Bright Yellow

This post is being published pretty much exactly 43 years to the minute after I was born into this world, in the middle of a snow storm that my parents had to drive through in a 1977 Honda Civic Hatchback. For reasons I can't possibly fathom, I sometimes think about this car and the stories that my father would tell me. Perhaps it's because he would tell the same stories multiple times while other family members would occasionally fill in the gaps over time. As I grew older, these stories revealed quite a bit of my young father's character.

A 1977 Honda Civic

The collection of stories begins at some point in mid-to-late 1976, and the Honda was bought brand new off the lot of a dealership not too far from the hospital where I would later be born. My father saved money for years to get a car and, in a moment of youthful exuberance, he picked this Honda as it fit his budget and was something he could drive off with the very same afternoon. The colour was something that a lot of people laughed at, as my father has never been a flashy individual. He's always preferred dark colours and would have preferred a black Civic, but this would have required a car to be ordered from nearby Toronto. He would have to wait until the following Tuesday, but it was Friday and he wanted a car for the weekend. So, being just 19 or 20 years old at the time, he gave in to impulse and accepted a lemon yellow car that was not only a "cheap Japanese import", something rarely seen at the time, but a vehicle that shipped with seat belts as a standard!

The two-door car had an automatic transmission, an AM/FM radio with an 8-track cassette player, and not much else. Despite the lack of luxuries that we all take for granted today, my father loved this first car. To him, this was a symbol of being an adult; a free adult. And, like many young adults who are still experiencing a high from a big-ticket purchase, he decided the first place he would go after driving off the Honda dealership's lot would be McDonald's.

There are many traits that I share with my parents. I look just like my mother, but I act just like my father; he is a creature of habit. So when he pulled into the McDonald's Drive-Thru to order some food, although he has never told me exactly what he ordered, I know with almost absolute certainty that his lunch consisted of a Big Mac, a large order of fries, and a strawberry milk shake. Nothing masks the fresh scent of a new car like McDonald's and the scent was going to be masked almost instantly because, as he drove away from the pick-up window with his meal, he would quickly learn that cup holders are probably worth the expense.

The curbs in Georgetown, Ontario were quite steep until the 1990s, which means that any vehicle pulling into – or out of – a lot would tilt several degrees and bounce as the shock absorbers tried to compensate for not being in equilibrium. My father had his milkshake held between his legs as he drove away from the restaurant, which resulted in a lesson in physics. The beverage was spilled all over the driver's seat and on the floor mats. While there was nobody else in the vehicle, my aunts would often laugh at how they imagined he reacted. The car, I'm told, smelled of strawberries until the following summer despite the attempts to clean it all out.

There are certainly worse things for a car to smell like.

Over the next year or so my father would be teased about the car's size, it's colour, the sound of its horn, and many other attributes. Because it was so light, the car was once picked up by four of my uncles and turned 90˚ in the driveway, making it impossible to drive the car out as it was just wide enough to sit facing the walls between two houses. Thinking through some of these events as they must have played out, I can see why he didn't really like visiting a lot of family all at once. As the youngest of five children, he must have been teased fiercely while growing up.

In 1977 my father would meet my mother. They'd marry in April of the following year, and I'd come along 352 days afterwards. Christine, my sister, would join us within two years and Laura another two years later.

I don't have many memories of the car myself except one, which would have taken place during the spring or summer of 1984. We travelled to Canada's Wonderland, a relatively new theme park just north of Toronto. I was about the same age then as my son is now, which means I would have been a bundle of unbridled energy during the daylight hours. The trip was rather long for a five year-old but, once we arrived, I was so excited that after jumping out of the car I slammed the door shut … and started screaming.

Cars were made mostly of steel in the 70s, which meant that components were heavy. A young child would have to brace themselves in order to open or close a car door. This is exactly what I did, and my thumb was caught between the door and the frame as a result. There was blood. There were tears. There was paper towel … a lot of paper towel. But we stayed at the park, went on the rides, and spent time as a family. Pictures taken that day show me wearing a blue shirt, a black baseball hat, a tightly-wrapped wad of paper towel on my right hand, and a frown so deep it left marks to this day.

My thumb was and still is fine. I don't know how much space there was between the door and the frame, but apparently there was just enough to not slice a child's digit clean off.

