Digital-first audio

Two interesting stories from the world of American public radio last week.

First, the creation of Radiotopia, a new podcast network:

With $200,000 in funding from the Knight Foundation, PRX will attempt to create a new model for what they call “digital-first audio programming.” The seven shows will make up a collective, helping to market one another, providing guidance on technical issues, and sharing lessons on growing audiences. Radiotopia will provide the framework for raising money through grants or Kickstarter campaigns, selling sponsorships across the network, and sharing revenue between the shows.

“Digital-first” is an interesting focus, with the potential to shake up the way stories are told in public radio. There’s a huge difference between “podcasts on the radio” vs. “radio shows that happen to be available as podcasts, too.”

Second, a nice piece by Eric Athas, summarizing NPR’s attempts to make audio “go viral”:

Audio doesn’t translate to the Internet the same way an image, video, or text article does. It’s not produced for the social web, which means it doesn’t have the look and feel of the things we’re used to sharing and seeing on Facebook and Twitter. That’s why NPR and member stations often “webify” radio stories. This process turns an audio story into a text story.

Particularly resonant is NPR’s focus on finding “must-listen” audio. That is, radio stories that contain some sonically interesting element (i.e. not just an interview) that can be excerpted and used as a hook. Examples:

Indeed, Spark found some success with this when my colleague Kent produced an interview with Julian Treasure about the most beautiful sound in the world.

Podcasts are based on loyalty

Speaking of audio (not) going viral, in episode 76 of UnprofessionalMarco Arment makes an important point about podcast listenership:

[47:46] Podcasts are a very different kind of medium than most other things on the web. Most “new media” is all about getting this flood of hits, and things “going viral” (or whatever that means), and just getting tons of drive-by hit traffic.

Podcasts don’t work that way. Podcasts are based on loyalty, and getting people subscribed who are going to listen to every episode. So, there’s your core audience of people who you should cater to. That’s what the advertisers pay for. That’s what people tune in for. That core audience is the backbone of the show.

And then there’s the people who will listen to one episode and complain about it. And so you have to prioritize what you do and the way you do things to please that core audience, because they’re the ones who matter a lot more.

If you measure the success of long-form audio content using the same yardstick as a listicle, you’re doing it wrong.

While we’re on the subject, Andrew Kurjata makes some more good points about audio virality in his post on the subject.

Our former selves

As anyone who’s been to Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids probably knows, I’m fascinated by the relationships we have with our former selves. Most often, when a person gets up on stage to read juvenilia at GRTTWaK, there’s a distance. A distance between who they were, and who they are now. At a really basic level, I think that’s the tension that makes a GRTTWaK reading funny, or uncomfortable, or bittersweet.

And it’s a big part of what I love about Chino Otsuka’s photo series Imagine Finding Me. In it, Otsuka takes old family snapshots, and pastes in present-day versions of herself:

1976 + 2005, Japan

1976 + 2005, Japan

I first saw Otsuka’s work in Glenn Fleishman’s Glenn’s Gumbo newsletter.

Speaking of Glenn’s newsletter and nostalgia, here’s a lovely excerpt from earlier this month:

My friend Leah used the word saudade from the Portuguese recently. Wikipedia has a surprisingly lyrical definition:

It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or deeply melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.

I don’t know Portuguese, but I wonder if it’s possible to feel saudade for a younger version of yourself. Because deep down, I suspect there’s a fair amount of that blowing around at GRTTWaK, too.

Vitality, not virality (or, a Few Thoughts About Online Audio, CBC Radio, and “Going Viral”)

If you work in or care about public radio, podcasting, or online audio, I strongly recommend Stan Alcorn’s terrific piece Is This Thing On? Why Audio Never Goes Viral.

In it, Alcorn digs into some of the reasons audio is a second-class citizen online: the web is a primarily visual medium, audio content is difficult to index, search, and skim through, etc.

But he also drops some telling data points about just how non-viral audio really is. For instance (emphasis mine):

In June 2013, the list of the 100 most-shared news articles on Facebook included three from NPR, but none included audio.

And this:

“Radiolab” and “This American Life” — public radio shows that are among the most popular podcasts and the aesthetic guiding lights for young public radio producers — are both approaching a million digital listens for each new episode. For these shows, the occasional episode will get shared more than others, but that “viral” bump is on the order of 10 to 20 percent, and even that seems driven less by social media than old-fashioned word of mouth.

