I Need To Be Chris

Between 2002 and 2007, I worked at a medium-sized company in Canada that was best known for its calendars and other print materials. I started in the warehouse and, over the course of 3 years, moved into different roles that culminated in a position as a software developer and worked with a number of very smart people who taught me a lot about software development, and a lot about how to ask the right questions to find out what people want the software to do, rather than making the wrong assumptions and delivering something that isn't at all what they're looking for. The person I learned from the most, however, was a man named Chris1.

Chris had a rather wide range of knowledge on just about every technical subject, no matter how obscure the tools might have been. His knowledge on certain subjects would often run circles around others, even when it was their area of focus. And, while he most certainly did complain when he was called in to fix somebody else's problem, he tried to make education part of the solution. There really isn't any point being "the only person who knows X" in a company, because that doesn't benefit anybody in the long run2. The guy seemed to know everything he needed and then some, and was honest enough to say "I don't know" when he really didn't know right before investigating whatever needed to be learned so that he wouldn't answer the same question the same way later.

I learned a lot from him in the two years or so we worked together, and would be happy to work with him again if the opportunity arose.

The way Chris handled situations was often incredibly efficient, and it's something I really need to work on myself. The last few weeks at the day job have been incredibly stressful as I attempt to do four very different tasks simultaneously in order to deliver a project that should have started limited trials back in August. I've recently complained that I shouldn't be doing four very different tasks if bugs and enhancements are going to be resolved by arbitrary deadlines, but complaining about reality will rarely resolve the problems one faces.

I've been incredibly fortunate over the last two decades to have worked with a lot of very different technologies and worked in a lot of very different roles. This sort of make me a little like Chris, in that I can look at a problem from different angles, apply lots of experience to find a solution or — at the very least — know how to find a solution, and have the capacity to do it without necessarily asking for a great deal of help. What I need to learn is how to make common distractions from various groups into learning experiences rather than seeing them as work blockages. When people have questions about databases, I need to guide rather than brusquely answer. When people have questions about X over Y, or the alternatives to Z, I need to outline the gist and provide some basic links to sites with more in-depth answers. The people I work with are not fools. They genuinely want to do a good job and go home knowing they accomplished something, and this is the same goal I have at the end of every day. The question I have now, though, is how to do this without coming across as dismissive or as though I'm "mansplaining"3 something.

Having spent the better part of 8 years working in a classroom, you'd think this would be natural. That said, the teacher-student dynamic doesn't work with peers, nor do I want to have that dynamic with my colleagues. So how does one turn a work-stoppage into a learning opportunity while also meeting all of the arbitrary and constantly shifting deadlines that managers are all to happy to create?


  1. He had a last name, too, but I'll just use his first one here.
  2. Seriously. You don't want to be the person to receive a 3:00am phone call when things go bad ... especially if it's with something that isn't technically your responsibility.
  3. I hate this pseudo-word like you wouldn't believe ... but it seems to be part of the lexicon, now.

What's the Alternative?

John Gordon recently wrote a short blog post explaining that he can no longer recommend people make the switch from Windows to macOS when shopping around for a new computer. The reasons he cites are quite valid, from Apple's recent abandoning sprees on software, hardware, and business sense, to the high cost of entry for machines that have arguably mid-range specs. While I can agree that the average person may not be willing to invest a grand or two in hardware before investing even more money in applications that may or may not work as the operating system evolves year over year, it's important to ask one question: what's the alternative?

After months of investigation, I settled on picking up a 2015-era MacBook Pro and replacing OS X — as it was known at the time — with Ubuntu. I've been happy with this decision for the most part and have even gone so far as to contribute updates to drivers that allow people to get better performance out of their Bluetooth radio. I chose the MacBook Pro not because I wanted a quick way to jump back to the safe confines of Apple's ecosystem, but because the alternatives were just not worth the money.

When it comes to buying a computer, a person really needs to consider how they'll be using the machine. Will it be something you're looking at for more than an hour or two a day? Then it simply cannot have a low-resolution screen. Will it be something you'll type on a lot? Then the keyboard needs to match your hands just right. Will it be something you'll carry from place to place? Then it had better have a really good battery, or be light enough that carrying the ridiculously bulky charging adapter is slightly more bearable. Then there's the problem of the hideously awful touchpads that seem to exist on every notebook not designed in Cupertino and manufactured in China. I spent months looking for a good-quality notebook that met these 4 criteria and a few other details and always came away disappointed.