The car was eventually sold a few months later. My mother had walked out, leaving my father with three young kids, a mortgage, and crippling credit card debt. Money was tight, and the car was not nearly as necessary as getting the finances under control. Many years later, after remarrying, he drove a K-Car. It was a nice Reliant automobile, but during our drives in that car he would talk about his yellow Honda and wonder what happened to it.

Forever Distracted

Almost ten years have passed since I created a little project called Noteworthy. This project had the sole purpose of allowing me to write blog posts from Evernote while disconnected from the Internet. I could be sitting on a train, using my 3rd-generation iPod Touch, listening to music and hammering out a blog post about something that was on my mind while travelling between classrooms. A good amount has changed since the project started, but a lot has stayed the same, too. I want to write. I want to publish. I want to share my words with the world in a vain attempt to broadcast my existence to a world that really couldn't care less. 10Centuries is currently at the tail end of its 5th major software version and the six is being developed to address a number of performance and interface issues that have plagued my platforms seemingly forever. However, as I write the code that will bring the 6th version of this software to life, I wonder if I'm doing this to intentionally distract myself from writing; the very activity I set out to encourage with the creation of a personal platform.

My high school art teacher, Mrs. Deluca, often said that I was a "high-achieving procrastinator". Rather than invest the time in the various projects and assignments I should have been doing, I would put my energy into any number of alternative endeavors and show off the fruits of that labor at the expense of my grades. There was no denying that the things I would create on my own were often more interesting than the portraits, paintings, or figurines that were expected by the teacher — which she herself would often admit — but they were arguably not the objectives that would bring the most value. As a result, my grades would often be in the mid-to-high 70s rather than the 80s or 90s that could have been possible if I were to apply myself to the tasks at hand. The same is seen today with the projects I do at work and in my spare time. Again, there is no denying that I could create useful things if I were to sit down and focus on what was needed rather than whatever happened to be in my head, but the incentives just aren't there.

Why in the world would I want to create various things at the day job if they're going to spy on potential customers or waste my colleagues' time? Why would I build a couple of things for 10Centuries if there is little chance of standing out against solid competitors like Tumblr and WordPress?1 The problem that I face is not so much a lack of enthusiasm for development or problem-solving, but a lack of enthusiasm for the day-to-day grind; the final 10% of every project that turns something from a hobby into a work of art that people can appreciate and benefit from.

Writing is something I've wanted to do for well over a decade, yet I invest my time in the tools that are supposed to aid in writing. Seeing 10C and its myriad offerings succeed is something that I would genuinely like to see happen so that I can focus more on the platform and less on the day job, yet the last 10% of effort always seems reserved for a "later" that never comes. Mrs. Deluca was correct with her description as my GitHub statistics and efforts on AskUbuntu would clearly show that I am investing my time into things that are not contributing to the very things I set out to do.

Is this just part of being creative while lacking discipline? Or is this something else?

There is no denying that there are a lot of things that I'd like to do with my time, but I do wonder why it is that I can produce so much while accomplishing so little.

  1. I understand these two are the same company now, but that's beside the point.

Don't Fall

Every two months the neighbourhood comes together to work as a team on cleaning up the neighbourhood. We sweep out the gutters at the side of the road, remove weeds from various places, and ensure that the community is generally nice to look at. While this might sound like a great deal of work, we're generally done in half an hour then free to go about our regular Sunday business. Today's cleanup had the added benefit of being attended by the neighbourhood leader for the year1, who has been absent the last 10 months, leaving the bulk of the community management to his wife. As this was his first – and final – cleanup for the year, he started the day with a bit of a talk.

Japan is a country with an ageing population. The median age of people living in the immediate neighbourhood is 63, with only four people under the age of 18 being part of that number. Most of the neighbours that I interact with on a regular basis are in their 70s and 80s. As such, the people around me have a very different set of concerns, which is what today's talk was about. Although the leader was speaking to everyone, he was looking specifically at me for a good portion of his speech.

