Category Archives: Sabbatical

Mishkin Berteig


Breaking news: I did better than I expected! I thought I would get somewhere between 70 and 80. Sweet!!! I’m so happy!

Sabbatical Day 59 – Work and Work and School

Well, I apologize for the long time without posting.  Suffice it to say that I’ve had a pretty crazy couple weeks.  There’s been some work stuff and other work stuff, and some school stuff.  Here we go:

Work Stuff 1 – There have been some interesting challenges at work with culture.  It’s inevitable, I suppose, with being on sabbatical.  Me leaving has been a huge stress on the team in so many ways, but in particular, there’s been a great deal of adjustment in team dynamics.  I’ve had several tough conversations with people really concerned about what’s going on.  The dynamics will heal, but the stress is very very real.

Work Stuff 2 – Not connected to the earlier bit of work stuff, we had one of our senior employees ask for a change in role… and it’s a good thing… but it left us with no one to take care of marketing and content.  So, after consultation with my business partners Melanie and Travis, and in consultation with my wife, I have decided to volunteer to temporarily take on that role, part-time, until we can find a suitable person to do it full-time.  That will probably not be until the new year.  So, I’ll put in some extra hours in the afternoons.  I’m actually quite excited about the temporary return to the work I did early in the life of the business.

What will it mean in practical terms?  Well, I’ll be using some techniques from the Kanban method to act as a facilitator for the delivery of the marketing and content service.  I’ll get help from the rest of the team, of course, in both ideas about marketing and with people actually doing the work of marketing.  And I’ll be helping to evolve policies about how the work gets prioritized, chosen, and delivered.  It’s back to basics since I won’t have capacity for anything really sophisticated.

The one big change is that based on the advice and consultation with one of our external advisors, we are putting in place a new metric for our marketing efforts that will drive our strategy and activities.  I’m always wary of over-measuring, and of using metrics without extreme care.  Therefore, even the use of metrics is an experiment to me.  I will be monitoring how it affects the culture of our organization.

I’m also concerned about “coming back” during my sabbatical, no matter how limited.  That said, I also take personal responsibility for the health of the business.  There is a need, and since I have the flexibility to support it, I can’t do anything but rise to it.  Of course, there are lots of confidential details about the operation of the business that I’m not sharing here, but suffice it to say that I hope I’m exercising wisdom and judgement in doing this.

School Stuff – I had my first midterm exam last Thursday in Mathematics 3020 – Introduction to Abstract Algebra.  It was my first exam in over 23 years.  I’ve shared before that this class is pretty hard.  I studied somewhere between 15 and 20 hours in preparation for the exam in addition to the regular homework assigned for the class.  That’s more than I’ve studied for any exam ever in my life.  Honestly, I wish I had studied more.  In particular, I wish that I had started studying a week earlier… during reading week!

But I studied hard, and I was super excited (nervous and enthusiastic).  The morning of, I hadn’t had as much sleep as I wanted, so I had a half-cup of coffee (that’s way more than I normally have!)  I got to the Western Campus quite early just to make sure.  I did a quick last minute-review of some notes.  And then wrote the exam.

It was fun!

In fact, by the end of the 2 hour exam, I was super-high on adrenaline and the joy of math. I could barely contain myself.  I actually cried from joy.  I know that’s probably hard to relate to: someone crying from joy doing a mathematics exam… but that’s how much I love this field.  It’s challenging, it’s beautiful, and it gives me a deep sense of peace and harmony, that the universe has a foundation created by the Ultimate Intelligence.

The exam itself?  Well, I hope I find out soon how I did.  I suspect I did better than I feared and worse than I hoped… probably between 70 and 80% based on what I completed and a fudge factor for stupid mistakes.  I ran out of time and probably would have been able to finish if I had another 30 minutes (or if I had studied more).  I also confused the concepts of “well-defined” and “homomorphism” for a time and had to erase and re-do a question when I realized my mistake.

Again, it was incredibly fun.  And now I know what I need to do to prepare for the final!