You can have a good keyboard or a good screen, not both. You can have decent expandability or good battery life, not both. You can have a fast processor or a thin formfactor, not both. Buying just about any product will require a person to prioritise certain features, but one expects the decision to be less painful the higher up you go in the product line.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 came very close to what I was looking for in terms of hardware, but was limited by 8GB of RAM and a keyboard that just didn't feel very good. Lenovo's T450s was also close, as it allowed for hardware swapping along with a mostly-acceptable battery life and decently-comfortable keyboard, but was limited by the screen's awful pixellation and colour fade.

As a person who looks at a glowing screen for 10+ hours a day and interacts with the keyboard almost exclusively1, any machine that cannot offer both solid typing and crisp text2 simply cannot become a tool I rely on.

So what are the options?

Dell does have some decent machines, yes. The screen's aren't all that great, and the keyboards feel cheap, but they'll do. The same can be said for HP, Lenovo, Mouse, and System76. Nothing from any Japanese manufacturer is even worth mentioning anymore, as it's all lowest-quality-highest-price plastic crap. Even Sony, once the pinnacle of amazing-screens everywhere, is barely worth a cursory glance at an electronics shop. Try as I might, there just hasn't been a compelling notebook from any manufacturer in the last five years — if not longer — that comes anywhere near what a MacBook Pro can offer in terms of screen quality, keyboard usability, battery longevity, and overall build quality. Yes, a person needs to resign themselves to the fact that the unit is ultimately a non-upgradeable appliance, but it's still the best-made appliance out there. And, if you're willing to go with a store model to save a few hundred dollars, you'll wind up paying the same as you would for a top-of-the-line HP or Dell that comes with an infuriating touchpad that you leave disabled 90% of the time.

When people ask me for advice on what computer they should buy next, I still ask the basic questions. What's the main purpose? How long will it be used for every day3? Who will be the main person using it? And then I make a recommendation. Sometimes it's for a tablet. Sometimes it's for a notebook. And in those instances where somebody is looking for a decent quality notebook, I'll recommend either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro ... which then has its operating system replaced with whatever the buyer is most comfortable with soon after getting it home.

Ideal? Maybe not. But it's better than the alternatives.


  1. I have not used a mouse in over five years, and I have no plans on ever going back to those horrible things.
  2. Crisp Japanese text. Roman characters are tolerable with awful pixellation some of the time, but it's brutal when trying to read complex kanji consisting of 12 or more strokes.
  3. then multiply this number by at least two

Bias or Prejudice?

I've been abstaining from writing any blog posts about the recent American election because, to be completely frank, I find it hard to believe that the character model for Biff Tanner in Back to the Future II has been chosen to lead the most economically and militarily powerful nation in the history of the human race. I'm unhappy that some of the people being hired for incredibly powerful jobs have such an open disdain for people who think, act, or look different from them. I'm frustrated that a bunch of poor "winners" are running around, terrorising people who are not caucasian ... or male ... or of a certain religious affiliation. I'm disgusted to hear that legitimate lawsuits against the president-elect will be fluffed off because "he's too busy". I'm dismayed that the current president will need to support the new one, who openly mocks people who take the time to learn about the things they're doing. To top it all off, I'm angry that the threats against groups of people — be they Muslim or journalists — are coming from the very top of this next government, and that we've seen this sort of thing on numerous occasions in the past and bore witness to the horrific events that followed.

Yet, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering if all of these overly negative thoughts about the new leader of the American people are unfair.

Whenever I would read about Trump in the newspaper while growing up or as a young adult, the articles would focus on scandal or failures. Whenever I would see him on TV, which I'll admit was not very often, he would come across as a wannabe mafia don with his big mouth, harsh words, and the stereotypically flashy extravagance one would expect from a performer. He did not strike me as a political contender, becuase he did not strike me as someone I would ever want to make decisions that affected me or my family. If anything, four decades of press coverage has made the man out to be an opportunist who'll take advantage of any situation because "there's no such thing as bad publicity".

