Enough is Enough

Maybe it's just me, but I'm sick and tired of American politics bleeding into every bloody web query I perform, appearing in every damned news article I read, and with every image search I conduct. Mind you, it's not just American politics, but a very specific individual who seems to have gone from being a joke to a nuisance to a damned cancer that has saturated every medium the human race uses to communicate. It's got to stop. Now.

Enough is Enough

What the hell is that third image doing in there? Why does every image search result in something related to that ugly bag of mostly water? Obama never showed up in my searches for various things unless I was looking for something politically related. Same with George W. and Bill Clinton. Only when I wanted to see them did their face appear on the screen. The orange orangutang, however, appears everywhere. Like a cancer that has spread so deep within its host that doctors estimate there are only days remaining ... weeks at most.

I need a filter. Better than an ad filter. Better than a domain filter. I need a mouth-piece filter that scans the pages I'm requesting and either removes any reference to the SAD! ass clown or simply throws up an error message saying the page failed basic sanity checks.

What Is a Blog?

Why is it that seemingly simple queries are the hardest to answer? Over the last couple of weeks I've been coming back to the question of "what is a blog?" and whether it has again evolved as the tools that people use to publish continue to expand with options to serve different groups of people. For several years my answer to this question has been rather simplistic: a blog is a place for a person to share with the world. What a person shared was completely up to them. The goal of the software powering the blog is simply to facilitate the communication of between an author and an audience. Is this definition too simple?

Notebook on a Desk

Over the last couple of months I've abandoned close to a dozen different blog themes for 10Cv5 as they tend to feel wrong after a couple of hours or days of development time. The reason for why they feel wrong has been elusive until just a few hours ago when I looked at some of the work again and saw the problem. These sites try too hard to share "too much". Social posts, images, quotes, bookmarks, links, integrations, and long-form writing. A blog site may be a dumping ground for some people who want everything and anything to be available in contextualised pages, but disparate sets of data cannot be mashed together like a sat-on shepherd's pie. A site full of data is more noise than signal. In addition to being a place to share, a blog needs to be a place of focus. It's this focus that has been missing from the new designs, which is why they've gone absolutely nowhere.

With this in mind, it's time to work out a better mechanism for sharing different kinds of information. Different pages are one way to approach the problem, but this strikes me as incomplete. Looking at the number of different types of information a person might squirrel away in a centralised repository of data points, a site could quickly grow to have hundreds of different pages with tens of thousands of records to sift through; a wholly unworkable problem for people seeking specific information.

There is certainly an elegant solution to the problem of heterogeneous data presentation, but it will not be solved with a single design concept in the near future.

Choke Chains

Nozomi and I were enjoying our morning walk when we heard a yelp come from behind some nearby bushes. A few seconds later, we heard it again. A young dog was being walked and, every time he’d stop to sniff at something, the person with him would yank on the oppressive leash and cause the puppy to cry out in pain. It’s not often I see people using choke chains in Japan. If it were up to me, they’d be taken off the market. Unfortunately, I don’t get a say in the matter.

Perhaps I’ve gotten soft in my years away from farming, but I see no valid reason to inflict pain on an animal that is doing nothing wrong. If the purpose of the pain is to encourage a side-by-side walk at the pace set by the human, then there are far better training methods that can be employed. If the pain is just a consequence of the leash and is unnecessary, then a retractable nylon leash attached to a harness — like Nozomi has — would give both walkers a little bit of freedom while stretching their legs. If the pain is because the guy walking the dog is an asshole, then he shouldn’t have the luxury of looking after the animal.

Growing up in rural Canada, I met a lot of people who saw animals as property that could be on the receiving end of physical abuse for years before becoming dinner. They never thought twice about kicking an animal because it was making noise or standing in their path. I also met a lot of very empathetic people who would never dream of causing distress in a creature, be they livestock or a furry member of the family. These two groups couldn’t be further apart in how they think about living organisms, and it strikes me as odd that anyone with the responsibility of looking after an animal does not — or cannot — empathize with them on some level. While a dog, goat, or cow is not nearly as sentient as a human1 they do show signs of having emotions and feeling pain just like we do.

