzard is being investigated, Activision itself was also under the microscope. The EEOC was investigating what Kotick disclosed/was aware of in terms of the Blizzard behavior, and then how that impacted the stock.

Today, Activision paid $18m dollars to settle the investigation. In comparison, Bobby Kotick made at least $154m as CEO, and the company reported a net quarterly income of $876m. So ~12% of the CEO pay, or 1% of the quarterly company revenue.

Let’s say that the average person makes $30,000 after taxes (let’s pretend). At the worst end, 12%, that would be a $3,600 fine. The the best case, 1%, that is $300. Now, if I said to you that you could do whatever you wanted to make money, including lying, cheating, abusing your neighbours to MAKE that $30,000 in the first place, that’s a pretty good deal!

It’s things like this that perpetuate a divide between the classes. It gives the impression that some people are simply above reproach. I could argue the other side, that if the penalties were too high, the company would be forced to lay off people… but Acti-Blizz will lay off people even if they are claiming record profits anyhow.

A reminder that the Blizzard employees sent a signed letter in July, with 3,000 signatures, and the company hasn’t even acknowledged it’s existence. Not sure why they would even bother as long as the dollars keep coming in and the penalties are slaps on the wrist.

Urban vs Rural

I had a post prior about our ongoing elections and how there’s a somewhat generic split between urban and rural voting tendencies. Given the timeframes, what that post focused on was the historical trends, which effectively built ‘strongholds’ for a generation +.

A reminder that the side effect of a stronghold is that the party which controls that stronghold has zero interest in addressing any of those voters concerns. The party wants to expand their control/voting base, so they really are only targeting other areas. The people in that stronghold never really hold their members to account, so there’s no reason for the party to actually do anything. In today’s social media age, that causes anger at being ignored… and well, here we are.

But that’s a tangent. What I really wanted to talk about is the rural urbanite. Depending on the city you live in, there was a small, yet noticeable population of rural residents that actually spent most of their time in an urban setting (long-haul commuters). You can see this more as the baby boomers retire and cottage country undergoes a massive shift in demographics and engagement. There are quite a few reports of camping grounds taking over small town councils, with seasonal representation. That’s a generational shift with geographic tendencies. And yet, that particular demographic (retired and can afford to move to cottage country) also has a rather particular voting trend. The older you get, and the more money you have, the more likely you are to be right leaning.

This doesn’t apply to the ‘true rural’ areas. You’re not going to find a densification in the Appalachians of retired wall street bankers. Instead, you’re more likely to find that urban sprawl doubles the geographical size. Folks will retired and move 1-2 hours away from an urban centre. It actually squeezes the rural centers to smaller and smaller sizes. This is generally accounted for in Canada’s 3rd party redistricting exercises. Gerrymandering is extremely rare here – the US is a real edge case globally.

So that’s one particular trend, the ‘aging out’ of the urban centres. There’s another one, that won’t necessarily impact THIS election but will impact the next one.

I’m going to call this the pandemic spread. Or more specifically, the massive proliferation of remote workers. Where areas were having emigration issues where the high school graduates would move to urban centers for education, and stay for employment, that shift is starting to reverse. A lot of education can be done remotely, or even those that have been away for studies can now return to urban centers IF they have a reliable internet connection. Canada has some serious challenges here, mainly due to geography and lack of population density (90% of Canada is within 100km of the US border). Low Earth Orbit (LEO) will have a massive impact on the ability to remote work, and therefore the distribution of the population.

This isn’t about urbanites (born and bred) leaving in droves to rural settings, but more about slowing the haemorrhage from rural to urban. Small towns now have an incentive (outside of politics) to build an environment and services that support more than the grey-haired club. It’ll also mean that the traditional strongholds, structured often due to geographical location, and likely to see some chipping at their control.

Which is a really interesting paradigm shift. Rural was often seen as being more and more irrelevant in the larger picture of politics. Yet the reality is that the age curve of baby boomers and the ability for younger remote workers (where property costs are extremely lower) can lay their roots are causing a heck of a shift. Not for this election (1 week to go!) but it will certainly be there for the next one. A more spread set of political views would certainly help with the more ‘extreme’ and echo chamber spaces we have seen these past few years. Let’s see how this plays out.

