Standards

XKCD — Standards

Randall Munroe has a comic for every situation, and this is certainly the case when it comes to the creation of standards. For the better part of a week I've been looking at the structure of digital textbooks and how they can be made a little more flexible, a little more portable, and a whole heck of a lot more accessible. At the moment the most common formats to find a digital textbook are straight HTML, PDF, or one of the common ePub formats. These have their own lists of pros and cons but one common thread that I've found over the years is that none of these solutions are particularly good when you're trying to make something to be used in a classroom. Solutions are often created in an attempt to appease the students with very little consideration made for the teachers. This is something that I would really like to change in the near future.

One of the more complex problems that I've been trying to address over the years is how to create decent teacher's books that incorporate all of the resources and metadata that might be required in a classroom. I've developed APIs that return this data in a consistent format for textbooks developed within the company, but third-party resources, such as those put out by Pearson or National Geographic, have long been a problem due to the lack of flexibility in the data formats they employ. Every resource is either locked away in a proprietary format, or provided as a PDF that then needs to be restructured in order to make it useful within a modern digital textbook system. What I would really like to do is devise a decent data format that could be published as an open resource that addresses the fundamental problems of working with teacher's books and see it adopted and built-upon within educational circles.

Scribbled in some notebooks next to me are a number of notes that, when combined, form a semi-rational structure that can be presented as a template for how a teacher's book might work. It takes into account things like sequencing, alternate lesson plans, audio resource metadata, video embedding, resource attributions, and more. When I apply this format to some of the textbooks used at the day job, I can generate a portable file that sits at between 18 and 65 megabytes in size, which contains the entire text and structure of the book, plus any additional resources required such as audio files, video files, images, and printable homework activities. All in all, the specification looks good. It hasn't yet been properly tested, though.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be transforming some learning resources from their source PDF files to "proper" Markdown-formatted teachers books using the JSON data structure I'm hoping to propose as a standard. There will be a couple of books from Pearson and I'll probably grab something from a Canadian publisher as well just to see how complete the idea is. If I am able to fit just about any kind of textbook into the definition structure without trying to find workarounds to an incomplete design, then I'll know the idea has merit and can be shared. If the structure creates friction between the content and the smooth operation of a classroom lesson, then I'll know there is still much work to be done. That said, I would love to see this structure become an official standard and get used by schools and educational resource publishers around the world.

Buried Ledes

For the vast majority of September I managed to go without once reading a news site. Not just world news, but tech news, too. The goal was to see if I could do it after so many failed attempts to scale back my compulsion to know about seemingly important events. Aside from a handful of articles on Engadget and one on The Verge, the objective was met and I'm using the additional hour every day to read long-form books from authors that I've generally found very difficult to understand without a high degree of focus. What I like about the longer-form of writing is that the author(s) clearly had to understand a topic very well in order to pen several hundred pages on the topic and, becasue the books are generally well-edited and well-researched, it's possible to better understand the subject matter and come away more informed than is ever possible when reading an article that is designed to be consumed in less than 10 minutes.

Another benefit of staying away from the current forms of news consumption is the general calm that comes from not being bombarded with negative story after negative story. News organizations and virtue-signalling bloggers are often quick to jump on a person's transgressions, often removed from any sense of context, and conflate the issues with hearsay and suppositions. The inundation of gloom casts a pall over even the brightest of moods, and I'm tired of feeling like shit about problems that I am not empowered to solve. We do, however, have control over how we feel, hence the decision to abstain from the pessimistic echo chamber that constitutes modern news media.

This does make me worry, though. An uninformed citizen is unable to make informed decisions. By refraining from reading the news, am I putting myself at a disadvantage to others?