Needless to say, Alcorn got me thinking a lot about the way we approach online audio and social media at CBC Radio, which at the moment seems to be placing an increasing level of importance on online metrics like pageviews and audio streaming.

If virality is indeed a worthy goal for a public broadcaster (and I’m not convinced it is, but more on that later), what are some things that CBC Radio could do to help make that happen? If we want more of what we do to (pause for cringe) “go viral,” how do we create the best possible conditions for that to happen?

Here are a few thoughts.

More pupose-built audio tools

When CBC Radio producers make radio shows, we use tools purpose-built for audio. In studio, we use pro-level audio gear. We mix and edit sound using software built specifically for radio.

But online, we use tools that were never really intended for audio.

Most CBC Radio websites run on a blogging engine built for text. Our audio content lives at a CDN that describes itself as an “online video platform.”

Should we be surprised when tools built for sharing text and video don’t work particularly well for a completely different medium with its own set of strengths, weaknesses, and modalities?

If you want me to mash potatoes, don’t hand me a whisk.

So then, it comes as absolutely no suprise when Alcorn writes, “If there is any company attempting to create a modern web alternative to the podcast, it’s SoundCloud.”

Why? Because SoundCloud was built from the ground up to be an audio platform.

Speaking of tools…

Build audio players with sharing and spreadability in mind

The existing embedded CBC audio players are terrible. I’d embed one here, but I don’t want to put you through that. How terrible are these players? Let me count the ways:

They’re built in Flash. They don’t work on iOS. You can’t embed them on Facebook. By default, they auto-play. They’re wasteful, because they start downloading and playing an audio file regardless of whether the user clicks play or not. They don’t link back nicely to related non-audio content. And finally, the CBC has an agressive expiration policy for archived audio. The player enforces this, even if the underlying audio is still available.

Luc Latulippe summed it up nicely:

Trying to embed the CBC’s audio player is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree

Public broadcasters can’t realistically expect listeners to share and spread radio stories if the experience of doing so is absolultely miserable.

Slice it up

As I wrote back in 2011, segmentation matters:

People want what they want when they want it. Offering easy access to individual stories (like TAL does, or how Quirks and Quarks offers a segmented podcast) helps people share and spread the stories they love. It helps create the conditions for virality.

Things are getting better at the CBC. We’re slicing up audio, and making individual stories available. But this kind of thing is still far too common:

“Fast forward to 10:34” or “Skip ahead to 23:30” is a terrible user experience.

The good news is that there are tools and specs built to address this very problem. Audio deep-linking is possible. There’s a whole W3C recommendation for media fragments. Groups like Podlove are actively building tools that address these issues.

Pay attention.

Vitality, not virality

The subtitle of Alcorn’s piece comes from this quote:

“Audio never goes viral,” writes radio and podcast producer Nate DiMeo. “If you posted the most incredible story?—?literally, the most incredible story that has ever been told since people have had the ability to tell stories, it will never, ever get as many hits as a video of a cat with a moustache.”

The thing is, so many people in public radio world really want it to. They want so very badly for audio to be able to (again, pause for cringe) “go viral.”

When you stop and think about it, if you swap out the word “audio” for something else, the whole question seems a bit silly.

People eat food all the time. Why doesn’t taste go viral? Almost everyone has a nose. Why don’t smells go viral? Is it because hip Berlin startup-types have yet to build SmellCloud? I doubt it.

There’s something more basic going on here, and Alchorn gets at it when he asks:

is a hit-machine for audio possible? And is it something anyone even wants?

Other than radio execs, I’m not sure anyone does. And I’m not sure that virality should be a goal for public radio. I’m not sure it’s achievable. Past performance suggests it’s not, at least when we measure success using the metrics of other media.

The last thing public radio needs is a cargo cult approach of aping what works for other media, then acting all disappointed when it doesn’t work out so well for us.

A very savvy CBC executive once advised the Spark team to “fish where the fishes are.” I think that applies to CBC Radio more broadly.

Radio excels in certain contexts. For instance, commuting. In Canada, 82% of commuters travel to work by car. Audio is great in cars, and tech-wise, lots of exciting things are happening in cars: iOS in the car and the Open Automotive Alliance to name two. So then, what is public radio’s car strategy? What is CBC Radio’s car strategy? Analog transmission?

Part of CBC’s mandate is to ensure our programming is “made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose.”

I would much rather CBC Radio’s digital efforts go towards figuring out how to do a better job of what we’re already good at, rather than trying to get good at making empty-calory web content (listicles, memes, GIFs, etc.) that simply cannot compete with the stuff coming out of Upworthy, BuzzFeed, and others.

