Encouraging Technological Fragmentation

On May 15th the US government issued an executive order that could effectively reshape the technology that many of us will use in the coming decade. Chinese companies are being accused of using their position as the world's factory to secretly modify the electronics that permeate our lives, making it possible for the Chinese government to monitor everything that everyone does at anytime and anywhere. If this were a joking matter, one might believe that this is little more than jealousy on the part of America's covert ops industry. In addition to this order, the US Commerce Department took additional measures by adding Huawei and 70 affiliates to its "Entity List", which bans the Chinese telecom giant from buying parts and components from US companies without US government approval. Earlier today Google signaled its logical intention to comply with the revised laws by suspending some of its business with Huawei. Other companies outside of the United States that provide hardware and software to Huawei are also cutting the company off in an effort to stay on good terms with the US government.

This leaves Huawei, the second largest mobile phone maker on Earth, in a bind. They cannot get all of the parts they need to build products. They cannot get access to all of the services that Google offers people who use their Android operating system outside of mainland China, which will give potential customers a reason to not buy a Huawei product. Their other products, including TVs and traditional computers, will soon face a similar series of problems.

The people in leadership roles within China will not take this lying down. Huawei and other companies will not have their livelihoods held for ransom every time a foreign government, be it the United States or someone else, decides to issue a decree. The Chinese government could react with a number of measures, but many of these would just hurt their own economic position. Rather than lower themselves to an endless game of action-reaction, it may be time for some of the technological innovations in China to replace those developed elsewhere; a technological split from the west, so to speak.

Zhaoxin is a viable domestic alternative to Intel and AMD for x86-based processors. Kylin is a modern desktop operating system that is certainly up to the task of replacing Windows and macOS if people were so inclined. Huawei has been working on their own fork of Android for quite a while and have even hired some former Nokia people to make it happen. Next generation RISC processors are open-sourced, meaning they can be used by anyone regardless of a government order. It wouldn't be easy, but there is no reason why Chinese corporations, with the support of their government, couldn't "fork" current technologies and begin diverging from the products developed primarily in the United States, Europe, and Israel. In the space of a decade, China could be a technological Galapagos, much like Japan was in the 90s. So long as the Chinese business leaders are smarter than their Japanese counterparts, then it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Chinese technology begin to replace western technology first in developing countries and later in developed nations.

The parallel development of technologies would probably appear to be a duplication of work at first but, within just a few short years, a noticeable diversion would become apparent. Customers would vote with their wallets. Markets would expand and contract. Companies would adapt or fade from relevance. The reality is far more complex than a 700-word blog post might make it out to be, but a technologically independent China would have a lot of benefits. Not only for the people of China, but everyone around the world. A technological race to domination would drive a lot of innovation and require a lot of intelligent people.

The rising tide raises every boat.

Of course, this could also backfire and result in drastically incompatible systems. I'm optimistic that we would see more good than bad from a technologically independent China, though.

Five Things

It’s that time of the week again where people lament the shortness of the weekend and the length of the working week. For me this is generally when I am the most optimistic for what lies ahead as a list of attainable objectives has been assembled over the weekend and the first of many checkboxes can be marked as complete in less than 12 hours. In addition to having a list of things to accomplish, Sunday is also a time for Five Things™ and maybe a little reflection.

Modern Ink-Jet Printers Rock

The old Canon inkjet has decided to insist on being as difficult and temperamental as a hungry toddler so, rather than put up with such nonsense, we went out and picked up another basic Canon. As a new printer will often come with some sample photo paper, I printed out a couple of photos and was immediately struck by the vibrancy of the colours and the clarity of the image. At some point in the last few years it seems that Canon has also worked out how to print right up to the edge of the photo. There isn’t any colour bleed or leaking anywhere to be found.

This printer will see a lot of use over the coming weeks.

7,500

Before the boy was born I would generally clock close to 8,000 steps a day. This was in part because I could invest the time into walking places. After I started working from home, though, this number dropped to just a few hundred steps a day. Now that the boy is more keen to head outside and explore the world it’s feasible to have days with a healthy amount of walking. Last week was the first time in over a year where I averaged just over 7,500 a day.

Hopefully there will be more of this in the future.

Prescription Sunglasses

After what seems like forever, I’ll soon have a pair of prescription sunglasses to wear when out and about. I generally do not wear non-prescription sunglasses as the lack of focus and difficulty in reading distant objects results in a pretty severe headache, so the more expensive option is needed. The last pair of prescription sunglasses I had were actually “transitions” that would (slowly) get darker with direct sunlight. These were broken in 2008 and I’ve been going without ever since.