Over the years I've tried various angles of "quitting the news" to no avail. The English media is far angrier and less objective than the Japanese newspapers, so I tried for a while to stick primarily to local sources. This didn't pan out though because I started to see the subtle biases and agendas being pushed by different organizations across the country. Later I would read some English sources of news first by saying "Okay, {organization}. Lie to me.", knowing full well that anything I read in my native language could be so full of barely-masked motives and hyperbole that I'd strain my eyes for all the rolling. Eventually I trimmed the sources down to just those who I felt were the least aggrandising of opinions that harken back to a darker time in human history. But this wasn't enough, becuase the incoherent goals from ideologies I fundamentally disagree with come from many angles.

What I seek is simple: a verifiable, centerist view of world events without the inline opinions.

Unforunately, I do not believe this is something that people can do anymore. A news site without manufactured drama would be more dead in the water than those bloated with advertisements, tracking, and paywalls.

Perhaps it's just better to stick to books. Many of the same problems will still exist, but the ideas and concepts within are generally better explained.

Modern Walkie Talkies

Watching the way people interact with technology can lead to some interesting observations. One of the more interesting trends that I've witnessed over the last couple of years is the number of people who use their phones as walkie-talkies and the number of people in the park sharing their conversations seems to be on the increase. This is something of a surprise to me as there were a number of unspoken rules around using speaker phone first in the office, then with our flip phones. This practice was tolerated with some one-to-one conversations and frowned upon when there were "secret listeners" on one end of the line1. As smart phones grew in popularity it seemed that speaker phone usage dropped significantly, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention, because the practice seems to be everywhere recently … and I don't understand why.

Captain Kirk Using a Communicator

When I watched science fiction shows as a child, it was always surprising to see people answering calls publicly. The captain of a starship might receive a call while attending a diplomatic function. Members of a scout party would be hailed from their ship for a status update. A person hiding behind a box could have their location and identity revealed by a communications device blaring out their name and affiliation. If the recipient of the call could answer, they would generally move one or two steps away and take the call publicly, allowing all those in earshot to hear the exchange. Why would anybody want this? Would it not be better to speak in private? It's bad enough eavesdroppers would hear one side of the converstaion, so did they need to hear the whole exchange?

Most people will quickly understand that this is simply for the sake of the medium. In order for the viewer to have the same understanding of a situation as the characters in a story, it simply makes sense to have communications devices all use some form of speaker phone unless the viewer must be kept in the dark. In the real world, though, there is no need for nearby witnesses of a verbal exchange to hear either side of a conversation. Phone calls, in many cases, are private affairs between two people.

Or so I have been led to believe with years of conditioning from my mother to not listen to other people's conversations.

This morning, while walking Nozomi in the nearby park, I saw a man walking his dog and having a conversation on his phone with the speaker phone. He held the device upside down so the microphone and speakers were facing the sky and didn't seem to mind that the volume was loud enough that I could hear the other person from clear across a 15-metre stretch of lawn. As Nozomi and I got closer, his call came to a natural conclusion and our dogs started to sniff each other. This was a prime opportunity to find out why this person uses a speaker phone in a public space despite the audience.

すみませんですけど、携帯電話のスピーカー機能を使用していることに気づかずにはいられませんでした。なぜこれをやっているのですか?2, I asked.

"The normal speaker is too quiet. I can't hear the other person even at full volume."

Ah. That would explain it. More than this, I agree that the normal speaker is too quiet. This has been one of my long-standing complaints about answering calls on modern phones3. The slightest amount of background noise can completely drown out the person on the other end of the call. When I'm expecting a phone call, I'll usually have some noise-cancelling headphones paired and ready in advance if I'm not at home and alone. Why I never bothered to ask someone before today is bizarre, given the number of people Nozomi and I have met and conversed with over the last couple of years4.

While I doubt the earpiece speakers will get much better in the mini-tablets that we call phones5, I do wonder whether more people will start to carry Bluetooth headsets. Using a phone like a walkie-talkie is certainly feasible when walking the dog in the park, but it's completely untenable in environments like shopping mall food courts, sports events, or — thinking about opposites — libraries.


