Shock Value

Perhaps it's just my imagination, but it seems that a lot of the stand up comedians who continue to practice their art have become far more direct and abrupt with their jokes. People are saying what's on their mind regardless the consequences or, perhaps more accurately, because of the potential behind turning an angry mob of offended listeners into higher ratings. It's an interesting tactic and one that generally makes me laugh out loud more out of the sheer gall of the comedian than the content of the joke.

Some, however, are insanely perceptive and can use shock value to inform rather than merely entertain. Dave Chappelle is certainly one of the few who is able to plant the seeds for a punchline, leave it alone for half an hour, then have a final bit that circles back to employ the three or four words from earlier in the show. He shares his opinions, justifies them, and attempts to explore two sides of the same coin to point out any inconsistencies or absurdities that might exist on one side or the other. We don't need to agree with everything he says, which is why I used the word "opinion" earlier, but we can certainly appreciate the attempt to share the structure of an idea.

The largest shocks this week came not from a single comedian, though, but a group of writers from the animated Bojack Horseman series on Netflix. I've been a fan of this show for quite some time and the final run of episodes has just recently been released … and they're powerful. One episode, Xerox of a Xerox made me angry at Bojack as he tried to weasel out of responsibility yet again for awful behaviour that resulted in the death of someone he worked with. However, the biggest shock came from the penultimate episode, The View from Halfway Down where Bojack dies. The entire episode is in his head, positioned as a dream that he's not waking up from, but it's the final gasps of consciousness trying to piece together what's happening while Bojack is face-down in a pool. This death, while not permanent, hit much harder than I would have expected. It's given me much to think about … as this is what I tend to do.

Why was I upset when Bojack tried to escape responsibility for the death of Sarah Lynn? Why was I upset when Bojack died from drowning in the pool of his former house while drunk out of his mind after being sober for so long?

Thinking it through, I believe it's because I see the worst aspects of myself in Bojack, as well as some of the same redeeming characteristics. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes are forgivable. Some mistakes are understandable. Some mistakes will haunt a person for the rest of their life. I don't like some of the things I've done in my life. I've made efforts to atone, but the naked sins will forever be a stain on my conscience. I knew better at the time but went through with the decisions anyway. Most of us cannot escape the consequences of our actions for long, and this is one of the reasons I was upset with the main character when he turned an unnecessary death into a self-promotion opportunity.

And his death hit me because it's usually eternal. When we're gone, we're gone. For all his faults, I like Bojack. Sure, some of his actions might be upsetting and the consequences, when they are applied, are rarely sufficient, but I like the guy. As I've said, I see some of myself in the flawed horse character. So when he died it was like a part of me died as well … and this was upsetting.

The concept of death is not foreign to me, but it's not something I've directly encountered, either. To lose part of yourself, even if a cognitive exercise, can be quite jarring. It's irrational, I know. But one cannot deny the impact of death. It can shock a person if they're not expecting it … even if the deceased is a fictional humanoid horse.

Late-Night Power Walks

When it's almost midnight and I'm putting on my shoes, something is clearly wrong. This was certainly the case today when, in a burst of rage, I left an online meeting, changed from my pyjamas to my regular clothes, put on shoes and a jacket, then went out into the 1˚C weather for a bit of a walk. The rage and frustration I feel is not at all productive, but it does let me know that there is clearly something fundamentally wrong with how I'm looking at something, as it does not seem anyone else has anywhere near as much anger about the direction and status of various projects. If I am the only person with a problem, the problem is undoubtedly me.

The late-night walks do help, though. Generally this is treated as an excuse to indulge in an alcoholic beverage alongside some sort of pastry. Tonight it was a 500mL can of Kirin's new 9% Cherry-flavoured vodka and a hotdog that was more bread and mustard than meat. These were brought to the hill where I usually like to sit during the afternoon and consumed almost immediately. The goal isn't to get drunk, but to interfere with the brain just enough to force a calm down. Physical exercise alone can only go so far. Physical exercise with a bit of strong vodka is a match made in heaven … as unhealthy as it may sound.

