What Makes a Good Parent?

While this may come as a surprise to some, I've not been one to have a particularly high self esteem. I rarely feel I am worthy of any sort of praise, nor do I feel particularly intelligent or skilled at anything. I can do enough to get by, and in the few areas that I excel at, I tend to do a little better than people who are starting out. Despite working in education for a decade, I never felt I was a particularly good teacher, and despite writing software for over 20 years, I do not feel I am particularly amazing at it. These are just things I have done and tried to do well, failing hard and often along the way. This is to be expected, though, as I am a human fraught with failings.

Over the last few weeks my son has continued on his quest to learn about himself and the world. He's been able to "say" things like "mama" and "ba-buuu-pfffhhhh". He's learned how to sit up. He's learned that bananas are sweeter than carrots. He's learning how to crawl. Did he learn any of these things from me? I don't think so. Has he learned anything specifically from me? I don't know. It's hard to tell, really, as he's unable to comprehend my questions or construct cromulent answers that consider what was before to what is now. Asking such a question would be unfair, too, as he's just a kid unaware of the underlying question that I am really seeking to find an answer.

Ultimately, I want to know if I'm being the best parent I can be. I want to be part of my child's life, but I don't want to be an ever-present entity that stifles his independence. I want to show him the incredible richness and depth to the plethora of questions people can ask without boring him senseless by delving way deeper into a topic than he wanted to go. Is my attempts to play with him before he understands the concept of play a good thing? Is my insistence that he not play when eating food a bad thing? The boy is almost 9 months old and I've yet to discipline him for anything. Is that a good thing?

When I think about my parents and how they raised me, I ask this question of them. Did I have good parents? I think so. They did the best they could with the resources at hand. They sacrificed their own goals to raise my sisters and I. They struggled in silence when trying to pay all the bills on time while also providing all the necessities that kids take for granted. There is always food in the cupboard, clean clothes in the dresser, and electricity for the TV ... right?

Even today when I think about my parents, I think they are considering what's best for me while I live on the other side of the planet from them. There are occasional calls and emails, but nothing too excessive. There is no forced expectation that I circumnavigate the globe to attend an event, nor is there even a strongly worded message saying that I should do more to keep in touch with my scores of cousins, dozens of nephews and nieces, or handful of siblings. The distance I feel from the family I grew up with is just right.

Will I be able to provide this same level of comfort to my son and any potential siblings? Will I be able to give him what he needs without becoming a nuisance or appearing disconnected?

A lot of these questions are born from the Demons of Self-Doubt who whisper endlessly in my ear about how useless and stupid I am when compared to the whole of humanity, as if one person could be "better" than 7-billion others and still appear well-rounded and normal. Yet they're hard to ignore. I would like to be a "good" parent. One who gives their kids freedom to make safe mistakes to learn from, while also being a source of encouragement and knowledge. I'd like to teach my kids the crucial skill of critical thinking in the hopes that they use it to navigate the minefield of bullshit that is adult life. I'd like to give my kids the confidence I have not had since I was 19 an innocent of the evils that drive men to do what they do.

But can I do these things? It took me decades to learn who I really am. How long will it take to learn about any new people who share parts of my DNA?

These are undoubtedly questions that many parents ask themselves.

Recommended Podcast: Levar Burton Reads

Levar Burton Reads — Banner

Over the last few weeks I've been looking for some new podcasts that focus on the art of storytelling and stumbled upon Levar Burton's new show, Levar Burton Reads. Mr. Burton is famous for his role in Star Trek but he's also well known for his passion and advocacy of literacy. I remember when my siblings were much younger, we'd have the TV on PBS and every afternoon Reading Rainbow would come on and we'd see Levar showcasing a book and telling a story. While I didn't need any encouragement to pick up a book and read, there are many who fell in love with reading because of the children's show.

Levar Burton's podcast doesn't cater towards a younger audience, though it would likely be enjoyable for people of all ages who genuinely enjoy stories. In every episode, a short story is chosen and read to the audience. On each side of the reading, we hear what the story means to Levar and we're encouraged to really think about it as well. It's a wonderful listen.

