Headaches

Headaches have been a part of life for as long as I can remember. These usually start as a throbbing vein just above the left temple — a Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) headache — before expanding to other parts of the head and becoming a migraine. In a typical week I'll have four or five clusters with one or two full migraines. Only when I reach the point of a debilitating migraine will I take some ibuprofen to reduce the pain. The doctors I've seen over the years have found nothing wrong. My glasses are fine, as are the muscles around the head and neck. The headaches will form regardless of whether I'm using a computer or not, and work does not seem to trigger a higher rate of problems1. This is just a fact of life for me.

One of the first serious TMJ headaches that I remember was in my third year of high school. I came home on a Friday with a throbbing skull. My parents told me it was because I wasn't wearing my glasses2 and insisted I put them on. I went upstairs to my room, climbed into bed, and woke up on Sunday3. This wasn't the first time that I'd lost an entire day while in a comatose state4, but it was enough to trigger me to pay attention to how these headaches formed, evolved, and dissipated.

It wasn't long before the three most common types were identified.

The TMJ Headache

This is the most common for me, where a throbbing or piercing pain starts around the temple and works its way inwards, sometimes feeling as though it's penetrating the ear canal and causing all sorts of confusion and sensitivity to sound. These headaches are likely one of the primary reasons I strongly dislike incoherent noise. Ibuprofen can relieve the pain within 15 minutes or so of taking the pills, while acetaminophen can require as much as 30 minutes before kicking in. Suffice it to say, there is always a supply of ibuprofen in this house.

The Neck Headache

This is one that a lot of people have become familiar with over the years thanks to cell phone usage. When the neck is bent for extended periods of time, it puts a lot of strain on the muscles in our shoulders, neck, and head. This can result in blood circulation issues or muscle strain, which can then evolve into an unpleasant headache. People who use their phones in low-light environments are hit twice as hard because, in addition to a neck headache, they often get to deal with a cluster headache around the eyes. I would often have neck headaches in my youth after playing with the GameBoy for hours on end, and after university when I'd use my Palm handhelds for hours and hours and hours. Over the last couple of years I've moved away from looking down at a device and instead have neck headaches as a result of poor sleeping posture. These are not at all fun to deal with and generally result in loud snoring and a headache the size of an elephant after waking.

The Migraine

Everyone's least-favourite headache. These have become a lot more common since the boy joined the family, as he's yet to learn the difference between an outside voice and an inside voice, and generally involve the sort of pain that makes a person want to sit in a quiet and dark closet for the rest of the day. A sensitivity to sound and light is very common, as is a loss of appetite and extreme dizziness. Being a parent means that I generally can't disappear from the world for a couple of hours but, when things become really dire, I reach for the noise-isolating headphones and drown out the world with a 9-hour audio track of falling rain. The boy can continue to scream his A-B-Cs, and I can sit at a safe distance and wait for the medicine to kick in.


  1. During holidays and vacations I'm just as likely to have headaches as when I'm sitting in front of a computer for hours on end for the day job.

  2. The same pair that I think I accidentally threw away during a locker clean-out.

  3. Given that I was the family cook, and the person who did a lot of cleaning, this didn't sit well with my sisters who had to pick up the slack while I was out of commission. I never did find out why I wasn't brought to a hospital for being completely unresponsive for 36 hours.

  4. The first time was the result of sunstroke after playing about 12 hours of baseball in the sun without adequate hydration.

Five Things

Yesterday I had today’s post all planned out. The topic was set as the things that have changed in my life since this time last year, and seven items were identified1 with a couple of notes to guide the direction of the section. After writing the post this afternoon, however, I found the piece lacking. It just didn’t sound right. When this happens, the post gets archived and is generally never seen again. Unfortunately this means that another post needs to be planned and written before midnight rolls around.

Luckily this is a Five Things post, which is generally easier to write.

Rather than look at change, which would have me write about a rather sensitive topic that would likely be misunderstood, I figure this would be a good opportunity to look at five inanimate things that make my days just a bit more enjoyable.