In the afternoons, my walks generally involve listening to a podcast or two. At night, however, the headset stays off so that I can pay a little more attention to the surroundings. One never knows when there might be a car going by without its headlights or a malevolent person with a knife just looking for a warm body. Being left without the audio distraction means whatever frustrations prompted the walk get the bulk of my attention. For most of the trip this is what was going through my head:

Heads will roll for this farce of a system, and mine will likely be the first.

How is it that when a bunch of smart people come together to solve a complex problem, the end result is often embarrassing to each and every person on the team? I know that — individually — we're all smart enough to see the faults in the tools being built. Yet together we're all heading towards a solution that doesn't deserve to use such an adjective … and it's too late to do anything about it.

There is a lot that I can learn from my colleagues, but what I need most is to learn how to take work far less seriously. The barely-restrained ire is not doing anybody any good.

Punching Computers

In the 1999 classic movie Office Space, there's a famous scene where the three main characters take an office printer that has plagued them for years out to a field and smash it to smithereens using a baseball bat, shoes, and even bare knuckles. This is a feeling that so many of us have had with our digital tools when they fail to operate as expected. While the movie was 21 years ago, and printers generally have gotten better over the years, there are still a myriad of situations where a person might vent some rage on their equipment. I did this today when a solid pound bent the bottom of my MacBook Pro; a potent device that is hindered by the quirks in its OS.


There is no doubt in my mind that I would never engage in an activity like the one featured in Office Space as it's a selfish act that would cost far more than the temporary satisfaction might be worth. Machines should be recycled whenever possible, and most recycling shops will not take a smashed piece of equipment. Environmental justifications aside, there are a number of situations that exist today that more than justify why one might want to throw their computers out the nearest airlock. The ones I encounter most often1 include sluggishness for no reason, failures for no reason, file-encoding issues when working with source files from a Windows machine, and doing just about anything with a piece of software written by Microsoft2. Today's rage was the result of a lot of things, though triggered when the login screen couldn't keep up with my password entry.

My password this month is 23-characters long and I can generally type it successfully in just under 1.13 seconds3. Unfortunately, a lot of computers are simply unable to keep up with my typing speed on the login screens and in many Electron-based applications. When I need to connect to the employers' Linux servers located in Germany, I can generally type an entire series of commands into the terminal and have a sip of coffee before the connection catches up and displays all of the characters.

But why? Computers have been made to handle things like text since the 1950s. How is it that a human can type fast enough that a machine cannot keep up? This is where a great deal of my frustrations come from lately. Given the amount of processing power I'm fortunate enough to have at my fingertips, there should be no excuse for stutters or delays when I'm typing. If Clippy were still around, I would expect it to sit in the corner of my screen looking as though it were bored and waiting for me to do something interesting despite the flurry of activity that might be taking place through the keyboard.

This seems just about impossible, though. Despite the staggering advances in processing capacity, the fundamental operations of a computer — working with words and numbers — remains a problem yet to be solved.

Sometimes I wonder if it would make sense to build a machine using older parts that are right at the bleeding edge of what's supported by an older operating system. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS would be incredibly fast on modern hardware … if it had all the drivers to support the latest processors, NVMe storage devices, and video systems. Unfortunately, to use modern hardware one must use a modern operating system. macOS has a lot going for it and I will always choose to go with Apple's buggy OS over anything from Microsoft. The various flavours of Linux have their pros and cons as well. But none do what I need it to do consistently well for any length of time. It is almost as though our software is intentionally designed to make the mini-supercomputers in our hands feel barely adequate.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Sublime Text and Sublime Merge are two amazingly fast applications that do their job very, very well. If only every piece of software could have the same care and attention paid to it. The world would be a less-angry place. Or, at the very least, there would be fewer bent computers.

  1. Excluding the work-related emails that seem to be written for the sole purpose of infuriating Morbo.

  2. The company lives in Outlook, Word, and Excel. If it weren't for this unfortunate reality, my colleagues could probably accomplish a great deal more in their day.

  3. Being able to type with 8 fingers and a thumb allows for some remarkable speeds. Not sure how it is that I ever got anything done back when I needed to look at the keyboard. Mind you, it was because of fast-moving IRC channels way back at the turn of the century that I started to learn how to touch-type. That was the key motivation … as silly as it might be.