Yesterday Reiko and I went to a place and ordered ourselves some decent protection. We’ll receive the glasses in 10 days. I’m quite looking forward to this.

Napping in the Park

Yesterday and today I fell asleep while sitting on the hill in the park. This is generally a bad idea, but the rest has been truly invigorating. When I wake up after a ten to fifteen power nap outside, I feel as though I just had a night at a really nice hotel. While I hope this doesn’t become a habit, I do hope that power naps continue to be as beneficial.

No More News in English

Over the last couple of months I’ve come to realize that most of what I read on English news sites is either fabricated or grossly misrepresents the facts in order to push a specific agenda. This practise is nothing new for tabloids, but every source of news has effectively become a tabloid in a bid to inflate thier numbers. I’m not playing their game anymore. If news sites want me back as a reader, then they’ll need to have the same journalistic standards as Japan’s NHK news desk. Nothing else is worth my time.

This coming week should be quite a bit more productive than last week, and I’m hoping that two updates to 10Centuries will restore some of the important functionality that people have been asking for.

1985

Earlier today my sister sent me a photo that, while undated, would have been taken in 1985. Based on all the things that happened that year, the photo may have been taken in late August or early September, shortly after my father collected Christine and I from the foster home where we were staying after our mother left. My youngest sister at the time is not in this photo as she would have either still been staying with an aunt or had just recently been retrieved by my mum1.

My father, sister, and I in 1985

What immediately strikes me about this photo, aside from how thin we all are, is that only my father is looking at the camera. Christine and I are looking off to the side at someone else. I know it has to be a person we're looking at because the photo was taken in the 3-bedroom apartment we moved into shortly before I started attending elementary school2. The person who took the photo would have been standing directly in front of the table where we had a 12" black and white TV3. Whoever we were looking at would have been sitting at the dining room table, as that would have been the only other furniture in the apartment at that time. Judging from the grin on my face and Christine's exuberance, I have a feeling it was either my mother — who my father always allowed to visit us despite whatever feelings he may have harboured — or her brother Leo. Unfortunately, my memory of that day is practically non-existent.

Photos were not all that common in my family before the advent of the "camera phone"4 so, for this picture to exist, there must have been some occasion to celebrate. My son hasn't gone a day in his life (outside the womb) without at least one photo being taken. Will he one day look back at these digital memories and remember a simpler time? Will he wonder why there are so few pictures of him and I together but thousands of him with his mother?5

The boy and I Looking at Cherry Blossoms in Kasugai Alongside the Hatta River

There's no way to foresee the future and how the boy will remember his early years, but I do hope that if he looks at these pictures, he sees that I'm just as invested in him as my father was in his children.


  1. My youngest sister was just a few months old when Mum left all three of us with a babysitter and a note to give our father after he returned from work. Because she was so young, my Aunt Vicky stepped up to take care of her rather than send her off to foster care. I never learned why Christine and I weren't picked up by other aunts and uncles, but then I never really asked. My father doesn't really talk much about this time in his life aside from how hard it was to climb out from under all the debt.

  2. Not just any elementary school, but an English-speaking elementary school! Prior to this, I attended French schools as that is my mother's first language.

  3. It was this 12" TV where I watched a whole lot of Star Trek and Saturday morning cartoons. This was also the TV where my father and I would play the Atari for hours on end. I didn't realize just how strange it was for people to have a 12" black and white TV as their living room TV until the early 90s, when my father finally paid off the last of the debt from the divorce and received a tax refund. We went out that weekend and bought a 26" colour TV with a remote and a VCR. So much luxury. TV shows had colour!

  4. Flip phones with a really awful camera completely changed the way my family approached photography. Once they saw the advantages of digital pictures, they took dozens of photos every day.

  5. The answer is pretty simple: I'm the family photographer.

One

The neighbourhood is an interesting place at 1 o’clock in the morning. Street lights shift to alternate-pole lighting. The last public transit vehicles have left the area. Almost everything that needs sleep is unconscious in its home. And then there’s me, sitting a well-lit room hammering away on a keyboard while solving problems with raw math and a playlist of loud music. Nozomi does her best to ignore me.

There is a lot to like about one in the morning. The only caveat is that the boy will expect me to be awake and ready to play no later than 7:00am.

Stuck

For reasons I don't quite understand, this week has been incredibly long. There has been almost no motivation to do any work and, worse still, the work that I have tried to do has been absolutely awful. Today, despite several attempts to shake the lack of creativity and energy, I've managed to accomplish absolutely nothing aside from the bare minimum … which is not at all what I need to be delivering in the next couple of days. I am, for all intents and purposes, stuck in what appears to be burnout for the second time in 2019, and the fourth time since May of last year. What the heck is going on?