Coffee, with a Bit of Milk

I don't drink nearly as much of this wonderful beverage as I used to, but coffee remains one of the indulgent pleasures of the day. A cup with breakfast, a cup after lunch, and — occasionally — a cup around 11:00pm. When I started this addictive habit at the foolish age of 16, I took my coffee the same way my mother did; with cream and sugar. Around 21 this changed to cream only and at 23 I went with regular milk and haven’t looked back.

Boxer Shorts

This could probably be classified under the TMI category, but four months ago I made the switch from briefs to boxer shorts. This is not the first time I’ve switched, but it will likely be the last as none of the inconveniences I had while wearing this style of underwear at 20 have resurfaced. Summers in this part of Asia are no fun at all when the heat and humidity kicks in by 8:30 in the morning, and briefs are notorious for trapping heat. Since going with boxers, I have found sitting at the desk for hours on end to be much easier.

A Good Work Chair

Until a month ago, I used a kitchen chair at the work desk. There were a number of reasons behind this, such as avoiding the cost of a nicer chair so soon after moving house. Now that I have a more comfortable working chair, though, my legs don’t lose blood circulation and my back is supported much better. It has already paid for itself because of this.

A 24” 4K Monitor

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to receive a 24” Dell P2415Q monitor at work. Given how much of my day is spent staring at a screen, having a sharp image with no discernible pixelation is crucial. This monitor is generally used for image work, Remote Desktop sessions to Windows servers, and a whole bunch of web development. Without this monitor, my eyes would be a lot more tired by the end of every day.

A 13” MacBook Pro

I’ve used a number of computers over the years, but none have been quite as influential in my life as the 2015-era MacBook Pro that I use on a near-daily basis2. So much of what’s been accomplished in the last four years can be attributed to that specific tool. While it’s certainly struggling to keep up with my current workload, the machine is no slouch and can generally do what I need so long as I give it time to process.

There are certainly a bunch of other inanimate objects that make life more enjoyable, such as my home or the spring-loaded leash that gives Nozomi 5 metres of wiggle room when we go out for a walk. The five listed above are the smaller items that I tend to consciously appreciate on a daily basis. Sometimes it really is the little things that can help someone feel better despite whatever temporary trials life may be throwing their way.


  1. I generally try to come up with more than five, then whittle the options down to the target number based on the decency of the writing. This doesn’t always happen but, when it does, a more cromulent post is written.

  2. I’m technically forbidden from using my computers on the weekend, as it’s supposed to be “family time”. This makes freelance projects harder to complete, but time with the family is generally a good thing.

T-47

In just 47 days I’ll have reached my goal of writing and publishing a blog post every day for a year. Also, at a rate of one post per day, the anniversary post will also be the 2,999th blog post published to this site. This is a ridiculous number for a personal weblog, though not without precedent. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal sites with far more content than I’ve managed to put out, many of which are probably better focussed than this one.

The idea of writing a post every day seems easy to a lot of people despite the obvious challenges with time, interest, and attention. Back in the mid-2000s when blogging was booming and sites like Facebook and Twitter were bootstrapped operations, there would be regular writing challenges posted to sites like Technorati and Digg encouraging people to participate. As one would expect, the first week would see a flurry of activity. The second week saw a steady stream. The third week would result in a trickle. Eventually the excitement would wear off and people would return to their erratic posting schedules1. Maintaining enthusiasm is hard work and requires a certain level of dedication.

Personally, I’ve found it to be rather difficult at times to write a post on a daily basis. Today is a perfect example of this as I’ve yet to open any of my note-taking applications to jot down ideas for the daily article. Aside from taking Nozomi out for her walks in the morning and evening, I’ve not left the house in three days. Excessive heat and humidity followed by a 30-hour rain storm precluded any sort of outdoor activities. What is there to write about? The need for software to be treated as a craft rather than a job? Ignoring a hierarchy to push change onto a group of individuals? My recipe for French toast that both Reiko and the boy seem to thoroughly enjoy?

