Five Weeks to Go

In just five weeks the boy will begin his pre-kindergarten class at a nearby school, marking the first step in his journey towards independence and socially-valuable competence. There is still a great deal for him to learn between now and the time he ventures out into the world on his own, but this first harrowing ordeal will give him a taste of what is to come in life. Reiko and I are both excited, nervous, and a little sad all at the same time. The boy is growing up so quickly.

Hopefully he will have a better time at kindergarten than I did1

From what Reiko and I have seen, the boy will have a curriculum that is quite similar to the ones that we had while growing up, despite the differences between the Japanese and Canadian systems. The boy will spend a great deal of time with creative exercises, such as painting, singing, drawing, and craftwork. There will be an emphasis on cooperation with classmates. The Hiragana and Katakana character sets will be introduced2 as well as basic math concepts, which he already knows. There will be an English lesson twice a week, which ought to be interesting given his existing knowledge of the language. This will be a good opportunity for him to learn more about the world, five hours a day.

How will the boy respond to being left in a room full of strangers, I wonder? Will there be tears? Will he have a tantrum? Will he not care and instead play with some classmates? I'm very curious to see him develop over the coming months and years.

  1. Memory can be a fickle thing, but there are two generally uninteresting events that I remember from my own early educational career. The first was an experience in getting lost on account of colour blindness, which people did not know I had, and the second was standing against a wall and being as still as possible because everybody was talking nonsense. My mother enrolled me in a French-Immersion kindergarten in the hopes that I would be properly bilingual. I guess this is sort of accurate, though not in the languages my mother originally planned for.

  2. The boy can already read both Hiragana and Katakana, as well as the 26 Roman characters. What he can't do just yet is put Roman characters to use to read words. He does this with Japanese characters, though.

Hiding Unwanted Things in the Fog

Number 32: Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.

-- Jordan Peterson on "What are the most valuable things everyone should know?"

When a person does not want to think about something, the mind will get to work putting up blockers to ensure the issues are never addressed. What's interesting is that we can choose to not think about specific -- high resolution -- things such as a memory and we can choose to not think about unknown -- low resolution -- things such as an emotion. We do this by avoiding introspection and busying ourselves with something else, be it other thoughts, chores, or our phones. However, avoiding the items we don't wish to confront may work in the short term but it's not a successful strategy for the long term when something truly bothers us.

In the Fog

Yesterday I was asked if I've been able to complete the Self Authoring Suite and the answer is a resounding "no". It's a difficult process because in order to get the most out of the effort, a person needs to be completely honest. This would be Rule 8, Tell the truth -- or, at least, don't lie. Despite the fact that the Self Authoring program is completely private and there is -- hopefully -- nobody going into the database to try and make sense of the things people write, I find it incredibly difficult to answer some of the questions in a manner that befits the overarching objective of the exercise, which is to make a realistic and concrete plan for the future. The ugly truth is that I do not like who I am inside, nor do I like some of the things I've done in my life.

It's difficult to write about them without feeling deeply ashamed. Sure, "we all make mistakes", and the best we can do is to learn from our errors to ensure a better present and future, but this dismissive statement only makes sense if the mistake was a genuine accident. The things we do with intent, knowing they're wrong before embarking on the action, cannot be played off so easily because they reveal to us who we are inside. When we willingly ignore our conscience and do the wrong things to appease our inner demons, we get a glimpse of who we could be if let loose.

When I was a young man, I thought that people were generally good inside and that bad things were done out of desperation more than malice. This changed almost instantly when I was 18 and confronted by a predator in priest's clothing. At this point I discovered that inside me was not only the ability to consider and plan a murder, but the ability to justify it, too. Better decisions were made. Rational actions followed. Evil was avoided, but not defeated. It persists.

In the years that followed I did all sorts of stupid things, from petty crime to driving drunk to hacking systems. Activities I knew to be wrong before embarking on the endeavour. Though I have not done any of these things in over 15 years, the fact that I could willingly do them at all is nothing short of disappointing. Can I avoid the temptation to do these things in the future no matter the short-term reward? How can I be sure?

Inside of us is the potential for incredible good as well as unimaginable evil. For the better part of the last four years, I have made a concerted effort to be better a better person tomorrow than I was yesterday. Sometimes I fail, but every morning offers another opportunity for incremental improvement. Looking forward, I see potential. Looking back, I see shame.

It's just easier to avoid thinking about it at all.