When afternoon nap time comes around, the boy is generally quite receptive to the idea. He gets into his pyjamas, grabs a car or two, then heads upstairs to bed. I’ll generally read him two stories before tucking him in tight. A few minutes later, he’s out like a light. Nighttime sleeping is drastically different, though, in that he’ll stay awake for hours and insist that I stay with him. Thanks to a rather large music library, the boy can listen to some quiet music until he falls asleep. Children’s song instrumentals are his favourite. Rock-a-Bye Baby, however, is the one I generally put in single-song repeat after an hour. Until he falls asleep, I am a prisoner in my own house … and the evening chores won’t do themselves.

My parents would generally close the door at night time and say “go to sleep” a couple of times — usually with the last one being the most forceful — which allowed them to have a couple of moments to watch TV or nap before heading to bed themselves. This isn’t how child rearing works in Japan, though, and many fathers find themselves waiting around for their kids to fall asleep at the end of the day. Phones certainly help with a mild distraction from time to time, but staring at a glowing screen in a dark room for long periods of time is just a recipe for eye strain and headaches. So, while the boy is listening to his lullabies until the sandman arrives, I’m listening to podcasts with headphones at a low volume. It’s one of the few times of day when I can generally concentrate on that people are saying.

While looking through the recent podcast list, I was struck by how different the subscriptions are today than to any time in the past. There are zero technical discussions. Every education-based show has been dropped. Even the science, history, and space-related shows are out. The music shows that I’ve enjoyed for a decade continue to put out excellent episodes every week, and there are a few shows from friends online. The new themes that one would instantly see in the podcatcher, though, are religion and philosophy; topics that encourage debate and discussion.

Earlier today the boy was quickly approaching two hours of singing in bed when, in desperation, I shut off the music and put on one of these philosophical shows. Less than five minutes after the switch, the boy started snoring. Music to my ears.

Going forward I’ll have to do this more often. I’ll find out which sorts of shows put him to sleep and build a little library of saved discussions. This should afford a bit more time in the evenings for me to do what I really want to do: learn.

Why Do I Do It?

Another weekend, another series of work-related messages for "emergencies" that are anything but. A little background knowledge of the company and a reduction in hyperbole would likely enable the company to resolve 80% of its reported "problems" with a simple, 30-second conversation. Instead, there are people "escalating" things as though the sky is falling and servers are exploding … and I'm stupid enough to not only read these messages at all hours of the day, but respond to them as well.

Why, though? What possible value are my soliloquy-length, data-driven responses to members of an organisation who seem to abhor learning?

Over the last couple of months I have found myself becoming more and more frustrated with colleagues. This feeling clearly bleeds into the discussions that ensue, and it's genuinely unfortunate because it's neither professional nor productive. Yet, despite knowing this, I continue to put my time off on hold to check that everything is working smoothly. Messages are seen, chains are read, misconceptions are spread. I jump in like an idiot in order to try and provide information and offer possible solutions that are generally ignored. Then I lose my weekend or time off because the brain is busy thinking about the endless non-issues that consume so much time at the day job.

This has been the general pattern for years and yet I've yet to learn how to disconnect and stay disconnected. But why? Am I trying to solve problems? Am I trying to defend the systems I'm responsible for? Am I trying to feel angry? Am I just stupid? There is likely some truth in all four of these options, but it's not helpful anymore. Maybe it's never been helpful.

There are better things that I should be doing with my time.

Night Terrors

Every couple of weeks I hear a child screaming right around midnight. This isn't a normal sound, like one would expect from someone angry or hurt. These cries are laced with the unmistakeable sound of horror and panic; as though someone fears for their life. The sound is quickly followed by what sounds like pounding and then, usually within 30 seconds, it all stops and an eerie calm descends upon the neighbourhood. Today I traced this sound to the house next to mine, where a young boy of six or seven lives. It sounds as though he is visited by night terrors.

The factors that generally lead to this sleep disorder include age, sleep deprivation, medications, stress, and fevers. Young kids might experience this from time to time between the ages of 3 and 12, though they usually have no memory of the event the next day. Given how the modern news outlets portray the world, I'm honestly surprised that more people — particularly adults — don't suffer from night terrors. There's a lot that can keep a person awake at night.