Well … that last one might be a worthwhile venture. The others, however, are starting to feel old despite the obvious passion I have for the topics.

Fact of the matter is that I’ve been pushing myself way too hard for way too long and, as the cycle goes, I'm sliding into a state of indifference. In the short term, I don’t see the value of Activity A or B, while the long term demands that both be tended to as I’ve made the commitment to myself, and I’m not going to stop something when the finish line is in sight out of sheer laziness. Future me would be quite upset.

And so I write. I write about writing. I write about fragments of memories from the early web. I write about personal inadequacies. But I push onward — I write — because the alternative would be far more unpalatable than the publication of a repetitive post about fatigue and sloth.

Fortunately tomorrow is Sunday, which means there will be a 5 Things post to write. I have just the topics, too.


  1. A common trope in the early blogging communities would be prefixing a post with an apology for not writing more.

Knowing When to Stop

One of the hardest things to do as a developer is to throw away a large block of code because, despite all the invested time and effort, the results just aren't good enough. This is where I am with one of my work projects despite the dozens of hours invested as it's become a massive time sink with zero appreciable benefits going forward. Yes, with time, I could work through a lot of the issues one by one … but this isn't what I'm being paid to do. My responsibilities involve getting things done, not tinkering about with browser-related edge cases to paper over past decisions. So, regardless of the effort invested, I'm going to throw the code away and approach the problem from a different angle.

Discarded Paper

Back in the mid-2000s, a year or so before this blog was started, I was working on a project at a printing company that aimed to reduce the amount of paperwork pressmen needed to do during their regular workday. As with most corporate projects, the requirements were incredibly complex and seemed to change with every phase of the moon. The codebase started to become increasingly bloated with business rules that would stand in the way of getting work done and, worst of all, the application was starting to consume far too many resources while running1. The PCs at the printing presses would occasionally crash or freeze as a result of the software, which resulted in lost data. Nobody was happy about this.

So, being young, single, and stupid, I decided to invest an entire long weekend into fixing the application. Three entire days were spent at home, in front of the computer, working on solving resource problems through various means. On the first day back I went immediately to the printing plant and updated the application to the latest build. Five minutes into testing, the system showed signs of struggle. Ten minutes in, the computer locked up and blue screened. There was just too much data coming in from the printing press and too many business rules that needed to be run with each operation. Despite working the entire weekend, stopping only for coffee, food, and the bathroom, the problem persisted.

Suffice it to say, nobody was happy about this.

Later that morning I asked a senior colleague to take a look at the code. Within 20 minutes he pointed out a number of areas that could be improved with huge swaths of code being outright deleted. I'll never forget what he said:

You've got recent code reversing out past code just for the sake of holding on to the work you did a few days ago? Don't do that!

He was right, of course. I don't remember why I did what I did, but I remember how I solved the performance problems: I rewrote the program from scratch, using two working days and two nights to get it done. Thursday morning I went straight to the printing plant, updated the application, and watched.

Everything worked as expected. There were a few bugs here and there, of course, but the core application was receiving data from the printing presses, processing it, and saving the results back to the main database. The pressmen were happy for the reduced workload. The managers were happy for the reduced workload. The sales staff were happy for the process run and colour accuracy statistics they could review. All it took was a different set of eyes, being able to step back from trying to force a preconceived notion onto a problem, and recognizing that sometimes it's best to not be too attached to past efforts.

While I don't have a second set of eyes to help with this current project, I can certainly step back and recognize when time is being used in a manner that is ultimately suboptimal. It's time to drop some code and approach the problem from a different angle.


  1. This was back in the day before web applications were a thing. The project was being written in C# with Visual Studio 2005, which had just come out. The target PCs were all 500MHz Celerons with 256MB of RAM, so resources needed to be considered. This was usually enough for most business software, but manager-mandated bloat can do some pretty awful things to code.

