גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר

An old story in Jewish folklore tells of an object that King Solomon asked for. This item would lift his spirits when they were low, and lower his spirits when they were too high. His people came back with a "magic ring" with the words גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר inscribed on the inside: Gam zeh ya'avor — This too shall pass.

The reasoning behind the request was a humble admission that even a wealthy, powerful, and wise king needed to be reminded that what we're experiencing right now, no matter how great or terrible, is ephemeral. When we're happy we hope it never ends. When we're miserable we think it will never end. However anything that begins will have an ending as this is the nature of all things.

People around the world are feeling a great deal of stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus and it's certainly no joke. The collateral damage that will result from the spread of this virus will be felt for years to come. However, this will pass. As a people, we will overcome the challenges that lie ahead. Our recorded history shows that we've lived through worse and come out stronger as a result. We owe it to the people who didn't make it to ensure the mistakes that allowed the planetary shutdown to take place are never repeated again.

This most certainly will pass. Let's not forget.

Finding the Format

Over the course of several months I’ve been reading through two books of the Bible, Exodus and Mathew specifically, as part of a reintroduction to studying these historical tomes of wisdom. More than two decades have passed since I last invested so much time into studying the word and there’s a great deal that I’m rediscovering along the way. While it’s not uncommon for me to consume an entire Star Trek novel in the span of a weekend, the Bible is different. Reading is done more deliberately, with regular pauses to think through the message of a particular passage. One of the things that I’ve chosen to do while reading is to write quick blog posts containing quotes and my thoughts as a means to think a little more intentionally about the content of the message. The format is essentially like a Quotation-style post but, rather than link to a website, the reference is to a specific point in a book. The writing has been invaluable, as it’s very easy to go back and expand on ideas. The one thing that I’d like to improve, though, is the format.

Presentation is incredibly important and, while it may not always be evident, I do invest a great deal of time into thinking about how words are displayed to a reader. Bible journalling is a personal enterprise but, even with zero readers beyond the author, how the text is laid out can encourage revisits to past notes. This could be particularly interesting for people who aim to review the Bible every year as it would allow for an evolution of notes to be collected around thought-provoking passages and verses. So with this in mind, I’ve been making notes and linking them to specific points in the Bible. There’s just one (immediate) problem: quoting different parts of the book does not lead to those different books, chapters, and verses.

Quotation posts on 10C point to a single web page as a means of indicating the source material for a post. The body of the post can contain additional links to other pages and resources. This is tricky to do with a book, though, as even the some of the more common digital representations of the Bible are presented in a manner that resembles a physical bound work rather than what it is: a self-referencing collection of stories. In order to take better digital notes I need a better presentation layer for the Bible, allowing for quotes to contain links to specific words.

While the current post types within 10C certainly get the job of displaying a completed post consisting of quotes and thoughts, they’re not quite what I’m looking for. Something more sophisticated is needed. The basic layout of the journal pages have been worked out, so what I need to do now is build a consistent format around the design and make journal writing simple enough that it doesn’t distract from the ultimate goal of the effort: to better understand the meaning behind the words our ancestors preserved and their relevance in our own life.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to just stick with pen and paper ….

Attenuation

For 583 consecutive days a post has been written and published on this site, a record for me in a number of ways as the only other tasks I've been able to consistently complete are related to being alive. However it might be time for a bit of a break to make time for other important things. There are books I'd like to read, important topics to study, and responsibilities to carry out. More than this, though, is the desire to avoid putting some of the more negative articles I've been writing online by mistake.

Writing plays an important part of my day. Through various writing exercises it's possible to develop a better understanding of a problem. Over the last few weeks a recurring theme has been forever present at the forefront of my thoughts and it's not at all helpful. Writing about it lets me analyse the why behind the problem so that possible solutions can be found. Not being able to finish the analysis because a less-morose post needs to be written and published just adds to the frustrations that have been accumulating recently.

There will still be posts when time permits, of course, but I'm not going to lose any sleep1 if a day is missed every once in a while.


  1. Sleep? Me? Never …

Indecipherable

When I started working from home on a full-time basis two years ago a number of colleagues were quite envious of the opportunity our employer made available to me. One of the primary reasons that I could spend my days at home rather than the office was because the majority of the people I was meeting with at the time were located in North America. This meant attending meetings between 9:00pm and 1:00am local time, when all of the schools are very much closed for the night. Managers also knew that there wouldn't be any question about whether I was working a full day or not. People would see updates to software, solutions to problems, and an absurd number of messages over Skype. Over time this allowed for a regular pattern to emerge where I could spend time with the boy in the mornings up until 10am, then work, then stop for lunch and an occasional afternoon walk1, then work, then dinner and family time, and finally a few more hours at the desk to finish off the day. It's a good cycle that works for everybody.