Credit vs Subsidies

Canada is heading to elections. It’s opportunistic in order to try and acquire a majority government. We have 2 main parties (to various degrees of left/right) and then some supporting smaller parties (both hard left). There’s a cadence here of a few steps left, a few steps right. Keeps some semblance of balance and generally the country keeps path. We went through the global recession with tight fiscal control, and then the recent social uprisings with liberal social values. I find myself aligning more to centrist values, so depending on the election cycle, the edges of either of the parties platforms.

One particular item announced in the competing platforms is child care. This is an odd topic for those who don’t have kids, or never had. Sort of like schools when you’re an adult, or hospitals when you’re young. Anyhoot, the standing government (left) has set up agreements nationally to introduce a $10/day day care program. There’s a lot of money behind this, and the gist is that the provinces will be able to pay out for day care services (and meet their criteria).

The other party (right) wants to scrap that program and institute a credit program that covers 75% of fees to parents, up to $6000 annually. This gives parents the flexibility to select personalized services (not regulated) or homestead parents.

Day Care is one of those things where it’s a tough choice for a parent. Licensed day cares provide stability (except perhaps in Quebec) with known hours, a structured system, and lots of kids/supervision. Unlicensed day cares provide tons of flexibility, much smaller groups (if they are not underground), and the added risk of the provider being available (if they get sick, it closes). We opted for an unlicensed one, through reference, and it was a great experience for the kids.

Right, so now the math.

Day Care Costs

Depending on where you live, the costs change dramatically. I was recently paying $60/day for it. Some pay a lot less. On average, it’s not too far from $1000 a month for infants, and $900 for toddlers. So let’s say $950/month. That’s $11,400 a year.

The $10/day play comes up to $3,600 a year. The 75% credit should be $2,900(8,500 off), but it caps at $6,000 credit… so you’re paying $5,400. That’s a solid difference.

Anecdotally, where I live the daily costs are ~$70/day, which is $25,000 a year. The first plan would cost me $3,600 a year, the 2nd would cost me $19,000 a year.

Credit vs Subsidies

The core value behind both concepts is about choice. Credits give people the choice to select the item they want, which would then potentially drive market innovation or variety, with it’s inherent risks. Subsidies instead put the power of choice in the government’s hands, and ensure that the options present meet a certain “base level standard”.

Many services are subsidized – nearly the entire agricultural market. This ensures some level of food price stability, as the providers are ensured a certain amount of return. This can get out of whack something fierce with effective lobbying – the US beef and corn markets are just astounding.

Credits make sense when there’s a complex supply chain and the market is not domestic, or if the item itself is not applicable to the general population. Like a home office credit pre-pandemic. It shifts the burden to the citizen to manage their finances, and the “rich” with decent lawyers can take major advantage of credits to offset income.

Political Platforms

The challenge I find in political platforms today is that they are less about the practical aspects, and more about the ideological mandates. Platforms are complex beasts, there are dozens of items listed in each, and some will resonate, and some won’t. New parents are going to grasp on one part, while retirees will look at something else. The urbanite has a much different set of goals as someone who owns a farm. Finding the balance between both is next to impossible, or perhaps so difficult that it’s ignored.

What is going to happen instead, with a 32 day election period, is that we’re going to have a half dozen sound bites on ideological items, and the actual platforms won’t be considered. The good news is that this will all be over relatively quickly.

I Miss Funerals

Morbid as that is, let me explain.

The funeral itself acts as a pivot point, a step where mourning moves from an individual layer to a social one. A good funeral is a celebration of the person’s life, where people get together and talk about how that person impacted their lives. They’ll mourn the fact that the person won’t be in their lives in the future. It’s a bittersweet event that reminds us of the fragility of it all.

It’s the social aspect that is the true value here. The ability to share with other people, to know that we’re not alone and to share in the memories.

COVID took all of that away for over a year. Oh, people kept passing, that’s for sure! We’ve lost more than enough people during that time as life never takes a break. But the ability to meet other people and truly share in the process wasn’t possible.