Today marked the final payday of the year, which means that in addition to the digital payslip there is an official summary statement showing how much was earned and deducted this year. The numbers this year show that I've clearly gone above and beyond to get as much done as possible, but it has resulted in being pushed into a tax bracket that demands a larger portion of the earnings. As a result, I'm now paying close to 22.75%1 in taxes from each paycheque before paying for all the necessities to life and the taxes on those; a number that is getting incredibly close to the 26.4% I used to pay when living and working in Canada.

Japanese Yen

One of the many common complaints that people seem to enjoy venting is the poor use of our taxes by governments. Politicians are ineffective. Projects are unnecessarily expensive. Lightbulbs at the government buildings are 10-times more expensive than they should be. The roads are still marked with potholes from five years ago. The list goes on. However, waste aside, is the perceived ROI worth the noticeable amount of tax that is skimmed from the fruits of my labour?

Yes, I think so.

The air and water here are generally clean. The cops do not harass us. The schools are plentiful and working. The bulk of health care costs are generally covered by the government2. My family is quite safe. The roads, while frustrating at times, are well maintained. The electricity grid is incredibly resilient. We're not at war. Food is plentiful. I'm free to be myself … as imperfect as I may be.

There's a lot that the government can do better with regards to money but, if a person can have all this for just 22.75% of our taxable income, why wouldn't someone see it as a good deal?

  1. Using the actual gross and net values on the document, this year saw 22.74390544368302% of earnings deducted for use by the federal, prefectural, and municipal governments.

  2. A typical doctor's visit for me is about $3 with a prescription that rarely goes above $10 unless I have pneumonia or something equally unpleasant. Children under 16 are -- so far as I know -- completely covered. I cannot find any fault with this in the least. I'm employed, so I can afford a $13 visit. People on pensions pay substantially less.

Thinking Too Much

Too much of anything is rarely a good thing. Consuming an excessive amount of chocolate can kill a person. Drinking an excessive amount of water can kill a person. Breathing an excessive amount of air can kill a person, too. These three things are absolute pleasures in the wintertime -- and two of which are pleasures all year 'round -- so long as a person enjoys them in moderation. Too much thought is an interesting form of excess, though, as it does not immediately affect our biology. That said, an overabundance of consideration for a specific topic -- or group of related topics -- can be just as detrimental to our well-being. This is certainly the situation I find myself in while thinking far too much about work while "on vacation".

Out of Office

Earlier this week I made the mistake of checking the work email to search for a personal piece of information that I thought was lost in a sea of corporate messages. Instead of finding what I was looking for, my eyes were inundated with a ridiculous number of messages from people expecting that two weeks of work on my part would be complete and ready for them come Monday January 6th, the first official working day of the new year. Four departments, each with their own set of priorities and expectations, wanted the same two week block of time as my holiday. The people who sent the message all knew that I would be unavailable as early as November, but they chose to wait until Monday morning -- the first day of my vacation -- to send an email with their wild expectations.

There are going to be some very disappointed people come Monday January 6th, 2020.

To add insult to injury, there is also a request to participate in a meeting on January 3rd at 9:00am. This is an important meeting for sure, but it's scheduled for a time when I'll be visiting the in-laws in rural Japan. Can I sneak away for an hour to attend a meeting on a subject that will require a minimum of 5 hours of prep beforehand? Only if I want to upset a whole lot of family members who argue that I work too much. Reiko says this to me several times a week already. I really do not want to have her parents or sister say the same thing to me.

Yet, despite not being in a position to easily do the things that people are asking of me, the mind is busy thinking about the tasks being asked. It's considering how to solve some of the challenges that will need to be overcome to meet objectives. It's looking at possible alternatives to decisions already made. It's working through UI challenges on a major project that will define my entire 2020 effort. The mental chatter is ceaseless.

Will it ever stop? Can it?

Meditation does help, as does reading, but a person cannot do these things all day long unless they are single or incredibly selfish. Ultimately what I would like to do is get my vacation back. I shouldn't have opened the mail application in a foolish gambit to find a home address. I should have done the smart thing and just message the person via Skype to their personal account.

Unfortunately, there is no "Undo" in real life. The work email has once again got me thinking too much.

Third Christmas

There's a lot to be said for consistency. The boy tends to wake up rather tired -- just like his father -- and was not exactly sure why Reiko was so energetic right from the start of the day. After going downstairs, getting cleaned up, and sitting at the breakfast table, the first thing he did was put his head down and let everyone know that 7:45am was far too early to be awake, which is very similar to what he did last Christmas, too.

Tired Boy

What's funny is that he is usually awake and singing his entire repertoire of songs shortly after sunrise. There's something about Christmas Day that seems to exhaust him right from the very start … which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As someone who needs a few minutes to wake up before even attempting to get out of bed, every extra minute under a warm blanket counts.