The same can be said about a number of people he's bringing into the Oval Office with him. People who are leading members of groups that exhalt racial supremacy, religious persecution, and other fascist ideas. People who took advantage of horrible situations to make themselves look like heroes. People who use their wealth to shut down opposing voices ...

And I wonder if this is the end.

Not the end of civilization, of course. Civilization evolves. It changes and adapts to the needs of the people who forge the societies that constitute the very idea of civilization. But I wonder if this is the end of the Ameri-centric status quo that has existed for so long. Will we really see parallels between the Trump presidency and Hitler's Germany? Or will we merely see that Trump is another Silvio Berlusconi?

Is this just an overreaction due to bias? Or are my feelings seated more deeply than this? Is my bias actually prejudice that has been subconsciously moulded and formed over decades by reading The Guardian, The New York Times, and The National Post? These three papers from three different countries have very different editorial staff with different opinions, different agendas, and different backgrounds. Despite the differences, could they all have a similar bias that has fed into pre-seeded beliefs I've held, and could these biases have manifested into prejudice in such a way that I could feel physically ill just at the thought of a Trump presidency? Confirmation bias is a very real thing, and my preference for three specific news organisations likely came about as a direct result of reading articles that talked about the world through a lens that I was already familiar and comfortable with.

Regardless of who won the presidential election this year, there would be protests in the streets. Countries would align or distance themselves. Trade agreements would succeed or fail. Societal tensions would simmer or boil. CO² emissions would rise or fall. Yet I believe — and there's that word we must watch out for — that Hillary Clinton would have been a safer choice. Would she make mistakes? Absolutely. Would she do things I didn't agree with? Yes, of course. Heck, she's done lots of things in the past that I didn't agree with, but that's to be expected for a career politician who has been saddled with incredible responsibilities. Of the handful of people who ran for the most powerful office on the planet, she was perhaps the least likely to do something that would directly affect my friends and family around the world. She knew how to play the game, and she knew how to make the tough decisions. I don't believe Trump or Stein or any of the other contenders for the job have the requisite appreciation for the power one can wield as the President of the United States.

But again, is this just prejudice? I've been wrong before, and I've been wrong just about every time I've made a prediction about Trump's run for office. Maybe I'm wrong again this time, too. Maybe the man will invest heavily to rebuild the country's infrastructure, end wars, strengthen the economy, improve education, reduce the nation's prison population, and end gang-related violence in the poorest of urban communities through positive actions that vastly improve the quality of life for all Americans. Maybe Donald Trump really will make America great again ... but I just can't see it. My bias — my prejudice — just won't allow it.

Corporate Theft

A lot of companies worry incessantly that somebody will steal customer information and sell it to the competition. This is such a concern at many companies in Japan, that organizations will expend an incredible amount of effort to make it appear impossible, even if it directly affects their employee's ability to do their jobs. What's unfortunate is that, for many organizations, customer data is practically worthless. Instead of focusing on protecting names and addresses, companies should be protecting something far more valuable: their people.

Despite working with a great deal of information every day, there is simply no tangible value to any of it. If someone were to approach me with a DVD full of customer information from a competitor, I wouldn't even know what to do with it, let alone how to profit from such knowledge. Would it make sense to target these people with advertisements? Would it make sense to reveal the data leak to a newspaper to tarnish the competitor's name? Would it make sense to compare customers to see what sorts of patterns can be gleaned in order to better quantify this organizations USP1 when creating marketing materials? All of these things make sense on a small scale, but don't equate to long-term viability.

No. If I were to steal anything from my employer it would be the people I work with. Every company has its mix if great and decent people. Taking many of the greats with you to start a new company would have a much greater chance at long-term profitability, and one could incentivize the people who followed you with greater rewards than a large organization might consider. I've worked with dozens of organizations over the years as an employee or in a consulting role, and seen this time and again. Yes, it's important to protect customer data, but it's just as important — if not moreso — to protect your workforce. The hardest-working people are often dedicated not to the company, but to their colleagues. Take enough colleagues, and they're bound to follow, too.

Of course, this is an over-simplistic view of a complex situation, but it's one that many organizations fail to realize until it's too late.