I don’t know exactly what digital success for public radio looks like. But I do know getting it right means embracing the best qualities of the medium itself, not shoving radio stories into listicle-sized holes.

How I ditched my voice plan and went data-only

One year ago, I decided to take my iPhone data-only. No voice plan. No texting plan. Just sweet, sweet data.

I don’t like paying for things that I don’t use, and I rarely use the telephone part of my iPhone. That is, I don’t make many voice calls over the cell network. So I figured I could save some money.

I looked around for data-only smartphone plans in Canada, but couldn’t find any. The carriers don’t seem to offer data without voice.

However, there’s an exception: tablets.

Most of the big carriers are happy to sell data-only plans for use with a data-only device, like a tablet, hotspot, or wireless modem. But can you sign up for a data-only plan intended for a tablet and use it with a smartphone?

Yes. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past year. I use a month-to-month tablet Flex plan from Bell with my iPhone 5. Most months, I pay ~$40/month (tax in) for 5GB of data, and that suits me just fine.

Sound good? Here’s how I got it all set up, and some of the workarounds I’ve found that make living data-only a little easier:

Getting a SIM card

Bell Nano SIM

To pull this off, I first needed a Nano SIM card for my iPhone. Bell sells Nano SIMs off-contract for $10, but I’d heard that if you ask nicely, the Apple store gives them away for free.

Sure enough, when I visited my local Apple store and asked for a Bell Nano SIM, they gave me one. I didn’t have to sign up for a contract in-store, or provide any personal information. Easy.

Setting up a new account

To sign up for Bell’s tablet flex plan, I had to set up a new account. Honestly, I would have preferred a prepaid option, but the flex plan (with its desirable tiered pricing) was only available on a post-paid, month-to-month basis.

Setting up a new account was simple. I telephoned Bell (on Jenna’s phone), asked for the tablet Flex plan, and read them the ICCID from my newly aquired Nano SIM.

Because Bell was running a promotion at the time, they waived the usual $35 setup fee, and offered me “worry-free” (no overages) data for $5/month for the first two months. Bonus.

Shortly after hanging up with Bell, I popped the Nano SIM into my iPhone, and was happy to see that everything worked with zero on-device configuration. Nice.

Secret Bell phone number

A side note: despite signing up for a data-only plan, my Bell Nano SIM does have a Toronto-area 647 phone number associated with it. I can place and receive calls, and send texts to and from this number. But I don’t, because calls and texts are billed by Bell at high rates ($0.40/min and $0.20/text in 2013), and I have better, cheaper workarounds (see below). That said, it’s nice to know that in an emergency, I could make a good old-fashioned telephone call.

Speedy data

In my everyday use, Bell’s LTE is fast. This is typical:


Bell’s top flex plan tier gives me up to 5GB/month — way more than I’ve ever actually used (outside of the first two “unlimited” months, when I went crazy). Data costs $10/GB if I ever go over.

Yes, tethering works just fine, with no additional charges. This is especially handy when Via Rail’s on-board WiFi just isn’t cutting it.

Workarounds: Voice Calls

Like I said, I could make calls over the Bell network, using the number associated with my SIM. But that would defeat the purpose of going data-only, wouldn’t it? Instead, I make voice calls from my iPhone using a handful of alternatives.

For calling “regular” phones, I use Acrobits Softphone for iOS, configured to use a SIP account through I ported my local Toronto phone number to in late 2011, and haven’t looked back since. This SIP setup lets me place and receive voice calls easily, and never uses Bell’s voice network.

I also have a Google Voice account, which I sometimes use for longer outgoing calls. Google’s Hangouts app for iOS lets me dial regular phone numbers directly.

Finally, for calling other iPhone owners, I use Facetime Audio. It’s baked into iOS at the system level, the audio quality is very good, and it works well on both WiFi and cell data networks. I agree that Facetime Audio is Apple’s biggest little feature addition in iOS 7, and I look forward to its debut on the Mac in 10.9.2.

A small Facetime Audio wrinkle: Since Facetime on the iPhone is associated with your iPhone’s telephone number, and since my iPhone has a Bell-issued number that I don’t use (and don’t want anyone to know about), it’s important that I set my Facetime Caller ID to something other than that “secret” number. I use my email address instead.

I know this sounds overly complicated. Believe me, it’s not. Like I said, I don’t make a lot of voice calls on my iPhone, and for anyone who dials me, my phone number is the same as it’s been for years.