That said, nothing can be completely good forever. There is one thing that is sorely missed and I feel the lack of this is creating some comprehension issues: human interaction.

On a typical day I am at home for 22.5 hours. This allows for 90 minutes outside for Nozomi's two walks and the boy's morning trek around the neighbourhood. If I do have an opportunity to head out for an afternoon walk, then I can enjoy an extra 45 minutes to an hour outdoors. Aside from the people living in this house, I rarely have an opportunity to speak to anyone outside of meetings. There are occasional 5-minute conversations with neighbours but, thanks to the various "social distancing"2 policies in place, these are few and far between. Recently the most anyone can hope for is an おはようございます3 in the mornings when putting the trash out4. What this means is that for two years I've spent a diminishing amount of time around adults talking like an adult about adult things. Over the last year or so I've noticed that casual chit chat, whether it's in English or Japanese, has required a great deal more concentration just to keep up. When it's my turn to speak, I often grasp for words as though I've forgotten the name of objects or verbs to describe actions. It's bizarre. However, more than this, the problem seems to be bleeding into my reading comprehension as well. I simply don't understand what some people are trying to say on the first attempt … or the second … or the third.

Whether there is an actual correlation between these comprehension issues and lack of adult interaction is unclear, as I'm not a doctor. It does seem plausible, though. If I'm not using the communication and interaction skills learned over decades, then I could be losing them, no? The brain is like a muscle in that if we don't use certain aspects of it, the skills or abilities will atrophy to a certain extent.

My ability to understand language has not completely deteriorated, as evidenced by this very blog post, so all is not lost. The issue also does not seem to interfere as much with certain people that I'm familiar with. Perhaps this is just a natural thing that happens to people who do not leave the house often. Maybe this is an indicator of cabin fever or some other mental condition that comes about from isolation. Maybe it's all in my head and I'm overthinking something to the point where it becomes a self-inflicted hinderance. These hypotheses are nothing more than wild guesses in the dark. One thing is for certain, though: when it becomes socially acceptable to start talking to strangers again, I'll want to head outside and see how everyone is doing.


  1. Walks can happen only if the boy is napping and Reiko is home. That said, they've become much less frequent as a result of the COVID-19 issue and Reiko's fear of infection.

  2. The quotes are because I find the name silly. We already have perfectly good words for not going near other people, so why the new term?

  3. "Ohayō gozaimasu" ⇢ Good morning.

  4. There are some neighbours around here that are itching to have conversations with people, but there's always the concern that a local gossip will see the interaction and raise a stink … by having conversations with people.

Good Old Code

Earlier today I was thinking about how little of the software I've written since 1994 is still in use today. The oldest application that I know to be running was written back in 2006 while the oldest bits of code that I personally use were written somewhere around 20001. Nothing that I wrote in the 90s exists today and, even if it did, nobody would want to use it. Heck, very little of the code that anybody wrote in the 90s continues to exist today outside of some very legacy systems used within governments, militaries, nuclear power plants, and banks2. There's a good reason for this, too: software in the 90s was rough.

When I think about software from 25 years ago, Windows95 springs to mind. The promise of Microsoft's ambitious operating environment was attractive, but the implementation was incomplete. Applications would crash all the time3 and, because everything had to be "multimedia", we would need to have large binders of CDs next to the computer for all the resources that couldn't fit on the internal hard drive4. There is little chance that anybody would willingly choose to use Windows95 and a myriad of compatible software from the same time period today.

Or so I initially thought. Then I remembered how my friends and I would use computers when there weren't any adults around: Doom and Doom II.

Operating systems, operating environments, and productivity software from 25 years ago are probably best forgotten. Games, however, can have a much longer lifespan. I can actually say that I've run Doom II on a 386, a 486, a Pentium, a Pentium II, a Pentium III, a Pentium 4, an AMD Athlon XP, a Core2Duo, a 4th Generation Core i7, a 5th Generation Core i5, and a 9th Generation Core i75. 35 years of computer development for a game that was released in the autumn of 1994.

Silly as it might seem, I find it fascinating that of all the software that was written before Y2K, Doom and other games from the same era are likely the only examples of applications made for general consumption that have seen more than a quarter century of use.