  1. Unique Selling Point

Server Down

Last week 10Centuries suffered a total of 6h23m of downtime after the database server found itself filled to capacity with error logs. To make matters worse, the vast majority of this downtime was the result of me being asleep at the time of failure, and not having my phone set to ignore the Do Not Disturb settings when messages come from a specific recipient1. Without the incessant buzzing, there was no way for me to know of the problem that shook a number of people's confidence in the 10Centuries project. It's this loss of face that bugs me more than the server downtime. Systems fail, but can be brought back up to a previous state incredibly easy. Confidence, like trust, takes a great deal of time to earn and only a split second to lose.

Ultimately the problem was completely my fault. The servers were not being hacked. There was no DDoS or other malicious activity going on. Nothing from the 50-or so people who were using the service that day did anything to contribute to the problem, either. It was instead created by a confluence of poor decisions:

  1. I installed server updates without first testing them in the development environment against heavier than average loads
  2. I failed to configure systemd properly on the database server last year when it was set up
  3. I failed to proactively respond to server error messages that had been popping up three or four times a day for two weeks, warning me of a configuration problem that affected MySQL

Had I properly managed just one of those three issues, then last week's downtime likely wouldn't have occurred at all.

This episode of Doubtfully Daily Matigo goes into slightly deeper detail explaining how the problem snowballed after just a tiny rush of traffic2 hit the service, and what I've done to ensure the same problem does not happen again. Hopefully there will not be a repeat of this problem anytime soon.


  1. Does iOS allow this? I know we can have phone calls ring through on the second attempt, but I'm not sure about email.
  2. By "tiny" I mean 6,571 requests for web pages in 7 seconds.

Podcasts

Not to be confused with yesterday's show about podcasting, this episode talks about how my podcast listening habits have changed over time from being very Apple and Evernote centric in 2011 to story and music centric in 2016. To make a long story short, if the show doesn't evolve, I lose interest.

One of the few things I do not have a proper backup of is my podcast subscription list. While it's incredibly easy to keep backups1, it's not a task that sits high on my priority list. It's just one of those tiny hassles I don't want to think about, so I simply don't think about it. That said, if I did have a weekly backup going back five or six years, it would show quite a change in tastes. There was a time when I listened to just about every show that came out of 5by5 and 70Decibels. I used to look forward to The Talk Show back when it was Dan Benjamin and John Gruber. By listening to these shows along with Mac Power Users, I was convinced that my next computer would not be Windows powered and so, in September of 2012, I picked up a Mac.

But as time wore on, I stopped listening to the shows and moved on to other programs. Then I grew weary of those shows and moved on again. Today's playlist looks nothing like the playlist from five years ago, and I wouldn't enjoy going back to those early lists for one simple problem: Over the last 5 years, I've continued to grow and evolve. Many of the early shows I've listened to have not. They're exactly the same today as they were five years ago, only with better earnings per episode.

That said, there are some shows that have been in the podcast subscription list for more than three years. Shows like 99% Invisible, Eat This Podcast, and Vonyc Sessions are staples that I look forward to. Snap Judgement and CBC's Laugh Out Loud are also main stays that I'd hate to lose2. Stop Podcasting Yourself and The Ubuntu Podcast are relatively new additions, and they've been so enjoyable that I've even gone back and listened to a few years of past episodes. It's not often I do that at all.

What all these shows have in common that productions from 5by5, Mule, Gimlet, Relay.fm, Trek.fm, and other podcasting networks lack is a noticeable evolution over time. Compare a recent episode of a show from any of the five networks I listed above to an episode from two years ago and you'll be surprised at how little has changed. Depending on the time of year, you'll probably hear the exact same subjects, points, and complaints get discussed as well. Do the same with any of the shows from the previous paragraph and you'll be hard-pressed to find similarities, though Laugh Out Loud gets a pass as it's mainly just 25 minutes of stand-up from Canadian comics. Different people every week means different jokes and different personalities.

Maybe I'm unjustly demanding, however, shows that don't evolve are doomed to stagnation and listeners are bound to take their attention somewhere else. One-trick ponies fail to remain relevant for long.


  1. Backing up a subscription list is incredibly easy. Export an .opml file from the podcast application — if possible — and store it somewhere.
  2. Snap has come close to being dropped from the subscription list on a few occasions because of the excessive pleas for donations, but I've never been able to pull the trigger. Luckily, pledge drives only happen once or twice a year on most podcasts.

