The Disconnect

This past week has been quite the break from the everyday, despite sitting at the desk and working primarily on my own projects. The biggest takeaway is that splitting my working day into three sections rather than two might actually work to my advantage but, more than this, by taking a nice three-hour "break" in the early afternoon, I can enjoy a short walk with Reiko followed by a longer walk on my own followed by picking the boy up from school and tending to his immediate needs. The slower pace has done wonders for my blood pressure, too. While this three-block working style may not always be compatible with the day job, it certainly gives me something to aim for from next Tuesday when I open Outlook and Teams for the first time in ten days1.

Time management aside, this forced time away has allowed a number of decisions to be made:

  1. Monthly efforts will be capped at 180 hours2
  2. Lunch will be spent with my wife rather than a computer
  3. Work stops no later than 1:00am3

The last couple of years has seen an incredible amount of effort poured into projects that are being decommissioned and (almost literally) tossed away before the end of this year. While there are lessons that can be brought from the mothballed systems into the new one, it would be foolish to continue working as ceaselessly as before. The projects I'm supposed to be focused on have more people involved, meaning there's less that requires my hands specifically. This means there will be more opportunity to share responsibilities and cross-train. Everyone will win.

More than this, though, I plan on clawing back my time to focus on the things that I want to accomplish going forward. Over the last couple of months there has been something inside of me that has simply grown tired of what I see online and in the news. Very little of it is interesting anymore, which means that time can be allocated to better things. Family and reading are two areas that will win, but so will sleep; something that has been sorely lacking over the last couple of years.

Working hard has it's advantages, but there are limits to what people can expect from themselves. I've clearly pushed too far in too many directions for too long. It's time to be a little smarter4. It's time to disconnect.

  1. I'm seriously considering a straight [⌘]+[A]⇢[Delete] in both Outlook and Teams to start the day on Tuesday. Anything that is truly important will be sent again. Everything else can probably wait or — knowing how corporate "emergencies" tend to operate — be completely ignored.

  2. Last month I seem to have managed 250 hours of work, which is more than six weeks of effort put into a 22-day period that included national holidays.

  3. Given that I start at some point between 9:30am and 10:00am during the week, this seems reasonable.

  4. I say this a lot, particularly when it comes to better time management. This is something that really needs attention on my part.

Staring at the Night Sky

After the sun has set and the wind has slowed to a gentle breeze, I like to sit in the ballpark across the street and stare at the night sky. This is generally during Nozomi's evening walk and, because she's completely occupied with whatever might be on the ground, our attentions diverge. Every so often, though, she'll come sit next to me and ask for a little head massage while I ask her questions she can't possibly answer … verbally. This was certainly the case tonight after a small meteor or decommissioned satellite plummeted through the upper atmosphere and was obliterated with a colourful display of atmospheric friction at work.

Night Sky

"Do you ever just stare at the sky?" I asked her. Considering that Nozomi is a dog, I already knew both the answer and that she could not reply. It would be interesting to discover that a non-primate mammal on this planet, though. What would they think of the stars in the sky? Would they see shapes and create their own constellations? Would they perceive the points of light as spirits of ancestors looking down to provide guidance? Would they just look at the sky like we do a TV and enjoy the view for what it is?

When I was young, I imagined flying to the stars like the characters of Star Trek. Powerful starships would ferry people to and fro, exploring the wonders of the galaxy while also lending a hand where necessary. This isn't something that I will have the opportunity to do in my lifetime, but our descendants may have a chance in the coming generations as our technology continues to improve and the yearning to wade into uncharted territory compels people to take great risks for an opportunity of even greater rewards. Fortunately there is nothing stopping us from using a little imagination from time to time.

The stars have fascinated me for as long as I can remember and the local neighbourhood seems oddly suited for stargazing. Light pollution from the nearby cities does obscure a great deal of the spectacle above, but there are more distant points of light visible from here than most other places in the country that I've stayed. That said, the country tends to dim after 1:00am as many street lights, amusement centres, and other sources of light shut down until the morning. On the rare occasion where I've stepped outside the house in the middle of the night, the majestic sky is so captivating that it's hard to look away.

Having Fun

Today I managed to accomplish only one of the things I had on my To Do list, but tackled two others that should have been resolved long, long ago. The final issue required several hours more than I had anticipated, which meant that there was no time remaining to tackle the new API work that was planned for 10Cv5, but I'm happy that some of the core functionality that people have kindly put up without for almost a year has been restored in a better, more consistent fashion. Hopefully some of the other important elements can also receive attention in the near future.