Is there any chance that I might write an application that people enjoy using for a quarter century or more without updates? Probably not. Modern software is often more dependent on its operating system than applications written in the past. That said, who knows what the future might have in store. A well-written, self-contained tool for a Linux-based system might enjoy a longer operational life than something written for Windows or macOS.


  1. An example would be the NoNull() function found in 10C's /lib/functions.php. It was rewritten for PHP a decade ago to replicate a very useful task that I had picked up from an earlier time while developing VB6 applications that would read from a SQL Server database. NoNull() — and it's integer variant nullInt() — are "old" pieces of code that have remained largely unchanged in 20 years despite being re-written in several programming languages.

  2. There are bound to be a good bit of code within Unix that hasn't been updated in quite some time, too. Anything that isn't dependent on dates or very large numbers would have avoided Y2K and 64-bit updates.

  3. I switched from WordPerfect to Word in the late 90s simply because WordPerfect would literally crash after every page. I would save my documents after every paragraph. Word95 didn't have this issue and, if that wasn't reason enough to switch, Microsoft's word processor was faster and easier to understand. Believe it or not, it had fewer buttons than any of the competition.

  4. Remember when a single CD could hold almost twice as much data as a hard drive? Those were rough days.

  5. It was after the Athlon XP that I stopped upgrading my systems every 6 ~ 8 months, hence the gaps in processor generations. And, yes … I've played Doom II on a 2019-era MacBook Pro.

All For Me

Every so often I find myself wondering why it is that I put so much effort in at the day job. A great deal of what I do is not specifically requested. Instead I see what needs to be done within the organisation and begin working to solve the problem. A lot of times this means doing something that will go completely unnoticed, because it's only when something is noticed that the issue is raised. This is particularly true with a little textbook delivery system that I started writing about nine months ago that is slowly gaining traction within the organisation outside of Japan. Whispers are observed through various communications channels about things not quite being right or how an older textbook that is only used by a handful of students can't be found anywhere, and I jump into action and fill the gaps. People don't really notice the changes; they just focus on doing their job to the best of their ability with a more complete set of tools.

For the better part of three years, this has defined a good chunk of my efforts at the day job and every small improvement makes these systems a little bit better for the people using them. But why do this? Why give myself work? Why stay up past midnight solving problems that nobody has complained too loudly about?

As anyone who has worked with me might expect, I do it primarily for me.

In a perfect world, software would be "invisible". People would learn how to use the tools to complete a task, then never think about the system in a critical way ever again. Building software like this is hard. Really, really hard. And it's this challenge that I look forward to.

For the digital textbook system, my ultimate objective is to have every material we have distribution rights for in the database along with every audio and video file for that book. I would love it if a colleague looked for a text we haven't used in the classroom since the 90s and found the resource plus all of the audio files that were once only on cassette tape, or to see someone try to share these resources with a student who forgot their book with a couple of taps. All without thinking about the complexities that lie under the surface.

The goal, as unrealistic as it might be, is to make something that meets the Apple stereotype of "It just works". Corporate software needn't be ugly and unwieldy. Educational software needn't be sluggish and half-baked. People expect more from technology, as they should. So I build the tools that people will hopefully want to use for their everyday work and pay attention to the online water-cooler banter that might reveal the next task to accomplish.

Hopefully one day it will be possible to stand back and see that the effort put into the work has bore some impeccable fruit.

Get It Done

There has been a recurring message in some of the movies I've watched recently and it has me wondering if this is something I've subconsciously picked up on as a result of recent distractions at the day job. Over the past two weeks I've caught myself wondering whether the tasks being performed, while important, were the most important things that needed to be done. With schools across the globe shutting down on account of the COVID-19 issue, thousands of my colleagues are struggling to make the transition from working in a classroom to working in front of a camera. The tools are sub-optimal. The training was rushed. The hardware consistency has devolved to an unchecked BYOD1 mess. People are doing the best they can with what they have, but the tools! The tools ….

So I've been working on some of those issues in an effort to reduce some of the friction teachers are having when delivering their lessons over a video call. Based on the feedback, there's still a long way to go. However, despite the urgency that exists for this matter, there are other things of similar priority that have been sitting to the side for weeks while teams coordinate and confirm requirements for what is arguably one of the next "big" things for the company. Even without specific marching orders, there is nothing stopping me from jumping on some of the low-hanging fruit that needs to be done before the big tasks begin.

Would this be the better place to put my energy? On "the next thing" rather than "the current thing"? It's because of questions like this that we have managers who we can ask for guidance and clarity. Perhaps I should have done so.