Podcasting

When blogs first started becoming popular two decades ago we saw a rush of hobbyists and amateurs who quickly brought the medium forward, followed by professionals who joined to broaden their audience, followed by the average person who just wanted a simple way to share their stories. Podcasting has followed a similar trend and, thanks to the incredibly versatile electronic tools many of us now take for granted, just about anybody who wants to create a podcast can do so. Over the last year or so I've been helping a number of people in my neighbourhood learn how to create, edit, and publish their own audio shows, and some people have really taken to the medium.

It's time I get back into the swing myself.

Is One Of Us a Sim?

If the universe is a simulation, then either you or I do not exist.

The older man shuffled over to the kitchen table carrying a hot cup of coffee and a thin glass tablet, a gift from his son who recently made a name for himself working with artificial intelligence and character profiling mechanisms. By scanning a person's entire presence online, it was possible to generate an artificially intelligent agent that would think and act just like the real person within a minuscule margin of error. The technology was being applied to criminal cases and shedding light on the why and how of various situations. The old man planned on using the software a little differently.

Sitting down with a relieved sigh, the man tapped at the tablet, bringing the device to life. "Computer," he started. "Tell me where I went wrong in life."

A chime sounded, letting him know that the machine had trouble parsing the request. "What do you mean?" it asked with a slight British accent. "Could you be a little more specific?"

"Stupid thing," the man muttered before taking a loud sip of coffee. He surveyed the kitchen of his small home. All of the bare necessities were in place, but little else. He enjoyed a minimalists' life and, as he lived alone, the place he had called home for the last decade has been described by some as dull beyond belief. He liked it this way, though. Someone had once told him 'the more you have, the more you have to lose'. They were right.

"Computer," he began again. "I want you to show me what my life would have been like if I attended university."

This was a request the machine could understand, and it produced a happy beep to signal its comprehension. On the screen was a simple spinning disc followed with three simple words: "One moment, please ..."

Every few months it seems the Simulation Hypothesis pops up as a topic of discussion online and a number of people weigh in with their own thoughts on the subject. Some feel the universe is too organized to not be part of a giant computer program. Some argue that God created the universe as an orderly system and that this is most certainly not a simulation. Others still think the idea is interesting, but ultimately too fantastic to be real. Some of the most interesting conversations I've had on this topic though don't try to determine whether we are in a simulation or not, but instead how one might go about programming such a system.

The Amazingly Fun Inception Fight

Some time back I had a conversation with a software engineer for one of the big autoparts companies in the region, and he explained that he would approach the project by first looking at ways of making the simulated people in his simulated universe share the very same limited set of hardware resources. Simulating billions of people would require a great deal of storage space but, like anything in the universe, that storage would ultimately be limited to a finite number of bytes. With this in mind, people would be given memories that work in summary form rather than photographic form. Then there would be the problem of having billions of people active at the same time on the same set of CPUs. An easy way to solve this would be to have regular sleep cycles in the people and apply consequences for using more processor cycles than allocated.

He went on for quite some time about the limitations he would build into the system and the assumptions that would be structured right from the very beginning to ensure that the universe and the people within were mostly predictable. People would not have super-powers like the X-Men or grow to be 50 meters tall. The small amount of variation that we would have between individuals would fit within a limited set of parameters dependent on proximity and access to resources.

The conversation was quite interesting and I enjoyed asking questions about how he would solve various problems. His answers were very heavy-handed.

Overpopulation in an area? Time for a natural disaster or war.

Progress happening too rapidly? Introduce previously unknown variables, such as atmospheric carbon levels, pandemics, and other hurdles to slow down a population.

Is a group of people "too comfortable"? Make part of the geography inhabitable or otherwise inhospitable to encourage a migration and mixing of cultures.

This developer, given the resources, would be little better than Q from Star Trek. He'd interfere with an entire group of digital sims just to see how they respond, as though their life was nothing more than a form of entertainment for him ... much like we currently do inside many of the video games we see available today.

How utterly evil, albeit understandable. When you have an entire universe to play with, why not stir up trouble and see what the outcome is? When there are no repercussions for your actions, there really are no limits.

But then the question came around to how I would go about coding such a system. As someone who tends to write very conservative software, I had a different approach to the problem of creating such a simulation.

"Well, first I'd make extensive use of social networks," I said. "And then I'd limit the number of actual sims to just a few hundred. Certainly not more than 1,000."