  1. Back when I worked at a printing company in Canada, I had a boss that would regularly use speaker phone so that "listeners" who were in the room but silent could hear the responses first hand. He did this to me exactly once before I stopped communicating any sort of news that could be perceived as negative over the phone.

  2. Excuse me for asking but, I noticed you using the speaker phone function. Why do you do this?

  3. The SonyEricsson T616 that I briefly owned in the mid-2000s until it was "lost" on a bus was the worst phone I've ever had to listen to. Unless you were in a anechoic chamber with the volume at max, you couldn't hear the other person. Period. I was happy to "lose" that $750 piece of crap and go back to a used Nokia 8081 I'd picked up off eBay. Not only could you hear the other person, but the T9 keyboard rocked.

  4. This is one of the positive outcomes from podcasting, I think. I've learned how to ask better questions.

  5. As more phones go with an all-glass front, how will the sound reach the ear? If the glass itself is going to double as a speaker, then it may as well be a larger one.

In No Mood

The boy was particularly frustrated today and, as toddlers do, he decided to release that frustration with as many decibels as his lungs could manage. For most of the morning, half the afternoon, and much of the evening, if he wasn't whining or demanding things, he was crying loudly between unintelligible demands. By 8:30pm, after going back upstairs to put him back in bed, I snapped. Never in the boy's short existence have I considered violence nor did I consider it today. Discipline and whatnot is important, but violent actions tend to be delivered disproportionate to the actual problem when a parent is at their limit. Instead, I put him back into bed, pointed a finger at him and, in no uncertain terms, demanded he "Sit down. Shut up. Go to sleep."

This just made things worse.

One of the many things I've wondered is whether I'm dealing with some sort of cabin fever. I can rarely get out of the house and, when I do, it's even rarer that I'm on my own. There's no time to decompress or meet with friends or even get a haircut. All these outside activities need to be carefully coordinated to take place around the same time otherwise I can expect a series of phone calls and messages demanding I return home immediately because the only other adult to look after the kid is being driven up the wall. Most days he's fine and I can deal with the occasional tantrum while also juggling day job responsibilities, parenthood responsibilities, and — in one case — a performance review meeting with a boss all at the same time. When I'm at my wits end, though, it's very hard to tolerate any dissension whatsoever. As selfish as it sounds, I'd really like to work from the office a day or two a week, as this would get me out of the house long enough to have some distance.

When I go out for my solitary walks to the hill, I generally go to listen to intelligent podcasts and maybe learn a thing or two. It's almost impossible to listen to podcasts at home due to the endless interruptions, even if I'm listening after 9:00pm. As a result, I listen to music podcasts at home, generally while working, and save the spoken-word shows for my walks. There was a time when it was possible to get out for an hour every day, but this is all but impossible now and I'm lucky to get 2 hours a week spread across three days. The inability to unwind or relax with any sort of regularity is nothing short of exacerbating. Bringing the topic up in order to find a solution, however, just makes it worse.

How do single parents manage when they have young children? Is it a network of friends that can help out when things get rough? Is it proximity to family? Is it something else? There must be a way to balance a little bit of sanity time with the unrelenting demands of everyday life.

Thinking About Gary

There are very few people in my life that I've known and communicated with for 20 years or more. Two of my five sisters fall into this category. Neither of my brothers do. And only half of my parents. I met Reiko in January 2006, which would put us at less than 15 years, which is interesting given that I've lived with her far longer than any family member1. Outside of immediate family, however, there are very few people who I have known for more than a decade and still communicate with. The fault clearly lies with me, as I'm not particularly perceptive to other people's needs or expectations, but there are a few souls who I have long-standing friendships with. While I do not show it very often, I care about these people quite a bit. I worry about them. I feel happy for them. I regularly think about them. Gary is one of these people.