Why That Data Sucks

This past week I've invested far more hours than I should have needed to clean up a database in preparation for an upcoming migration. When getting data ready to move from one system to another, there is often a little bit of work that's required to ensure information is not lost and that the most important details are as complete and correct as possible. What I've been doing over the last few days, however, is on a completely different scale. The question that keeps repeating in my head is both simple and absurd: How can a company that deals with long-term, face-to-face interactions operate without ever knowing the names of their paying customers?

A Little Background

At the day job we are migrating our systems from internally-developed solutions to a rather large cloud vendor. This is a bit more complex than spinning up virtual machines and migrating our databases to off-site servers, though, as we're taking our SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and ancient FileMaker-based systems and putting them into something that — I think — operates on top of an Oracle database. The work is generally pretty straightforward, though there is a great deal of verification and validation that is necessary to ensure the information we upload is correct.

It's the penultimate step, the verification and validation bit, where I seem to invest the bulk of my time; particularly when it comes to names and contact details.

Every company has its own little quirks about how it uses its databases. Here in Japan, one of the things that has long bugged me has been the way staff at the schools will change a person's name in the database to help with quick identification or search. So, if we have two people named "John Smith", one might be changed to "John Smith (Old)" or "John Smith (Student)". This would be shown in the search results when someone looks for names matching or resembling "John Smith". While this seems like a logical solution to a problem, what this means is that in the database we'll have a last name of "Smith (Old)" and a first name of "John". If there are any reports to print out, the comment in the parentheses is included.

The schools have come up with a whole lexicon of short codes, symbols, and words to help quickly identify customers of all kinds. The first time I ran into this on a large scale was when I started importing customer names from the big CMS into the LMS I developed a few years back. These comments would appear on a teacher's schedule, on attendance lists, and in printed reports that went to the student. This was something I adamantly refused to let happen, so wrote a little function that would strip the codes out of a name and present just the proper name. It's worked well for several years and the state of the data in the Japanese database, while not perfect, is consistent and reliable. There will not be any problem whatsoever ensuring that the names and other details that we upload to the new system will be devoid of these "meta notes".

Knock It Up a Notch

The database I've been working with this week, however, is not from any Japanese system. This means people from a whole different culture and background who have used the same software have created their own form of meta notes over the years … and it's terrifying.

One of the first things that I noticed when working with the database was that a person's entire name was written into the "First Name" column along with some extra details, such as the type of contract they have and maybe even the name of a colleague for when two people are taking Lessons on the same contract1. In the "Last Name" column there will be other details, such as a person's family name … or their full name … or their name in the native language … or the name of the employer plus their name … or the name of the employer, the type of contract, and the full name of the student. And I need to parse this out to have given names in their own column, family names in their own column, and names written in the native language written in a third.

But wait! There's more!

Some of the more interesting uses of the "Last Name" column is a school's habit to write the relationship of a student. These are some of the values that I have found in the database2:

  • Tom's sister's friend
  • The mother is taking the class
  • Afternoons at the cafe
  • John's new wife
  • The president of ABC Company

These are notes, but they're written in the "Last Name" column. In the first name will be the whole name, sometimes in the standard alphabet, sometimes in the native language, sometimes with both, and sometimes with the contract type thrown in as well. When a school is feeling particularly frugal, there might not be a name at all and instead something like "xxx" or just an empty string. As I've already said, I need to provide a proper list with family names, given names, and native language names — when they exist — in separate columns.

Most database people I've met over the years would take one look at this and send it back to the schools, telling them to "fix their crap data", otherwise nothing will be migrated. While I would love nothing more, this is not really an option. Instead I went and created a series of SQL queries that would clean the data as much as possible. After a few days of work, I'm generally confident in 95% of the data. I could go through the last 5% line by line and fix issues by hand when I find them, and I have done this with some of the most egregious issues, but it's not really the best use of my time. There are other countries and other databases that need attention as well.

Why in the … ?

