The Breakout Project: Absolutely Amazing

In less than four and a half months, I went from learning about an idea that Innovate Kingston had for The Breakout Project to being one of the people that helped pull it off. I can’t believe that the first event is now behind me.

I am happy to say that from a technology standpoint, things went very well. The marketing site and the platform stayed running through the event, and the Internet and WiFi were also amazing. We didn’t even need to use the backup Internet connection, nor the extra web servers that were all set-up, preparing for the worst.

One of the volunteer roles I had in place was platform monitor, but the online community was so awesome that it was a responsibility that was nearly unneeded.

Annie came to help out as much as she could, and I think in total, she spent nearly twenty hours by my side over the course of the three days. I didn’t end up getting much sleep during The Breakout Project, but I wasn’t expecting to. I’m still recovering from the excitement and lack of sleep.

In the end, I had prepared certain pieces so well and had support from such great vendors, that I was almost unneeded during the event.

This upcoming week, we will all take the time to perform a retrospective and analyze the things that worked as well as things that didn’t. We will also try to capitalize on the excitement so that the projects we highlighted achieve their maximum success. There is so much I want to say about my experiences and so many photos that I still need to process, but I wanted to quickly put out a post.

A huge thank you from me to all of the volunteers, companies we worked with, sponsors and partners, the Innovate Kingston board, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission staff at Fort Henry, and all those that I didn’t get to interact with but helped make this first Breakout Project a success! Your efforts and support epitomized the phrase, “many hands make light work.”

Basic Income – Not Just About Giving Money

One of the issues with a Basic Income trial, like the one Ontario is going to run, is it doesn’t address the other side of the coin: how do we pay for this program?

Basic Income is expensive, but many supporters on both sides of the political spectrum are interested in Basic Income because it can support those typically less fortunate while also reducing government size and oversight.

Basic Income should be set-up in such a way that it doesn’t require the same kind of staffing to manage as current welfare and employment insurance systems since it should be set-up in a universal way where everyone gets the same amount of money.

For those working good paying jobs, all of the money given to them through a universal basic income would be given back through adjustments in the taxation system. This reduces the cost of the overall program by making sure only those that need a basic income keep the money distributed by it.

We would also likely need to increase corporate taxes. Ideally, only on businesses earning a gross profit of two million or more, so that it doesn’t affect small businesses. I say “gross” because often businesses get huge tax breaks thanks to dozens of loopholes. I’d want to see those closed as well so that the government collects what’s owed to them so it can be distributed to the masses.

Another tool that can help pay for UBI would be a luxury tax on items typically bought by those in upper-class society. Cars over a certain cost, high-end consumer technology, top-tier cable and Internet packages, expensive houses, and more could also help reduce the overall “cost” for a Basic Income program.

Of course, I don’t have all of the answers. I only know that the current pilots don’t let us go far enough in analyzing potential changes in our society, and I don’t think we will have real, valid information about the opportunity a basic income system could provide until we either have some very advanced economic modeling or go through with actually applying it to our society.

The media is likely going to focus on the cost of the pilot project, and if the results to those helped financially aren’t seen as valuable enough in whatever way they are being measured, it might be a long time before we see other Basic Income trials.

We, as a society, need to make sure that there is a great deal of thought and conversation not only with running a pilot project where the government hands out money, but how our society will need to be reshaped to actually run universal basic income in perpetuity.

Disincentivizing Work – The “Problem” with Basic Income

Yesterday, I did a quick blog post about the Ontario “Basic Income” pilot announcement and my issues with it. Since then, I’ve gone on to read many comments about the pilot and wanted to write a few more thoughts I have.

Please know that these are my personal opinions.

One of the most prevalent comments I continually see is how Basic Income, including versions of it like this horrible pilot project, will disincentivize working a full-time job. I mean, if you can get basic income and not have to work, then, of course, that is what most people will pick, right?

I don’t see this as an issue. I want people that don’t want to work to just take Basic Income and stay home.

If you hate working, and you are comfortable living off of a floor of income that provides you with basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing and some semblance of a reasonable life, then that’s what you should be able to do.

I want you to leave the employment pool and open up more opportunities for those that do want to work, or those that do want more than just the “basics”.

Currently, in our society, people are working later and later in life, holding onto job opportunities, especially in management that I want. Some of these people are working later in life because their retirement investing is currently too small or nonexistent. I am hopeful that a decent Basic Income system will get these people out of the job market.