Workarounds: Texting

iMessage has almost completely replaced texting for me. All data, all the time.

When I need to text someone who’s not on an iPhone, I use the Google Voice iOS app, and make sure to preface my message with “It’s Dan,” because my Google Voice number is US-based.

A texting wrinkle: Weird things happen when people text my local Toronto (416) number. Because my SIP provider doesn’t support incoming SMS messages, texts often turn into voicemail messages featuring a text-to-speech robot. In the future, I may switch away from to another SIP provider that supports SMS, like Anveo.


It took a bit of work to get set up, but a year in, living data-only works well, and saves me money.

My ideal wireless carrier would act like a dumb data pipe, and let me pick and choose the services I run on top of it. With a data-only tablet plan, I get as close to that as possible.

As always, your mileage may vary.


Jenna, at sea

Exactly one year ago today, October 22, Jenna and I booked a one-way transatlantic crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2.

Originally, the idea was more joke than anything else. “Wouldn’t it be funny?” we’d ask each other. But the truth was, after almost a year living in France, we needed to get home to Toronto somehow.

We presumed we’d fly. That is, until we looked at the cost of one-way Christmastime flights from Lyon to Toronto. Or Paris to Toronto. Or London to Toronto. Or Anywhere in Europe to Anywhere in North America. Every flight we looked at seemed to be in the neighbourhood of $2,000. Per person.

So on a lark, we priced out Cunard’s 7-day Westbound Transatlantic Crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2.

$649.00 per person. Cunard was having a sale.

Jenna spent a lot of time on the telephone with a helpful rep to confirm the details. Yes, the price included a room (with a balcony!). Yes, it included all meals (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner). Yes, it included complimentary 24-hour room service. Yes, it covered entertainment.

Obviously, we were going to sail.

So then, a little less than two months later, in the wee hours of the morning on December 15, we waited for a train to take us from Lyon to London St Pancras.

Jenna, at the train station

Arriving at St Pancras station, we were greeted by a Cunard employee who directed us to a coach that would take us (and a handful of other travellers) to Southampton, where we’d embark. The porter took our bags, and told us that the next place we’d see them would be inside our stateroom.

Given the sheer number of passengers, it’s impressive how smoothly embarkment went. Apparently, the QM2 has a crew-to-passenger ratio of one for every 2.1 passengers. It showed. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, but everything was quite orderly.

Our room was exactly as advertised. We picked the Britannia Balcony Stateroom which was small, but perfectly fine for two people. And, as promised, our bags were waiting for us inside when we arrived. Along with a bottle of sparkling wine.

If I had to sum up the QM2 experience in a word, it’d be fancy, with everything that word connotes. Fancy formal dining. Fancy servers, wearing fancy white gloves. Fancy dancing, on fancy dance floors (“among the largest at sea”). Fancy entertainment. And fancy passengers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a higher concentration of well-dressed classy older ladies than aboard the Queen Mary 2.

The food was good, the bars were well-stocked, and there was plenty to do aboard. Jenna and I took in a few of the lectures that were offered, and saw a handful of movies in the onboard theatre, but we didn’t partake in many of the formal, organized activities.

Because internet access was prohibitively expensive, we stayed offline the entire week. It was kind of nice.

Mostly, we ate, read, and walked around, exploring the ship. There was a lot to explore.

Jenna on an empty deck

Giant gingerbread house

Christmas tree

When we first told friends and family we were planning to come home by sea, we got two common responses. The first mentioned the Titanic. The second was a question: “Do you get seasick?”

As we learned, I don’t easily get seasick. Jenna does.

We knew we’d be crossing the North Atlantic in mid-December, and expected the seas to be rough, so we brought along a healthy supply of seasickness medication.

The first few days at sea were relatively calm, but mid-way through the voyage, things got rough. One particularly bad night, I remember waking up with my fingers clinging to the edge of the bed, because I thought I might fall out. I didn’t.

Over the next day or so, the waves got stronger, as did the smell of industrial-strength carpet cleaner. Walking through the hallways, I regularly passed small damp sections of capet, cordoned off with caution tape. One morning, sitting in the theatre, waiting for a lecture to begin, I watched a man in an aisle ahead of me stand up to quickly leave. But as soon as he stood, he lost his lunch all over the laps of his aisle-mates.