All this said, this evening I noticed that I've actually been having fun these last few days. Sure, there are bugs that need attention, features that aren't quite right, and interfaces that need some love, but these things are generally interesting and provide the incentive to make the v5 platform a little bit better every time the opportunity avails itself … and sometimes when it doesn't. Before taking some time away from the day job it seemed that every time I would sit down at the computer there would be message after message outlining problems that generally did not need to exist but needed to be resolved with a velocity that neutrinos would struggle to match. Now, though, because I'm working on a personal project that has generally interested me since 2011 and because I've yet to succumb to the itch, sitting at a computer and digging through layers of hacky code can bring a smile to my face.

This is something I really should do more often. The family seems to prefer me with a smile. Nozomi enjoys her longer walks thanks to the lack of pressure from the Endless Inbox of Terror1. Heck, I'm sure my computers are happier, too. The challenge will be dedicating the time and sticking to the plan.

With just two days remaining in this short leave, I'm looking forward to seeing just how much I can get done. There isn't any chance that I'll get everything related to Journalling complete this week, but it should be perfectly feasible to get some of the scaffolding in place in such a manner that I can begin testing the UI over a period of time to refine how the features operate.

As hard as it is for me to believe, development has become fun again.

  1. This is despite all the rules that have been put into Outlook. If everything were to hit the Inbox, then email would be unbearable … moreso.

The Other Half

Over the last two days I've had the good fortune to buy my hands into code that I've been working on for quite some time. What this means is that a lot of the things that needed to be written were already half done and I've finally been able to complete the other half. Yesterday this meant getting some restaurant software updated and today it was some rather important pieces for 10Centuries. With these important pieces complete, I now get to turn my attention to something new that will be built on the 10C platform: Journalling.

Over the next couple of days I plan on building the first half of the Journalling aspect, which is essentially a reader theme that draws on a new API that presents content in a well-indexed, easily searchable manner. The design will probably remind people of the Kindle application with fewer options, but the core layout will actually be built to resemble some of the single-panel textbook themes that I've tested and abandoned at the day job. Once the site is running well, it will be time to work on the other half, which is the journalling aspect. These two elements will be sharing the same screen, side-by-side, and building on each other's strengths.

With any luck, it'll be possible to share some screenshots of the initial designs tomorrow and the refinements in later posts. In my mind, this new feature will allow me to explore some of the better aspects of traditional textbook design in a modern medium while also providing something of serious value to people who wish to study and create worthwhile notes.

Hopefully the first release of this feature can be shared with the world before the weekend, even if it's just the first half of the objective.

A Good Day

Perspective is an interesting thing. Today a number of mildly frustrating things took place. First off, the spring in Nozomi's retractable leash snapped, rendering the handy little device more a hazard than a tool. The boy continues to ignore 99% of what I say, which makes just about every interaction with him less-than-ideal and, if that wasn't enough, he managed to punch me in the eye rather hard after dinner, leaving an uncool bruise in his wake. Being three, he was also far too exhausted after school and far too energetic after dinner, meaning there was a lot of screaming, tears, and runny noses to deal with for several hours. Yet, despite any exasperation or irritation some of these situations may have caused, I would say that today has been a good day.

Quite a bit of work was done on a client project1 and the weather was nice enough after lunch that a quick walk through the park could be enjoyed while catching up on a philosophical podcast. Although a couple of emails from the day job hit the personal Inbox, these were automated messages from servers and not something triggered by a person. At no time did I feel the itch to check work messages, nor did I even consider it. When it came time to pick up the boy from kindergarten, I met him at the gate and he seemed happy to see me. Dinner was good. Nozomi was a model puppy. Reiko and I managed to do what we needed to do without ever feeling rushed.

This last point is what generally made the day so enjoyable, I feel. At no point was I racing against the clock, or holding for the bathroom until the bladder was at breaking point just because there was "one more thing" that needed to be done ASAP. The tasks that were accomplished, and the fun that was had, was at a natural pace.

Hopefully the rest of the week will follow a similar pattern.

Tomorrow there is some snow in the forecast and I'll need to head out in the morning to pay this quarter's property taxes to the city. So long as I time it just right, it might be possible to walk in the snow while out to pay taxes. There's little chance for the frozen precipitation to accumulate very much, given the relative warmth of the ground, but just being out in the winter-like conditions will bring a smile to my face. One of the many things that I miss about eastern Canada, and Southern Ontario in particular, is the ridiculous amount of snow that falls between January and March. There's just so much of it and people hate it almost instantly for all the car accidents, shovelling, frozen toes, slushy roads, chilling wind, and overabundance of hassle … but I miss it quite often.