The whole, “if you don’t work, why should I,” thought process is flawed according to me as well. If you feel that way, get out of the job pool and give your job to someone that wants it.

My hope is that if Basic Income comes to fruition a few different things will happen, and one of them will be that pay rates for certain jobs will go up.

Employment is often a supply and demand issue. If a job doesn’t pay better than Basic Income, then why would people want to spend time on it? If an employment opportunity doesn’t get anyone applying for it (and certain international immigration rules are fixed), then companies will have to raise wages or benefits to attract talent to their corporate needs.

Everyone talks about no one wanting to be a garbage person if Basic Income truly happens, but if the garbage person can afford to buy a Tesla and take three weeks paid vacation every year, then maybe some people would be excited to put up with the perceived hardships of the career.

People also forget that humans need stimulation. Why do people volunteer? Why do people have side-projects? Why do people work so hard on their hobbies? Employment can sometimes be an extension of that. There will always be a sub-set of the population that wants to do something they have a passion for or that can provide them with the wealth to have or do the things that they want.

Another discussion I see often is about entitlement. People feel like those on social assistance programs shouldn’t have things like a smartphone, high-speed Internet, or comfortable well put-together clothes. My initial reaction is one of anger. What gives anyone the right to tell others what they can and can’t own? Can you imagine someone with double your income feeling that they deserve to tell you what you can and cannot spend your money on?

As for being entitled to a car, cell phone, high-quality food, the Internet or other “luxuries”, they can bring comfort, entertainment, or more importantly the access, skills, and tools needed to access employment.

The end goal of Basic Income is to lift everyone up. To set a floor for our society that makes sure we can all feel comfortable knowing that we get to live a life of dignity, no matter what hand we are dealt in life. We aren’t a society with hyper-restrictive resources. We have plenty of food, water, and shelter for everyone and we need to start acting like it. The “me first” attitude is not how Canada was built, and not how we should go forward as a country. Infrastructure, health care, education and more are all part of the social contract that we fought hard to have, and I see Basic Income as one more element towards an amazing, near Star Trek style, society (if done right).

Basic Income can open the way for more teachers, caregivers, artists, researchers, writers and involved parents, and that’s the kind of society that I want to live in.

While it might be a utopian ideal that we can never fully attain, we still need to be careful that politicians don’t ruin the opportunity for our society to move in that direction.

“Basic Income” Trial Ontario

So, Wynn’s government has released some details on what their “basic income” pilot is going to look like, and I’m very unhappy with how it has been set-up.

I feel like they didn’t take the time to read up on what basic income is supposed to be and how it is supposed to work. It really feels more like a pilot project for what could really be called “unrestricted welfare”.

The pilot project will select 4,000 people. One-half will be in the control group and get nothing, and the other half will be selected as pilot project candidates and potentially receive money from the government.

A single person could receive as much as $16,989 per year while a couple could receive as much as $24,027 annually. There are many caveats though, and you’d really only get that much from the government if you aren’t working at all.

Basic Needs

What does it cost to maintain a reasonable quality of life in Ontario?

Let’s ignore the GTA for a moment, as the income and costs there are so skewed and would need its own unique system to be workable.

If you worked a minimum wage job, full time, all year with no vacations, you could make $23,712 ($11.40/hr x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks in a year).

Sounds like you are doing pretty well if you get a minimum wage job, right? Did you know that you are below the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO)? The 2015 LICO number is $23,861. That means a minimum wage worker makes $149 less per year than the low-income cut-off number.

What is LICO? – LICO is an income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income on the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing than the average family.

Well, what if you had that minimum wage job and got selected for the Basic Income pilot project, how much would you get from the government?

You would qualify for $5,133 for the year.

So now you have a pre-tax income of $28,845 per year. You would now be above the LICO cut-off, but are you going to feel financially safe and secure? Are you going to feel less stressed about your quality of life? Are you going to feel like if a challenge, roadblock, or issue enters your life that you won’t be in a situation that would cause you to decide between eating and resolving that issue?

Basic Income Goals

Basic Income is supposed to provide enough money that all of your basic needs are taken care of. Food, housing, clothing, and healthcare should all be covered by the income received from a basic income system. It should set you up to at least feel like you can take risks such as starting your own business, or allow you the opportunity to raise your child or children to be their best selves.

The “basic income” pilot program in Ontario will be held in Hamilton (Median household income in 2014: $84,980), Thunder Bay ($84,350), and Lindsay ($69,465). Even if you made the median household income or above in any of these cities and were still a candidate for the pilot, you would receive nothing from the government program.