There are 12 episodes as of this moment, and a new one comes out every week. If you enjoy stories, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Seven Years with Nozomi

Nozomi Enjoying the Sun

Seven years ago Nozomi became part of the family, and we've been inseparable ever since. She's calmed down quite a bit and she doesn't eat human toes anymore, but she's still as lovable and innocent as ever. While I can't quite give her the freedom to explore the park as much as she'd like, I do hope that she enjoys the time we do spend together. She's one of the kindest souls I've had the privilege to meet.

Elon Musk is Wrong. We Need Killer Robots.

Elon Musk is one of the world's most influential, wealthy, and intelligent people. He's the leader behind Tesla Motors and Space-X, two companies that I find incredibly ambitious and worth paying attention to. He's also a proponent of using technology to the betterment of our culture and society, which is something that I can usually stand behind and applaud. Over the last few years he's been banging the drum that Artificial Intelligence needs to be controlled and kept non-sentient in order to ensure our species has a future. Recently he and Google’s Mustafa Suleyman joined forces to lead a group of 116 specialists from across 26 countries to have the UN ban autonomous weapons in much the same way chemical and biological weapons are banned from use. While I agree with the idea in principle, this may not be the most logical solution to the problem of nations sending "armies" of robots to war. Until nations have a means to destroy or disable remote or autonomous vehicles en masse through EMP or similar weapons, it only makes sense that militaries not only possess "killer robots", but continue working on improving the software that operates them.

ED-209 and Dick Jones

The wars fought in my lifetime have been mostly commercial endeavours, with parties battling for resources at the expense of human life and toothless UN condemnations. One of the biggest issues facing nations and megalomaniacs hellbent on annexation of territory is the undeniable cost that comes with supplying the people who are pillaging, occupying, and otherwise conquering space on a map. Armies, air forces, and navies cost money. Lots of it. But if one could instead employ machines to clear out territories, operational costs of skirmishes go way down. More than this, training is essentially reduced to zero as everything a machine would need to know before going to battle could be stored in memory within seconds. Gone are the days, weeks, or months of training to learn the art of war. "Loyal" machines could be built by the thousands with each passing day allowing a hostile force to overwhelm the defences of all but their most powerful adversaries. A lot of people think North Korea with ICBMs and miniaturized nuclear warheads is a problem. A legion of drones carrying several thousand rounds of ammunition, mini-missiles, and a kamikaze sensibility to use every last bullet before the batteries run down would be just as terrifying. These could be built in secret and deployed under the radar, catching nation states completely unaware until the death toll was in the thousands, leaving infrastructure in place for the encroaching power to occupy territory without having to rebuild roads, power, and telecommunications lines along the way.

Wars of the future will be absolutely terrifying, and humans are simply not enough to combat such a horrific sight as 50,000 drones flying like locusts into the heart of a city while firing indiscriminately at anything that moved.

Rather than prohibit killer robots, we should enlist the best people to build them while following Asimov's three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These "laws" are hardly perfect, but they give us a really good place to start. If a hostile nation were to send drones into battle, either to conquer or as a terror operation, domestic drones would stand the best chance to provide the best line of defence until the military proper, staffed with humans, arrived. Domestic devices could provide cover while populations escaped. Domestic devices could drastically reduce the number of hostile robots targeting the civilians and key target areas. Domestic devices could buy time. UN laws alone are simply insufficient to prevent someone who cares little about the rule of law from exercising might.

People who know me will understand I don't propose the creation of machines that kill lightly. I'm hardly a pacifist, but I have a strong distaste of mechanical armies fighting our battles, as it cheapens the entire act of war. There is zero substantial cost if a government sends a million machines to fight a battle versus a million people. For this reason, it only makes sense that nations defend themselves from phalanxes of artificial troops. When better countermeasures such as targetable EMPs1 and other intelligent mechanisms are in place, then nations can look at fully outlawing the use of machines in war. A drone is not the same as a chemical weapon. A drone is not the same as a biological or nuclear weapon. A drone, autonomous or otherwise is a completely different type of threat, and one that should be met with whatever force is necessary until better defences are available.