So, while the snow in this part of Japan will never compare to the winter storms I remember from my youth in Canada, I'll take what little accumulation I can get and smile the whole time.

Today was a good day, and I see no reason why tomorrow can't be just as lovely.

  1. I know, I know. There's just one client remaining, as they've made it clear that they only want me working on their stuff. This is probably because of our decade of history and my stupid-cheap rates.

Bible Study

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading through the Bible again as part of Dennis Prager’s The Rational Bible commentaries in an effort to better understand the first books of the core documents that are the foundation of many of the long-existing western civilizations. This is the first time in nearly 15 years I’ve examined the Old Testament with any sort of studiousness and this book has proven to be an excellent reintroduction to self-study of scripture. So much so that the hour-long block of time I dedicate to reading every evening zips past in what feels like 15 minutes.

Very little about how one studies a religious text has changed in the decade and a half since I last worked on understanding the word of God, but quite a bit has changed in me. I’ve taken on a great deal more responsibility, accepted more challenges, gotten married, and even started a family … though not precisely in this order. What this means, though, is that since I last tried to better understand my role in the world, I have matured and have a very different perspective on the ancient texts and what they have to say. There have been a number of passages in the book of Exodus that speak more to me now than they ever could have to a 25 year old version of me. In the past when this would happen, I’d grab a red spiral-bound notebook1, open to a fresh page, record the passage that spoke to me, then write some thoughts about it. This process of Bible journalling allowed some extra time to think through a concept or piece of wisdom, and having it on paper allowed me to go back and review the things I had studied and learned.

Since buying a copy of The Rational Bible, I’ve yet to pick up yet another notebook for notes and journalling, and it seems wrong to use one of the empty, black-covered notebooks which have been acquired for the purposes of work notes and To Do lists. What I would really like to do is record passages and notes digitally so that I might not only keep the journal for more than a handful of years2, but have the ability to quickly search, reference, and possibly share the thoughts and bits of wisdom with others in a well-structured, consistent manner … sort of like how quotation posts work in 10C, but with a little more rigidity.

So, with this desire in mind, I plan on building this sort of functionality into the 10Centuries platform starting this week with the goal of having something that people can at least look at before the end of Friday. Having a tool that allows for reading a Bible of our choosing and write notes alongside the texts seems like a worthwhile project. My years of experience developing textbook software can be used for something worthwhile and some of the journalling ideas I’ve been considering will have a playground for testing and refinement.

This is something I’ve been thinking about very seriously over the last few weeks and, seeing as I have the time, knowledge, and opportunity to build something to aid in Bible journalling, it makes sense to give it a solid effort. Hopefully if the tool can help me better keep track of ideas, questions, and wisdom, it can also help others who wish to do the same.

  1. I generally went with a red-covered book because this was the colour of the text in the Bible to signify that God or Jesus was speaking. Red meant “The Word”, and the notebook symbolized this. It was kept on my nightstand, always within an arms reach when reading or sleeping.

  2. I’m not sure why, but my Bible journals rarely stuck around for more than two or three years after being filled out.

Surface Tension

As absurd as it may sound, I really enjoy a coffee when the cup is as full as it can be under the laws of physics. Surface tension is my friend, allowing a few extra drops of the wonderful liquid to reside in the cup. This has been my preferred way to prepare a mug since the mid-90s1 and there's little chance that it'll change at any point in the near future so long as I'm able to lift the cup without spilling any before the first sip.

Surface Tension

The question that a lot of people generally ask when they learn of this preference is why, as though there is some sort of well-considered reason for filling a cup to the brink of overflow, but there is no reason beyond enjoying the challenge of seeing the coffee sit higher than the top of the mug without going over a rim. Besides, why not push the limits of what a container can hold? Good things are better in moderation, but this doesn't mean we can't fill a small or medium-sized cup to the brink rather than one of the cereal bowl-sized ceramic "mugs" that are so popular in North America2. This is how I approach a number of things in life; enjoy as much as you'd like, but do so with moderation.

There are a couple of areas in my life that have gone well beyond moderation and are approaching lunacy, the number of hours I work for the day job being one of them. Filling a cup to its comical capacity is fine, but filling most of a waking day with office work is just poor judgement. Hopefully with this next bout of time off I'll have an opportunity to reexamine what's truly important in life and make the necessary adjustments. There will always be more work, and I am not a cup. Spilling over isn't good for anybody.