Good morning everyone. A long time has passed since I could help you with the cleaning. I think it was almost two years ago, when Yamaguchi-san was the leader, that I could lift a broom. As you can see, I don't go very far anymore. This walker is too cumbersome, and I'm too tired2. But before Oguchi-san takes over the leadership role next month, I wanted to remind all of you the importance of regular exercise. It was two years ago when I fell in the kitchen and broke my leg. Since that time my life has completely changed. I can't drive. I can't take a bath by myself. I can't visit friends who live far away. I had to give up most of my hobbies. And my weekdays went from being mine to being spent at day service, with nurses and coaches helping me to maintain some muscle. All I wanted to do was change a lightbulb, and the rest of my life changed because I fell.

Don't fall.

We're all getting older. Even you, Irwin-san. You're how old now? 40? Enjoy it. When you get to our age you'll wonder why you didn't appreciate the health you have now.

Most of us have known each other for over fifty years. We've watched as new children came into the world, grew up, and left to start families of their own. A lot of you are still in good shape, but a little accident in the house can do the same thing to you as it did to me. Suzuki-san down the street tripped on a single step last year, and she's been in a care home ever since. So don't fall.

This summer I'll be moving to a care home as well. My wife will stay in the house here. She's as healthy now as she's ever been. Just look at how beautiful and strong she is. But I don't want to be a burden. Takeshi3 will be buying the empty house down the street and building a new home there in a few months so that he's closer to home. He'll be able to help out with the neighbourhood responsibilities again in my place. He's about the same age as you, Irwin-san. You should meet him … when he's not looking at his damned phone.

I'll stop talking, but I just want to say again: don't fall. At our age, it will literally be the last thing you ever do.

When elders speak like this, it's interesting how closely people pay attention. There was certainly some laughter at points in the talk, but everyone knew exactly what he was saying. I cannot imagine being close to 90 years of age, and I cannot imagine being incapacitated for the rest of my life due to an injury in the house that doesn't involve a harpoon impaling a part of my body. Being reminded of just how fleeting good health might be is certainly good for a bit of a perspective check. As it stands, the worst thing I have to deal with is allergies, which is a 5-week period of discomfort. Some of my neighbours, however, have to deal with a great deal more.

  1. Every year there is a house in the neighbourhood that takes on the responsibility of leader. Generally, it's the husband who performs this role not out of patriarchal governance, but because the women of the area already have enough to do with the various events that are coordinated with surrounding neighbourhoods throughout the year. There is no rule anywhere saying that a role must be performed by a man or a woman and, indeed, you will see a mix of genders at every type of meeting.

  2. When someone around here in their 80s say they're "too tired", it usually means they're in too much pain.

  3. Takeshi is his son.

Working on the Right Things

Every year around this time, as the weather warms to encourage the first indications of the coming hay fever season, I find myself becoming more creative. Winter doldrums are no joke and these can make even the most interesting projects look mundane, but the beginning of March tends to cast the negativity aside so that something new can be discovered. This has certainly been the case recently as I invest more time into Journals, the blogging side of the 10C v6 platform, as well as move into more of a mentorship role at the day job. However, one of the many questions that I ask myself during these resurgences in creativity is whether I am working on the right things or just the interesting things; the two are not always the same.

Most people know what "the right things" tend to be as the resulting efforts will impact other people. Paying taxes on time, submitting paperwork, and completing the tasks asked of us by management at the day job will certainly appear to be "the right things". These are often the least memorable activities that we'll accomplish because they require no imagination whatsoever. Are they important? Probably. Will we feel a sense of pride for the effort? Probably not. So it should come as no surprise to anybody when people who feel the need to get creative channel their passions into something interesting.

The problem with interesting ideas is that they're often a font for ancillary and equally compelling ideas. While working on the Journals project I have considered numerous additional features that would require building out the software to include some of the work I had done for previous projects – with additions. Searching the iTunes Podcast directory to look up specific episodes of shows to obtain an audio file URL, for example, or rebuilding the digital Bible API project to have a more dynamic referencing system available to people – mainly me – who will be examining specific chapters and verses. Ideas for replacing the RSS mechanism to supply "transactional feeds" rather than entire articles in a chronological order have certainly been on my mind recently as well as the need to support seldom-seen operations such as JSON Feeds. All of these are interesting and all of these receive some portion of my time, be it for conceptualising or coding. But are they the right things to work on?