Gary2 and I have known each other since the turn of the century. We met on EFNet, an IRC network, in a channel called #AngelicLayer shortly after I was dumped by a woman I'd been living with for some time in 2000. We lived in different parts of Canada at the time. He was in Vancouver, and I was in Hamilton. We were also quite different in age. When I first joined the channel, I was 21, living on my own, working a full-time job, and an alcoholic in denial. He was a 15 year old high school student with a rather interesting group of friends online. As unlikely — or predatory — as it sounds, we built a pretty good friendship over the next few years. So much so, that I even rented an apartment in Vancouver from his father between 2005 and 20073.

Gary and I both had an affinity for Japan. At the time we were both quite into anime and enjoyed many of the same shows. The culture was something we both found fascinating and we'd even learned some of the language together. He studied history in university and his long-standing wish was to become a teacher. When I moved to Japan in 2007 we kept in touch on IRC and our friendship carried on despite the ocean between us. A year later, he attended my wedding and enjoyed some of the sights and attractions around this part of the country as well as Kyoto, which is just an hour away by bullet train. When my employer was in need of some new recruits in early 2010 I got in touch with Gary and asked if he might want to come over. I had put in a good word for him and much of the legal paperwork required for a Canadian to work in Japan would be taken care of by the day job, as there was an entire department dedicated to the task of helping people with visas, taxes, and other aspects of living so far away from home. Later that year, Gary moved from the relative comfort of his parent's home in Vancouver to Nagoya, where he would learn the necessary skills to do the same job I had done up until that point4.

Gary

Gary5 has lived and worked in Japan ever since. Just as it is with me, this country is his home now. He's found love, moved in with a lovely woman, and is thinking about starting a family. I'm actually quite happy for him … but I'm also a bit concerned.

While I like the man a lot, he's not exactly a go-getter. He likes to take things easy and allow events to unfold rather than forge his own future. He's worked part time at the day job since the very beginning, and would often rely on his parents to cover various bills. Despite being in a committed relationship with a woman who is very serious about having children, he's unwilling to take on the requisite responsibilities that come with "being a man". He could switch over to a full-time contract at the day job and have a steady income with a five minute conversation, but doesn't want to. He says that the workload would be too exhausting. He's not particularly keen on using any additional skills or knowledge to earn money, as it would take time away from whatever it is he does when not at work. He's not even particularly interested in seeking out a better-paying job — of which there are many — as that would eliminate any seniority he might currently enjoy … which means almost squat at the day job unless you're a full-time or unionised employee. How in the world is he going to afford to support a family?

When I think about how much the boy has cost in terms of time, money, and energy, I'm worried about Gary. My son has required far more of everything than I ever imagined. Not just time, money, and energy, as two of these are renewable resources, but in terms of patience and understanding and empathy and all the things that are required to make a good father. How people with multiple children manage I'll never know, but it's not at all easy to raise a family. The boy is outgrowing his clothes between the time they come off the rack and the time we pay for them. He goes through food faster than any garden can grow it. He wants to be picked up a lot. He wants to be read to even more often. He is the centre of his universe and for his entire life Reiko and I have revolved around him. Any parent can attest to how utterly exhausting this can be at times.

The fact that Gary has never had a full-time job worries me. Can he keep up with a child? Will he hand the young person off to his wife and abstain from his responsibilities? How will he afford the never-ending list of things to buy? Diapers, wet sheets, clothing, toys, books, community activities, school …. The list is almost endless and there is no avoiding them. Heck, what kind of example will he set for his child if he doesn't accept a heavier burden of responsibility?

At the moment he and his girlfriend both work. When a child is added to the matrix, one person will need to stay home for at least six months to a year, and I highly doubt any mother would let someone like Gary be a stay-at-home dad. The risks are just too great.

The man is 35 years old. He's not a child, yet continues to shirk responsibility as though he's still in high school. I care about his future just as much as I care about his present, but any conversation where it's suggested he work harder is shut down much faster than it starts. There's no denying that life is undoubtedly more enjoyable when moving at a relaxed pace and the most pressing responsibility is paying this month's cell phone bills, but this is no environment to start a family. I want him, his wife, and any future children to succeed in life. How can I communicate this to him in a way that he'll accept?