Blaming the schools for their "crap data management policy" would be easy, but I really don't think the fault lies with the schools. People were compelled to do this in order to get around very real problems with the home-grown corporate software. Problems that could have been avoided had people paid attention, asked questions, and sought solutions.

The key problem is one that I've already mentioned: it's too hard to find the right person when searching by name. This is completely true, and every country has their equivalent of James Smith or Maria Garcia3. The solution is not to mess up a person's name field, though.

What are the options, though?

Having solved this problem a couple of different ways in the past, including in the soon-to-be-retired LMS, I see two relatively quick changes that could resolve the issue.

The first is to make it possible to assign tags to a person's record. The tags could be completely free-form and allow a good amount of text so that contract types, descriptions, and relationships could be easily recorded, searched, and displayed in a results list.

The second is to add a short comment field — distinct from the main comment fields — that would also be part of the search and returned for display in the results list. This option would generally require more processing power, but may be easier to implement within a database.

Either one of these options would ensure that printed reports, attendance lists, and other items showing a person's name are free of superfluous information. The company would win because printed materials would look more professional and teachers would win because they wouldn't have to try and parse the meaning behind the meta. Of course, I would win, too. With less "gunk" to filter out and process, I could more easily prepare data for migration from one system to another.

Over the years I've seen a lot of very strange things put into a database. By looking at the reasoning behind why, it becomes easier to think about how data can remain complete and valid while also solving genuine business problems. The hardest part is being vigilant and proactive when oddities in the data are discovered and reported.


  1. This is not at all required. The system can have a million people on the same contract. I have no idea why the people who used the database in question have such a fear of making new records.

  2. These are not the actual names, as that would be a giant breach of trust and would justify an immediate firing. The names have been changed, but the gist is completely accurate.

  3. These two names are among the most common in the world according to this blog post.

Ebb and Flow

A lot of the patterns that we see with crowds seem to be universal. When I was young, I would often see a situation where a restaurant or store would be empty and quiet, then get really busy for a short period of time, then return to an empty and quiet state. This wasn't just around meal time or during a sale, but at any time of the day. It's almost as if people move in an unconscious herd, electing to do what others have already chosen and are currently engaged in. Whether this is accurate or not, I don't know. What's interesting is that this sort of thing can also be observed at the day job.

A pattern of order is emerging from the apparent chaos that is the corporate inbox. For roughly three weeks of every month, messages trickle in at a rate of five per day with people asking for or providing information. The other week, however, has several dozen messages waiting for me at the start of every day with several dozen more coming in throughout the morning and afternoon. The deluge is simply too much to stay on top of and my usual Inbox Zero state balloons out to an Inbox Twenty while tasks are being performed based on the perceived priority of the request. This is apparently the busy week for July, as there are a ridiculous number of emails in the inbox1, messages coming in via Slack2, requests on Teams3, and even a handful on Skype. Messages are coming in every which way, making it hard to stay afloat.

Both the ebb and the flow moments of the month are appreciated as one shows that people think I have something of value to share, be it knowledge, time, or skill, while the other allows me to get caught up on all the things that people have requested that were impossible to complete immediately. What I sometimes wonder is how people who receive a much higher quantity of email and messages manage to cope with the influx of communications. Some of my colleagues can receive as many as 100 emails an hour because of the role they play within the company. Do they read everything? Or do they need to declare "inbox bankruptcy" on a regular basis just to stave off information overload? Do they also have an ebb and flow in their months?

As more people across the organization start to get in touch to ask questions, request help, and provide feedback on the myriad of systems I'm partially — or completely — responsible for, I wonder if I'll be able to keep up without breaking the rule of not having work email on the phone.


  1. By "ridiculous", I mean 16. All have been read, but not all are complete. They will stay in the Inbox until complete, when they will then be archived.

  2. I don't use Slack, but some colleagues do. When I see the tablet light up with a message from that location, I fire up the browser and see what's going on.