Now it was his turn to ask questions.

One of the biggest problems a simulated universe would have is the computational limitations. There is only a finite amount of processing power and storage a person might throw at the problem, so why waste most of it simulating billions of individuals when you can create just one? The various people that interact with that one would not need to have their own consciousnesses so to speak, but instead need only to be actors in the main sim's life. The best way to do this is to make use of social networks.

By 2040 we will have a large portion of the humans who have lived on this planet having some sort of social profile. This means we'll have tens of billions of profiles to pull from in order to create actors that can appear in a sim's simulated world. Travelling to Peru? Grab some Peruvian profiles to fill out the simulation. Boarding a plane to Finland? Get 300-odd profiles of randomly-selected people to act as a backdrop. It's not like the sim will interact wil all 300 of those characters. Surface approximations will do with slightly deeper profiles for the actors immediately surrounding the travelling sim. This solves the problem of creating lots of people each with their own hopes, dreams, histories, verbal quirks, and other details. Let the Internet do it for you.

The other advantage to going this route is that you'd be able to recreate a specific person's life and ask questions like "What if he ate that 3rd steak?" or "What if she dedicated her life to becoming the best veterinarian the world has ever seen?". Actual characters from within that person's life could be collected and inserted into the simulation giving that imaginary world a little more believability. Of course, if you're creating a universe with just one character, this makes it possible to "live" through that character, either as a TV show or via virtual reality.

Such a world might lead the main character to have some sort of existential crisis, though. Are they the main character or just an actor? Actors would not need to be conscious, per se, but instead would need to have the ability to interact with the main character on an as-needed basis. So, if this world were a simulation of one, who here would be the main character? Me, as I beleive I'm conscious while typing this article, or you, as you believe you're conscious while reading this article. I think therefore I am becomes the primary source of existential confirmation at this point because I don't know if you're actually reading these words, just like you don't know if I actually typed them. This article could have been scraped off the external Internet and fed through to your screen, giving me the appearance of existence when, in reality, I could be nothing more than an actor that appears on demand when in proximity of you, the main character.

It's an interesting thought experiment, and one that I would take pleasure in creating if I had the time, resources, and inclination. That said, whether this reality is a simulation or "real" is neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned. If the simulation comes to an end, I will likely not be cognizant of the universe's end, so it doesn't make sense to worry about such a thing. Instead, I will do what I have always done, which is to create things in the hopes that — one day — something will be genuinely wonderful ... even if for a brief period of time, real or imagined.

Eighty Five

After months of avoiding sugar and "reprogramming" myself to not want artificially sweet foods, I'm happy to say that I've reached a weight of 85kg1. This is a little more than a third of the way towards my goal of 75kg and I think it's fair to say that I owe a good amount of this weight loss to work-related anxiety, smaller portions, and some of the revelations from Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease — which was recommended to me by Niels some two months ago. After reading the book, I've come to the realization that all the snacks I love the most are ultimately short-sighted forms of instant gratification with long-term consequences that cannot be justified.

Bye bye, Snickers bars.

medical scale.jpg

One of the things I find interesting about this recent weight loss is that I've actually been walking a great deal less than usual. Several months ago I was aiming to walk at least 8km a day, which can be quite difficult when working at a computer in a 3m³ room for 10+ hours a day, and usually came close to the mark unless there was a typhoon overhead. Unfortunately this has been pretty much impossible since August due to work schedules and I'm currently averaging about 2km a day on foot — a number far lower than I like to see. That said, the smaller number that greets me every morning on the body scale certainly puts a smile on my face.

Meeting my weight goal before February seems pretty much impossible at the moment, but there's no point feeling bad for not meeting an arbitrary date that was literally pulled out of the air without any research into the feasibility of the task. Perhaps if I were to join a gym and convert more of the stored fat into calories, then I'd reach the goal sooner. This just isn't possible, though. There is not enough time in the day and, if there were, each day would need to be about 100 hours long. By staying away from refined sugar and anything in a silver package2, though, the body may just reach my goal on its own. Of course, I likely wouldn't have gotten this far without reading Fat Chance.