Having spent a great deal of time building platforms that present words to people, an argument can be made that anything that can encourage better or more complete ideas to be conveyed would be the right thing to work on. For the longest time I have tried to simplify the means of entering text into a database and having it presented to readers in a consistent, nice-to-read format. With the Journals project, I'm tossing much of that out the window and developing something that will allow people to create a far more nuanced, much better formatted article. This project will require me to take everything I've learned about different programming languages and database systems over the years and devise something that is beyond anything I've done in the past … which is saying quite a bit.

Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
— Peterson, J.B. (2021). Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

Every time I work on something that I believe is interesting, all of my energy is brought to bear. Anything that's interesting not only deserves to be seriously considered and worked upon, but it demands that effort be spent. There's no denying that just about everything I create has already been built by other people in one way or another and all that needs to be done is to put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle and hope there are no conflicts along the way. I could probably read and write a great deal more by adopting this common development strategy; to "configure, not code". However, this isn't how I like to do things. By really thinking things through, then coding the solution almost completely from scratch1, I am able to understand the problem and work through a solution. Sometimes the end result is not viable. Sometimes it exceeds expectations. Either way, the process is a learning opportunity that encourages continued growth and a better appreciation of the problem. With Journals, much like the textbook projects or LMSes I've worked on in the past, I will work as hard as I possibly can … just to see what happens.

Will the effort pay off? Most likely. Will this bring me one step closer to a return to self-employment? Certainly not. Given the degree of interest and the lessons that I'll learn along the way, however, this is the right thing to work on.

  1. I generally make use of the FontAwesome icon set and … that's about it. Everything else on many of my most recent projects is coded line by line, for better or worse.

A Pet or a Stranger

Over the course of forty years, I have asked young people in America if they would first save their pet or a stranger if both were drowning. A smaller and smaller minority have said they would save the stranger. Why would the majority save their pet before a human being? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger. In other words, they follow the dictates of love. That is one reason the Torah and other books of the Bible warn us against trusting our hearts (see, for example, Numbers 15:39).

— Prager, D. (2018). The Rational Bible: Exodus.

This is an interesting thought experiment, as it’s true that many of us will love our pet more than we might a stranger. It also calls into question the value we place on human life over life in general. If I were in this predicament where I had to choose between Nozomi, a dog I’ve loved for 12 years, or a person I’ve never seen before, which life would I try to save first? Would I try to justify saving Nozomi by searching for a reason to abandon a fellow human? What sort of excuse might pass for reasonable justification?

Is it acceptable to choose my dog over someone who is 90? How about 80? Or 55? Or 30? Is age a justifiable discrimination given that Nozomi has perhaps three or four years left of her natural lifespan?

Is the traditional model of “women and children first” applicable here? If the person is an adult male, is choosing to save my dog over a drowning man justifiable simply because they are neither a woman nor child?

The problem with hypothetical situations, though, is that they lead to hypothetical answers. I think I would first aim to save the drowning person before my dog, no matter the pain that might come from the decision. This is because it’s the least selfish option, which generally means it is the right thing to do. Nozomi is important to me, whereas the stranger will be important to a lot of people1.

One of the questions I’ve been thinking through over the last few months is this: What does it mean to be “good”2? One of the more common truisms is that a person who is good to others is generally seen as being good themselves. To be good to others we must treat them the same way we wish to be treated. This idea is thousands of years old and captured in such ancient texts as The Bible:

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”3
> — Matthew 22:39

To love the neighbour — a stranger — as myself would make their rescue my responsibility and solemn duty. The idea is repeated multiple times in other books, such as Corinthians:

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

— 1 Corinthians 10:24

And perhaps more succinctly in Galatians:

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

— Galatians 5:14

This isn’t to say that one should allow their pet to drown to save a human because God commands it, per se, but because the act is considered honourable and good, thus making the rescue the right thing to do.

Sorry, Nozomi.

  1. This will be true regardless of a person’s profession or social status.

  2. When I've had conversations about this, people look at me as though I've gone insane. However, when I ask them what being "good" means, few are able to formulate a response that is clear and concise. I am not looking for vague adjectives. I am looking for something deeper. People generally believe they're good, even if society believes otherwise. Good cannot be subjective, otherwise it is without meaning. Therefore, there must be an objective description of what it means to be good. This is what I am seeking.