At the end of the day it's not AI that we should be outlawing, strictly regulating, or blindly fearing; it's our fellow humans.


  1. Electro-Magnet Pulse

Auto Rejection

One of the many benefits of taking job interviews despite being employed is seeing what other companies are working on and how your existing skill set might be challenged in such an environment. This was certainly the case when I responded to a headhunter's email last week regarding a position at a company in town that is working on AR — Augmented Reality — technologies.

AR is something that I've looked at but not seen the allure in. Asking people to wear a heavy and uncomfortable headset or burn through full phone batteries within an hour, contend with visual distortion and perspective shifts, and generally unimpressive graphics resolutions while embarking on some kind of lame game or unrealistic experience is not something I'm interested in. Sure, we're still in early days of the technology and there are teams of brilliant people around the world working on making it all better, but I've just not seen something interesting enough to capture my attention. What interested me about the headhunter's email was that the position I'd be interviewing for would involve building the infrastructure and the API that would interface with the AR tools that were being built by another team within the company. There would be plenty of opportunity to work with cutting-edge hardware and build brand new software tools. Regardless of how one feels about AR, building new things and pushing one's boundaries is really, really cool.

So with this in mind, I decided that it would be silly to ignore the window of opportunity and agreed to meet with someone from the company in order to see if their goals aligned with some of my own.

The meeting took place at their office, and a cursory glance around the place revealed that most people are using Dell workstations with two or three monitors attached. Headphones were everywhere, so there's likely very little conversation taking place during much of the day. Most chairs looked slept in, and the air carried a whiff of sweat and parking lot odours, which is to be expected in the summertime. The person I met with was the CTO but, when I learned the company had fewer than 20 employees, the title seemed a little inflated. Small companies are great, as every person counts, but the titles are almost meaningless. Roles are more cooperative and dynamic.

Semantics aside, the meeting went rather well. The host arrived ten minutes late and, as we're both roughly the same age, we started by talking about tech in the 90s and what we'd like to accomplish. Later I talked about 10Centuries and its objective to be a non-profit service available for 1000 years, as well as some of what I'm doing at the day job. He talked about wanting to make holodecks, replicators, and transporters from Star Trek. An enjoyable discussion, though a bit rough at times as my Japanese is nowhere near native level.

Eventually we got to the subject that mattered most, what the company needed and whether I would be a good fit within the organization. The role was explained quite clearly, and I outlined some possible solutions to problems that were brought up, such as how to offload some of the AR work to a web server from a cell phone without introducing too much lag or requiring the web service to buy an entire data centre. Things were going well, up until one of the company's current projects was discussed1.

The first project would be an AR "imaginary friend" system. A character with the appeal of Clippy and an anime body of your choosing would essentially be a semi-interactive avatar that simulates a house mate. The system would be targeted at seniors living alone — who I can't imagine looking through a phone all day long — and NEETs who never leave their apartments but need companionship. My job would be to work with a team to build an API that takes the visual data from the cameras of the area, generates a 3D map, stores it on local servers, and then gives the digital pet a floor map from which they're expected to walk and avoid obstructions. This doesn't sound too crazy, aside from the storage of detailed maps of inside people's homes complete with geolocation positioning and other highly sensitive information, and could be an interesting challenge. I had a question.

This sounds very involved. The technologies required to make this a reality will not be cheap. How much will this software cost?

One of the biggest problems facing software companies is the lack of income from the people who use the services. Customers do not want to spend money on applications anymore regardless of how much time and money development of that system cost. Everything is expected to be "free".

This project was no different. I was told the app would be available for some Android and most iOS devices for about $3 after a promotional period where it's free. After that, people would be encouraged to buy their avatar things from the in-app "store", such as clothes, treats, voices, and other add-ons. Interestingly enough, the avatar itself would ask you to get these things if it didn't feel wanted.

Emotional blackmail as a service, anyone?