Generally when I run head first into burnout there is an unhealthy dose of depression that goes along with it. Unfortunately the only way out of this unproductive rut is to plough right through, forcing things to get done in the hope that something will trigger the dark cloud to go away, allowing creativity to return and the lethargy to dissipate. When I first started encountering these low-points in the late 90s, they would generally last for a day or two at most. The current incarnations are much more persistent, often stealing a week or two of my time, making every waking moment while working at the day job feel like an eternity.

This run of sluggishness is different in that there doesn't appear to be any signs of depression. Instead there is just an ambivalence to getting work done, which makes no sense.

Two deadlines arrive tomorrow with a third this coming Tuesday. If I can't shake this lack of motivation, then schedules will slip. While nothing I work on is of life-and-death importance, any delay that I cause will have a domino effect on the rest of the project. It's true that I haven't been sleeping all that well over the last couple of months — if not years — so this may have something to do with it. Tonight, rather than invest some time into client work after the day job, I think I'll just head to bed.

Given the substandard quality of the stuff I'm typing today, this is probably the best thing to do.

600 Hours

Today marks the 245th consecutive day that I've written and published a blog post on this site, which is a number that I find astounding given the number of times I've tried and failed to do this in the past. As these posts are all stored in a database it's easy to quantify what's been done even more, but these metrics would just add noise to the goal of the current objective of publishing at least one blog post every day for 365 days … or more. That said, the vast majority of my day is spent thinking about numbers. To not slice and dice my efforts here in an effort to better understand what's been done would run counter to my nature. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to kill some time while listening in on a meeting at work by writing a quick little script that would take a look at the source files for the blog posts I've written — including the unpublished ones — and try to work out roughly how much time I've invested in writing since September 12th, 2018.

The answer is just shy of 600 hours1. I thought it would be more.

Setting a goal to both write and publish a post every day is easy. Achieving the goal is another story altogether. When I would try to publish daily in the past, it was often necessary to have a couple of blog posts written and put in the queue ahead of time so that there would always be something to publish, even if I couldn't write it that day. This tactic is being avoided this time as one of the benefits to writing every day is the unseen information stored in each post. Articles with a great deal of repetition were written at the end of the day or during times of burnout. Posts that consist mostly of photos are for those days when I am just staring at a blank page for far too long. Items that have clearly defined sections were written over a period of hours with at least two revisions. It's this extra information contained within the patterns of every post that I find the most interesting as it reveals elements of my mental state as the fingers hit the keyboard.

One of the reasons this personal site exists is because it's a reflection of who I am in more ways than one. There are bugs, imperfections, poorly-written posts and, occasionally, better ones. Some of the ideas I write about have evolved over time while others may have remained mostly static. It's very much a personal Wayback Machine.

Writing and publishing every day is not something everyone can do every day, and I struggle with blank pages just as often as anyone else. There's no stopping this streak, though. 365 consecutive days is the minimum goal, and there is no upper limit. With all this writing practise, I hope that the articles are being written better and with fewer digressions.


  1. The best estimate is 594 hours 29 minutes, but this can't include situations like standing up to use the bathroom or stopping because the boy needed attention. It should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Logical Conclusion

Some of the recent conversations around employment equality have been quite interesting to observe. Regardless of whether the people discussing the topic are on YouTube, using podcasts, or publishing opinion pieces on well-known news sites, the same handful of arguments are trotted out as a reason for why employers must be forced to use discriminatory practices when acquiring new employees through the use of heavy-handed legislation, or why it's a fool's errand that should be abandoned. What's unfortunate is that some of the people debating the issue use the same words to mean different things, which results in unnecessary frustration and a surplus of decibels.

There are generally two meanings for the word "equality" that I see when people are discussing the obvious gaps in population representation within certain fields:

Equality of Opportunity, which is described as a state of fairness in the job market. Everyone is treated the same and not prevented from applying for a job due to artificial barriers, prejudices, or preferences. The objective here is for an employer to hire — or promote — the most talented or qualified based on verifiable and testable metrics. This is generally how meritocracies work, though it is not at all easy to maintain.

Equality of Outcome, which is described as a state where every member of a population has the same material wealth and income, or where everyone literally has the same things. A transfer of wealth is required to make this happen, resulting in a society with no super rich and no super poor. Everybody has food, clothing, shelter, access to medical services and education, and just about everything else a collectivist society can realistically support. It is, in short, the ideal of communism.

Both of these concepts have their pros and cons. Neither are complete solutions to the problem of the obvious inequalities we see in modern life. A lot of large organisations around the world try to present an equality of opportunity. There are missteps and poorly worded job ads from time to time but, for the most part, many of the employment laws found in North America, Europe, and even here in Japan will punish a company found to be guilty of discriminatory hiring or rewarding practices. This is a heck of a lot better than the openly hostile employment practices that were seen more than 25 years ago.