Basic income should lift up everyone and have funds be recouped through a sane and simple tax system. This makes it faster to react and lower in oversight than current employment insurance systems that we have. If I lose my job tomorrow, I know that without doing anything on my part, that a deposit will come in that will help keep a roof over my head, food in my belly and provide me some quality of life while I look for something else. We shouldn’t be made to fill out endless paperwork to prove our current situation, waiting weeks to receive funds to help us until we find that next opportunity for employment.

No Money, But Still in the Pilot?

The main tenant of a basic income system is that it is for everyone. The initial pilot will select those without means to test the system, but I think they are missing something important about Basic Income by doing so. Part of the appeal of basic income is the knowledge that it provides you a floor with which your income won’t be below. This, as I mentioned above, allows for opportunities that might not currently be available. If the person loses their job while on the pilot project, they might wait and take the right job for their skills and abilities rather than just the first one that they can get.

But, on the other hand, it could feel like they are taking a spot from someone that could better use the program today, someone already in a situation where their food, shelter, clothing or healthcare are at risk. It is a complicated situation, but again, I think it separates it from the basic income systems I’ve read about.

Concerns

In the end, my biggest concern is that they are labeling this a “basic income” pilot project, but aren’t really holding the values of basic income. They’ll likely run this for three years and will show at the end how it was more expensive than current systems and shut it down saying that Basic Income failed. But I believe it isn’t really being given a true chance. I hope I’m wrong.

We are still early in the pilot and new details are coming out all of the time, but if you want to see how lacking in thought and planning this “Basic Income” pilot is, all you need do is read a professional article on the subject, such as Ontario to roll out basic income in three cities by the Globe and Mail.

The Wynne government did not say how it came up with the basic income amount and said it was “something we want to test.”

If you want to learn more about Basic Income, I suggest you check out Reddit where two great subreddits continually talk about the opportunities that world governments have to them to create a society where no one is left behind.

/r/basicincome
/r/basicincomecanada

Hyperspeed Job Update: Three Weeks In

So I’ve been through three weeks at Innovate Kingston working on The Breakout Project. It has been a busy three weeks, to say the least.

The first few days were brain dump meetings with board members and transferring ownership/control of many IT accounts to me. I also redeveloped the event website in WordPress, as it was in Drupal and I’m not as savvy with that CMS.

I think I made a small mistake though in choosing Digital Ocean as the new web host for the site, as I completely spaced on the fact that it is a VPS that requires me to work through the Linux command line and set-up a LEMP stack that works effectively for WordPress. The server management piece took far longer than I was hoping or expected, but I am glad I was still able to do it and took ownership over it so that if any issues come up, I can hopefully handle them.

Other than that, I probably shouldn’t talk too much about what I am doing (without approval from the Communications Lead), but I can say that there have been a few fourteen hour days and there are likely many more on the horizon, though I’m trying to be as efficient ass possible with my time so that I can avoid some of them.

Just so there is no confusion, I am absolutely loving the job! I have a huge amount of authority and autonomy at Innovate Kingston and I really appreciate it. I am amazed, looking back to when I first started, how many things that have changed.

I am using all of my skills, just as I thought I would.

Senior Technical Project Manager – The Breakout Project

Annie and I needed a break from our life in Guelph, and so over the course of December, I searched high a low for a new job that would give us a new start. I hunted for a position that would either allow me to work remotely so Annie and I could travel or an in-office position closer to either family. When I couldn’t find many remote opportunities being posted around the Christmas holiday season, I started looking at Kingston as that’s where Annie and I would like to buy a home in the future.

screenshot-2017-01-06-11-20-53I started emailing companies, even those that weren’t actively looking for anyone, and in discussion with an owner of a web development company in Kingston, I was pointed towards the opportunity to be the Senior Technical Project Manager for a new event in Kingston called The Breakout Project.

A quick review of the website made me very excited for the event and the opportunity available. After a few interviews in person just before Christmas, I felt pretty confident that I was one of the leading candidates for the position.

Christmas came and went, and I never heard anything more about the job. I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t going to get it. But after New Years, I was contacted to let me know that I was still being considered and needed to get through one more interview.

I did the interview via phone, and not long after, I was offered the job.

I start this Monday, January 9th, and I have a great deal of work to do before the event this May 10th – May 12th.

It sounds like my first couple of days will be getting brain dumps from everyone involved with the project to this point so I can quickly get up to speed and start assisting the team in making sure all of the technical needs are met.

