Something to Talk About

Odd as it may seem, a number of neighbours have been talking about me over the last year or so. I'm the only foreigner in the community who has bought a home rather than rented and, unlike a lot of men my age, I don't leave the house every morning in a suit. In fact, the only time people see me leave the property is when I'm taking either the boy or Nozomi out for a little walk1. Land in Japan is not cheap, nor is a house, so the question that's been on a lot of people's mind is how I can afford this lifestyle. Earlier today, while returning home from a short walk to the park, I fell into a conversation with someone I've seen from time to time walking their dog, but have never spoken to. We talked about the neighbourhood, our kids, our dogs, and eventually our careers. When I explained what I did, the response was something along the lines of "Ah, that's quite a bit different from what we've been thinking", to which I asked what has everyone been thinking?

"At first we thought you might be yakuza2", my neighbour said. "Because you were always home during the day and don't shave very often." He has a point. I generally shave every five days if I can manage it. By the fifth day my facial stubble is about 1.5mm long, making it just long enough to do something about. Working for the Japanese mafia does not seem like a good long-term career, though.

"Then we thought that maybe you didn't work, but that your wife did." Stay-at-home dads are exceedingly rare in Japan. Exceedingly rare. This is primarily due to the unfair practices that many companies use to ensure that women who become mothers are incentivized to quit. A parent who puts their child before the company is deemed "troublesome", and women generally choose their kids over their careers. Most men would like to do this, but will find their careers stagnate just as quickly as their female colleagues. As a result, a lot of guys are afraid to put family before company. The culture is changing for the better … but very slowly.

"Yamaguchi-san3 said that you have a Juku4 face, so you might work at one of the nearby offices, but we don't see you wear a suit in the afternoons."

The neighbour listed off another four guesses before coming to the last theory.

"My wife said that every time you go out, you're carrying an iPad5. She thought that maybe you were a pro Pokémon Go player and that you sold characters you find to people online."6

Of all the possible careers that were mentioned, I don't think I could do any of them for very long. My skills and qualifications make it possible for me to work at a cram school to teach either English or some sort of computer-related skill, but the pay would be about one-third of what I earn today. This would make owning a house in this neighbourhood all but impossible unless Reiko was also working full time. The first theory, working for the yakuza, would probably result in a world of hurt very quickly. I have neither the temperament nor the ability to intimidate, which means I'd be a lame member bussing tables and maybe running errands. This is not exactly my idea of a worthwhile job.

That said, now that more people know what it is that I do and who I do it for, I'm going to hope that the gossip dissipates a bit.

  1. I do get out a little more than this, but people tend to see what they want to see.

  2. A Japanese gangster.

  3. The area leader for this year.

  4. A cram-school. These are generally open from 3:30pm to 10:00pm.

  5. This is true. I carry the work iPad when I'm out of the house so that I have an active Internet connection and can also respond to questions from colleagues.

  6. People can do this? I've never played the game, but would be surprised to discover this is possible as it seems about as volatile a revenue stream as BitCoin mining.

More Phantom Quakes

Japan was hit by one of its largest recorded quakes at 2:46pm on March 11, 2011. Measuring an incredible 9.0 on the Richter scale, a little more than half the island nation felt the ground beneath them move. I was working in Tokyo at the time, Reiko was at a clinic, Nozomi was alone in the apartment. A thousand aftershocks were recorded in the 34 days after the initial quake, and another 10,000 have been added to the tally over the years. To say that this six-minute seismic event directly influenced some immediate life decisions would be an understatement.

Growing up in the Great Lakes region of Canada, earthquakes were a relatively rare occurrence. I remember feeling one in 1986 and hearing about another in 19981. When I moved to Japan, where earthquakes happen far more frequently, one could be felt every couple of months. Rarely did this ever cause a problem and, more often than not, I was unworried given that the buildings and infrastructure across the country was generally designed to handle up to a magnitude 6.0 quake before showing signs of stress2. There was one quake I recall in 2009 that forced several local train lines to stop, stranding me in the middle of nowhere until a taxi could be hired, but nothing I had experienced before the Tohoku earthquake ever made me nervous. Since then, however ….