Instead a full five days of work were used to resolve some issue that were preventing teachers across Japan and in some parts of Europe from delivering their classes online effectively and efficiently. In my mind, this was the higher priority; get teachers teaching and students practicing. The next thing officially kicks off its tight-deadline schedule this coming Wednesday, after all. Make sure the basic needs of the team are met, then use the rest of the time to fix things.

Sometimes I think this makes me a "poor member of the team" as I'm not seen worrying as much about something as others. Other times I think the lack of anxiety over some things2 is better for the people in the company who might not otherwise get a timely solution.


  1. Bring Your Own Device

  2. I have a lot of anxiety to begin with. I try to minimise taking on more.

Cabinets

Two years have passed since the family and I moved into our current home, meaning we’re now 1/15th of the way through paying the mortgage. One of the many things I’ve learned over these last 24 months is that a house is never “done”. There’s always something that needs attention. Whether it’s the yard or the cleaning or new appliances or some unexpected thing, there’s yet to be a time where I’ve been able to stand back and say “The house is done! … which has me wondering about the future as the house begins to deteriorate due to ageing and a teenaged boy being rough on everything.

One item that I’ve been considering as a near-future project is building a proper space for some servers. At the moment there are three servers in this house in three locations to reduce heat and sound. Ideally these would all be in the same cool location sharing a UPS1. To accomplish this, I’ve been considering a half-rack that could handle some mounted machines in the future. Given their size, it would need to be in my workspace — where Nozomi sleeps — and that means there will be fur to contend with. To handle the fur, some filters could be mounted to the sides of the rack, but this would also trap heat; a serious problem that results in the servers running incredibly hot without load during the summer months.

A first-world problem, for sure.

Another part of me wonders if it would be better to just get a bookshelf, like I have now, and have all the machines in there down in the workspace. A bookshelf would be much nicer to look at than a metal cage full of computers. More than this, the bookshelf would be cheaper, easier to repurpose in the future, and could hold some of the many, many, many notebooks I’ve written in and filled over the years. There would still be the matter of dog fur to contend with, but perhaps some filter sheets would look better on a piece of furniture than a brick-like metal cage.

The overarching goal is to have all the technology in a single, easy to reach location so that fewer wires are seen and fewer fingers can create problems. Maybe I’m just overthinking the issue.


  1. Uninterruptible Power Supply. This is basically a backup battery in the event of a power failure. There is one connected to the network equipment and the main web server, but it would be nice to have everything properly surge protected with enough juice to go four or five hours without main power. Right now everything is good for up to six thanks to an APC UPS in the closet.

An Indulgence I Could Do Without

Every day we spend a large portion of our time unconscious in bed. With a little practice I’ve managed to get down to a little over five hours a day during the week and about seven on weekends. However, even with 130 hours of active time per week, I feel I’m being lazy. There’s a great deal that can be done in the 38-odd hours that I’m asleep. Friends and family have suggested time and again that this “isn’t normal”, that people generally want — and should get — seven or eight hours of rest per day but, when the bulk of my time is spent in my head, why does the body need so much rest?

Sleep is quite enjoyable at times, of course. I rarely have issues falling asleep anymore, as the polyphasic sleep patterns have all but eliminated the insomnia that I have regularly struggled with. Waking up, however, is a terrible chore. The mind is foggy. Muscles are stiff. People are shouting. What an awful way to re-enter the world. If it were possible to go without sleep for days at a time and still be useful, then I’d give up the nightly block of rest in order to have a little more personal time and maybe relax a bit. So much of my waking day is spent doing things for others. Every so often I can do things for me, but not often enough. Being awake all night would also make it possible to escape the house for a proper walk through the neighbourhood while avoiding anyone that might be carrying a virus.

But this is almost impossible. While I can generally remain awake for 36~40 hours in a row and remain productive, the mental cost of doing so is excessive; I’m pretty much useless the following day, stuck in a perpetual mental fog.

Perhaps a better-tweaked sleep schedule would solve the problem of wanting more time while giving the mind enough unconscious time to stave off the insanity that arises with a lack of sleep.

Imprecision

Over the last couple of months I've noticed that my dexterity has become a lot less accurate when using the keyboard on the newer notebook from work. When the task is simply typing words, much like I'm doing right now, then everything is just fine. I can type at almost 200 words a minute1 with a minimal number of mistakes and everything keeps up just as it's expected to. However, as soon as I need to switch the hands up to start using the arrow keys or many of the special characters, things begin to go downhill. The cursor moves in the wrong direction or an @ appears where I expected a [, which is frustrating to say the least. While some of this could be attributed to stress-induced errors, the problem seems to be with the keyboard itself as the problem vanishes almost instantly when I grab my personal notebook, a 13" 2015-era MacBook Pro.