Am I just anthropomorphizing? Are dogs and other creatures below us on the food chain just “dumb animals” that needn’t be tested with any respect or fairness? Human psychology does tend to attribute emotions and traits to just about anything. We do this with our toys and tools all the time. Animals have the added element of volition, which makes it much easier to perceive a consciousness that may not actually be there. One could reasonably argue that consciousness is not necessarily present in every human, though.

There have been times where I’ve been frustrated and impatient with Nozomi, particularly on days when work assignments are due and she wants to sniff every blade of grass in the park, but I’ve never intentionally caused her pain. I couldn’t do that, no matter what she may do2. Given that this part of the world is generally tame and domesticated, I wish more could share the philosophy. There are times when it makes sense to cause pain, such as when retaliating to an attack. The rest of the time, though, it’s better to form a relationship with the animal and encourage the behaviour we want with an understanding that we’re training a mind that may not always be as developed as our own.

Am I just naïve?

  1. So far as we know, anyway. Sentience is a really hard thing to measure.
  2. She’s done a lot of naughty things over the years, but she’s (almost) always been good.

Autumn Leaves with a Good Friend

Nozomi and I enjoyed a nice walk in the park today, where a lot of the trees are getting ready for winter. The walkways were littered with fallen leaves and twigs, giving Nozomi a lot to focus on.

The Curving Path

More Leaves to Look at

Nozomi Taking a Rest on the Pink Bench

Nozomi Is Looking Her Age Lately

The Southern Walking Path

Nozomi Encouraging Me to Continue

The autumn weather generally sticks around for about a month before the arctic air descends to make being outdoors a generally chilly affair. Fortunately this means Nozomi and I can enjoy another week or two of sun and leaves before she decides the cold paws aren't worth the longer walk.

One Week

The last time I took a week off work using my paid vacation days was in 2012 when Reiko and I went to Nagasaki for a couple of days of fun and exploration. It's time I make use of the 36.5 banked days of vacation before they expire ... again.

November 2018 Tent Calendar

While it's not yet been approved by management, I've asked for the last week of November off in order to step away from the day job stuff and focus on more important things, like the family and 10C development. There will always be more corporate silliness waiting for me when I go back, but there will not always be more time with the people and puppy that have been growing increasingly concerned with the amount of time I spend working.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate so that we can go on some little day trips around the area.

Cutoff Time

My name is Jason, and I'm a workaholic. I have been for as long as I can remember and it's got to stop before my health starts to show more obvious signs of the deterioration that's on display every time I see myself in the shower-room mirror. It's hard, though, because of the nagging feeling that I'm never accomplishing enough during the day.

All Nighter.jpg

Over the last couple of months I've had a really hard time of balancing my responsibilities. In the mornings I spend time with the boy and Nozomi. From noon to six I try to focus on work, and sometimes this bleeds over to 7 o'clock. From then I'm "on hold" until the evening meetings begin at 9:30pm and I work straight through until 1:30~2:00am. This is my schedule five days a week, rain or shine. All in all, I'm working 15 hours a week less now than at this time last year, but staying awake until two only to wake up again five hours later1.

This is me doing this. Not my employer. Not my family. Not my creditors2. As per my employment contract, I am required to work 8 hours a day and should stop at 9 unless I have written permission from a manager allowing for overtime3. The average for the last three months has been 11 hours 28 minutes, which is more than twice the amount of time spent in bed.

Something's got to change, and it needs to involve a very clear "gtfo" message.

This is what I'll do:

  • set the network router to reject all traffic to and from my development notebook between 1:00am and 7:00am
  • let overseas colleagues know that I'll be available for meetings until 12:30am local time (10:30am Eastern Time, 4:30pm in Germany)
  • be in bed by 1:00am

Granted, this will reduce my working day by just an hour. However, little steps will be easier to accommodate than something a little more severe like a midnight or earlier cutoff. For special occasions, such as when I'm working nights for an entire week to remotely participate in corporate workshops and seminars, the network cutoff time will be shifted but kept in operation. The phone and tablets will continue to have access to the network, as will the web server (obviously), as none of these machines are used for active development. Even I will know that it's foolish to continue to write SQL statements and work with data loading operations via a phone.

While there's little chance of me ever losing the irrepressible desire to go, go, go, turning my primary tool into a digital island should force me to stand up and walk away for a little bit.