Equality of outcome, however, is something that I do not see as being realistically feasible for any amount of time without dropping the pretence that citizens of a nation have free will. In order to have a viable equality of outcome, ensuring every field of employment has the same ratio of various groups that are found within the general population within a short period of time, people must have a static career path assigned to them at some point during high school with no option to appeal barring a major catastrophe or war.

The "career chip" would need to go from being a gag in Futurama to a real thing that controls what a person can do in their life, as this is the only way to honestly ensure there is an equality of outcome without drastically destroying the economies and infrastructures that underpin the success of a nation.

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

This idea is not at all new, and it was something a high school friend and I were chatting about a while back as he explained the challenges in adding "visible diversity" to his team of spot welders, as it's become corporate a requirement. Every one of the 46 tradesmen who reports to him is male. Based on the published demographics of Ontario, 23 of these skilled workers should be women. His employer, a well-known steel mill in Hamilton, has been looking for more diversity on the factory floor for years, but there is simply no interest aside from young men. This is despite the very healthy salary1, several weeks of vacation per year, and a generous retirement package. How else can this gap be closed other than to force people into careers based on the very criteria that an equality of opportunity state decries as discriminatory?

A post from 2005 outlining some of the occupations dominated by gender in The Netherlands2 shows some career paths that are generally not very diverse, and these professions have certainly been dominated traditionally by men or women for a number of generations if not millennia. If an equality of outcome supersedes everything else, then there really is no other option.

This wouldn't be all bad, though. Young people concerned with their post-education futures will be given one less thing to worry about. Greater diversity in the professions would mean that jobs would be required to become much safer to accommodate all levels of skill and motivation. And organisations could more easily ensure that management positions were also filled by people who reflect the general population. If there was also a redistribution of wealth and every job was paid equally well based on age rather than seniority or ability, then someone assigned to drive a bus could earn the same as someone assigned to perform open heart surgery. Nobody would go hungry or miss a car payment3 ever again! These are all positives, and I don't say this as a joke at all.

Would the consequences4 be worth it, though?

I am a firm believer in equality of opportunity. Everyone should be judged on their skills and merits. Competence should be encouraged and rewarded. While we're not quite at a place where we can honestly say that everybody will be treated the same or compensated in the same way as a colleague, we're much closer to the ideal today than ever before. As for the equality of outcome movement, I can understand some of the reasoning and even agree on a couple of points5, but history has shown time and again just how untenable such a system is.


  1. Heck, I don't even make as much as the median wage without putting in more than 60 hours per week.

  2. I couldn't find anything similar for occupations in Canada, but the data must surely exist.

  3. Assuming, of course, that everyone treated money the same way.

  4. There are a whole lot of consequences that I've decided to not include here, because the post isn't to completely deride the idea, but posit the most logical means of making an equality of outcome possible … though I would never want to live in such a society.

  5. The massive gap between the crazy wealthy and the dirt poor is absurd. Wealth redistribution is not a viable solution, though.

Context and Footnotes

There is no denying that footnotes play a prominent role on this site1. Rarely does a day go by where there isn't at least one sitting underneath the main body of a blog post, providing context or additional information to explain an idea in a fashion that is less obtrusive than an in-line aside or bracketed segue2. Footnotes have become so much a part of my writing that they even make an appearance in social posts, which may make this publishing platform the only place where a person can include these annotations in a "micro-blogging"3 format. One of the questions I've long had is why these useful notes are so rarely seen on other websites. It's not as through footnotes are a foreign concept and the quick-reference context they can provide might actually make reading about complex or contextual subjects a little easier for people who do not have a complete working knowledge of the subject4.

Footnotes on a Recent Post

The Problem with Footnotes on Websites

As with anything, footnotes are not a panacea5. On the printed page, a footnote is (generally) found only on the bottom of the page that carries the superscript hint. This makes it relatively easy for a reader to read more about something if they so choose. On a website there may be a little more work involved if a person needs to first scroll to the bottom, not losing their place, then go back. The moving screen would be a distraction that can break the flow of the article. There are a couple of solutions to this, of course, and I've used two on this very site in the past. Unfortunately they are not necessarily the best solutions6.

The first method I used was to have the super-script number act as an anchor link7. By clicking or tapping the number, a reader would be brought to the bottom of the page where the footnote existed. At the end of the footnote would be a "return" icon which, as one would expect, returns a person to the point where they left off. This is certainly better than requiring a person scroll down to the bottom of a post themselves, but the jumping content can be visually distracting. The abrupt changes, sliding past images or a wall of text, is not at all a good experience. What's worse is that a person still has to re-read segments to determine where exactly they left off and get back into the article8.