I went to my first funeral post-pandemic (mid?) a couple weeks ago for my uncle. Funeral home, a list of 100 people, the tiny sandwiches and all. They streamed the ceremony, which is both great for people who can’t make it, and also quite odd as the physical emotions can’t be streamed. Progress I suppose. I still have social anxiety in small spaces with a lot of people. The ceremony was fine, but the post-even really was not a comfortable space. Really didn’t give a chance to appreciate the event as much as I should have.

This weekend I had another funeral, a more traditional one, for my great-aunt. 90 minute full mass in a church that’s 10 degrees too hot. We had masks (it was well out of town), there was a lot of spacing, and they streamed that one too. I dislike churches to start, and while the eulogy was super to hear, the rest was just me wishing for it to end. Post-funeral was different, we had family members invited to our family cottage for a post-even BBQ. My anxiety was much better here, I opted to cook all the food outside the garage and made a concerted effort on keeping distance. That allowed for a much more cathartic event. I got to see people I hadn’t in a long while and share stories that I had never heard before. It truly was a a great event.

Tangent – I will note the behavior changes that people are taking now. We’re a family of huggers. It’s like this instinctive thing. Seeing people hesitate to give a hug is a very weird thing. Hearing people pre-face any hug with a “I got both shots” is almost surreal. It helps with the anxiety for one. And interestingly, I didn’t talk to anyone who didn’t have both. May be spurred by the fact that we had a shared family member pass from COVID.

I had forgotten what a funeral was, all caught up on the chaos of trying to get through another day. I had postponed mourning, not truly accepting that a big step is to share that joy/grief with others. I honestly missed them without even realizing it.

Crazy Days

Last week I officially had a new boss (she was here for about a month to learn the org). Last Thursday we got a new puppy (mini golden doodle). This Monday my old boss came back into my position and I took over a different group. This Monday I had an interview for a promotion, which I’ve spent nearly 2 months preparing for. And yesterday, I received a vaccine shot.

So in terms of stress factors, I have work, a new dependency, financial items, and health all as triggers. I’m only missing relationship challenges to pile on for a perfect storm.

A new boss comes with the requirement to build a new critical relationship and reset of my mandate. Every new boss wants to make an impact and they have their own approach to get there. We’re in the execution phase of a ‘can’t fail’ project that impacts a few hundred thousand people, so there are some limits to flexibility in change.

A new puppy, as anyone who has had a dog can attest, like brining a dependency into the house. The good news is that she’s already had some basic training and has a calm demeanour, and she sleeps like 15 hours a day. But there’s the nipping and good habits that need to be instilled, so work in that sense.

A job change in a brand new team is easier than to a sister team, because there are no expectations. This lateral move means I need to modify my existing relationships and then build a different one since my old boss is now my peer. To complicate matters further, we have different methods to achieve the same goal, so there’s some challenges in consistent messaging. Nothing that can’t be managed – if it was the only thing.

The interview for promotion is one I’ve been training for a while now, nearly 2 years. The last 2 months have been the larger process of triage, testing, and then interview. I have no doubts about the capability to perform, but I am recognizing that any promotion is less about the ability to execute than the ability to dance. It’s a rather obtuse dance that only becomes clear once you’ve taken a stab at it – yet its also the most fair approach to avoid nepotism/favouritism. I think I did a solid job, but now it’s about waiting a few weeks to get the final results. And then, the real choice of what I want to do once if I get it. That choice will impact me for the next 3-5 years.

And then there’s the vaccine. I live in Canada, where the rollout has had a few hiccups but seems to be going rather well now. I’m not essential, I can work remotely with ease, I am young and without conditions… so all of this put me near the back of the line. No stress from that factor, but a whole lot of social anxiety that as a country we can hit the proper immunization numbers to find some normalcy. It’s been an adventure to talk to all sorts of folks on this, either hesitant for the unknown side effects (understandable!) or downright anti-vax (where Darwinism isn’t fast enough). I try to be inclusive and pragmatic, there’s a reason people think the way they do and sometimes discussing it you can find common ground. In some cases however, their personal stress levels and need to find a scapegoat have pushed them into a spot of no return. It sounds weird, but it’s quite similar to an addict. They need to want help. It’s not fun.