The goal would be to take the maps and character interactions from this system to use later when the company tries to build a complete VR game with very realistic avatars to interact with. We didn't talk too much about that project, though, and stuck to just this initial idea. The more questions I asked, though, the more it rubbed me the wrong way. The avatars were primarily gold diggers and secondarily spies, returning inventories of people's homes in incredible detail to servers. What's to stop anyone from "adding value" by delivering ads as verbal suggestions? Agreeing could then trigger a purchase, which could then result in the delivery of that product. Convenient? Sure. A little too convenient, though … no?

I'm all for providing some kind of companionship to people in need. Heck, done right, something like this could act as a confidante to people all over the globe. However, this company seemed to have their heart set on making this AR system into an ad delivery mechanism. When I asked whether the service might have a subscription option for people who didn't want to buy digital goods, the answer was a pretty quick "no" as "subscription services don't enable growth".

As the meeting wrapped up, I was asked if I'd like to come in next week to meet some of the team and ask some questions. Not being one to reject right away, I asked for a day to check my work schedule. Soon after leaving, I shook my head and decided this wasn't a place I'd feel comfortable working at. Just because the technology is possible and the tools are sophisticated enough to accomplish this sort of goal does not mean I want to be part of its creation or propagation. It all seems so … inhuman.

One saving grace is that I don't need this job. I still have full time employment and am earning a good amount for what I do. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have this sort of luxury. This does raise a question, though: if I were unemployed or still working in the classroom rather than behind a keyboard, would I accept this job? I've turned down others that do not align with my set of moral beliefs, but I wasn't responsible for a little human back then. I could certainly work at a place that I objected to if needs be, but for how long?

Of course, given how many organizations are using technology to strip away the last remnants of personal privacy and dignity in the name of "convenience" or "share holder value", I wonder how long a career in technology I might have …


  1. I was not asked to sign an NDA, so I'm free to talk about the project in detail. That said, I'll keep it vague in the event there are problems going forward.

"Half"

Earlier today the family and I paid a visit to Reiko's grandmother, who currently lives in a retirement home. Her mental state has deteriorated as a result of Alzheimer's over the last decade, and it was decided a few years ago that she should be in a place with round-the-clock medical support. Most of the time she believes it's some time around 1930 or 1940. She's forgotten that her father passed away some fifty years ago. And she can no longer recall the names or faces of her children. Her grandchildren are another story. This post isn't really about her, though. Instead it's about a word that I often hear associated with my kid that I have grown to detest: "half".

In Japan, and perhaps other countries where a population is mostly homogenous, children who have one foreign parent are called ハーフ (ha-fu), meaning "half Japanese". Growing up in Canada, people were also classified as "half", such as half-latino or half-black. This wasn't seen as a derogatory term as far as I know, but something about hearing people say this about my kid grates on my nerves. I want to say "He isn't half anything. He's 100% just like you." ... but maybe this is an over-reaction.

Despite being an immigrant, I'm fortunate enough to rarely face a situation where I do not feel welcome as a result of my genetic background. I don't want my kid to ever feel he's unwelcome because he's "half". Growing up is hard enough. He shouldn't have to deal with prejudice (or preference) as a result of his whiter-than-normal skin or lighter-than-normal hair.

Perhaps I'm just over-sensitive ....

Different

A number of people have told me that I'll get to relive my youth through my son, seeing the world from his perspective and empathizing with his perspectives. This may happen with some "timeless items" such as learning to ride a bike1, playing catch2, or rushing to the emergency ward of a hospital3, but the world has changed quite a bit in the 40-odd years since I was his age. That said, one old memory that came back to me with incredible clarity this past weekend was evoked when the boy went down for a nap while we visited his grandparents in Gifu.

This is likely a common memory for most people. My parents would visit family, and I'd have to take a nap or otherwise go to sleep in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar smells and hearing unfamiliar voices. Even for places I'd been to dozens or hundreds of times, the place would feel "weird" to sleep at. Most of the time I'd have to make due with a sofa in an unused room. Occasionally I'd be asked to sleep in someone else's bed, which I never did because it felt very wrong. Even now I would choose to sleep on a hardwood floor rather than rest in a bed that belongs to someone else. In the distance I'd hear my parents loudly talking and laughing, all the while insisting everyone under the age of 10 "go to sleep".