Maybe I'm just misguided but, as his friend, I feel it's my responsibility to make sure that he understands the burdens he needs to take on. He's not married because he claims he doesn't have the money. He doesn't want to work full time because he claims he doesn't have the energy. He says he's ready for a child, yet acts like one himself. This is no environment to bring a new human into. I've seen situations like this while growing up in Canada, and it never worked out for anybody. By the time the child was in high school, everyone was relying on a drug, alcohol, or gambling just to ignore reality.

A thought that has crossed my mind from time to time is to call his father and formulate a plan to help get Gary on the right path. Gary's father is a walking stereotype of an immigrant in Canada. He arrived from Vietnam in the early 80s with almost nothing, worked hard for 30+ years, now owns multiple houses and a bakery in Vancouver, and continues to get his hands dirty every day of the week. There's no stopping the guy. When I rented an apartment from him, we would occasionally have long conversations about Gary and how he needed to learn responsibility. Nothing ever stuck, but the stakes were much lower back then. What Gary is doing right now is playing house with no understanding of the consequences or expectations.

Part of me says that I should just keep my nose out of Gary's affairs. He's technically an adult, which means he's technically capable of making his own decisions and solving his own problems. The rest of me says that I need to leverage our almost 20 years of friendship to lay down the hard truths of life: play time is over and it's time to grow up.


  1. I've lived with my father for 13 years, my mother for 10. The first five years of my life, give or take, was spent with both. I find this interesting given people's propensity to become bored with me, which is something I've heard time and time again over the years. Apparently I am incredibly predictable, which makes me boring. Perhaps this is true, but I'm boring for a reason and it's taken a lot of effort to be less boring over time.

  2. Yes, this is the name he goes by. No need to switch things up.

  3. I moved to the Vancouver area in 2002, living in Richmond, which is just south of the main city. The period between 2005 and 2007 was — in my mind — the best time of my single life. Sure, there was heartbreak with a woman I had fallen far too hard for, but the two years in Vancouver were the most stable and the most financially secure years of my life in Canada. Aside from my student loan, every other past debt had been paid off and I was no longer living paycheque-to-paycheque … which is not something many people in their 20s can say.

  4. I did the job from November 2007 until June 2015, which is when I officially left the classroom to be a full-time developer for the company.

  5. Gary is in the picture above. In the background you can see Reiko and I. This photo was taken on May 1, 2008.

O.P.P.

Today saw the completion of a 5-day training course for the day job, a crash course on the fundamentals of Mulesoft development delivered over the span of 32 hours. With this knowledge, I'll be able to begin helping out some of the core development team next year with a number of projects that might just solve a number of complicated problems that generally arise any time an organisation spreads its data across too many disparate systems. All in all, this is a good thing.

In order to make time for this training, I started to let people at the day job know weeks in advance that I'd be unavailable this week. First it was just casual mentions. Then it was statements during meetings. Then it was reminders at the end of emails. By the end of last week anyone who needed to know about my lack of availability knew and understood. Imagine my surprise when the inbox in Outlook remained quiet for most of Monday, followed by Tuesday, and finally Wednesday. Four emails in three days1. On Thursday a couple of schools reached out to ask for assistance, but nothing of extreme urgency. Despite the full days of sitting in a training session, this week has felt more like a holiday than most actual holidays. One evening, while out for a walk in the park, I even said as much to Nozomi.

The lack of anxiety and urgency felt really, really nice.

In yesterday's blog post, I made a bit of an admission:

The older I get, the less interested I become in spending my days in front of a computer to solve other people's problems.