  3. The full context for this verse is as follows:

    “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”

    — Matthew 22:37-39


Lent is a Christian observance that is supposed to represent the 40 days that Christ spent fasting in the desert. During this time, many people will perform what is called a Lenten sacrifice, where they will abstain from some sort of pleasure or luxury of their choosing. Many choose to give up alcohol, some may choose to refrain from meat, and others may take their Lenten fast incredibly seriously, eating as little as possible while resisting the temptation of the delicious foods that surround us everywhere in modern times. This year the season will begin on Wednesday March 2nd and finish on April 14th1.

The opening paragraph outlines the basic concept of Lent not because I've been re-engaging with my religious studies, but because I've chosen to begin the observance early. On February 15th I drank my last alcoholic beverages for two months. This was a decision that was made around lunchtime on the 16th, though I've since thought it through a little more and decided to wait until mid-April before thinking about picking up another can of Kirin チュウハイ2. Not only will this give my body some time to adjust to being alcohol-free for the first time in … a long time, but it will allow me to see whether I am actually addicted to the stuff rather than just "enjoying it at the end of a long day". Given that I went almost five years in Vancouver without drinking and well over nine in Japan without touching the stuff, one would think this isn't a sacrifice at all. However, since moving out of the classroom many years ago, I've found myself consuming more and more every few months. As it stands, I have no problem consuming two litres of 9%-alcohol チュウハイ in a single day and maintaining the appearance of being normal, albeit happier3. Based on what I've read about alcoholism, all signs point to me being in denial … so two months sober ought to confirm if this is the case or not.

More than this, though, I have been feeling the need to act on something. I don't know what that something is, but there's an unmistakable prodding from within to stand up and get things done in areas that I am not at all knowledgeable about4. There is a desire to become an active participant in a community. There is also a thirst for a better understanding of topics that I thought I knew. While there is no requirement to give anything up to accomplish any of these objectives, not clouding the mind will open up an extra hour or two per day for reading, reflection, learning, and sharing. Given that we all have a limited number of hours on any given day, freeing up one or two is nothing to balk at.

Yesterday I wrote about feeling incomplete and isolated from the world. This is still true today. However, over the last couple of months I've been working on pulling myself out of the same old rut in order to do something that can benefit others and myself. God willing, this teetotaling observance will bring me one step closer to understanding what it is that I need to do going forward.

  1. Though Lent is a 40-day event, this year there are six Sundays between the start and end of the observance. Sundays, the Sabbath, are holy days in Christianity and a time for rejoicing rather than penance. Some people will consider Sundays to be "cheat days", where they can enjoy whatever luxury or pleasure they've elected to give up for the 40 days of Lent. Depending on which denomination of Christianity a person follows, this is allowed.

  2. Chuuhai – a Japanese mixed vodka drink.

  3. I tell myself that "I feel human again" after a can or two of Kirin.

  4. The last time I really had this feeling was in the weeks leading up to my move from Southern Ontario to Vancouver. Given the responsibilities I have today, I highly doubt there will be another 4,800km move in front of me anytime soon. That said, given the opportunity, I would like to visit Israel for a couple of months.


Earlier this week, while flipping through some of my notebooks in search of a project's long overdue To Do list, I was surprised to see just how many notes were left in an unfinished state. These were snippets of ideas with almost no glue to hold them together, scribbled in fine print with my point-form notation denoting a line as a task, a note, or a follow-up. Many years ago these would have been converted into longer-form ideas and either written about, coded, or dismantled on a different page. However, since I hit the wall with blogging two years ago, there's been little motivation to keep up with the writing process. There are still items that get written and immediately shelved in "Draft Purgatory" for one reason or another, but at nowhere near the same degree as seen before 2020. Much like the mind where these notes came from, the ideas are both fragmentary and incomplete.

As I read the pages, a pattern was clearly repeating. One of dissatisfaction and idleness. The same is seen in many of the posts on this site from 2020 before I put the keyboard away and followed my late grandmother's advice about not saying anything at all if I couldn't say something nice. The issue has been present for years, but why?

Thinking about the things I want, the reason seems clear enough. I'm far too isolated. Working from home was once considered completely unrealistic for people who were fully employed in Japan. Recent events have made it possible for organisations across the country – and across the planet – to see that remote work is not only possible, but better in short bursts. However, as I approach the 4th year of working from the same desk where only my deaf dog provides company, I feel utterly disconnected from society. Walking around the neighbourhood and having an occasional chat with a retired neighbour is not the same thing as meeting friends and working side-by-side on the same tasks. Reading about the news is not the same thing as witnessing an event. Living in an ever-shrinking bubble is not the same as living a life.