Sabbatical Day 44 – Leadership and Food

On Thursday evening (Oct. 11) I went to Barrie to give a talk.  I was invited by Krista Birkbeck to speak to the Agile North meetup.  I’ve been committed to this talk for a loooong time, but I wasn’t sure what to speak about until the night before.  On Thursday morning I quickly put together a presentation on Agile Leadership – Luck, Love and Truthfulness (the link goes to my staff page at where I have listed recent presentations and their decks in pdf format).  I really appreciate everyone who attended.  There were about 12 people including Krista and the discussion and interaction was fantastic.  One of the most interesting questions that was discussed was “can you choose to love someone?”  One of my own realizations was the inverse of the idea from “Skin In The Game” by Taleb: if you try your hand at something enough times, you will eventually “succeed”, and that includes leadership, agile coaching, etc. as long as trying doesn’t also have a chance of being removed from the game (being killed or blacklisted).  I look forward to sharing the presentation again sometime in the future.  Here’s a pic that Krista took at the session:

Mishkin Talking about Leadership

If you are interested in more of the content of the talk, you can always buy my book: “I Am Not A Great Leader – A Short Primer on Leading to Real Agility” which again you can find on my profile page.

I’ve been eating badly.  So, time to smarten up.  I’m going to work on eating more veggies and fruits (any would be good, but hopefully quite a lot), and removing most of the sugar and processed white things from my diet.  I’m not going to do it super-strict, but my intention is that most days I will be on-track.  I would like to lose between 7 and 10 kilos (I’m about 106kg right now).  Continuing to cycle regularly should help, but at some point the weather will get bad enough that I’ll have to replace that with something else… hopefully swimming on campus.  I’m hoping to lose this weight by mid-December.  So two months.  I’ll track progress here.  Tomorrow I will weigh myself in the morning and provide daily updates here.

Finally, here is my updated personal Kanban board.  Main differences include that I’ve finished publishing Jerry’s book and I added my food/weight project.

Sabbatical Day 38 – Thanksgiving, 3d Printing

Today we had my mom Valerie and stepdad Rob over for Thanksgiving dinner.  Justice, though not eating, sat with us so it was the whole family.  It’s been a few years since we’ve done that.  It was a really good meal.  Mom and Rob brought pumpkin pies and a nice salad.  Melanie made the turkey, stuffing and peas.  I made two versions of mashed potatoes and the gravy.  It was a huge meal and it was delicious!!!  We didn’t think to take any photos, unfortunately.  It was a hot day so the house was very warm – we’ve turned off the AC for the winter.  Even now at near midnight I’m sweating sitting in the basement which is normally quite cool.  The combination of a hot day with a looooong oven session for the turkey is probably why it’s so hot.  We had a very nice visit.  I’m thankful for my beautiful family.

Recently Rob posted something provocative on Facebook about sex ethics.  I found the discussion to be interesting, informative and quite insightful on the part of almost everyone who participated.  I’m grateful to all my friends and their diverse views.

Over this weekend, I’ve completed work on an insta-project: to create a fender for my road bike so that I can ride it in wet weather.  I used my Solidoodle 2 (ancient) 3d printer.  here are some photos and some files if anyone wants to work on making their own.  You can click on the photos to see the full-size photograph if  you want to see the details.

The construction is fairly simple: there are five pieces glued together.  From left to right in the photo I have called these pieces “Tail”, “Extender” x2, “Adapter” and “Anchor”.  Here are the OpenSCAD files that show the design of each piece:

Adapter Anchor Extender Tail

Here is the latest on my kanban board.  Note: the only thing that has changed ( not good ) is the new project I did which is in the done column.

Sabbatical Day 34 – Workload

Last night I was up until 4:30am finishing my homework for my class today.  It’s the second assignment and had just 5 questions.  The last question really kicked my butt for a while; it took me 8 hours on its own.  The question was:

Prove that a finite ring R cannot have characteristic zero. (Hint: Begin by showing that for each element x ϵR, there must exist some positive integer kxsuch that kxx = 0R.)

I did manage to solve it, but it took a lot of tries.  Basically, I ended up using a kind of proof by nested contradiction.  I won’t share the details here, but after class this morning, I went to see the prof and asked him about my work (after handing it in).  My logic was sound, but there was a simpler proof available which he explained.  It’s actually kinda cool.  The class, Math 3020 Introduction to Abstract Algebra, is all that I hoped it would be: challenging, interesting, and totally devoid of practical application!  Also, I don’t have to do any computing… just reasoning and creativity.  I don’t have to deal with numbers (much) – it’s much more like programming than bookkeeping.  I’ve also learned to use LibreOffice Formula Editor (Math) and I love it!  Yesterday I learned how to add my own custom symbols (I added a star and a not-congruent symbol).