So yeah, let’s just say that it’s coming at all sides, all at the same time. I’m more than fortunate in multiple ways, but it would be foolish to think that I am coping well. So some work to do to get back into a good mindspace by the end of month.

Logical Growth

I am a proponent that everything is a skill. The more you practice at something, the better you get. That’s self-evident for tangible actions like cooking, throwing, or painting. The less tangible items are tougher, and one where people tend to put up their own barriers. ‘Only geniuses can do that’, ‘I’ll never be able to’. The world is already full of enough hurdles, not much sense in compounding that on yourself.

(Side note: I am not dismissing that people have different skill ceilings. I’ll never be a Crosby or Einstein in their specific domains.)

I find joy in coaching, be it hockey or work. I thought about becoming a teacher, but there are certain system rules that provide a large disincentive to male teachers… plus parents are horrible. Still, I enjoy the act of passing knowledge, yet more so in seeing someone else take that data set and then coming up with their own conclusions. I’ll use a specific hockey example, which probably won’t resonate with many.

Hockey is the luckiest professional sport. There’s a significant amount of randomness given that there are few stoppages in play, and the game itself is played in close quarters. The most successful hockey players certainly have an astounding level of talent, but the exceptional ones all excel with anticipation. Anticipation requires a high level of awareness of the players and the environment. If you were to take a snapshot of any given timeframe, there are high odds you could guess what should happen next. As a player generating a play, you want to have maximum options at hand to make it harder for the opponent to anticipate. So you have the puck, you lift your head, understand where everyone is, then take a specific patch that maximizes options. The first thing I teach young skaters is that you want to avoid the middle of the ice (there are too many people there), and avoid the boards (as you eliminate all movement options on that side). There’s a concept of a magic line between the faceoff dot and the hashmarks that is the best option. Walking kids through this line means off-ice visualization, drills at half speed, cones to direct traffic, and then positive feedback. When they get it, and I mean truly get it, every other part of their game changes. They start to see the game and their anticipation of the opponent starts to grow.

While the practice itself is for the tangible parts – stick handling, skating, agility – the real skill here is mental acuity. Rapidly taking in multiple variables and coming to reasonable conclusions.

Escape Rooms

I enjoy logic puzzles, always have. Virtual escape rooms were the best, and the reason Jayisgames exists. I’ve done a half dozen real-world escape rooms now, and the real joy here is not in successfully leaving the room but in the successful teamwork required to do so. Both my kids enjoy it as well, and it’s fascinating to see the brains of an 8 and 10 year old make their own conclusions.

My wife’s prior students launched their own platform to bring escape rooms to people’s homes, either physically or virtually. We’ve done a few with them, and did another this weekend at the same time our friend’s family (video chat). The virtual ones provide a lot of context that you need to filter through in order to get pieces of a hint, then you put those smaller pieces together to get something else.

We hit a few hurdles to make sure we were all going at the same pace. Some guiding bits to help kickstart the process but by and large they just easily captured all weird spaces. Things like the number of lights next to a window, or an out of place umbrella. My youngest, with the confidence of a 50 year old, just shoots ‘oh I know this, let’s do it this way’ and pow, perfect answer. The eldest gives a ‘oh, that clue was in the drawer, let’s go back’. It’s like they have ideas in balloons above their head, and at will, they just pull one down and use it to move forward.

Re-use

The kicker from this is that the balloons themselves never really go away. They just keep putting more and more up there, and keep pulling them down as they need them.

Can’t get headphones to work? Let’s go through the steps to re-pair and reset the bluetooth. The RC car is having issues, let’s take parts out and see what makes it go. Pull cord on the fan requires a bench, let’s tie a small cord to it. They want a desert, they pull out the recipe books and start going at it.

It’s absolutely fascinating to watch a brain develop on it’s own. Sure there are times where I need to step in, but I make an effort to explain what I’m doing, and importantly why. They take the information and then see if they can apply it to other similar problems. More often than not, it works.

I mean really.. have you ever asked a kid why they did something and they gave you a completely reasonable answer? A left field answer, but one that given the data makes perfect sense? Like a pair of shoes in the dishwasher cause they wanted them clean.

I am continually fascinated and impressed by the power of a child’s thought process. Everything is possible until it isn’t. A hell of a way to live a life.