  3. Is it just me, or has Microsoft really Skype'd Teams up to the point where you expect the hardware to crash?

Still Using Paper

About two months ago I installed Evernote on the computer and picked up a trio of the branded Moleskine® notebooks designed to be used with the service. The goal was simply to remove some of the friction that I've felt with note-taking applications since giving Evernote up a few years back. No other tool does as well a job with optical character recognition in multiple languages of the images uploaded, and no other tool organizes the data in a manner as logical as Evernote without a whole bunch of backflips an heavy lifting up front. So, rather than continue to struggle with pathetic digital notes, as many as 12 active paper notebooks, plus one or two A5-sized notepads, it just made sense to blend the paper and digital together with something that I know works1.

However, despite having some pretty decent success with Evernote these last few weeks, it's clear that paper is still very much the primary way I take notes, make plans, and prioritize tasks. No other system has come remotely close to reducing my use of trees and ink.

Notes for Today's Demo

Today, while I was scanning the day's notes into Evernote, I asked myself once again why I was doing this. Why write on paper only to scan into a computer and store digitally, especially when it's just text? The image above was a quick bit of prep for a demo I gave earlier today. Does it really need to be digitized and archived? Did it need to be written on paper at all? My usage of dashes, dots, triangles, and checkboxes when formatting notes can very easily be moved over to a digital medium, as I've done it before through the use of keyboard shortcuts. Square and curly brackets that span multiple lines are less-than-easy to reproduce, but this can be worked around with some creative layouts. I like to use as many as three colours when taking notes, depending on the objective, which is easier when using Evernote or similar tools as there are more than three colours to choose from and errors can be fixed within seconds. So why the heck do I find it so hard to be a 100% digital note-taker?

This wasn't so much a problem 20 years ago.

The Palm IIIxe

The second Palm PDA I owned was a Palm IIIxe like the one in the image above. It was an amazing little unit that could go days on a pair of AAA-sized batteries. Once a person learned how to use the Graffiti writing system, they could write just about anything in less time than it took to use pen and paper2. I loved this so much that I wrote some software for use at work, where I would need to answer calls, look up information for customers, get back to them, and so on. I had an entire mini-database of customer data in the device that could be looked up in a split second and added to with the stroke of a stylus. My boss at the time picked up a Palm as well so that we could keep our notes in sync, which made the tool even more useful. No longer did we need to run around with a paper book and scribble notes in an illegible fashion.

Clearly I'm not allergic to digital notes, given that the Palm made them so easy and, dare I say it, enjoyable to work with. But I've yet to replicate the experience I had on the Palm with any technology. The closest I get is with the traditional pen and paper, which has the added bonus of being able to handle sketches and doodles. The Palm was never good as an artistic device.

There may be a stylus in the form of an Pencil arriving in the mail at some point in the future. If this does arrive, would I feel the same enjoyment when writing notes on an iPad as I did on the Palm? Would seeing my handwriting be converted into an easy-to-read font, ready for immediate indexing and searching, encourage me to give up paper? I really don't know. What I do know, however, is that having a dozen active notebooks and a pair of notepads within arms reach at all times makes for a rather cluttered working space.


  1. The one downside is that Evernote uses Google Cloud for storage and a bunch of processing. While Google Cloud's TOS clearly states that the advertising giant will not use the data from their Cloud offerings in any way, shape or form, there isn't any way for me to verify this. As with anything based "in the cloud", it's best to consider it as already public.

  2. The problem with writing on the Palm handheld devices was that the writing area would wear out incredibly quickly. This was the primary reason I had to replace my Palm devices every six months … which was unfortunate.

Purified

Music tames the savage beast and it also helps people calm down and get things done. Over the last year or so I've found myself carefully curating the music podcasts that I listen to, keeping just the artists who consistently put out work that sounds great and doesn't rely on endless repetition. This has meant that a lot of the more popular DJs of the world have been dropped from my subscriptions and a lot of the people who are "new to me" have risen to the top. Nora En Pure's Purified is one of the better podcasts that I've had the pleasure of listening to.