However, just like last year, he seemed a bit overwhelmed with all the activities in the morning even before we got to the present-opening. The plan involved breakfast, getting dressed, and taking a couple of nice photos before reaching underneath the tree. He was pretty good for all of this and was pleasant up until he started playing with one of the toys. This was my queue to go upstairs and become Santa, complete with the beard, pillow-based tummy, gold-rimmed glasses, and a whole lot of red.

Last year the boy started crying after "Santa" left due to exhaustion. This year was no different.

The visit went well, though he was clearly shy around a "stranger". We don't have guests over very often, which likely made the visit even more out of the ordinary. The big present was received, opened, and set up. Fun was had. Pictures were taken. Then Santa had to get back to the North Pole. It was around this time that the boy was running on fumes. By the time I came back downstairs after changing back into my regular clothes, he looked ready for a nap.

The clock showed the time as 11:25 in the morning.

While lunch was being prepared, he surprised us again by voluntarily washing his hands, getting into his chair, and waiting for his plate. Afterwards he asked to go upstairs to sleep.

It's not often that the boy will burn through an entire morning of energy so quickly and respond so well to the various routines that must take place before eating or sleeping, but it's great to see that he can actually do everything without fighting every step of the way. If the evening is anything like last year, there will probably be some tears after a couple of hours of playing with his new Tomica set, followed by dinner, followed by books, followed by an early bedtime.

Something tells me this will be the last "calm" Christmas for a while, though.

The Night Before Christmas

If even half of the events of the four Toy Story movies are to be believed, around the world there are billions of nervous toys worried about what might happen over the next couple of days. Will favourites be "demoted"? Will new toys play nice with the old ones? Will toys be phased out altogether in favour of electronics? If I were a magical creature that became inanimate in the presence of people, I would be nervous, too. Fortunately, my lot in life allows for the luxury of being the one who gets to play and be played with.

When I was in my 20s and naive beyond belief, I remember having a conversation with a girlfriend about Christmas presents for children. My parents gave as much as they could, and often more, which resulted in lots of happy kids around the Christmas tree and a very sore credit card until March. They loved to see the smiles, hear the laughter, and enjoy the unabashed delight their kids exuded. Not having children of my own, I saw this as being the result of "the over-commercialisation of Christmas". Nearly two decades later, I can completely understand why my parents wanted to go all out to give as much as they could. It has nothing to do with being a sheep to advertising or a slave to capitalism, but something much simpler that was mentioned earlier in this paragraph; parents want to see their children overwhelmed with glee.

Reiko and I brought the boy to a toy shop a few weeks back in order to see what sorts of things he might want to play with in the near future. He'll be three soon and, while we know relatively well what he enjoys and the sorts of adventures his mind conjures, seeing new things might trigger new interests. After a handful of minutes in the store, the boy's eyes fixed on a section where other children were playing and he made a bee-line. Just like the dozen other boys playing in the aisle, he was interested in Tomica cars. For what seemed like a solid half-hour he just played with the sample cars and basic sets with other children as their parents came and went, using the exhibited toys in much the same way as Reiko and I. The boy is very much interested in electronic devices, as he wants to touch anything with a glowing screen, but he's just as keen to grab a small-scale Mazda and imagine stopping at a gas station.

Fortunately "Santa" had already prepared something along these lines for him … though the venue is quite a bit more interesting than an Eneos self-service station.

This year the boy will receive a total of four presents, which works out to one from Reiko, "Nozomi", and myself, plus "Santa". It wasn't easy for Reiko or I to limit ourselves to this number, as we would have no problem spending a good amount of money on various books that he would enjoy. We considered more accessories to go with his plastic train set. We considered more cars. We considered a bunch of colouring books and crayons. We even considered a little karaoke set, as he loves to sing. Buying everything would likely come out to a little more than a single mortgage payment, which isn't "a lot" in the grand scheme of things … but we don't want the boy to become too spoiled. So four it is. Reiko will also receive four. I will receive four. Nozomi … doesn't really celebrate Christmas, but will get two nice gifts nonetheless.

When I was young adults would often say "It's not the gift, but the thought that counts". This was illogical to me, as thoughts are erratic and plentiful. This didn't really start to make sense until I started dating and, even then, the full meaning wasn't really felt until after the boy came along. Buying "everything" would be taking the easy way out. Putting thought and consideration into which toy from the myriad of options would bring the most long-term fun and enjoyment? That's the thought that counts.