  1. on a good day, mind you.
  2. Fortunately I'm in a position to pay all of my bills on time every month. This would have seemed impossible 15~20 years ago thanks to the large chunk going towards the student loan.
  3. This is generally not enforced with me within the organisation. Some of my colleagues are held to the 9-hour maximum pretty severely, though.

The Next Computer

Over the last two months I've been doing some passive research on what sort of computer I should request from the day job when the eventual order comes down that I stop using my personal devices for company work. I've been fortunate enough to have the luxury of using my own machines since returning to the company in 2012 however, as the company gears up to meet a number of ISO and security compliance standards, a change will need to be made. Two years ago I was given a Lenovo W541 notebook that was quickly upgraded and turned into a development web and database server, but this won't become a development machine. The unit is a server for a reason, after all. Oddly enough, my direct managers agreed that I could put in a request1 for just about any kind of computer I might need and, if the sticker price exceeds a certain threshold, sign-off would be required from a number of senior management. Most computers targeted at professionals start at the cost limit, but this doesn't mean that there aren't options.

The vast majority of the company is run on Windows machines, which means that the standard companies that the IT department will order without raising too much of a fuss include Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Panasonic. I've been told that it would be possible to request a Mac if I wanted but, given that the newer models will not run Linux natively, it doesn't make sense to give Apple the business. The computers I use to create software are tools, and I expect them to be versatile as such. This means that a lot of the modern hardware is immediately disqualified from any shortlist as it's either impossible to upgrade or comes so locked down that it's insulting. Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Panasonic also ship with their share of pros and cons, but I feel I can trust the enterprise staples a little more. But which one would be better?

Having used a pair of Panasonic Let'sNote devices over the years, the company is immediately blacklisted from all consideration. Mind you, this ban extends across all Japanese-made computers. The prices are double what they should be given what's in the box, and the number of compromises that have to be afforded just to use a Japanese computer is unacceptable.

A number of colleagues have Microsoft Surface devices and the units do look nice. That said, a larger screen is generally better for development, which disqualifies these sleek units from contention. External monitors are certainly an option, given that I use them extensively, but the 4K screens I use would put a great deal of strain on the video card resulting in a lot of heat and visual stutter.

Of course, running a pair of 4K screens will put a lot of strain on just about any notebook, resulting in heat and stutter. These are some problems that I face currently with my MacBook Pro. Modern notebooks can ship with some beefy video cards, however, I feel that this upcoming hardware request might be a fine opportunity to request a desktop unit; something I haven't used in well over a decade.

A tower would have a number of advantages over notebooks, including better cooling, faster hardware, and more expansion. While the vast majority of my day is spent working with text in one form or another, I do make heavy use of databases and virtual machines. Notebooks can certainly handle these tasks, but a desktop could (theoretically) handle more work simultaneously. This doesn't necessarily mean trying to get something with a Xeon or ThreadRipper CPU, of course. The Core i5-series processors generally have enough power to keep up and the 6-core chips look like an attractive alternative to an i7 or i9 that employs HyperThreading2.

Preamble complete, what I'm looking for is this:

  • a 6-core i5 or better CPU
  • 32GB RAM (an option to upgrade to more later is a plus)
  • a minimum of two 3.5" hard disk bays
  • a decent graphics card

Looking at the Dell website, most of the configurations that I can get in Japan that meet this criteria will sell for over 440,000円 (just over $4500 USD), which I will not even entertain. Just because the day job will foot the bill for the hardware does not mean that I'll try to take advantage of the offer. My luck, a senior manager would be in a foul mood when they saw the request and reject it as greedy.

What would a decent Lenovo cost?

Interestingly enough, the Lenovos are priced to move. A "prosumer"-grade ThinkCentre M920t with a Core i5-8600, 32GB RAM, 4TB of spinning storage and 256GB of fast SSD, and NVIDIA GeForce GT 730 w/2GB would be 206,021円 (about $2000 USD) after discounts. The entry-level workstation that is the ThinkStation P330 with a Core i5-8600, 32GB RAM, 12TB of spinning storage in RAID5, 512GB of fast SSD in RAID0, and NVIDIA Quadro P620 w/2GB is 272,160円 (about $2750 USD) after discounts.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme

Just for giggles, how about the incredibly nice Thinkpad X1 Extreme notebook? With a Core i5-8400H, 15.6" UHD (3840 x 2160 IPS) display, 32GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti, and 1TB M.2 2280 NVMe (as a pair of 512GB devices in RAID0), the sticker price works out to 307,022円 (about $3000 USD) after discounts. Less than I paid for the "worthless" semi-recent MacBook Pro I'm currently writing this on.