Nora En Pure at Work

When I first stumbled across Nora's podcast, I liked the way she mixed her tracks. There's never a hard break, even when the beat and intensity are wildly different between segments, and the way she samples the classics is incredibly intelligent. At first glance, someone might confuse her compositions with the ones put out by Sister Bliss, another amazing artist, but Nora's mixes tend to be designed more about movement whereas Sister Bliss is designed around raw emotion. This might have something to do with her South African background, which is quite different from the UK's sound, but I could be wrong about this.

I could go on, but this post is already sounding like a paid spot1. If you enjoy electronic music to any degree, give her podcast a listen.


  1. This is not a sponsored post or anything like that. I just really like her music and think that others will enjoy it as well.

Five Things

The third Sunday of every other month is neighbourhood cleanup day, a responsibility that every suburban home owner across much of Japan must participate in. The day itself may change from region to region, but the efforts are about the same. People in a neighbourhood block get together in front of the area leader's house at a pre-determined time, listen to some updates about coming changes or the comings and goings of residents1, then get to work cleaning the drainage gutters and tidying up around the houses. It's not at all a glamorous task, but there is some genuine good that comes from this tradition that, according to a neighbour of mine, goes back almost 400 years to Japan's Edo period.

Neighbours See Each Other

The first decade of living in Japan was done mostly in rented apartments where the practice of cleaning up the area is just not required. There are companies hired by the landlords that come around every so often to ensure the buildings are generally presentable. As a result, the only time I would see a neighbour was if they just happened to be outside when it was time to bring Nozomi for a walk. There was one neighbour who I regularly spoke to at the last apartment, but he moved out a couple of years before the boy was born. People generally kept to themselves.

Neighbourhood cleaning encourages people to go out and mingle with their neighbours while performing a common task. A lot of people generally talk to the people who live on properties that are immediately next to or behind them, but the neighbourhood is a long rectangle consisting of 22 houses. My house is on the north-eastern corner and it's very rare that I ever see the people who live in the south-west unless they're driving by. While I am not particularly proactive in meeting new people, I do generally enjoy chatting. Many people might feel the same way.

A Common Goal

The purpose of the neighbourhood cleanup is not just to ensure the roads and gutters are clear of debris, though this is a lovely byproduct of the habit. The goal is to enshrine a feeling of pride and responsibility. We're all responsible for the appearance and atmosphere of this little slice of the country so, if it is kept in good shape, everybody wins. Property values depreciate slower2, potential home-owners are more willing to move in, and people generally feel better about being at home. Nobody wants to live in a filthy area.

After the Cleanup

One thing that I found completely unsurprising about the neighbourhood cleanup was what happened afterwards. People would return to their homes and begin cleaning their yards3 or chat with neighbours. For me, I generally pick weeds just outside the fence to keep the area looking nice, given that this house is generally the first one that people see when returning to their own home. Being "only 40 years old", I'm occasionally asked to help with some heavy lifting nearby and this is a good opportunity to learn more about the people around here. Everybody knows about the boy, as he's the youngest person in the area4, and they love to ask questions about what he can and can't do just yet. This sort of neighbourly help was a common thing when I lived in rural Ontario, but was non-existent in the cities. All in all, it's a good excuse to help each other out.

A Critical Eye

Cleaning the neighbourhood gives a person some incentive to look at their own home and see what can be done about any shortcomings rather than ignore small problems in the present until they're bigger problems in the future. Going around my own home, I've found situations where part of my fence needed repair5, soil was eroding, and eavestroughs weren't catching enough rainwater as it slid off the roof. None of these things were serious when discovered, but they could have led to bigger issues down the road.