Solving other people's problems is what many of us do to earn a living and there is something to be said for being capable of understanding a situation and providing a solution. It does get a little repetitive after a while, though, which is where I think some of my frustration and anxiety comes from. Being able to step back for a little while has given me the opportunity to reflect on what it is I do and how the work generally affects me. It's odd to think that I can feel stress despite all the good that has come about in the last couple of years as a direct result of the work I do. It's as though I'm so intently focused on the one or two negatives encountered each day that the 99 positive things are completely ignored. This is stupid. I know it. You know it. The whole world knows it. So why focus on it?

Earlier this week I decided — once again — to slow down and relax a bit more at home and with the day job. There will always be more to accomplish. There will always be unrealistic deadlines to meet. There will always be snarky messages from perpetually pessimistic people. What won't always be present is good health, family, personal time. I've grown tired of forfeiting the good to deal with other people's problems. Yes, I will continue to work towards all of my professional goals, but I'll be darned if I choose to deal with negativity outside of scheduled working time when I could be off the clock and teaching the boy how to properly throw a ball.

It's long past time I recognise that other people's problems need not become mine and that some issues are outside my purview. I want to enjoy this momentary calm in the storm that is everyday life.


  1. This is four emails out of hundreds that were received and heavily filtered. The number of inbox rules I keep in Outlook is absurd, but it ensures that the stuff that hits the inbox is genuinely of value.

Places to Go

One of the many things that I enjoy doing when I have a little bit of free time is fire up the Photos application on the notebook and look at the Places view. This plots the photos containing geographic data on a map and groups them in such a way that a person can see where they spend most of their time. Of course there's little surprise that most pictures are captured in and around the home, but there are occasionally some interesting memories that can arise by looking at some of the smaller collections. Today, while having lunch, I decided to do just this.

Footprints Across Japan

Geo-tagging is something that I've generally avoided for a number of years due to some extreme bouts of paranoia1, but this doesn't mean it's impossible to see where I've been over the last dozen years. Heck, I'll even occasionally invest some time into adding a semi-accurate set of coordinates on a picture if it's an important one just so that the photo can appear as part of a pin on the map view. This accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. I get to see where I've been
  2. I get to see were I've brought family
  3. I get to see where we might want to explore in the future

The family and I will be making the trek to Tokyo Disney in a couple of weeks, a place that both Reiko and I have been to2. Along the way we might just stop by at some interesting places inside Tokyo Station or another train station. Depending on how the boy is feeling, we might even visit a zoo one day rather than Disney. As odd as it may seem, I'm looking forward to seeing the places outside the pricey resort just as much as the places within the hallowed gates. New locations offer new opportunities.

As the boy gets older, one of my goals will be to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan as well as some of the nearby countries that are generally friendly to tourists3. However, looking at the places I've been in the last 12 years, it's clear to see that there's a whole lot of the world left to explore. This does raise a question: what would be the most effective way for two middle-aged parents to see more of the world with a young child in tow?

Footprints Across the Northern Hemisphere

The boy needs to see first hand that the planet is large, full of interesting people, and with lots of fascinating places. When I was young, my parents would take the family on a road trip to the east coast of Canada or to some other far flung destination several hundred kilometres from home. These trips instilled in me an appreciation for the vastness of Canada. Japan is nowhere near as large as the province I grew up in, let alone the rest of the North American country, but it's a fascinating place with an unimaginable number of things to experience. Extend this out to the entire world, and a person can spend their whole life travelling, from birth to death, and never see everything.

What I hope to do over the coming years is bring the family to a number of prefectures that we've not yet visited as well as spend some time in South Korea. So long as these trips work out, one of the crazy goals I'd like to plan for is a two-month4 road trip across the US and Canada with stops in a number of the big cities as well as a number of small ones along the way. We'd start on the west coast and drive right over to the east coast, exploring the sights, smells, sounds, and culture of each region along the way. After North America, maybe something can be set up to explore parts of Africa or South America.

The older I get, the less interested I become in spending my days in front of a computer to solve other people's problems … even though it pays well.


  1. My paranoia is something I'm attempting to control to a certain extent. I still don't trust a lot of software or corporate entities, but I'm not quite as careful as Richard Stallman when it comes to staying outside the reach of white-collar spies.