Hopefully the boy next door grows out of these sleep interruptions. It can't be easy on his parents, who are some of the most decent people I've had the chance to meet1.

  1. Most of the people in the neighbourhood are great. This is a pretty decent place to life.

Praise You

The boy went for broke today and used the potty six times successfully without ever missing the mark. Generally a good day has him being "a big boy" twice; once before lunch and once after his afternoon nap. However, today was quite a bit different in that he was in search of something specific: praise from his mum.

Mothers seem to have a particular way of delivering encouragement to their children. When the young person accomplishes something, no matter how small, they are showered in a disproportionate amount of praise. Watching my wife and son today, you'd think he received a full scholarship to Harvard. If it were possible, she would likely throw bouquets at the boy for knowing when to stop playing, run to the potty, pull off some clothing, and urinate. I'll admit that this is a crucial skill that everyone must know but, while I'll congratulate the child and give him a high five, I don't over-act. Reiko, however, does.

And the boy gobbles it up.

Sometimes I wonder if I come across as having too high an expectation of the boy. I think it's great that he's able to walk, talk, sing on key, frequently use the potty, read two of the four character sets used in Japan, eat with both western and Japanese utensils, and almost completely dress himself after just 36 months outside the womb, but my praise is specific and controlled. I want him to succeed in life. I want him to do his best. But I'm also rather critical. It's one thing to know how to use chop sticks. It's another to use them properly as tools to eat rather than as drum sticks.

Yet this parental imbalance seems to work. Reiko lavishes the boy with compliments and positive emotions that I haven't successfully expressed in 30 years while I congratulate him and say that he's done something good, then reward him with a treat of some sort1. People love to be praised, so will this pattern continue? Will the boy be just as keen for his mother's over-reaction at 13 as he is at 3? How about when he's 23 and potentially graduating from university? I wonder.

When I was a young man, praise was a wonderful thing. But by the age of 15 the kind of praise I wanted was rather particular. I didn't want to know whether someone liked what I did; I wanted to know what it was specifically that people liked about my effort. Generalisations meant nothing to me … and still do. Will the boy be the same way?

Every couple of weeks it seems the kid is doing something new and pushing his skills ever further. Monday will be his first day at kindergarten, which means he'll be interacting with a lot more people his age pretty soon. This will give him a lot of opportunities to develop new friends, new interests, and new skills. What sort of things will we see him excel at in the near future?

Regardless of what he might do, I look forward to seeing him develop into a contributing member of society over the next two decades. May my neurosis not rub off on him.

  1. Treats are often in the form of a tangerine, a yogurt drink, or a trip to the park. He loves these things so much, but we're careful about how much of the edible treats he consumes. The boy never gets more than two tangerines a day, and never more than one yogurt drink a day.

Good Coffee in an Instant

At some point in February 1995, while attending high school, I started drinking coffee. Winter was cold that year and I was generally the first person to wake up in the morning, meaning it was my job to prepare the first pot for my parents. They drank fine-grind Maxwell House and, because that's what they had, that's what I had as well. As one would expect from a teen, my caffeinated beverage would contain a bit too much milk and far too much sugar1. The first cup would be ready a little after half-past four in the morning2 and then I would bring a travel mug with me on the bus to school. Almost a quarter century has passed since I started drinking the addictive liquid, and it remains one of my pleasures to this day.

Earlier today, while performing a quick image search for "a good cup of coffee", I stumbled across this post that offers a suggestion on how to make instant coffee taste better and was curious to know what they might suggest. As I'm the only coffee drinker in the house, my coffee is an AGF instant brand called "Blendy". It's quite smooth and not too bitter. Of all the instant coffees I've tried in Japan, it's by far my favourite3. What's interesting, though, is how many people roll their eyes or scoff when they hear — or see — that I drink this particular coffee. Despite people's opinions, however, I've managed to work out a pretty good method to consistently have great coffee. So what could this random article on the Interwebs suggest that might improve my daily joy?