There were really only two really rough nights. I managed to catch a daytime video as things calmed down:

Looking back now, I didn’t take very detailed notes about our crossing. I wish I had. But on our last full day at sea, I stepped out onto our very windy balcony and asked Jenna what she wanted to remember:

Then, very early in the morning of December 22, we approached Brooklyn. After six full days at sea, land was a sight for sore eyes:

Arriving in Brooklyn

These days, the world can seem very small, and far-away people can seem very close. I can pick up the phone and dial friends and family anywhere. I can get on a plane and be halfway around the world in a handful of hours. I love that.

But spending a week aboard the Queen Mary 2 was a good reminder of just how big the world is. And how far away we’d really been. And how nice it was to be home.

My bike is not a health and safety issue


Update September 19, 2013: Success! Thanks to a terrific, sympathetic manager or two (or three), our building’s “no bikes inside” policy will be re-written to accommodate folding bikes like my Brompton. The new rule: I have to keep my bike in a bag. Fair enough.

There are a handful of things about our national public broadcaster (disclosure: my employer) that bother me. A few infuriate.

But today took the cake. Let me explain.

I own a bright blue Brompton folding bicycle. I love it.

I originally bought the Brompton to combat bike theft. After losing my fourth beater to Toronto’s intrepid bicycle thieves, I opted for something portable. Something I could fold up and bring inside with me.

Most days, when the weather cooperates, I cycle to work. I ride to the CBC on Front Street, fold my Brompton, and carry it upstairs, where it spends most of the day living under my desk. Many of my colleagues have passed by my desk hundreds of times (thousands, perhaps) without knowing that there’s a bike under there.

My Brompton is convenient, and portable, and tricky for most bike thieves to steal. I love it.

I’ve been riding it to work and storing it under my desk since 2009. The first day I brought it through the CBC’s doors, I got a strange glance from the security guard. But I have never had a lick of trouble getting my Brompton safely upstairs to my desk.

Until this morning.

This morning, I arrived at the CBC, folded Brompton in hand. But when I approached the security desk, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed in with a bicycle.

I explained that I’d been bringing my bike upstairs for years.

No dice. Why not?

My bicycle is a “health and safety issue.”

I spent 45 minutes at the security desk, trying to get answers. Multiple security guards were telephoned. The head of security was telephoned. Nobody would let me into the building with my bike. Nobody could tell me how this morning anything was different than the day before. Finally, I was permitted to temporarily store my Brompton in the security office for the day.

But bring it upstairs, like I’ve done hundreds of times before? Not a chance.

As I learned later in the day, the CBC’s Front Street building has a “no bikes inside” policy. It’s been that way for years. Maybe forever. But at least in my Brompton’s case, that policy hasn’t been enforced.

Until now.

Apparently, the CBC security apparatus doesn’t see a difference between a full size 21-speed mountain bike and my tiny little Brompton folding bike that quietly sits under my desk and has never been a problem for anyone ever.

“No bikes inside” means no bikes inside.

What’s more, because my bicycle is a “health and safety issue,” pretty much the only way I can resume cycling to work as usual is if a health and safety committee (a comittee!) can somehow change the language in the official CBC security rulebook to make some sort of exception or exemption for folding bikes like mine.

Yes, that’s right. Before a draconian approach to a made-up “health and safety issue” that doesn’t really exist can be addressed, a committee has to meet.

This morning aside, not once in my 4+ years owning a Brompton have I been denied entry to a place while carrying it. I’ve brought my bike into countless places, public and private, in Canada and across Europe. Shops, restaurants, public transit, movie theatres, libraries, university classrooms… the list goes on.

I never expected the first place I’d be turned away would be my workplace.

Light bulbs and laser beams

This past week, I borrowed John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity from the Toronto Public Library. It’s a slim book, but it gave me a lot to chew on.

While discussing his sixth law (Context), Maeda says:

I was once advised by my teacher Nicholas Negroponte to become a light bulb instead of a laser beam, at an age and time in my career when I was all focus. His point was that you can either brighten a single point with laser precision, or else use the same light to illuminate everything around you.

This struck me, particularly when I thought about it in terms of my own work, which often feels very narrowly focused.

As someone who works in public radio, I really need to remember that I’m in the lightbulb business.

So long, Empire Theatres

So, Sobeys is getting out of the movie business by selling 24 of its Empire Theatres locations to Cineplex.