In the immediate aftermath of 3/11, Reiko and I made the decision to leave the Tokyo area to return to central Japan. This is the area where she grew up and has family, and this is also the area that I was most familiar with, having spent a couple of years working in Nagoya before heading to Tokyo to work at a start-up. Resources were scarce and, worse still, Nozomi was refusing to eat food. She was far too nervous after the quake to have any appetite. Her bones started to show despite her fur, and she was always shaking. Despite all the 頑張ろう日本!3 advertisements everywhere, none of us had any reason to stay close to Tokyo. I received permission from my employer to work remotely for a couple of months, and we made the move.

Nozomi needed almost 18 months to calm down and eat food on her own again4. Reiko was good after just a couple of weeks. I don't know if I've ever calmed down, though. Despite the relative lack of seismic activity in this part of the country, I am always on edge when I hear what I think is the telltale sound of an impending earthquake. There is a distinctive sound buildings in a neighbourhood collectively make when the ground begins to move, and I think I hear this a couple of times a week. Every time I do, I have a very "deer-in-the-headlights" reaction.

  1. Immediately stop whatever I'm doing
  2. Listen
  3. Really listen
  4. Are any of the phones in the house blaring the emergency earthquake notification?
  5. Are the windows shaking?
  6. Where are Nozomi and the boy?
  7. Choose the fastest route to collect everyone and be ready to move

And then, more often than not, what I thought was the vibration of dozens of houses turns out to be a passing truck that is ignoring the weight-restriction rules5 posted on the road some 15 metres away. The phones are silent. The windows are stationary. Nozomi's napping, and the boy — if he's awake — is probably playing in the living room. There's no need to collect everyone and move to the front entrance area, which is pretty much the safest place to be in the house should a large quake hit.

A "phantom quake".

Based on a number of articles I've read on the matter, these sort of imagined earthquakes should dissipate over time until they're essentially gone. In my case, they seem to be increasing. I doubt this is PTSD or some other condition as the only thing that was hurt long-term by the quake was my job at the start-up6, so what might be causing the uptick in nervousness? Work-related anxiety? Time pressures from all the competing voices who expect something done? Some combination thereof?

The one time I can safely say that phantom quakes do not happen is after I've spent some time on the hill in a nearby park. Listening to podcasts while enjoying some vodka has an incredibly calming effect on my nerves, but this is hardly a perfect solution.

  1. I was in a moving car with my mother at the time, so the magnitude 3-ish quake was pretty much dampened out. We didn't know there was a quake until arriving home later that day to a house full of agitated sisters. (My sisters, of course. My mother doesn't have any sisters.)

  2. The building codes have since been updated, of course. Now all buildings in the country must be able to withstand a 7.0 with 9.0 being the recommended goal. My house is supposedly capable of withstanding a series of 9.5 quakes before becoming structurally compromised. Hopefully this will never be put to the test.

  3. This was a government-sponsored advertising blitz that tried to raise the country's spirits after the 3/11 quake. It translates to "Let's do our best", which was also pretty much what people were saying while rebuilding the country between 1945 and the late 1970s.

  4. This was a pretty dark time for Nozomi. She sometimes needed to be force-fed, otherwise she would just avoid solid food for days at a time.

  5. There's a weight restriction of 5 tonnes, though it's not uncommon to see trucks that carry a lot more driving way too quickly down the residential street.

  6. This worked out for the better, though, as the company was sold to Mixi a few months later, and that's a company that I simply cannot work for.

Culture Over Technology

Earlier today I was listening to a recent episode of the Joe Rogan podcast where Bob Lazar and Jeremy Corbell were interviewed about a recent documentary on the former's experiences with extraterrestrial technology. Generally I don't pay much attention to stories about alien visitations and whatnot but, if Joe Rogan is asking the questions, then there's no harm in listening to the conversation unfold1. Based on Bob Lazar's claims, a research centre associated with Area 51 had as many as 9 extraterrestrial craft in the 1970s, each from a different origin and each with their own team of dedicated scientists working to understand how the vessels operated. There were some specific references to the kinds of technologies that were associated with the one craft that Bob was working on, and about halfway into the show he explained that he was disappointed with himself for ruining his only chance at being around — and reverse engineering — extraterrestrial technology.