Verity’s bicycle got stolen today.  That’s a real bummer.  This weekend I have to get her a new bike.  It was a nice bike from MEC that cost about 800 bucks.  I gotta file a police report and see about insurance cause losing that much is not cool.  Also, I have to get a better lock for her next bike!  I only have a short video clip of her riding it when we first got it back in April (so it was still pretty new too!)  Bike thieves stealing from students are the worst.  I would be okay with such thieves being dismembered.  I had a beautiful bike stolen from me in my university days.  It was (maybe?) a Trek 420 that I got in the very early 1990’s – probably 90 or 91.  I’ll have to dig through my stuff to see if I can find photos of it somewhere…

Sabbatical Day 31 – Cycling

Yesterday, Sunday, I went cycling with Verity again.  She needed to get a new sketchbook at Curry’s.  And today I rode to the Mountain Equipment Co-op to pick up my road bike and leave my mountain bike for tune-ups.  My road bike is like new and a dream to ride.  It’s an old Specialized Allez Elite from the late 90’s.  It has an aluminum frame and beautifully thin racing tires.  It’s pretty light (although nowadays you can get a lot lighter) and stiff and quick.  I put new pedals on it that work well with me wearing runners with soft soles. I’m going to ride it to school tomorrow.

Specialized Allez Elite circa 1999-ish

At the Mountain Equipment Co-op, on of the people helping me with my bikes was a guy named Michael.  Turns out his kids also go to the Waldorf school where Ocean attends.  We chatted a bit about that – I’ll definitely be seeing him around!

It’s a little belated (I mean to post these on Saturdays or Sundays), but here’s an update of the personal Kanban board.  Not too much has changed but the pottery class is now in progress.  I’m actually a bit over my WIP limit so I have to try finish a couple things this week.  Haifa and I are going to do a couple days of driving practice and then she will schedule her mock test and real road test!  I’d really like to get Jerry’s book out the door this month too.

20181001 Personal Kanban Board

Sabbatical Day 29 – Skin and Clay

Yesterday I went for my first ever tanning session at a tanning salon.  I’m trying to keep my summer tan until we go to Panama in late December.  The woman at the front, Dee, was extremely helpful.  She was friendly and didn’t assume I knew anything which was nice.  She sold me a little thing for protecting my eyes, and didn’t sell me tanning lotion.  She explained the options for purchasing time and didn’t pressure me on any particular option.  She did, however, recommend that I purchase time on the stand-up tanning system because of my height; the beds would probably be challenging for me.  She might have actually been referring to my girth too, but she did it in such a way that I wasn’t at all made uncomfortable.  She showed me the system which was in a very small private room, and explained that the fan to keep the heat down would be very noisy (which it was).  She recommended 8 to 10 minutes for a first session, and I chose 10.  So she left me to undress in the room and start the system.  It was kinda boring.  Standing looking at bright UV lamps through very dark eye pieces, and of course, with no where to go, no significant room to move, too much noice to listen to things in headphones, for ten minutes uninterrupted is boring.  The system shut down and I got out.  They provide a towel, but honestly it wasn’t hot enough for me to break out in a bad sweat – just some very minor moisture on my forehead.  Next time I go, I’ll take a photo and share it here.  When I got out, Dee asked me how it was, and that was it!  Simple, quick.  Now, a day and a half later, I can’t see any difference, but I don’t expect to after one short session.  Dee recommended 12 minutes as a normal session length, and two or three times a week.  I plan to go again on Monday.

Today, Melanie, Verity, Ocean and I went to our first family pottery class.  All three of them have been to pottery classes recently at the same place – I’m the newbie.  It was great fun!  It’s a 3.5 hour session every weekend with a fantastic instructor, Cathy, who also had met my family before.  We did “slab” pottery.  Basically, you take a hunk of clay and pull it through a roller a few times to get it to be a thin slab – approx 5 mm thick in the case of mine.  The ladies made mugs.  I decided to do something a bit different: I made book ends.  Here is a couple photos of what I made – the clay is still wet so the color will be much lighter when they are fired.

Left clay book-end

right clay book-end

It took me pretty much the whole class to do them.  My next project will be to do something that is in the art nouveau style which I love.

In other news, my new assignment for Math 3020, is again super-hard!!!  Ug.