This is a sub-optimal solution to the problem.

A couple of years ago Chris Sauve released "Bigfoot" to the world9, which is a JavaScript library that mimics the footnote popovers that were first seen — to the best of my knowledge — in Instapaper. I liked this idea so much that I implemented it on 10Centuries almost immediately. This worked great on desktop machines and tablets, but proved to be a problem on phones when dealing with some of the more verbose asides on this site and others. In the end, I had to remove the feature and go back to the first implementation so that people could read articles without an unfortunate source of friction.

Neither of these features are found on the current version of the 10Centuries platform10. Instead I've opted for the least helpful method, which is expecting the reader to scroll to the bottom if they want to read more. The reasoning came down to ensuring feature parity with the RSS reader that is built into the 10C platform11, but this is a lazy answer. There must be a better solution.

Fortunately, as with so many things in life, there are a couple of options that might prove worth exploring.

Option One: Tangible Footnotes

A footnote is expected to be at the bottom of a page. With this in mind, if the screen is considered a page, then footnotes should always appear at the bottom of the screen and update as the visible content scrolls. Because some footnotes can be incredibly long on a small screen, it would be better to show just a compressed view with the option to expand and read everything. I see this working a little bit like Vivaldi when the browser tabs are set to appear at the bottom of the window, only less tabular.

Option Two: Anchor Links with Highlighting

The idea here is that a person would click a superscript number and be scrolled to the appropriate footnote, which would then be highlighted in a manner to make it easier to quickly identify and read. Clicking the return link would bring a person back to the part of the page where they were, with the superscript number highlighted so that there's no mistake where a person can pick up reading again.

Option Three: Ditch the Footnotes

This isn't really a valid option as it would mean providing less context to a point or learning how to weave longer, more complex stories that bring a reader along for the ride. While this would be nice from a literary practice point of view, it's not something I'm particularly keen on doing at this time. While I would love to write with such an artistic flurry that people cannot help but read and share my articles with the world because they evoke such vivid mental pictures, this would require me to invest more time into the craft than I have available at the moment. This may be an option at some point in the future, but not today. Of course, this option does nothing to help people using 10C who want to use footnotes12.

Of the first two options, which one is better? The first would require more complex code to be written while the second could probably be hammered out and deployed in a single morning. Are there other workable solutions?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just overthinking every decision that goes into this platform in an effort to avoid trying something different and failing miserably. Not being able to code the right solution isn't something I worry about, as a lot of my code gets thrown away as ideas evolve and get refined. What worries me is releasing a feature that people detest, resulting in an ever-shrinking community as the tools I provide do not offer sufficient benefits to weather the rough spots. Maybe I'm overthinking this, too. I probably am.

That said, which option will prove to be more correct?


  1. Over the last 24 months there have been 1,218 footnotes written for blog posts on this site alone. To say that footnotes play a prominent role is a bit of an understatement.

  2. Many years ago, when I was just starting to take blogging as a serious creative outlet, posts were written in a fashion similar to what I would see in the opinion section of various newspapers. Footnotes and references are generally handled quite a bit differently when columns are limited in length and width, so writers would often use an inline aside — such as this, which is marked by a double-width dash — or brackets (which is what I generally see in newspapers that were at one time owned by Conrad Black, "the millionaire who went to jail").

  3. When people started to think of posts consisting of a handful of words as a "micro blog", there was a bit of experimentation to see how additional context could be included in a post. The solution on microbloggling platforms such as Twitter was to reply to yourself to build a "Tweet storm", or a series of sentences that would hopefully form a cohesive paragraph if read chronologically and not taken out of context. As one would expect from someone as creative as a brick, I tended to write a longer blog post and just post a link to that on Twitter — or somewhere else — in the hopes that a less abridged explanation of an idea or opinion would foster a more nuanced dialog. Boy was I wrong.

  4. People are not stupid. We might call each other various synonyms of this word from time to time but, at the end of the day, I strongly believe that most of us want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the universe and the IDIC within. The Internet has often been referred to as the id of humanity, but I tend to see it as IDIC on display; Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Roughly half of the people on the planet are using the Internet to communicate and share ideas. Billions of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, ideologies, degrees of education, levels of cognitive understanding, and states of mind. With a little context behind an idea, it becomes that much easier to understand where a writer is coming from, even if we don't agree.

  5. No solution is going to magically solve all problems. That said, some solutions can gain wider traction and foster greater innovation from a community of thinkers.