I started working part-time at the Empire Theatres in Bedford, Nova Scotia in the spring of 1999 for $5.50 an hour. I know this because I still have one of my first paystubs:

Empire Theatres 1999 paystub

I worked at Empire Theatres for three and half years, until the end of 2002. By then, I was making the princely sum of $7.94 per hour:

Empire Theatres 2002 paystub

But what’s most astounding to me is the figure in the lower left hand corner: 4,206.70 hours is a bit more than 175 entire days. That’s just shy of half a year, which seems a little bit unbelievable.

Working at the movie theatre was a great part-time job. It was air conditioned. The free movies were a really nice perk. And it helped me pay for school, one minimum-wage paycheque at a time.

Not only did my time at the theatre help me pay for school, it also helped jump-start my career in radio.

The very first story I ever sold to CBC Radio was a profile of Doug Woodbury, one of the projectionists who worked at Empire Theatres. Here’s the audio from December 2003:

I was sad in 2007 when I heard they were closing down Empire Bedford. And I was sad last week when I heard that Sobeys was getting out of the movie business entirely.

But I’m glad they got into it.

That time I was 30

A year ago this evening, I was enjoying dinner with Tristan at Joseph Leonard in the West Village. I had a steak, many tiny French pickles, and perhaps one too many Hendrick’s and tonics. I was in New York to take part in ITP Summer Camp at NYU. Tristan was in New York to get out of Toronto for a few days, and to help me celebrate my birthday.

A year ago this evening, I turned 30.

Tonight, on the occasion of my 31st birthday, I’m sitting on the back deck of our Queen Street apartment, as the city slowly cools down after the muggiest day in recent memory. And because celebration without reflection is empty and hollow, I’m sitting here, reflecting on the year I spent being 30.

It was a good year. Full of change.

I’ve never been more places in a year of my life. I spent the beginning of 30 in New York, and about a week later, returned to our home base of Lyon, France. Almost immediately after returning, Jenna, Dom and I spent several days cycling the Loire Valley, visiting castles and wineries. When friends and family visited, we showed them our favourite places in Lyon, did underground degustations in Beaune, and hit up Nuit Blanche in Paris. I visited London, Venice, and Edinburgh for the first time. My in-laws visited, and we drove around Belgium and northern France, visiting cemetaries, memorials, and battlefields. I saw Vimy, Dieppe, and Juno Beach – up until then, places I’d only ever read about in history books.

Standing in direct contrast to the inexpensive EasyJet flights we took full advantage of, I also had the opportunity at 30 to take a decidedly old-timey means of travel. Returning from our year abroad, Jenna and I spent six nights at sea, crossing the North Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary 2. A serious amount of fun. And seasickness.

My stated goal for 2012 was to “learn to code (again).” I did that. I now know just enough Python, Django, and Javascript to be dangerous. I shipped The Kickback Machine, and a handful of other little coding experiments.

Though it’s far from perfect, I improved my French, thanks to a handful of patient conversation partners. My understanding of French language and culture deepened, as did friendships with our friends in Lyon.

Despite being out of the country for a year, my professional life somehow continued to improve. I taught a course I’d never taught before at Ryerson, and I got a full-on promotion at CBC (I’m now officially a Producer, assigned to Spark).

At 30, I became a home owner. Or rather, Jenna and I are about to become home owners. We bought a tiny little house on Percy Street in Toronto, and we’re looking forward to moving in later this summer. If we ever get through the home inspections, lawyers, mortgages, and insurance paperwork, that is.

And, on a sadder note, I lost my Grammy this year. My mom’s mom died. It was hard. Mostly in the “I’m really sad and everyone around me is really sad and there isn’t really anything I can do about it” kind of way.

My grandmother was, and continues to be, a real inspiration to me. She was born in Reserve Mines, Nova Scotia in the year 1930, just in time to spend almost the entire Great Depression living in a coal mining town in Cape Breton. Twenty-one years later, she married my grandfather Charles, in the same town she grew up in. Over the next few years, they started a family. By December 1960, they had three daughters, and were expecting another child.

That’s when my grandfather was killed in a workplace accident in New York State.

Sitting here, typing this out, and doing the arithmetic, it’s hard to imagine. Grammy, thirty years old, married less than a decade, suddenly widowed with three kids and another on the way.

Suffice it to say, Grammy was a strong woman. Her 30 was a very different 30 than mine. Losing her was hard, and immensely sad. But thinking about her life and her strength helps put things in perspective.

It helps me realize that I am a lucky son of a gun. I am married to a wonderful, beautiful woman that I love. I have a job that not only pays the bills, but that I find incredibly fulfilling. I have friends that I can count on, and colleagues I respect.

I have no idea what 31 will bring, but I’m excited to find out.