The boy is still too young to make strong memories4, but I do wonder if he felt it odd to sleep in a different room surrounded by different smells and different voices.


  1. which I recall learning alone on a gravel driveway in the rain
  2. the strongest memory of which involves my father and I walking over to the elementary school near our apartment, where we'd throw the ball for what seemed like hours on end
  3. Hope this doesn't happen ...
  4. I think ...

Fifteen Years

Back on August 1, 2002 I made the 4,880km trek from Hamilton, Ontario to the west coast city of Richmond, British Columbia, just a stone's throw from Vancouver. The move came at a time when I was under an extreme amount of stress in both my personal life and professional. The move from one side of Canada to the other was my way to run from all the problems, lay low for a while, and make a new me. A lot of mistakes were made, many of which resulted in regrets that persist to this day. But a lot of good came from the move as well. I learned who I was and, more importantly, who I wasn't.

The first few weeks were rough. Very rough. I thought I might end up homeless due to my arrogance and over-confidence.

You see, I decided to move across the country on Friday July 26th. On Saturday, I went to work, did what I needed to do, and then drove off to see my step-father and let him know of my plans. He didn't completely approve, but he understood and wished me luck. That night I began clearing out my apartment by tossing things from the fire-escape into the dumpster below. Sunday I bought a plane ticket for an August 1 flight, and afterwards continued clearing out the apartment with the help of some friends. Anything they didn't want, we tossed. One difficult item to lose was my computer at the time. I had invested over $8,000 into it at that point, and it was simply too large and fragile for me to carry it across the country. As I didn't have an address in Richmond, yet, there was nowhere to send it to. I had to let it go. Monday through Wednesday went by in a blur. I went to work, did what needed to be done, but kept my departure secret as the boss had one heck of a temper. I couldn't tell him becuase I was a coward.

The whole move was cowardly, really.

During the evenings I would go online and look for work in the Vancouver area. There was a lot of opportunity from the looks of the help wanted ads, and I got in touch with a company that was in the same line of work I was doing in Ontario; appliance repair. The role they needed to fill required a person with several years of experience who could tell the difference between a Maytag, Whirlpool, Frigidaire, and Bosch component at a glance. I could do that. We had a telephone interview and asked if I could start on August 1st. My response? "I'd love to, but I'm flying to Vancouver that day. Could I start on the 2nd?"

They were surprised that I was moving across the country and applying for a job that paid $10 an hour. I don't blame them. In retrospect, I'd be surprised, too. They asked me to call them when I landed and I hung up the phone confident I had gainful employment lined up. Finding an apartment was more complicated, as I didn't know the area, but I knew I needed to be in Richmond. Every place I called wanted me to come in beforehand, so I decided to wait until I was in the province to look for a place to stay, confident there would be a home waiting for me.

Wednesday night I went to visit my step-father one last time to thank him for everything he'd done, give him the keys to the office1, and chatted about what the future might have in store. The next morning a friend of mine came to pick me up in the early hours of the morning and we drove up to Toronto where I'd catch my flight. My heart was beating hard the whole time as visions of consequences played out again and again.

The move had to go on, though. I could not turn back.

After checking in and confirming everything was good, my friend and I shook hands. I walked towards the security gates, and he went back to his car. Though we'd see each other again, our relationship would not be the same. My relationship with everyone in Ontario would never again be the same. I was leaving everyone and everything, both the good and the bad, to forge ahead on a fool's errand.

Welcome to Vancouver

The flight across the country was rather uneventful. No turbulence. No weather to avoid. The passengers — to the best of my recollection — were all well-mannered individuals. After landing, everyone clapped and we eventually got to leave and collect our bags. One of the first things I did after picking up the two pieces of luggage that contained the last of my belongings was buy a newspaper. While I was confident I had work, I needed to find a place to sleep. I had enough money on me to stay a week at a motel if needs be, but cash was not something I had a great deal of nor access to.

The first few places I called all had the same story. A tenant was found a day or two before, and I'd have to look elsewhere. Eventually I did find a place that was renting a room for $400 a month, and that seemed decent. While shared accommodation is not always ideal, it is relatively cheap. The woman who answered the phone invited me to see the small apartment and gave me the address. Soon after, I was on my way to catch a taxi.