  6. This is one of the reasons I dislike how people will market a product as "the best X for Y". There is no possible way any single solution is going to work for everyone. How many text editors are there available for download? How many different flavours of Linux? How many different laundry detergents? Best is, at best, a subjective term that can only apply to a handful of individuals. This won't stop people from trying, though.

  7. Anchor links are certainly a valid option to the problem of quick footnote seeking, but I'm reminded of the hassles from the early days of digital books. In the late 90s, there were a couple of competing file formats that tried to force a book to feel like a website. What this meant was that a textbook or published thesis might have anywhere between two and five dozen references at the back of the book. Clicking a link would trigger the jump to the page which, on a Palm handheld or very early Kindle meant waiting for the device to read to the end of the book, find the reference, then render the page on the screen. A process that would require five seconds on a good day. Clicking back would require just as much time and, if you changed the size of the font, then the page numbers were all wrong and you'd end up where you didn't want to be.

  8. It was a mess!

  9. When bigfoot.js was released, a lot of websites in the Apple blogger sphere snapped it up right away. This was a great solution for people who wrote short footnotes, but there was a problem for people who were unaccustomed to using the literary tool in that a number of CMSes did not natively support them. Now, almost six years after the JavaScript helper's release, it seems that there are just a handful of sites — that I visit — that use an occasional footnote in any capacity.

  10. Like a lot of current CMSes that abstain from WYSIWYG editors, 10C relies heavily on Markdown for its text formatting. When the text is rendered into HTML, tags are added to make posts IndieWeb friendly, but little is done to make the various post types really stand out.

  11. One of the core concepts behind 10Cv5, which I have eluded to at times, is that this current version of the platform is really more of an RSS reader with the ability to publish content to a domain you own. Comments can be made right from the reader, which will then result in a Quotation or Bookmark post on your own site. Webmentions are then sent out so that Indieweb-ready websites can visit the source post, read in the comment, and display it to future readers. This makes it possible for an author to have long-term control over the words they publish online and, if a commented-on post disappears at some point in the future, the comment continues to exist in a local database. That said, this feature is not yet fully released.

  12. This is the crux of the problem I face with personal projects, such as 10C. People are using the software. I really want the features to be things that people can use easily and rely on. The move to v5, however, was painfully messy. There are still records that have not yet been properly attached to the accounts of the authors, and some core site pages are still non-existent. The RSS feature is something that is being used transparently on a daily basis in the form of Nice.Social, but it's not quite ready to deal with the wild-west of RSS feeds that exist across the web. Every couple of days I'm spotting issues with malformed feeds that need analysis and better handling. Once the core features of v5 are in place and people have all of their data in an easily accessible fashion, I'll open up the RSS reader — and its API — to anyone who wishes to read and comment on content using the Google Reader-inspired web application.

Five Things (My Mother Gave Me)

Mothers — even the really bad ones — give their kids a lot of things that are often taken for granted. Aside from the obvious gift of life itself, we're usually bestowed with a plethora of memories that fossilize early and go on to have a noticeable impact on the rest of our lives. I've not seen my mother in almost 20 years1, but there's a lot of her that is visible in me. I look far more like her than I do my father. I think more like her, too. Heck, my lack of receding hairline is also thanks to her more dominant genetics2. More than all of this, though, there are five things that she gave me, intentionally or otherwise, that play a role in my life even today.

She Taught Me How to Cook

Before I moved to life with my mother from the age of 13, the only thing I ever "cooked" was toast. This was primarily because I was living the life of an only child between the ages of 8 and 123. My father would cook the meals and I would set the table. When living with my mother, though, I had to very quickly go from being a "distant brother" to "the eldest child", which meant taking on a lot of responsibility very quickly.

Mum being Mum, she enjoyed having long conversations while doing things around the house. Her reasoning was that a good discussion fostered closer relationships and made the time pass faster. By the time I was 13 my mother had 5 children, plus the occasional responsibility of my step-father's daughter. Four girls and two boys, with me being the oldest. Add in two adults and there are a minimum of 7 people to cook for come dinner time, and being in a large family in rural Canada meant that there would often be guests at the house in the evening, so dinner could easily have 10 people in attendance4. Cooking "enough food to feed an army" would take time, and I was drafted into the kitchen to help make this happen.

Washing vegetables, peeling potatoes, preparing broths and soups, boiling, frying, baking, and just about every other gerund associated with kitchens was done as a team for almost two years. She taught me how to identify the best vegetables by touch and smell, how to make tomato sauce and ketchup my hand, how to turn fruits into jam, and how to bake delicious treats. When I think about the times we used to make peanut butter cookies together, I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This is a core memory, so to speak.