What you do: Pour 1 tablespoon of cold water into your mug, then add the coffee grounds and stir until fully incorporated. Fill it to the top with hot water, stir again and enjoy.

Well that was a disappointment. Who doesn't do this when mixing a drink from a powder?

What I do is similar but, rather than use cold water, I use cold milk; the only thing permitted in my coffee.

  1. Pour 1 finger's width of milk into the coffee cup
  2. Add 1 heaping teaspoon of coffee
  3. Stir for 30 seconds while the hot water comes to a boil
  4. Pour the hot water into the continuously-stirred coffee-milk mixture until the mug is about ready to overflow
  5. Lift the spoon out of the cup while still stirring, stopping only after the utensil has completely escaped the steaming liquid

Not including the time to boil, a mug can go from empty to "peak-sunshine" in under a minute, and it's both cheaper4 and more enjoyable than anything from the chain or boutique coffee shops that pepper the region.

  1. By "far too much", I mean "more than zero". Haven't had sugar in my coffee for about 20 years now, and there's little chance I'll go back to putting that stuff in my cup ever again.

  2. I used to get up really early back in the 90s.

  3. Blendy is also one of the cheaper instant coffees, generally selling at 350 Yen for 220g, which is good for about seventy-five 350mL cups of coffee. I know this because my coffee mug can hold the contents of a 355mL canned beverage without spilling over thanks to the magic of surface tension. When I make a cup of coffee, I fill the sucker right to the brim … but just shy of relying on surface tension.

  4. A cup works out to 4.6667 Yen in coffee, 2.75 Yen in milk, and some amount for water and electricity. This works out to less than 10 Yen per cup. I have no complaints.

A Lifetime of Content

While in the shower today I started thinking about what sorts of challenges a person might face when their personal website contains a lifetime of content. For people who are prolific writers who cannot go a day without putting words down somewhere there are bound to be issues that are somewhat unique to their use case1 but, for the most part, the issues they face would be universal enough to think about realistic methods to organise and present several decades of posts.

An obvious way to look at the problem is to see what large sites do now about their burgeoning collection of articles. Newspaper sites will have tens to hundreds of thousands of items that people can search and sift through. Professional bloggers like John Gruber will have thousands2. If a typical person were to write 200 semi-long items per year then two decades of effort would result in 4,000 posts and five decades of effort would be 10,000. Would a person with ten thousand posts with images, links, tags, and other meta data stick to a reverse chronological telling of their life? Or would something better be needed? Would ten thousand posts be a tipping point, encouraging someone to instead present their writing in a magazine format? Or as some sort of summary? Or perhaps with "most popular items" on a landing page, then a running list of recent posts on a separate page and in RSS?

These questions popped through my mind today while thinking about some of the older blogs that I've read over the years and the incredibly long list of months that generally sit in a sidebar. People who write in a paper journal generally use coloured tags and sticky-notes to mark important items or pages that they'd like to celebrate. The closest simile I an think of in the blogging world would be "pinned posts", but this is hardly something a long-term blogger would want to do as the landing page would become an almost-static list of the past as more and more posts become pinned.

With a magazine format it would be possible to have a carousel with a random selection of pinned posts, with newer items around it. For browsers that do not have JavaScript enabled, the list can be presented in a flattened, less dynamic manner. But is this the answer?

Perhaps for some, but it's not what I'm looking for on my site.

With over 3,100 posts of my own, not to mention the 96,497 social items or the 167 quotes, there are really just two ways to find items on here:

  1. Via Search (either on here or via a search engine)
  2. The Archive page

This is like a game of chance. Will anyone find the items we wish to share for any length of time? And, when a person has an entire lifetime of content to share, what is an effective way to prioritise?

  1. I dislike using the term "use case", but can't think of a better one. Situation? Circumstance? Preferences? All of these are captured by the umbrella term "use case".

  2. A rough estimate says that he has 1,565 posts on his site as of today, which was determined by using a search function to count the number of date strings. Not an exact figure, but close enough.