My notes are incomplete because I am incomplete. Like a person who has been whiling their time away on a distant Pacific atoll, there's only so many days one can perform the same actions before they begin to wonder if they're becoming unglued.


Jussi recently wrote a bit about competency and it got me thinking in a similar vein, though not so much about skillsets. In his article, Jussi explores some of his competencies and how they've evolved over the course of his professional career. There have been victories. There have been struggles. There have been moments of doubt as Imposter Syndrome kicks in. All of these are familiar territory for the vast majority of people who aim to take their responsibilities seriously, something many of us can relate with. For me, though, I've been less concerned with the question of What am I good at? and more focussed on the question of What drives me?, because this is the font for where learning begins.

Much of the past few years has been rough for a lot of us. Professionally speaking, however, I feel that there was almost nothing of note that I accomplished between 2019 and mid-2021. Yeah, I hammered out a lot of code, I solved a lot of complex problems, and I managed to create some interesting things … but the vast majority of it has been discarded or drastically modified by colleagues for one reason or another. The fact that people discard or modify my work is fine, as this is the nature of software development, but the political reasons behind those decisions are what truly disappoint me and lead to the conclusion that two and a half years of effort were ultimately worth zilch. Now I find myself working on projects for a marketing department and Human Resources, two of the least interesting departments in any organisation1, yet the work is almost invigorating. I actually look forward to sitting down at the keyboard every morning.

But why?

Problems exist, and they seek an answer. This is what drives me. A lot of creative people are likely engaged by the same sort of concept. When I try to solve a problem, I look at it from the perspective of someone who really doesn't like computers. Someone who, when asked about various aspects of software, will shrug their shoulders and say "Whatever. I don't care." only to later complain to someone else that digital tools are horrible substitutes for paper forms … or something thereabouts. When I approach a problem, I look at how it could be simplified from the perspective of the person forced to use the system. Is data entry kept to a minimum? Are required fields pre-populated whenever possible? Is there anything that can be removed from the main page without sacrificing something that a manager somewhere will insist is "absolutely essential"? All of these things are considered, plus a hundred more. Data is collected from a myriad of systems to reduce the amount of effort a person needs to expend. Items that can be inferred are presented in a list saying "Would you like to do X to all of these?". Every aspect of the UI is considered to ensure it works as seamlessly on a tablet as it might on a 40" projector.

This is what drives me: I embellish myself with the complexity of making something simple. When nothing more can be removed from a page, that is when I am complete. Do I always succeed? No. Do people notice that the systems I produce are generally faster and contain less friction than those they replace? Absolutely.

Software development is a two-way process. I can't possibly understand everything someone on the other end of the screen might be facing, so I keep the communication lines open. People are encouraged to get in touch to complain, to praise, and – most importantly – to recommend. When the people who are expected to use my software get in touch to say that something isn't very good and they have a suggestion on how to make it better, I pay very close attention. If what they have to say is well-reasoned, their suggestions will be part of the next update. If a person is just reaching out to complain because "reasons", then their concerns might result in updates that weren't specifically requested. Either way, it's this continual refinement of the solution that encourages further development.

My software is not great. There are scores of projects to prove this. However, with actionable feedback from the people who use the systems, they become less bad. This is what drives me: iterating to make something better.

  1. I understand that Marketing and HR departments are important for many organisations, but the technical work required is rarely challenging. Instead, it's mostly "checkbox development", which is the worst sort of project a creative person can endure.

Staring in Different Directions

The Geminid meteor shower has been pretty nice to watch this year, thanks to the clear sky and reduced air traffic. For people living in Japan, this is one of the better regular meteor showers to observe during the year as there is very little haze in the sky from humidity or dust from distant deserts to obscure the heavens. I've looked forward to December for the past decade primarily because of this meteor shower.


Nozomi, however, prefers to keep her nose to the ground.