From the age of 15, she started working full time and I had to take on the role of primary caretaker at home. On school days I would prepare everyone's breakfast and lunch. After school I would cook dinner then, when my siblings were done, I'd wash the dishes. My parents would often come home late and either eat the plate of food that was set aside, or make something for themselves. It was, for me, a necessary responsibility of being born first. My youngest sister was 5, so she couldn't fend for herself. My other sisters were 10 and 12, so could help, but weren't strong enough to lift the heavy pots and pans from the stove5. I cooked a lot of meals, and I eventually learned to enjoy it when I started cooking for people who were not family.

To this day I continue to cook and prepare food the same way as Mum taught me. This morning I made Reiko and the boy some French Toast the same way my mother liked to have it. A recipe that has been passed down at least three generations.

She Taught Me to Observe My Body Language

During one of our "weekends in the kitchen" conversations, Mum told me flat out that she didn't like my body language that day, then went on to list all the things I was doing to send her various signals. The way I slouched showed a lack of interest, the way I crossed my arms showed I was being defensive, the way I sat showed I wanted to leave, and so on. So precise were her criticisms that I thought a lot about them in the weeks, months, and years that followed. As a result, the way I hold my body when speaking to people is still something I pay very close attention to today, and I watch the body language of others to get more clues about how they feel. Doing this has undoubtedly reduced a lot of misunderstandings and made it much easier to identify when someone is being less-than-accurate with their statements.

It's a good thing my mother didn't put up with very much teenage sass. A very good thing.

She Got Me My First Real Gig (as an Artist)

Before computers, I was very much into creative arts. I would spend almost every spare minute up in my room, sitting at my home-made desk6, drawing anime-style characters, two-point perspective cityscapes, views from nation-sized parks, futuristic cars, X-Men, scenes from Star Trek, and just about anything else that could be expressed with Staedtler 3H pencils and a 24-pack of Laurentien pencil crayons. One day my mother came home from work and asked if I'd like to earn a little money by painting a map of Canada on a wall at her office. I jumped at the chance and, for the next two weeks, I would spend a number of hours every day at her work first drawing the provinces and time zones on the wall, marking the major cities, and outlining the major northern islands, then later painting them different shades of teal7. When everything was said and done, I was paid $800 for my efforts and I was incredibly happy8.

She Expected Better From Me

Raising kids is not at all easy and what works with one child will not necessarily work with another. My mother has known me longer than I've known myself, and she has always been very aware that I am self-driven and determined to accomplish something I've set my mind to. She also knows that I've operated within a very defined, yet ever evolving, set of ethics and morals since before I could even express the ideas coherently9. My sisters are not at all like me in this regard, nor are either of my brothers. Perhaps it's because of this that my Mum would pull me aside when I was being stupid and tell me point blank that I was wrong. She'd say why something needed to be corrected and not put up with repeat offences. She would occasionally do this with my siblings, but rarely with the same intensity. Later on, after she left my step-father, she explained why she was more strict with me than anyone else. While it's most certainly unfair to my siblings, I can look back and appreciate the additional scolding.

She Always Answered the Phone

After finishing my post secondary education, I worked at an appliance repair company in town. Every day people would call to complain about their broken washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, air conditioners, and just about anything else that might have been classified as an appliance in the late 90s. I very quickly learned to hate the sound of a ringing telephone and, to this day, I will generally not answer a call if it is not from a very select group of people or otherwise planned in advance via a text-based means of communication. That said, when someone wants to talk, regardless of how busy I might be at that moment, I am always available. Some things are more important than whatever priorities or deadlines we might be tackling. Of the many things my mother taught me, this might be the most important.

There's no denying that I'm not very good at maintaining relationships. I can often go weeks, months, or years without talking to a person, then send an email (or hand-written letter) as though we had just spoken the weekend before. This happens without me even realizing the passage of time10, which has resulted in some lost friendships and misunderstandings with family. That said, I've never — to the best of my knowledge — pushed a person away who needed to chat. We are all on this world so briefly that it's important to make time when it seems that none exists. Very rarely is the thing we're working on right now a matter of life and death. The tasks can wait for a bit while we "answer the phone".


  1. Living on the other side of the planet from the nearest family member means there are a lot of people that I haven't seen in well over a decade. While I've never been subject to missing people, there are times I think about bringing the whole family to Canada for a month just to see what's going on and how people have grown.

  2. My father started going bald in his late 20s. By the time he was my age, half his head was bare and he never went anywhere without a hat on. While my hair has certainly thinned over the years, there is no sign of balding just yet.

  3. My two "full" sisters lived with my mother. For five years it was just my father and I living together in a 2-bedroom apartment.