  1. My parents used to tease me so much when I would make coffee, hoping that I would spill some so they could have a laugh at my expense. The joke was on them, though, as teenagers generally have pretty good motor control. My hands didn't start shaking until just a couple of years ago.

  2. I had one of these, but it was actually for cereal. Being able to eat from a bowl with a handle on the side had several advantages.

Fifty-Three Weeks Later

Back in the early days of February 2019 I had the good fortune to take a week off work after working exceptionally hard for months on end. Today I get to start another week away from work, albeit under slightly worse conditions. In 2018 and 2019 I was battling exhaustion, stress, and anxiety when the time came around to unplug for a while. This year it's all the same, but in greater quantities and with far more visible anger. Disconnecting will be good … for everyone's sake.

During last year's break it was possible to work on a number of features related to 10C, culminating in a semi-functional version of the Anri blogging theme. There have been a number of refinements since then and a few more to come, but the key thing I plan on completing this break is a bit more of a challenge. Over the years it's been possible to learn a great deal about digital book delivery, writing tools, and how they might compliment each other. To that end, I've been sketching out some ideas to put these two functions together to solve a relatively recent problem I've encountered that is related to journalling. This is still early days of the idea but, when I think it through, it could prove to be quite the useful tool.

Over the next few days I'll outline more on the feature, why it's being built, and what I hope to accomplish with it going forward. Looking around online, there's no other site offering what I'm trying to do. This means that the problem is either more complex than I anticipate, or that few people have ever seen the need for it. Knowing my history with ideas, it's probably a combination of both.


On the most recent Fireside Chat, Dennis Prager asked a number of young people the following question:

If you could have one guarantee in life, which would you choose?

1. A great career
2. A great marriage

Had I been asked this question 20 years ago, I would have instantly answered "A great career" because I was eager and enthusiastic to get out into the world and prove myself as someone who could take on great challenges and succeed. The younger me was naive enough to believe that work was the most effective way to reach all of life's goals. As I enter middle age, though, the error in this line of thinking is very easy to see.

Given the option today whether I would choose to have a career or marriage that was guaranteed to be great, my answer would not involve work whatsoever. A great marriage would be far more beneficial to many people over a career. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, as some careers can improve the lives of billions or inspire generations of people to aim for something greater. For me, though, I've been employed for almost every day of my life since the age of 13. Some of the things I've accomplished over the years have been quite remarkable, but very few of these efforts will be remembered in a decade's time. A great marriage, however, is not measured the same way. It's not about money or prestige or accomplishments or technical competence. It's about commitment, responsibility, respect, encouragement, and more.

If I had the opportunity to speak to my younger self, to provide some guidance on how to lead a happier life, I'd say this:

  1. Don't take work too seriously.
  2. Don't take yourself too seriously.
  3. Do invest time into family.

Of course, knowing me, I would have ignored this advice anyway.

No Magic

Every so often I look at my phone and imagine how a younger version of me would react upon seeing it. There was a time not too long ago when the technology that so many of us take for granted today would have been seen as pure magic or, depending on the ideologies of the beholder, sheer witchcraft. The honeymoon phase for modern tech seems to have worn off somewhere around 2012 when a large percentage of the population started carrying smartphones. This was when the geeks who used to get laughed at for using a Palm handheld were once again in demand to answer questions from people who had just recently become accustomed to using a mouse to navigate and needed assistance to transition to a touch interface. While I am not typically keen on being the geek that people turn to, I do miss the feelings of wonder and appreciation I would have when encountering a new piece of technology for the first time. The magic that was once part of the essence of cutting-edge technology has gone away.

A lack of magic does not make a device any less useful, but I do wonder if it makes a product less desirable. New computers, upgrades, components, devices, and peripherals were all I could think about when USB 1.1 was all the rage and people were excitedly talking about USB 2.0 and the new era of plug-and-play it would usher in. As it stands, I can have hardware literally fail on me and it will be repaired or otherwise returned to a functioning condition and used until the next failure. Sure, a newer item might be nice, but is it necessary? Not without a little infusion of magic it isn't.

Is this more a consequence of growing old? Is this the result of seeing hardware and software iterated upon a thousand times? Or are modern devices simply less magical feeling than the ones we could only dream to afford a couple of decades ago? My disinterest is likely the result of all three.

Yet every so often I imagine how a younger version of me would react to hold a modern phone, or use a modern notebook. What sort of challenges would be tackled? How quickly would I push up against the envelope of their capabilities? While there's little chance of travelling back in time to hand-deliver modern technology to a younger self, it's sometimes fun to play through a scenario in the mind.