Generally the company wants its IT people to use notebooks so, should a request for a desktop not go through, perhaps the Thinkpad X1 Extreme could be suggested. A couple of colleagues requested the smaller Thinkpad X1 Carbon and had their requests approved despite the similar pricing.

All this aside, the company has not yet asked me to switch to company-supplied hardware, so I'll continue using my Ubuntu-powered MacBook Pro with the sub-optimal screen and external displays. When the time comes to make the change, though, I'll have done enough research to know generally what to go with.

  1. I can request, but this doesn't mean the company will agree.
  2. As with everything, there are lots of pros and cons to HyperThreading. I generally find that the heat an i7 puts out at any given time is far too much, though, which makes the i5 an attractive alternative.


A couple of people have asked me how and why the data for 10C Locker is stored if it's not written to the database. While I would love to have a grandiose story about how there's multiple layers of super-complex, Mission Impossible-style layers for the data to go through to keep it secure, the fact of the matter is really much less interesting: the data is stored in an encrypted folder on an encrypted drive.

Encryption Lock

The web server hosting the 10Cv5 API — which powers 10C Locker — runs Ubuntu 18.04 LTS1 on a pair of SSDs that have full disk encryption enabled to keep information safe in the event the entire machine is stolen. In addition to the full disk encryption, there is a dedicated 50GB VeraCrypt folder that needs to be manually mounted and password entered after each reboot. While I could have the password stored and automatically entered to have the VeraCrypt folder available within moments of a system reboot, I like the idea of having a person physically "unlock the vault". This might change in the future should the server need to reboot more than 6 times a year.

VeraCrypt is a solid tool that gives people a safe place to store information, and it's incredibly easy to set up on just about any Ubuntu-based operating system. People who are interested in doing so can find a simple step-by-step on AskUbuntu. The encryption algorithm being used is AES-Twofish-Serpent with a 768-bit primary and secondary key size. When the data is deleted from the VeraCrypt folder, the bits are overwritten with zeros to ensure that no fragment of the encrypted message can ever be recovered.

All in all, I'm fairly confident that the data people record via 10C Locker is as secure as I can make it.

Why Not Use the Database?

The second question that people generally ask is why the encrypted message is not stored in the database. Fortunately the answer is incredibly simple: backups. There are backups made of the 10Cv5 database at regular intervals, and some backups are held for as long as 90 days. This would mean that any encrypted message deleted from the database would likely continue to exist in a backup file on my NAS or burned to a DVD for longer than the message owner expects, which is unacceptable in my mind. One of the reasons I made 10C Locker was because I couldn't be certain that similar tools online didn't keep the data. If I were to be lazy and take shortcuts about data security, then why the heck did I invest the time in building an entire API endpoint and front-end for the feature?

All in all, I'm generally happy with how the system is set up to keep information secure. Could it be made stronger? Of course it can. Does it need further layers, though? Probably not at this point.

  1. This probably surprises exactly zero people.

Playing with KDE

The first version of Ubuntu I installed was 4.10 way back in the autumn of 2004. The OS has come a long way since then, and I've been an active member of the community for darn near a decade. That said, I've not used too many of the different flavours of the operating system. Ubuntu MATE has been my primary desktop environment since 2015 and, before that, it was vanilla Ubuntu straight from Canonical. Today I had a little bit of time so decided to give Kubuntu a try after watching a couple of videos about the differences between the KDE, Gnome, and MATE desktops.

Kubuntu 18.10 in a VM on Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS

Right out of the box I I had a couple of issues to clear up, such as the lack of a working keyboard on my Lenovo W541, but this was quickly resolved with a driver update via the terminal with the help of the virtual keyboard. This was likely a problem with the virtual environment more than anything else, as very few people have reported similar problems. The second issue wasn't really an issue. The default theme was a little bright for the screen, so a darker version needed to be set. 30 seconds after the first boot, I was finally ready to get started with some clicking and installing.