Sticker Books

In the late 1980s it seemed that everybody I knew had a sticker book or two and elementary school playground discussions would invariably involve the subject at one point or another. The hobby was an absolute money-maker for the publishers, and companies like O'Pee Chee and Panini received quite a bit of my allowance money over a span of two or three years. The way it worked was simple. Kids -- or their parents -- would buy 35-cent packs of cards that were also stickers. Kids -- or their parents -- would buy the accompanying booklet where the cards could be stuck for anywhere between 50 to 75 cents. Kids would then trade their doubles1 at school, hobby shops, or trade card shows in the hopes of filling out an entire book. The only one I completed was for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The others were much more difficult as they were sports-related and would require the acquisition of hundreds of unique stickers rather than five or six dozen.

Almost three decades have passed since I last thought about this hobby. I was reminded earlier today when the boy was sitting at the table with his own sticker book, which is designed more as an afternoon activity to grant parents a bit of peace while also encouraging kids to improve their matching and reading skills. We sat together, with him peeling and affixing stickers while also providing a play-by-play commentary, and me asking questions about the characters on the pages. What sort of hobbies will he enjoy as he grows up? Many kids like to collect things, but does the youth of today collect physical objects or digital Pokemon?

I guess I'll find out soon enough.

For the moment the most played-with toys in the house are Tomica cars2, a plastic train set, and a kitchen set3. This will undoubtedly change over the next year as he starts school and becomes introduced to new people and their playtime activities. One thing that I do find interesting, however, is that the toys kids play with today, while often much cooler, are pretty much the same as my generation had when growing up. Sure, there are more electronics and an absence of Pogo Balls, but fun is fun.

  1. Cards that they already had.

  2. Japan's version of Hot Wheels. The suspension isn't nearly as kid-tolerant, and the die cast metal is thinner, but they're just as fun.

  3. The boy likes to pretend he's cooking meals, so he has a kitchen set with lots of plastic fruits and vegetables that can be "cut" and "prepared". It's quite fun to watch him play.


Every couple of weeks there's a notification on my phone early in the morning letting me know that I have "a new memory", which seems to be as good a reason as any to pause and look at photos taken a number of years ago. People seem to love or hate these meta collections assembled on their behalf. Given how the "memories" are presented, though, I can't see many reasons why someone would be opposed to receiving them. They can be a good reminder of our history and offer a lens to examine how far we've come in the intervening years since the photos or videos were taken. This morning's album focused on my second trip to Japan back in 2006, and one photo in particular stood out.

Reiko Looking in her Pouch Next to My Old HP zt3000 Notebook

This picture probably wouldn't warrant more than a cursory glance from Reiko or anyone who knows either of us, but there's just so much information -- so many stories -- packed into this one photo. More than any of the 200+ other pictures taken throughout the day, this one takes me back in time.

Taken at 9:23pm, this picture was captured after a long day in Nagoya. Reiko and I had gone into town to look at two possible locations for our wedding1, which was 17 months away by this point. While in town we also walked through a tourist spot near the Nagoya Aquarium, where Reiko and I had our first date earlier in the year, and we also enjoyed some excellent okonomiyaki at a restaurant that no longer exists.

Hotels in Japan are incredibly expensive, often commanding rates of $90 per night if you don't mind something small, old, and very much out of the way. This time I would stay in the country for two weeks, which would mean paying well over $1,000 for a room to sleep and keep my clothes, since I'd be out and about during the daylight hours. This would be a really poor use of money. Reiko knew about a company called LeoPalace that offered short-term rentals of furnished apartments and found one not too far from her parent's place for about half the price of a hotel. It came with some decent Internet speeds (so long as I unplugged the TV) and was close enough to a grocery store that I could walk over to stock the kitchen when required … which I'll admit wasn't very often. We didn't have much time to spend sitting about an apartment when there was a wedding to plan and family to meet.

The computer next to Reiko's elbow was the trusty HP Pavilion zt3000 notebook that exceeded all of my expectations, keeping up with all of my computing needs for several years beyond the planned replacement date. This machine was used heavily every day between 2004 and 2009 and eventually had a divot deep enough in the space bar from usage that you couldn't miss it in photos. Half the letters had worn off, too. But it kept going and even turned out to be an excellent Ubuntu machine when I made my first attempt to ditch Windows in 2007. Eventually the display gave out, making it impossible to use without an external monitor. A student of mine was in need of some spare computers as part of his university studies, so I donated it to his research in the summer of 2009.

The photo displayed on the notebook was taken earlier in the day when Reiko and I were at the tourist spot. Someone had brought two dogs, and Reiko just couldn't help but stop to pet them. I was very much a cat person at this time, but she loved dogs. I've since come around on which species of non-human mammal I would choose as a companion.