Thanks for the link, Neils :)


  1. 85kg is 187.3 pounds or 13.4 stone
  2. anything in a silver package that isn't coffee, that is

1% Complete

Today marks the tenth year I've been blogging with a self-hosted solution1, and this usually means that a person will look back over their posts to compare and contrast what was then versus what is now. I won't really do that aside from saying this personal project has come a long way since 2006, when it was running on a modified Synology DS-106j NAS that could just barely handle WordPress. Instead I plan on using this opportunity to look forward towards some of the goals I have for my writing, as well as the publishing tool that, quite literally, powers every web service I've worked on in the last eighteen months2.

The Notebook — Where Ideas Come to Life

Long-Form Writing

One of my goals for the near future is to return to some long-form writing. This was something I enjoyed doing for TheCarbonBlog, back when I was trying to encourage people to look at the various pros and cons of certain technologies such as fracking, carbon sequestration, and whatnot. The articles I wrote for that site in 2008 and 2009 often failed to reach their target audience because I was writing for the wrong people. Rather than attract readers who wanted to know more about the technologies, the site was inundated with activsts who meant well but were already mostly aware of the subject. Since then I've come to write longer pieces for various news sites around the web on topics such as distance education and how technology fails teachers, but I'd really like to build a larger audience here on this site with what I hope will be well-written pieces on the subject of positive growth. Yesterday I wrote a short article on how China could be smartly positioning themselves in space as a colony's one-stop resource shop, and I'd like to write similar stories that focus on the direction humanity may travel … so long as all the pieces align. Despite the craziness that we see in the news every day, I maintain a positive outlook that we will overcome our problems to tackle the grander ones in the coming generations.

Longer articles tend to take more time to write, though, so I don't want to limit myself to only long-form writing. Instead I'll set a goal to publish two articles a month, on the 1st and 15th, to start. If there is interest, then I will slowly increase the number of articles. There are no plans to put these behind a paywall, though. My writing isn't that good.

Growing 10Centuries

With this being my blog's 10th anniversary, one could argue that 10Centuries is 1% into its goal to be online for a thousand years. Unfortunately, 10C is just 5 years old, so this number is a little optimistic. That said, the project that is near and dear to my heart is seeing some interesting feature expansion in the near future that should make for an interesting service for people who are tired of being treated as a product rather than as a person.

A preliminary version of the ToDo lists have been out for a little more than a month now and soon we'll see the release of Notes, the first step towards an Evernote replacement that will allow a person to keep everything in a single location. In August I started tackling the concept of Notes as unstructured groups of structured data and this has allowed me to approach the problem in a way different from many note-taking tools. A lot of solutions will look at a note as a text file, but it's really nothing of the sort. A blog post is a text file. A transcript is a text file. A note, however, is not nearly so elegant, and people needn't be confined into thinking of notes as rigid objects. 10C will let people do things a little differently.

Another feature I'm hoping to roll out before the new year is Photos. Pardon the boring product names, but it's really for the better. Coming up with snazzy names is a senseless waste of mental processing power, just like searching for the perfect URL. I'd much rather invest the time into building the product than naming it. While the code might have various coffee-related code names, the actual product is very simply named. This also gets around the problem of trademarks, as you can't claim to own a plural that has been part of the language longer than anybody on this planet has been alive.

So by the start of — or early into — 2017 10Centuries will have:

  • Blogging
  • Social
  • Podcasting
  • ToDo
  • Notes
  • Photos

Also, come February or March, I expect to have saved enough to afford the services of a local web developer who has kindly offered to help out with a new interface for the account administration pages. Fully responsive and much more aligned with how people actually use web applications, the new UI should make it much easier for people to use all of the service's features from their browser. To make the system even better, a number of people are currently working on building native applications for a number of platforms that will give others the ability to use the 10Centuries platform in a more natural, more nuanced fashion.

It's an exciting time, to say the least.


  1. I did have a Live Blog, or whatever it was Microsoft called their service around 2004, but it was a terrible site full of poorly-written posts that had no place online. Mushy stuff with lots of pictures of my ex and I doing things around Vancouver. Nobody needs to read about that :P
  2. One of the reasons 10Centuries has been developed so quickly is because I have two other forms of the same code base that are actively developed for other purposes. One is a Learning Management System, and the other is a hyper-local music distribution service. Improvements to the underlying system elsewhere eventually makes it to the other projects so that everybody can benefit.

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