A first-world problem for sure, but one that can be solved relatively easily by using the older hardware which is still perfectly good for 95% of the tasks I ask of it.

Of course, being an inquisitive sort of person, I've tried to understand the why behind the problem. Answering this question might provide a workable solution, after all. So, having given it some thought, there are three main issues that I have when working with last year's MacBook Pro:

  1. The arrow keys are not an "upside-down T"
  2. The palm rejection on the oversized touchpad prevents characters from appearing on the screen
  3. The TouchBar is more a novelty than a productivity helper

Each of these issues have likely been covered ad nauseam by the tech bloggers of the world since 2016, so there's little point getting too deep into any of them, but it's important (for me) to consider how it is that an older machine can be more conducive to productivity despite the slower hardware, limited storage capacity, and cracked screen.

Pointers Need Not Apply

Mice are awful little peripherals. They force a person to take one hand off the keyboard and many are about as ergonomic as a cinderblock, which results in lost productivity at best and carpel tunnel at worst. I've seen a lot of people with white collar jobs become unable to use their computers after a decade or more at their desk because one hand is bent into the shape of their mouse and no longer has the dexterity required for hours of typing and clicking. This was something that I noticed back in the 90s and have abstained from using the things unless absolutely necessary. If the pointer is needed, then Lenovo's keyboard pointer — often referred to as "the nipple" — or Apple's touchpad are the only way to go2. Because there's no need to use a mouse, the hands can generally stay on the notebook at all times, allowing for keyboard shortcuts and quick pointer actions without losing focus or looking away from the screen. This is one of the reasons why the keyboard is a make-or-break decision for me when it comes time to research a new device. If the keyboard is illogical, then it doesn't matter how great the rest of the machine is, I won't want to use it.

On the 2019-era notebook from work, I find the keys are laid out just wrong enough that I'm often needing to take my eyes off the screen to look at where the fingers are resting, then correcting their position and getting back to work. This might not sound like a very serious issue and, in the grand scheme of things, maybe it's not. When you're taking your eyes off the screen to look at a keyboard several hundred times a day, though, frustrations can mount. Imagine a pianist having to look at their fingers every so often because the maker of their piano slightly tweaked the size and position of the keys to look a little nicer from a distance. It's illogical. The 2015-era notebook does not have this issue and I do not believe it's just because I've used that keyboard layout for the better part of 7 years.

Not Pointing

Palm rejection on the MacBooks I've used has generally been pretty good. We can have a good amount of our hand sitting on the touchpad without the pointer jumping all over the place and taking focus away from the application window we're working in. However, it seems that with the newer MacBook, if you have more than 5% of your palm on the oversized touchpad, anything you type will not appear on the screen until your hand is repositioned, which dumps the last sentence or two that you typed before recognising the problem onto the screen as though the system were lagging behind your typing speed.

This never happened on any previous MacBook I've used. Given that the vast majority of my day is working in text editors with code that refuses to compile if there's just one character out of place, having a keyboard appear non-responsive simply because the palm-rejection software is acting up isn't cool.

Hey, Siri? Go away, please.

The final item that bugs me about the newer keyboard is it's WatchOS-powered TouchBar. The fingerprint reader doesn't recognise my fingerprints for more than 3 days3, I hit the Siri button at times when quickly hitting backspace, and the escape key in the upper left corner isn't left enough. I can live with the little nuisances of not being able to quickly pause music or skip to the next track without at least three taps, but not having the intended keys operate in an expected manner is not at all conducive to efficiency.

So, with all this in mind, I'll try something odd next week. Rather than use the newer, incredibly powerful notebook, I'll switch back to the 2015-era 13" MacBook Pro and see if the keyboard itself makes up for the slower hardware. If so, then it may be time to investigate either buying an external keyboard for the newer machine or repurposing it.

Time will tell ….


  1. The fastest I've been able to measure myself is 193 words per minute on a 2019-era 15" MacBook Pro, which is pretty astounding given that "I type wrong".

  2. HP's notebooks had some pretty going touchpads when the Synaptics software was not installed, but they'd quickly discolour and look awful.

  3. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Biometrics can be circumvented though coercion or severing of body parts. Passwords … well … they can be given up as a result of coercion or severing of body parts. If someone wants in to a computer bad enough, bad things might take place.