For me the technology would be interesting, but not the most interesting area of research. I would want to know about the organisms that travelled in the ship. What do they look like? Do they have the same biological needs as humans? Do they breathe an atmosphere like ours? How do they communicate? What is their lifespan? What is their culture like? What is the history of their world? And, perhaps most importantly, why do they have a humanoid body? Technology would certainly play a role in the history of these people, just like ours has allowed us to migrate across the planet and harness the atom, and I would find it a fascinating area of study, but not nearly as much as the history and culture aspects of the species.

Unfortunately, I'll likely never have the opportunity to learn about an off-world civilization. I do believe that the universe is teeming with life and some of it is sentient like we are, though I am doubtful of the visitation stories. Given the opportunity, I would certainly invest the time and effort into understanding a truly alien culture and perspective with the hopes of sharing that knowledge with the rest of humanity.

  1. Mind you, the episode featuring Alex Jones spouting off all kinds of weird "conspiracy" stuff was a bit too much. Managed to get through only the first 45 minutes of that show.

Back to Zero

Earlier today I took a look at my To Do list notebook and decided to do something drastic: I sent it through the shredder.

Some Graph Paper and a Decent Pen

Generally I keep a dedicated notebook for the task of To Dos. Every page is dated and, at the end of every day, I write the incomplete items from the current day onto the page dedicated for the next day. As people ask for things throughout the day, I add the request to the list and attack things in an order based on what I see as more important or more interesting. This system has worked well for a number of years as it allows me to go back and see certain patterns. Unfortunately, the nightly process of writing incomplete items onto the next day's sheet has become a bit of a strain.

At the start of Monday there were 18 incomplete items that needed attention, about four of which are very much my responsibility. Tuesday saw 23 incomplete items waiting for me in the morning. This morning it was 31. Every day I'm checking off six or seven items but the list just continues to grow and I'm running out of energy to tackle many of the tasks that involve chasing down people who are consistently missing their commitments. I'm not a manager, yet I certainly feel like one with all the emails, "pings", and phone calls to people in an effort to figure out whether an up-stream process has completed or not.

The problem is that I'm simply not keeping up with all of the things that people are expecting done and the anxiety that I feel as a result of the ever-lengthening list is simply unsustainable.

When an Inbox is siting completely empty, we call it "Inbox Zero". When a To Do list is completely empty, I call it liberating.

Of course, one does not simply destroy a list of tasks and their history and expect that everything is gone. Some of the responsibilities still need to be completed and will be worked on tomorrow when I return to the desk to begin yet another day of work. For tonight, though, there will be no list transfer. Heck, aside from the plastic spiral loop that I threw in the recycling bin, there is no book anymore.

What I hope to accomplish with this act of destruction is to reduce the anxiety that I generally feel. There will always be a lot of work waiting in the morning, which is one of the reasons I'm employed. If there wasn't a long list of tasks then my managers would likely find a way to keep me busy. By not having a running list that grows by the day it might be possible to relax a bit and focus a little more on the important work that needs to be finished. Will there be a risk of feeling anxiety about possibly forgetting something? Sure. But if something is truly important, there will be a message in my inbox … or on Teams … or on Slack.

Being useful is something I take far too seriously. Maybe by eliminating some of the structures around how I perform my job I can slow down and focus more on what's in front of me, maybe even improving the quality of my work as a result.

People can only run at 100% for so long, and I'm tired of burning out.

Why Do Writers Write?

Earlier today Becca asked a question that people have asked in one form or another for countless generations: why do writers write? I see the answer as being in the same vein as the answer to "Why do people climb mountains?" The response — "Because it's there" — will either answer the question or lead to further queries that try to dig down to the very core of its meaning: because we can.