Sabbatical Day 27 – Feeling Good

Today I got back my first marks for any assignment.  I turned in my assignment for Math 3020 on Tuesday and the professor returned them today.  I got 20/20.  The prof made a couple comments including that one of my proofs was too complicated, and that some of my notes for a different exercise were good observations.  This is the assignment that I worked crazy number of hours to complete.  The prof also gave us our second assignment.  It looks equally challenging.  This time around I have to be careful about how much extra work I create for myself; last time I did _all_ of the exercises in the textbook not just the ones assigned as homework.  Perhaps this time I will do the homework exercises first and then go back to do some additional exercises from the textbook as time permits.  Here is a photo of my grade for my first assignment:

Homework Assignment Math 3020 Score

Sabbatical Day 26 – Missed Class, Homework

Today was the first day I missed a class.  Honestly, it’s because I was unwise with my sleep schedule.  I bought a couple books yesterday and read one of them cover-to-cover and read about half the other.  Both are fiction.  And I stayed up until after 3am doing so.  I got up in the morning anyway, and when I discovered that Justice had already left for class by bus, and didn’t need a ride from me, I decided to go back to bed.  I didn’t really consciously think about it but I didn’t set another alarm so I slept in until 11am – and missed my class from 10:30 to 11:20.  Honestly, it’s not a hard class, but I really can’t miss them regularly because I need to keep up with the concepts and terminology.  I’m still a bit ahead of the class in reading the textbook so there’s that.

So given how late I woke up, I decided to ask Melanie to go to lunch with me.  We had a very nice date.  We talked a bit about work (almost inevitable), but mostly just enjoyed our food and company at a great little place called “Which is Wich” downtown London.  The “Wahn Mi” is an excellent choice if you find yourself there.  After lunch, I came home and spent a bit of time on the phone with a colleague.  There are some “adjustment pains” that are partly related to me being on sabbatical.  I’m not going to go into any detail here, but suffice it to say that I believe it is part of the maturation of BERTEIG that various large and small crises will be dealt with.  One of the things about BERTEIG is that there is no individual positional authority in the organization.  The “management” structure is that the three Partners, myself, Melanie and Travis, must make significant decisions as a group (usually unanimously) in order for them to be valid.  This includes hiring, firing, major changes to people’s roles or other structural aspects of the business, strategy, business goals, large spending decisions, etc.  It’s an experiment in governance that is based in part on the Baha’i principle of consultation.  The key concepts include that consultation is about searching for truth, that consultation results in united action,, ideas are not owned by individuals, and that conflicting ideas (not conflicting people) leads to truth.

After my colleague’s phone call, I basically just continued to read my new novel for much of the day until dinner time.  After dinner, Verity, Haifa and I went to the Baha’i community gathering in our neighbourhood.  Haifa brought along her dog Katara who is being trained to be a service dog.  She (Katara) did very well in her first social setting.  She was mostly calm, obedient, and quiet.  It wasn’t perfect – she’s a puppy and she had a small pee accident – but everyone at the gathering enjoyed her presence.

After the gathering, Verity started to feel quite anxious about her homework project.  She and I spent about two hours working on it together.  She made some good progress and I think she feels much better about it.  She and three others have to create a public service announcement for the London Arts Council.  Verity is tasked with writing the script for the PSA.  So we talked about slogans and other ideas that she could take back to her group tomorrow.  I love being home to help the kids out.

At 11pm I sent Verity to bed and I got on the elliptical.  I’m trying to get significant (30+ min) of exercise every day.  I miss a day here and there, but with biking to school, walking the dog, swimming or the elliptical, I’m doing a pretty good job of getting the activity in.  Yesterday, I took my racing bicycle in to get it tuned up.  I hope to use it a bit before the fall weather gets too cold.  It’s much easier to ride on than my mountain bike, and I can go waaaay faster!  The only problem is that the handlebars are really low so I’m bent over quite far… and my big stomach gets in the way!!!  It’s very uncomfortable and provides some motivation to lose some weight.  So that’s something that I’m officially working on.  The exercise is part of it.  The next part of it is to restrict the hours when I eat to a 8 hour range (e.g. noon to 8pm) to do a mild form of intermittent fasting.  After a week of that, I plan to start adding more vegetables and fruit to my diet.  Currently, I eat very little greens.  It’s probably not healthy.  I eat a bit more fruit, but still it’s only a few times a week, not every day.  Eventually, I’ll try putting limits on some of the more unhealthy things I eat (sugar mostly).  I don’t expect to make rapid changes, but I want to get from my current weight (about 233lbs) down to under 190lbs, and then keep it there.  I also have an intermediate goal.  I hope to be about 215 by mid-December when we go on our family vacation to Panama.