  2. The first time we went to Disney was a couple of months after marriage. That trip didn't turn out. We went again in 2010 the day before Nozomi joined the family. We haven't been back since.

  3. No visits to North Korea or China, it seems. Canadians are particularly unwelcome in the larger of those two nations.

  4. Minimum. Two months at a minimum.

Circadian Rhythms

This week is a bit of an anomaly at the day job as I'm technically not doing any work. Instead I'm participating in an online course to bring my knowledge of a couple tools up to code so that work can be assigned to me going forward. These courses are conducted by an Australian company and we meet daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm which, for me, would be 8:00am to 4:00pm. After the course finishes I stay at my desk for two hours to tend to any of the issues reported by colleagues and then put the computers away for the night. What this means is that from 6:00pm until the following morning, I am not using any of my notebooks. I'm in bed by 11 o'clock and asleep within a minute of putting my head down.

This is quite the nice change of pace after a year and a half of being available for people on three continents for 16 hours a day1.

According to SleepCycle, my sleep-tracking application, my rest isn't any better but I would beg to differ. The typical morning grog is gone as is the slight anxiety that I generally feel shortly before opening Outlook to check the mail. One could really get used to the idea of stopping work for the night if such a thing could be consistently done.

The global project that I'm currently involved in should be "done" at some point in the next 12 months2, at which point it should be possible to re-arrange the working day again. No longer will I need to work 8 hours during the day and 2~4 hours after the boy has gone to bed. Instead I'll be working mostly with the Australian team, so that's an early start and an early finish. Hopefully this will free up the evenings completely, because a person can only be focused on work for so long before they are ineffective.

By this time next year, I'd really like to have the old Circadian rhythm back from when I used to work in the classroom: in bed by 11:30 and awake at 6:30. This wasn't always possible, of course, but doing this 90% of the week is a heck of a lot better than the once a week I currently manage.


  1. Just because I was available does not mean I was working. Mind you, I typically do between 10 and 12 hours per day.

  2. It's expected to be done for January or Februrary, so I'll just slap an extra half year onto that estimate becuase "corporations".

Down the Rabbit Hole

As hard as it is for me to believe, I rarely ever used a camera before Reiko and I met. I had a digital camera as early as 2001, but the device was generally more frustration than it was worth. When "camera phones" started to become popular, I had a SonyEricsson T616 that took awful photos and was even worse at phone calls. The Motorola Razr that replaced it was superior on both fronts, but the 2.1MP photos were still fuzzy on a good day. It wasn't until I borrowed a friend's digital point-and-shoot1 for my first trip to Japan that I started to see digital photos as being viable. I soon picked up a Canon A540 point-and-shoot and started collecting images from that point on.

That was 13 years and 28,818 photos ago.

The family and I will be heading to Tokyo Disney for a couple of days next month and, as we're all looking forward to the event, Reiko asked to see the photos from the last time we went there in 2010. These were kept on the NAS, but were in directories and grouped in directories categorized by year and location. This system generally worked for me before the boy was born but, since then, the explosion in photo counts has shown just how poorly this system scales. So, as most of the photos we've taken in the last few years have been on our iDevices or imported into Photos to be shared with iDevice-carrying family members, I decided to begin pulling in the tens of thousands of older photos that we've collected over the years.

As one would expect, importing the photos is an incredibly simple process. I can still keep specific events grouped together in the form of an album — or a shared album — and drop uncategorized photos of the puppy and whatnot into the general library. Photos will read the metadata as best it can and organize things in terms of age just the way I expect to see it. There's just one little problem: there's no geo data on these imported photos. Until the iPhone 5 in 2012, none of my photos had geographic information on them. The trips to Nagasaki, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, Kamakura, Sasebo, and other places are labelled, but they don't appear in the Places view … which is mildly frustrating. I want them to appear there.