When Nozomi and I head out for our evening walks mid-December, she tends to get a little bit of extra time in the park. We survey the darkest corners of the public space, which often makes it possible for me to observe some of the smaller rocks passing through our atmosphere while the puppy does her thing and focuses on the scents of the less-travelled pathway. I'll sometimes let her know that a bright shooting star passed overhead, knowing full well that she's both deaf and completely uninterested in anything higher than two metres from the ground. It doesn't matter, though. I enjoy staring at the sky and sharing the excitement that comes from the various lights. She enjoys sniffing the ground and piecing together who or what might have travelled the same path recently. We both get our exercise and we both have an opportunity to enjoy some of the wonders that life offers … even if they're in completely opposite directions.

Funny Money

A few days ago I wrote about participating in some demo cryptocurrency challenges and, despite saying that they're not very fun anymore, I've kept joining the weekly challenges. The excuse I tell myself is that this is an opportune way to see how people will try to game a financial system in order to spot similar patterns in the "real" market. This has proven to be completely baseless, though, as the patterns that are seen in the demos are clearly vicious to the point of criminality. There's the saying "don't hate the player, hate the game" but, when I look at how easy it is to manipulate the selling price of a cryptocurrency that is operating in a sandbox environment with tens of thousands of participants, I can't help but wonder what sort of manipulation is happening with the markets where people actually invest a substantial amount of their savings.

Maybe the real reason I'm still doing these things is because I'm looking for the thrill that comes when a person gambles, even with funny money.

Shortly after the most recent blog post, the weekly challenge reset so that everyone had $5,000 USD to invest in various coins again. I had pulled in a respectable $2-million after seven days, which was quite a bit better than the $10,500 USD the week before. However, during the third challenge, I invested a bit more time into spotting the patterns that bots would use in order to artificially inflate the value of a currency, then sell out, only to repeat the cycle on a predictable basis. Doing this from my phone or tablet for 20-minutes here and there throughout the day proved to be rather profitable. By the end of the challenge, the total earnings for the third week turned out to be $216-million:

The End of the Third Week

Being somewhat of a pessimist as of late, this seemed like the maximum one could expect. Taking five grand and turning it into $216-million over the span of seven days while also spending a great deal of time offline for work, family, sleep, and walking the dog seems almost absurd. The best investors on the planet would likely struggle to do something similar in the real market, and I could see over the course of the week that the bots that were manipulating the price of coins were starting to notice my interference. There were changes afoot.

Yesterday, being Monday, saw the start of the fourth week. Once again, everyone was reset to $5,000 USD to invest in various cryptocurrencies. I put half into Etherium and sat on the remaining $2,500 until lunchtime. However, when I checked my balance just before noon, I found that the price-tampering bots had all but destroyed the value of Etherium. The coin was worthless, leaving me with just $2,505 in total to try and invest with. Just as before, I started looking through the different coins for volume patterns. Which ones were up more than usual? Which ones were unnaturally down? Which ones were fluctuating at regular intervals?

It's this last pattern that is the most pernicious and profitable. If I were a Ferengi, my lobes would tingle every time I stumbled across one of these repeating patterns. They're easy to exploit, too. A currency goes up like a rocket to some ridiculous value, usually north of $300,000 USD, then gradually drops to its expected price. Then the pattern repeats. And repeats. And repeats again. If there are no people interfering with the bots, this cycle can repeat for hours, "earning" the machines trillions in profits. However, once people start buying and selling, the bots react very quickly in an effort to reduce their losses. So long as a person pays attention and reacts fast enough, though, they can earn several million in an hour. Or, in my case, over a billion:

Over One Billion

Today is the second day of the week-long challenge.

As the screenshots will show, I'm doing all of this with an iOS application. I have no bots manipulating prices or watching the market on my behalf, nor do I have any intention to get into that game. However, I am curious to know who has made these bots and what their goal might be. Manipulating demo markets may be fine as an academic exercise in how financial markets can be gamed by people with excessive wealth, but this is hardly news. Wealthy people have been gaming systems for millennia. Could this be just something a few people are doing "for the lulz"? Maybe this is just a testing ground before the bot(s) are released on the real markets with a decent-sized initial investment? Maybe this is just all in my head and the cryptocurrency fluctuations are the result of a poorly-implemented faux supply-demand mechanism in the demo provider's service. I really do not know.

All this aside, given my propensity for numbers, I have a feeling the personal goal will be to consistently out-do my previous week's worth of pseudo-plundering.