A Good Example

Kids in Japan are expected to clean their schools. Not just the classrooms, but the hallways and toilets as well. Non-executive employees in Japan are expected to clean their offices. Not just the desks, but the carpets and toilets as well. Children will see their parents going out on a Sunday to help keep the neighbourhood clean and recognize it as an important civic responsibility. By setting a good example, there's a greater chance that the tradition will continue into the future as kids become adults and buy their own homes one day. It's our responsibility to keep the places we use and enjoy in good working order, after all, and nobody is exempt6 from this social expectation.

These are some of the reasons that I enjoy and appreciate the neighbourhood cleanup day.


  1. This would involve hearing about who had recently given birth, who has moved into the neighbourhood, who has moved out, and who has passed away. In my neighbourhood, where the median age is somewhere north of 60, we generally hear about who has passed away two or three times per year.

  2. Land values depreciate so fast in this country it's a wonder anyone buys property. I've heard a number of people in real estate say that land is generally worth something until there is a house on it. Given the sticker price for the 70m² plot of land with my name on it was higher than the cost of the house by $20K, this doesn't bode well for the assessed value of the largest asset I'll ever own.

  3. Given that most people around here retired over a decade ago, the yards are already generally quite clean.

  4. There are a dozen or so kids under the age of 14 in the neighbourhood. This isn't a retirement village, but many of the residents did move here in the 70s with their own young children. People have grown up, moved out, and started families of their own. When people pass away, the children take over the home and generally have it torn down and the land put up for sale. This isn't always for financial reasons, either, as many people tend to move to other parts of the country for work or education in their 20s. It's just not realistic to leave a house abandoned for sentimental value, particularly when governments are now charging homeowners a 12% annual tax for leaving a house empty.

  5. Nothing serious, give the fence isn't yet a year old. One of the brick tiles had come loose and needed some better adhesive to stay on the post. Fortunately this was covered under warranty.

  6. Some people may choose to not do it, but this doesn't make them exempt.

Normal Hours

Today I managed to take three naps. None of them were planned. Instead the desire to sleep was just so great that I would close my eyes “just for a moment” and wake up 20 minutes later. The first nap was on a bench overlooking a nearby park. The second time was on the sofa while the boy was using me as a jungle gym. The third time was right before taking Nozomi for an evening walk. Again, none of these were planned; they just happened.

Next week, I’ll try to work normal hours and get to bed no later than 11:30pm. Sleep is very much a recurring topic in my writing, but for all the wrong reasons. Aside from a few years of solid rest before the boy came along, I’ve had some issue with sleep since the age of twenty.

In the early 2000s I would fall asleep rather quickly and enter into the same very long dream several nights a week. The dream felt as though it spanned years. I’d wake up completely disoriented to the point where I needed to have a calendar next to my bed with the days crossed off so that I’d know when I was. Returning to the waking world always left me wondering whether I was actually awake or stuck in another dream.

By 2006 the epic dreaming changed to bouts of insomnia that would span days, weeks, or an entire month. It was impossible to get more than 15 to 20 minutes of sleep at a time. The only thing that would allow a longer period of rest was alcohol, but this was something I did not want to rely on as I’d sworn off drinking a few years earlier.

Between 2013 and 2016 I slept like a log and would wake feeling mostly refreshed and ready to take on the day despite being a rather turbulent time in my life. It was around this time that my current sleeping pattern emerged, which is that I generally lose consciousness within 30 seconds of putting my head down. There was the occasional time where I’d be awake for hours on end because of worry or anxiety, but these nights were few and far between.

The last two years, though, have been weird. Inconsistent sleeping times and waking to take care of the boy has taken its toll. I’m falling asleep just about everywhere I sit if the last few nights have seen fewer than 4 hours of actual sleep. This is not cool and will only lead to some serious health issues. For this reason, I need to re-institute some of the old rules I followed between 2013 and 2016:

  1. No computers for an hour before sleeping
  2. Be in bed no later than midnight
  3. Always wake up by 7:30am

These three rules are incredibly simple, but rather difficult to implement given that I’m most productive between the hours of 10:00pm and 1:00am. That said, I’d rather suffer the consequences of not working at night over the consequences of not sleeping.