Two days after this picture was taken Reiko would open her Christmas present of 170 Mozart CDs, a box set like no other. A few days later I would officially ask her parents for permission to marry their youngest daughter. Almost a week later, I would fly back to Canada after receiving an upgrade to business class.

The entire trip was remarkably important as many of the events were prerequisites to the life I have today, and all of this flooded back by looking at this one semi-focused photo.

  1. One of them ultimately won.

The Itch

Thanks to a good mix of banked time off, school breaks, and national holidays, this winter's Christmas and New Year break is a good sixteen days long. With a little more than half a month of time away from the day job there is plenty of time to relax, unwind, and realign priorities. Colleagues understand that I'm unavailable until the new year and are generally supportive of the desire to be "offline", as it also gives them an opportunity to enjoy their own holidays in a similar fashion. This is a much needed break from the everyday. One that the family has been looking forward to for several months.

Yet despite the desire to temporarily step away from the responsibilities of work, there is an itch to quickly connect to the corporate VPN, check some server performance metrics, then organise and perhaps respond to email. An activity that could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 hours, depending on how many messages I feel compelled to respond to.

Just like a mosquito bite, resisting the urge to scratch the itch can be quite difficult at times.

Fortunately there isn't any real need to connect to the company's network or check for messages. If there's a serious problem, then people have my phone number. If there are questions, then most colleagues will understand that people take time off at the end of the year. My job title includes the term "Systems Architect", which means that nobody will die and businesses will not fail if I'm unavailable for a short period of time.

Yet the itch persists.

How do people who are perpetually connected to networks of one sort or another tune out this irrational compulsion to check inboxes and corporate chat systems for messages? Given that I am generally unable to work for another 15 days1, looking could spoil the remaining time off. Can a person really enjoy their holiday when, in the back of their mind, they're thinking about something inflammatory someone wrote? I can't. It's sometimes better to be wholly ignorant of what awaits in the inbox. Future me can deal with whatever might be waiting.

Yet the itch persists.

Hopefully this proclivity to freely give my personal time to the day job diminishes over the next couple of days as muscles begin to relax and the holiday activities start to require more focus and attention. Earlier this year when the family and I took our little trips to Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto2 I kept myself available to people just in case a problem arose. None were reported, which made it much easier to focus on the moment. Unfortunately I was a fool during some of those trips and spent the evening responding to messages while Reiko and the boy slept, which resulted in some frustrating endings to otherwise lovely days. Why repeat the pattern?

Yet the itch persists.

Perhaps I subconsciously enjoy being frustrated. This would explain why the itch manifests itself at all. Fortunately the conscious mind isn't particularly keen on spoiling tonight. Rather than scratch, I'll just get some much-needed sleep.

  1. The family will not tolerate me sitting in front of a computer on a day off to do work-related things. They also have little patience for the sour moods I can exhibit when reading messages from certain people who have a way of accusing or blaming others to deflect from their own silliness.

  2. And, to a lesser extent, Kuwana and Inuyama. These were much easier to visit, though, so don't really get the mentions they might deserve.

Kicking the Can

So long as there isn't a catastrophic server failure at the day job, today should be the last official working day of 2019 for me. This year has been a long one with a remarkable number of challenges -- both personal and professional -- to overcome. However, looking back, I can say without a doubt that a lot of positive progress has been made. I can say this, because I have notes. Well over a thousand pages of them.

One of the things that I generally do with notes is keep a running tab of priorities. This To Do list grows and shrinks throughout the day and, at the end of every Friday, I write the incomplete items to a fresh sheet of paper in the notebook and have it ready for examination on Monday. This ensures that the vast majority of what I'm asked to do gets done in a reasonable amount of time1. So, as today is the last Friday of 2019, I had the opportunity to write out the list of To Do items that'll be waiting for me when I return to work on Monday January 6th, 2020.

  • a dozen items related to the Mimosa textbook system I developed this year
  • two bug fixes for my LMS, which is due to be retired in six months
  • a handful of documentation for business processes
  • a note to change my Active Directory password

Seventeen items in total, which isn't bad at all. That said, some of the dozen items related to the textbook system will be thought over the Christmas holiday as they are non-trivial problems. While there are a number of "quick and dirty" ways to solve the problems that need addressing, it would be better to let the subconscious play around with the ideas. This occasionally results in some very interesting solutions being presented in dreams, which can then be translated to code and brought into existence. And I like interesting solutions.

  1. Unfortunately there are also a number of tasks that never get completed. These generally come in on Teams or Slack and, because the communications move along so quickly, some items might not be on the screen or in my memory long enough to get written down.