It should be mentioned that this post is not going to be some sort of review of Kubuntu, as it wouldn't be fair to review an entire operating system when I've spent less than an hour with it, but I can say that there are a number of things that I appreciate. The minimal memory footprint is nice. For the moment I've set the system up in a virtual machine with 8GB RAM and 4 cores, yet a tiny amount of memory is actually being used. CPU usage is generally decent, even when installing software and compiling applications. The fonts are easy to look at, as are the consistent menus and dialogs.

An hour after using this alternate flavour of Ubuntu, it might just be the next version of Ubuntu I install on a machine.

In order to test this enjoyment of something different, I'll set up the VM to act as a development environment. It will get all the same tools that are currently installed on the host Ubuntu MATE system, so there won't be any sort of handicap when comparing environments, and I'll see which one works better over the next couple of days. While I enjoy using the MATE desktop, there's something mildly exciting about working with a new interface. Should the system continue to impress, then it might just be the base OS I install on the development machines going forward.

The Next Device

Has the smartphone market finally entered a recession after nearly a decade of bullish sales? This appears to be the case according to some analysts. Given the number of devices that have been manufactured over the last ten years, it's quite surprising that we didn't hit this point earlier. Just about everyone who wants one of these pocket computers has one, and replacement cycles are extending because the devices people bought two or three years ago continue to serve them well enough that the hassle of replacing a device is greater than the benefits that would be gained from a faster processor or better camera. What's interesting to me isn't so much the slowing market, but the growing number of people who say something like this:

The Register — Smartphone Recession Now Official: Comments

In the last few years I've met with a couple of people who gave up their smart phone for a flip phone and say they are happier for it. A growing number of people online seem to share a similar desire to return to something simpler, primarily because the cost of replacing a device that cannot be easily repaired has reached "peak stupid". Some refuse to go with a cheaper Android device because "Google spies on everyone", and others refuse to go with a used iOS device because "Apple kills older batteries". Flip phones, however, see almost no innovation, no love, and have no problem allowing people to easily swap batteries whenever they please.

Ultimately a growing number of people want devices with better battery life and a healthy respect for privacy that they can repair. Until the Librem 5 is released, there isn't a phone on the market that I'm aware of that checks all these boxes.

A few months back I had to give up my iPhone for a little while as Reiko broke hers. She makes and receives more calls in a day than I have in a year, so it made sense for her to take mine after swapping the SIM. For five weeks I went back to using an old iPhone 5 like an iPod Touch1 and using a company-supplied flip phone when a call was required. It was an interesting change. When Reiko had her phone repaired and I could get the newer iPhone back, I didn't immediately get a new SIM for the device2. Heck, three months have passed and I still don't have a SIM in my iPhone ... and I like it this way. My phone is essentially a mini-tablet with 2-day battery life because the LTE radio isn't being used. Need to call me? I have a work-supplied flip phone that works just fine for that.

When I think about how much money I've spent every month for the luxury of having a smartphone, I wonder if I can say the convenience was worth the price. Yes, I enjoy communicating with people on 10C Social and I enjoyed chatting on ADN while out and about during the day but, now that I work from home all but two days of the month, it doesn't really make sense for me to pay $70 a month for a phone number I rarely use and a data plan that is seldom utilised.

A simple flip phone plan can be had in this country for about $10/month. Data can be bought separately in 500MB ~ 5GB chunks for anywhere between $10 and $50 depending on which provider you choose. This makes me wonder if it's possible to find a dual-SIM flip phone with a decent battery that has a WiFi radio for tethering. It would be nice to have just a simple device for phone calls that can be charged once a week and tethered to when the need arises. By having a dual-SIM device, the primary SIM could be used for phone calls while the second one used for prepaid data. Many prepaid plans in Japan are valid for 90 days, which would suit me just fine.

Would a device like this appeal to a large enough market to make it a viable product, though? Far too often people have said they wanted a thing, only to change their mind when it became available. Smartphones are convenient, attractive, and addictive. How many of us would really give them up?

  1. the phone is SIM-locked to Softbank, and like hell I'm giving that company any money ever again.
  2. We cancelled the SIM since we thought we would change carriers, but opted to stick with our current provider since the cost of switching didn't make sense long-term.

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