Sabbatical Day 23 – Hard Work

I can’t believe it’s already a week since my last post.  This past week has gone by really quickly.  I’ve been working hard on school, mostly.  My first degree, back in the first half of the 90’s, was something I barely worked at.  I spent most of my time socializing with my friends and trying to teach other people about the Baha’i Faith.  In many ways, it was time well spent.  However, my studies suffered grievously; I failed several classes and barely scraped by with a 3-year degree after 5 years of school.  To say that my study habits were poor is an understatement.  I mostly didn’t go to class, I mostly didn’t read the textbooks, I mostly didn’t do assignments.  What I did was I would get classmate’s notes and read them quickly before the exams.  I’d scan the textbooks sometimes.  I begged for late assignments to be accepted (sometimes).

All of this led me to some anxiety about school this second time around.  So, I decided that in order to not repeat my past experience, I would go to every class (barring illness or other truly unavoidable situations), I would keep up with the reading for my classes, and, most importantly, I would do every single exercise in the textbooks along the way.  This has been working well for me… except that it turns out to be a lot of work!  Part of it is that I believe that I am mentally slower than I was 23 years ago.  I might speed up as I continue… in fact I can feel it happening already.  But part of it is that I still have ¼ time work, and I’m spending a lot of time with my family and helping around the house.  So the work for school is really substantial and it is pushing against my time in a way that I didn’t expect.

Anyway, I finished an assignment for my Math 3020 class today.  The assignment itself had one really hard question, and the rest were easy to moderate. The hard question, I spent over 3 hours on it.  And I’m not sure that I got it “right”.  I know that I got the final answer right, but I’m not sure that I will have met the expectations of the prof in terms of the work that I did to get to the answer.  We’ll see.  Anyway, after I finished, I realized that I have a very high expectation for myself: I expect to get high-90’s in both my classes.  I’m pushing myself as close to perfect as I can.

There have been lots of other developments in the past week.  My daughter Verity has started taking the bus to school alone.  I’m proud of her.  She also had a bit of a nervous breakdown mid-week.  I helped her through it a bit, but it’s related to the stress of changing schools.  Her grade 8 class was only six people including herself… her grade 9 class is about 500 people!  She had one teacher for the previous four years… now she has four teachers simultaneously!  We drove her to school every day… now she travels on her own.  Big changes, to be sure.  Anyway, I was glad to be home to talk with her and hold her as she struggled with the stress.

In general, I’ve been spending more time with all the kids.  Justice by driving him and sometimes seeing him briefly on campus.  Haifa by being home and helping her practice driving.  Verity by sometimes biking part of the way to school with her and helping her with her little projects.  And Ocean by being in the same room with her while she draws and I do homework.  I’ve also been walking our dog Toby almost every night and I’ve been cleaning up the kitchen almost every night before I go to sleep.  Melanie has now given me 7 projects, and I’ve completed 5 of them so I’m helping her out a lot too.  Here is my updated personal kanban board:

20180923 Personal Kanban Board

I’m pretty happy about how things have been going so far on my sabbatical.  I still think about work, but not much.  Earlier this evening was nice: my colleague Iryna had her birthday a couple days ago so a few of us went out with her to dinner at a place called “Mythic Grill Greek Cuisine” – the food was fantastic!  We had a nice relaxed visit and talked about all sorts of things including politics, parenting, lethal injections, Russian weddings, and a bit about work.

I have also had a little time for personal relaxation.  I’ve been making my way slowly through “The Flash” on Netflix.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s enjoyable enough.  The acting isn’t great, but it’s not terrible.  The writing is a bit formulaic, but there are some nice little surprises.  I also binge-watched the second season of “The Good Place” which I loved (available on Netflix).  Lots of laugh-out-loud moments for me.  I’ve been eating poorer than I hoped (in other words, less healthy, more quantity).  But, I’ve been doing more exercise than I expected and I feel like my fitness level is going up overall.  In particular, cycling to school has been a real joy even though I end up sweaty and exhausted in my classes.

This week I hope to finish publishing “The Scrum Master Guide to Choosing a Retrospective” by Jerry Doucett.  I have to re-do some diagrams to get it to work well with the ePub format.  Then, next weekend, I start pottery lessons with my family!  I’m excited to do some sculptural pottery, not just cups and bowls and stuff.