Writing in a Notebook

Writers write because they can, just like players play, singers sing, bakers bake, and fathers … fath[1. One day I might just look up the etymology of "father". Something tells me it did not come from fath.]. And who can blame them? There's a lot a person can find alluring about writing. Ideas that we transcribe can be transmitted to an immeasurable number of people over a period spanning centuries if not longer. Writing is currently the only way for a person to achieve some measure of immortality. Writing is currently the most intimate way for an idea to be shared. My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.

Writing is the closest we'll get to a Vulcan mind-meld for at least another quarter century.

For me, though, the reason I write is because this gives me a chance to think. Writing is an outlet that requires a certain amount of structure in order for it to work. Notes, be they scribbled on paper or hastily typed in list form somewhere, are unstructured and generally meaningless without context. It's this context that I seek when putting ideas into some sort of document. Not every attempt is successful, but this is a necessary part of the process. Thoughts need to be refined over time. Context must be examined for gaps or irregularities. Any concept that cannot be defined is an incomplete theory or worse; an unjustified belief.

When thinking is secondary, then I like to write just because it gives me an opportunity to share a story with the world, no matter how trivial or asinine. Not many people will care if my phone's display has burn in, if I walked in a stream with my son, or if I made paper boats in my youth. This is completely fine, too, as I'm not writing for a large audience.

I write because I can — because I want to.

Burn In

In an attempt to rid ourselves of domineering phone companies1, Reiko and I picked up a pair of unlocked devices in May of 2016. As one would expect, these devices have seen quite a bit of usage. What I didn’t expect, though, was that my screen would one day have all the signs of burn in; a condition where pixels on a screen are damaged as a result of displaying a bright image for too long. What exactly has caused this problem? The keyboard.

Unless the screen is showing some sort of video the keys for the English keyboard are always visible as an echo overtop whatever night be the intended image. The last time I had this problem it was on an old 15” LCD display from 1999 which had the [email protected] screensaver2 outline permanently visible. None of the tricks to resolve the problem worked, so I wound up sending the thing off to be recycled before I moved to Vancouver a few years later.

This does make me wonder if this is a common issue among people who type a lot on their phones. In my case, the keyboard is open for an hour or two a day. I take notes, chat, and respond to with emails on the phone. Given the propensity for young people to be on their phones far more than the average adult, I did a quick search to see if this was a common issue only to find that not only is it common, but it can happen on new devices, too! I’ve clearly just been fortunate enough to either not have the issue or not notice it until recently.

Thank goodness for small favours.

This experience did raise an interesting question, though: could a phone’s digital assistant software listen well enough for a person to dictate an entire blog post and have it published? Would a person who may need to control their computer completely through voice be able to compose and publish a blog post? Are there blogging tools out there already that can handle this level of accessibility?

It’s something I’ll need to research, as this is something that I would like to have available.

  1. It’s only recently that a person in Japan can demand their phone be unlocked after a contract is complete, but phone companies can still refuse or otherwise make the process so complex that people give up. SoftBank is the worst for this, with Au being a close second.

  2. Yeah, the screensaver burned the pixels. That’s academic software for you in a nutshell.

Five Things

Over the last couple of months I’ve found myself able to set aside some time during some days to continue building 10C, adding features and resolving bugs along the way. This has made it possible to complete a number of outstanding issues and even improve overall performance through optimized database queries. Despite the number of closed tickets and checkboxes in notebooks, there is still a lot to be done. This week’s Five Things will outline some of the next features that will be restored/released.

A Proper Landing Site

Oddly enough, there is no proper landing page for 10C anywhere to be found. This has always existed for the v2 and v4 releases of the software, but v5 has seen more attention paid to the people who currently use the system rather than trying to encourage others to join. On Friday I made some progress on a site design that doesn’t embarrass me and this important site will hopefully be ready for deployment later this week.

Comments on Sites

Comments are certainly possible on blog posts but, for the moment, this has been limited to using Nice.Social. Comments have been a bit tricky to work out primarily because in order for anonymous commenting, there needs to be an anonymous account with a special set of rules around its operation. The hard work of thinking through the solutions has been completed and documented, which leaves coding as the final step. This, too, should be ready later this week for people who choose to enable the feature on their site.