Interestingly enough, when I gave the taxi driver the address I wanted to go to, he started asking me detailed questions. "Where is that? Over by number three? Number four?" I had no idea what he was talking about and said as much, which is not what he wanted to hear. In a huff he grabbed his mapbook and looked it up. "Four and Francis" he scowled, and I repeated it to myself a dozen times so that I'd not make the same mistake again.

After a short 10-minute ride, we arrived at the house and I knocked on the door. A short woman came out and started apologizing profusely in a language I didn't understand. Her son soon followed her out and said that the room had been taken the day before. However, if I didn't mind staying in their part of the house, they'd rent me a room they weren't using anymore for $425 a month, a little more than the room offered in the paper. Not wanting to start the house search over again, I accepted the offer and moved in. The son and I quickly became good friends.

Later that afternoon I called the appliance repair shop I'd spoken to earlier that week to let them know I was in the province, had found a place, and was ready for an interview or to start work as soon as the next day. Unfortunately, they hired someone in the few days since my call. I was now back to square one on employment.

For the next seven weeks I looked for work as though my life depended on it ... because it did. I stopped spending money. I walked everywhere to keep the $2 fare for food. I grabbed old newspapers out of the garbage to look at the Help Wanted section. My prepaid phone was fast running out of minutes, but I needed to make calls. In desperation, I called my step-father and asked for some money. He came through the very next day and I was able to eat for the first time in 3 days. As the job search went on, I started eating once every four days. Then five ...

I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. The body does some strange things when you go from 232 pounds down to 173 in the space of five weeks. Strange ... awful things.

My clothes were all a hundred sizes too big for me. My belt needed new holes to keep my huge pants up. I didn't want to call Ontario for help again. My ego wouldn't allow it. I knew my bank had given me a $1000 buffer with ATM deposits, and I was seriously considering depositing a napkin with an IOU and risking the wrath of the bank for a few measley dollars ... but decided against it. That wasn't who I wanted to be.

On a sunny day in mid-September I received a phone call. A printing company in town needed warehouse staff for their busy season, and they were paying $8.75 to start. I jumped at the opportunity, had an interview I found confusing and repetitive, and was awarded a 4-month contract. My shift would be 6am to 2pm Monday to Friday, with occasional weekends if I agreed. I was so incredibly happy ...

The work was not easy. I'd lost a lot of weight. Working in the warehouse meant moving pallets of paper that could weigh anywhere between 300 and 4,500 kilograms. I wasn't certified to use the forklift, so that meant using a pallet jack and physical labour. When a person eats every day, this isn't too hard to accomplish. When a person eats the equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich every 5 days, and walks the 4 kilometers to work then again back home every day ... even a medium-sized load is a bit too much to bare.

But I persevered. One week later on a Friday, I was called over to recieve my first paycheque only to discover that there was a mix-up. It hadn't been printed. "If you could wait until Monday ..." the manager started, but I'd gone too long without food at that point. I didn't want to go three more days. Rather than ask me to wait, we went to the office and had someone write a cheque. $173.74 it came out to, and to this day it's the biggest paycheque I've ever received. Not in terms of dollars and cents, but value. I valued every last penny. I bought some food. I bought $10 in phone minutes to call my family. I bought a pair of pants that fit.

Over time, that temporary job would become permanent as I started writing software to help me do my job better. That caught people's attention and, eventually, I was put in charge of the warehouse and a small team. A year later I was moved to logistics, and six months later to IT. My entire five year stay on the west coast of Canada was paid for by working at that company, and I'm still thankful for every opportunity they offered ... and the ones they forgave me for manufacturing.

Fifteen years ago I left Ontario a scared, scarred boy who didn't know anything about the world or himself. The five years in British Columbia, while not always easy, prepared me for what came next ....


  1. we worked at the same place, and I had a set of keys.

Letter to Santa

041 - Letter to Santa

Original

I'm still debating whether to lie to my kid about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns, and the edibility of certain foods ...

No Sugar

039 - No Sugar

Original

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