  4. How my parents managed to afford this lifestyle on a single income where 40% was dedicated to the mortgage is beyond me. That said, we did eat a lot of Kraft Dinner when guests were not expected. In the 90s a box of this pseudo-pasta meal could be had for as little as 29¢. My mother would often stock up on "KD" — as it was called — by the case when the sale price dipped below 35¢ per box. Suffice it to say that after moving into my own apartment, I vowed to never eat the stuff ever again. So far so good, and given that a box of Kraft Dinner is about $3.25 USD here in Japan, there's absolutely no chance of me breaking this vow.

  5. Also, I was 15. If there are no adults at the house and someone injures themselves, an ambulance would have to drive 30 minutes to the house, then 45 minutes to the nearest hospital. A 15 year old cannot legally drive in Ontario, though exceptions can be made in dire circumstances. My parents would have still killed me had I taken a vehicle to drive an injured sibling to a hospital, no matter how well-intentioned the act would have been.

  6. Funny fact about that desk; I made it. Originally it was a 4'x8' sheet of particle board for a train set but, due to a lack of funds when you're 14, I decided to turn it into a really big desk. I cut the board into 4'x6' and 2'x4' pieces, then used the large piece as the desk, and the smaller piece as a shelf underneath. The legs were from a dismantled bunk bed. A lot of creativity was explored at that desk, and it's where I put the first computer I received, an IBM 8088.

  7. This was the one stipulation. Every province and territory had to be in the company colours, which were teal and dark teal. I did manage to suggest having four shades and one hue of teal so that there would be enough contrast on the wall that people wouldn't be overwhelmed with a two-storey, monochromatic map of the country.

  8. My parents thought I was being ripped off given the amount of effort that was put into the artwork, but I was too young and foolish to see it that way. $800 was a lot of money back then, and it's still more than I get paid for a lot of the freelance jobs I take on.

  9. One might argue that I still can't express some of my ethical or moral stances coherently.

  10. This is, in my mind, absolutely bizarre given how preoccupied I am with the whole concept of time and mortality. Is everyone a walking and talking self-contradiction, or is it just me?

Sitting On a Hill

When the opportunity arises, I like to head out for a walk to a nearby park that has one of my favourite places to sit. The park is one of the larger public green areas nearby and has an immense grassy area where a thousand kids can run around like the little maniacs they are and never come into contact with another person. In the northwestern corner of this park is a rather tall hill that rises 53 metres above the neighbourhood, where two massive cylindrical tanks exist to supply the surrounding buildings with fresh drinking water. On the top of this hill, less than 10 metres from one of the half-million litre reservoirs, is where I like to sit and watch the clouds go by.

Looking North

Despite the stereotype, there are actually quite a few parks and green spaces in Japan. So long as a person isn't living in the very centre of a bustling city, there will be a decent-sized park no more than half a kilometre away from their home. In my case there are four, all of which have decent hills to sit on, but none are quite as secluded as the one I tend to frequent. When I climb the hill, often with two cans of vodka and some sort of snack, there is never any disappointment from finding that someone else is sitting there.

Looking Up

I've invested a lot of time learning while at the top of this hill. No subject is off limits, but I generally stick to the standard topics of philosophy, religion, history, and — when I'm feeling particularly isolated — Linux1. The lack of distractions and human interaction makes it possible to completely lose oneself in a podcast, book, or YouTube video2. Why this spot isn't one of the most popular places to sit, I simply do not understand.

Looking Down

The one downside to this location is the lack of protection from rain and bright sun. Despite being surrounded by trees, there are none immediately south of the sitting spot, which means that part of the hill is forever drenched in sunlight during the daylight hours. This can make it rather hot during the summer, limiting the amount of time I can spend there. Of course, because it's open to the sun, it's also wide open to the rain. I've been caught on a couple of occasions sitting on the hill when a rainstorm begins3, and it's no picnic. A little pavilion at the top of the hill would be ideal, but would probably attract more people. One must take the bad with the good.

If I'm lucky, this secluded area will remain "my spot" for the foreseeable future. Working from home means it's more important than ever to escape the house and just relax somewhere different from time to time. There are certainly other places and other parks where I can loiter while losing myself in a podcast, but none quite so peaceful.


  1. Listening to some of the Linux podcasts is like being in a room with friends. Sometimes it's important to just sit around and geek out about tech, debating the pros and cons of systemd, the fate of the Linux desktop, and just about anything else that most people using a computer would not care one lick about.

  2. I "cheat" not having a phone with data by using a corporate-supplied iPad with 4G.

  3. Not all rainstorms in Japan announce themselves. Sometimes a sky can be dark for half the day, then rain like a typhoon for 5 minutes before clearing up completely.