The Breakout Project is a weekend hackathon/conference with the goal of creating start-ups focused on improving social good. Using technology for improving our world is something I’m very passionate about. To help the event be successful will use every skill I’ve acquired over my decade and a half career, and that is very exciting to me. I also love that the event is being held in Kingston. I was born there, went to College there, and have continued to come back.

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This weekend, Annie and I travel to Kingston to stay with my family for a bit until we can find an apartment to move into. The rental market in Kingston isn’t great due to it being a College/University town, but I’m sure we will find something that allows us to both be happy and slowly save for a house of our own.

Tonight we head to the St. George in Georgetown to have an informal mixer where people can say goodbye and wish us well.

I am very excited about this opportunity, but I will try not to drive everyone crazy with too many updates here and on social media. Wish me luck!

My Christmas Letter 2016

Well, despite telling myself last year that I wasn’t going to move again in the winter, Annie and I moved again, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

In January, I started a new job as Director of Technology at Fortrus Financial. The goal was to help modernize a quasi-financial business in terms of technology and Marketing. During my time there, I recorded, produced and edited over 50 YouTube videos, grew the social media followers by over 1000%. Traffic grew slowly, and I moved the business site from Joomla to WordPress. Unfortunately, for various reasons, I had to move on from that position.

I started working for Sandbox Software as Project Director where I helped remind the executive team of the hard changes they need to make in their organization to perform better and be more efficient while leading some really interesting projects. I really enjoyed myself until needing to leave that position on December 8th to start my next adventure.

Annie and I also started our second collaboratively written novel: Goodbye Sol. I am sad to say that the first draft is still only 95% complete, though we hope to have it done by early in the new year so we can start a second draft and editing. We have several other ideas for novels we want to write collaboratively, so it is just that we have to find the time, focus, and energy to work on them.

I spent much of the year struggling to keep my depression and anxiety under control, but I am doing much better now. I hope to be writing a detailed post about my recent experiences early in 2017.

At the end of the first quarter of 2016, my grandmother, Sandra, passed away. She had been struggling for some time with COPD, but it still took me by surprise. I’ll never forget her being upset that she wouldn’t be able to visit us in Guelph because her oxygen tank would only last four hours and that’s how long it would take to drive from Kingston to Guelph. I helped put together some materials for her celebration of life, which helped me cope with her passing and come to terms with the loss.

In April, it was my two year wedding anniversary with Annie. Time flies so quickly, but I am happy to say our relationship is stronger than ever.

In the first half of 2016, I spent a great deal of time building out a family tree on MyHeritage. It was a fun project and between my family and Annie’s, it grew to over 3,000 people. I was able to trace back some connections between myself and other people that Annie’s siblings have married, which is a neat coincidence to me. I even had Annie get her genetics tested by 23andme, something I had done a year or two earlier. It was really interesting to compare our results. She was a bit nervous to get it done as her father passed away from Alzheimer’s when she was a teen, but thankfully, she doesn’t have the genes that predispose her to it.

In May, we announced that we were pregnant with our second miracle. We called the baby, Baby B or Bee, or Bea depending on how we felt in the moment. It was a really exciting time for us until Anika was born too early in September and passed away only moments after being put in Annie’s arms.

In June I launched a fun little project called YouShouldDraw.com that I had come up with thanks to inspiration from a YouTuber that Annie and I like to watch, Draw with Jazza. The project was for me to work with JavaScript again to see how I’d do as it has long been my development kryptonite, but it was fun to develop. It doesn’t get much attention or traffic but occasionally someone will use it.

My brother-in-law asked for my help in August to help him with his late father’s business which is focused on Acadian genealogy. I relaunched the website in WordPress setting up WooCommerce to take orders so that they didn’t have to manually be processed anymore and even added a download option to make things easier and faster for them to run. Other than small changes, marketing advice, and some customer support, the site is running fairly well.

At the end of the year, Annie and I decided to change our lives and do some traveling, so I’m writing this post from a Starbucks as I wait for our car to be serviced and snow tires to be put on. We are currently couch surfing between different family and friends as we gear up for some traveling in 2017. We start our adventure in January for a few weeks before house sitting for my aunt and her now fiance before hopefully traveling a great deal more!

As hard as 2016 was, I am hopeful about an amazing 2017, and I want to thank everyone in my life that continues to lend an ear, shoulder, advice, or help as we continue to move forward in our lives. I hope everyone has safe and happy holidays!