Which means I'm adding geographic data by hand to key photos or groups of photos. The exact location is imprecise, so photos that were taken at Osaka Aquarium will all show the same coordinates and the same goes for all the other locations. Unfortunately, this still requires me to find the latitude and longitude, enter it into groups of photos2. It's taken a couple of hours, but the main photo albums are done. But what about tags? How about descriptions? How about grouping new photos into collections with friends?

A lot of our software tools can help us with the mundane stuff. For those who insist on completeness, though, the rabbit hole goes very, very deep. At some point I'll need to cut my losses and be content with the metadata assigned for the first decade of photos, knowing that future photos will have far more information associated with them.


  1. An Olympus X200, according to the metadata.

  2. Fortunately this can be done by selecting multiple photos and then entering the location description. If I had to do this photo by photo ….

The Disconnect

One of the first things that I noticed on my first visit to Japan in 2006 was how loud everything was. Regardless of where you went, speakers would shout information at you with 100 decibels or more in order to drown out some of the other speakers that would shout information at you. The trains are loud. The traffic is loud. The advertisements are loud. It's no wonder that people generally try to ignore every sound when outside of their home with headphones becuase so much of what is projected at us is not information, per se, but raw, unfiltered, semi-coherent noise.

In North America and Europe, when people want to point fingers at who's to blame for incessant noise, it's generally males in their 20s who receive the bulk of the blame. It's no wonder, either, given the non-zero percentage of young adults who listen to music as loudly as possible and drive cars that scream for attention. There's plenty of young noise-makers in Japan, too. That said, the worst offenders of noise pollution are not only old enough to know better, but generally wealthy enough to have a decent education. I speak, of course, of politicians and political hopefuls.

Every time an election is around the corner, vehicles outfitted with megaphones start making their way around neighbourhoods. The script is largely the same regardless of which person is running for office. It generally goes something like this:

KATO YUUJI! KATO YUUJI! I WILL WORK FOR YOU, YOUR CHILDREN, AND THE FUTURE! MY NAME IS KATO YUUJI AND I WILL WORK FOR YOU! {Repeat ad nauseum}

Kato Yuuji Driving Around in a Megaphone Van

If the political hopeful is actually in the vehicle — which is not always the case becuase any group of minions could drive a whole fleet of megaphone cars, leaving the politician the opportunity to just focus on appearing in high-traffic areas — then they'll usually be seen waving out the window, their white-gloved hand going back and forth in a manner that clearly shows they're tired and suffering from RSI. Others will try to shake up the standard repeating message by pausing the tape and ad libbing something or other, usually saying which local elementary school they went to or why we should vote for them over the other carbon-copy hopefuls1.

Should I ever run for office in this country, the first order of business will be to outlaw megaphone trucks. These things were introduced in the 20th century as an easy way to broadcast information throughout a community disconnected from the rest of the country by radio-absorbing mountains and have been bastardized ever since.

Of course, should I ever run for office in this country, the second order of business will be to enact strict volume limitations on everything2. There is no excuse for the number of decibels that assault our ears on a daily basis.

What's frustrating is that I am not the only resident of Japan to think this way. None of the neighbours I've spoken to like the megaphone trucks. None of them see the need given that our mailboxes are generally overflowing with political pamphlets and post cards with the exact same message that is broadcasted by the invasive vehicles. Rarely will a person ever go out to meet with a political hopeful as they're driving around and rarely will a megaphone truck stop even if people did want to chat or ask questions. The whole effort is a waste of time and money.

As an immigrant, I've tried to be patient and accepting of the general standards and traditions of this country. That said, there are some things that are simply inexcusable. Noise pollution for asinine bullshit is one of them.


  1. Every person may be a unique individual, but every politician is exactly the same as the next one. Every. Single. One. The same slogans. The same lies. The same track records. The same "scandals". The only difference between a newly elected official and an experienced one is their age.

  2. After these two things are enacted, I could coast for the rest of my term and retire in comfort with a full pension and all medical expenses covered.