In Search of Answers

Yesterday evening my database server let me know that there were a couple of updates available that would fix a few bugs in various pieces of software and, because the updates looked tame enough, I opted to skip any sort of testing. A quick series of keystrokes later, the machine was quietly updating itself. Generally when there are just a handful of updates available, the entire process finishes in under a minute and the system just keeps on going. Yesterday, however, was different. This update required almost two minutes and, after completing, all of my web-based tools were terribly slow. Something was clearly wrong.

The culprit was quickly narrowed down to an upgrade for MySQL that brought it up to version 8.0.19. I quickly started looking around online for possible reasons this might happen, but nothing jumped out for this particular version. The general advice was all so generic: rebuild the tables and recompile the stored procedures. Unfortunately, neither of these suggestions made any difference whatsoever.

In time I was able to narrow the situation down to the following condition:

When a stored procedure is populating a temporary table through a source query that uses a CROSS JOIN within a nested query, performance dramatically drops.

By drastically, I mean something that generally takes 33ms in isolation would take over 7,750ms in the stored procedure … which is almost 8 full seconds. Considering the stored procedure in question is called about 40,000 times a day, this was something that needed to be fixed right away.

Fortunately a quick little rewrite of the one query brought performance back across the system and everything was good to go. I'll use this as a reminder to not use a CROSS JOIN to cheat when building dynamically-sized tables that requires a sequential ID.

Technical solution aside, though, an odd parallel is happening in my personal life as I seek answers to questions that run very deep.

For the better part of six months I've been re-introducing religion into my life by reading a great deal of books that analyse and discuss the books that built western civilisation, primarily the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah. In my youth I had studied both Christianity and Islam to a certain extent, but not enough to lead a decent sermon. The problem that I faced was similar to one that a lot of people recognise as they begin to specialise in a subject: the more you learn, the less you think you know. This was certainly the case with these two religions, as the depth and breadth of study is so vast that a single person could not hope to learn everything in a dozen lifetimes, let alone when they're still a child1.

What I seek is a direction to travel.

My family consists primarily of armchair Christians, some of which will attend Sunday services most of the year. They will say they are Christian, then immediately do something that blatantly contradicts the statement. The friends and acquaintances I've had over the years who have called themselves Christian are similar in many regards, the one exception being Pentecostal Christians. The services I've attended at Pentecostal churches have left me marvelling at the level of devotion some people displayed while also feeling terribly inferior as a result of all the questions that I had at the time.

Later I tried Catholicism, joining a church and being ordained as a deacon. There were studies that had to be performed, ceremonies attended, masses conducted, and people met. The rigid structure of the church seemed like something I might thrive in, but this was not to be. While the worshippers were generally genuine people, the politics in the organisation soured the perception of sanctity. No House of God, in my mind, would tolerate petty squabbles for decades at a time between people in an attempt to curry favours and accumulate power, after all.

Modern Canadian Christianity and Catholicism just didn't seem to work for me. I needed something different to better understand the universe and my role in it.

A few years after moving to British Columbia I had made friends with a number of Muslims who were some of the most honest and down-to-earth people I had ever met. We would often meet for coffee and talk about world events and, of course, religion. I wanted to learn more about Islam and how it differed from Christianity. In time I started to attend discussions, prayers, events, and khutbahs at musallas and mosques. This was an interesting time but, as I started to participate more, there was an expectation that I commit more. However, in the back of my head, there was a voice saying "this isn't for you".

In the end I left the community, then later the country.

Here in Japan I've gone the better part of a dozen years of "quietly observing" the basics that I was taught as a child. Prayers before eating. Resisting temptation as much as possible2. Obeying the precepts that align with the version of Christianity I was taught as a young child. So long as one follows the Ten Commandments and does what is deemed right, they're good … right?

Many people can lead a good life, either as an agnostic or atheist, and be perfectly content. For a while I could, too. This past year — and perhaps even longer — I've felt that there's something I'm not doing. It's as though I am missing a fundamental piece of me; something important.

So I'm reading books on religion again, looking for answers to the questions that have been unfulfilled for decades, and trying to find the most accurate source of wisdom and God. Oddly enough, I might have found it.

  1. I don't think I became an adult until my late 20s or early 30s. It wasn't until the boy came along that I actually started to feel like one, though.

  2. Not very well, mind you. Temptation comes in many flavours.