For reasons I can’t quite fathom, drafts were never built into the API, meaning that only published items could find their way into the database. This is clearly suboptimal for a lot of people, so drafts will be making a return. Just as with posts, Drafts will be versioned to allow a person to go back and recover — or simply view — previously written text. Of course, any drafts not imported into 10Cv5 from v4 will be restored.

A JavaScript-free Blog Theme

One of the next blogging themes in the works has absolutely no JavaScript in place. The design will be simple, and the features will match those found on the default Anri blogging theme. The purpose of this theme is to show that a mostly static website does not need all sorts of extra code to work.

An Application

Sometimes an application is preferable to a JavaScript-powered website, and I plan on making a couple of them this year for the Windows and  platforms. The first tool will be geared towards private use of the system in the form of a journalling tool. After this, there will be additional, dedicated applications focussing on notes and blogging. One thing I can promise is that these applications will not be Electron apps. Instead the Windows application will be written in VisualStudio using C#, while the Apple versions will be written in SwiftUI. As one might expect, this code will be open source despite also being for sale in the applicable app stores.

There’s a lot more coming to the platform this year, time permitting, but I’m quite happy with how the last few weeks of updates have gone. Hopefully the streak continues.

Something to Write About

Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t reach out and ask how it’s possible to write and publish a blog post a day, with Janie being one of the more recent people to ask. Writing daily is not at all an easy thing to do and there are times when I feel just too mentally exhausted to spend yet another hour in front of a glowing screen to hammer out a few dozen poorly-constructed sentences just to satisfy some arbitrary objective that will neither earn rewards nor be remembered for very long after the streak finally comes to a stop. That said, there are a few things that I do in an effort to ensure something can be completed daily.

The first is that I write. A lot. On any given day there will be anywhere between two and seven rough posts written into Evernote. Sometimes these are little more than a list of talking points. Sometimes it’s a completed editorial1. The primary goal is to keep writing whenever possible in order to trigger tangential ideas and to practice penning a concept. Clearly conveying complex ideas that rely heavily on context with as few superfluous words as possible takes time. As Blaise Pascal famously wrote: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. Anyone who might read more than a handful of posts on this site will see that I still have a long, long way to go.

Sometimes writing isn’t enough, though. There have been a number of occasions where two or more hours have been invested in an essay that will never see publication. After completion, another post needs to be written in order to maintain the daily publication streak. It’s not enough for me to simply write. It needs to be out there for people to read. This often happens on weekends when extra time avails itself for a more nuanced piece. To deal with this, I decided many months ago to “cheat” with a recurring theme called Five Things, which was taken from another blogger who I accidentally stumbled upon while reading a ten year old blog post from Jeremy Cherfas2. By having a set weekly post type that is quite a bit different from the standard fare, there’s an opportunity to explore different writing styles, ideas that are still just early concepts, and maybe reduce the self-imposed burden of a daily release schedule.

However, when writer’s block hits, it hits hard. There are a lot of people that have either given up blogging or failed not start due to some type of writer’s block. When this hits me, I often write a meta post about not being able to write3. Unfortunately this can only be done once or twice before it’s clear that writing about writer’s block is no longer meta, but a recurring subject. So to keep things interesting, I wrote a bunch of “templates” that start with a question, then asks anywhere from two to five follow up questions. All in all, I have 38 of these templates ready to be called upon to help me break through the logjam that is writer’s block — or just creative exhaustion — and have used seven. Lots of these are vague enough that questions can be used again for future posts without coming across as a retread.

Here is one of my favourites:

What did you do as a child that you don’t do now?
⇢ When did you start?
⇢ How did you start?
⇢ Is there a specific memory that brings a smile to your face?
⇢ Why did you stop?

Silly as it may seem, these little templates have helped quite often, even when I don’t use them specifically to write a blog post.

This is how I write and publish a new post every day. It’s not always easy. There not always time. There is, however, always something that can be shared.

  1. Many of the posts I complete are never published. This is primarily because doing so would warrant the kind of attention I wish to avoid. Some things are better left unpublished.

  2. Rabbit holes can sometimes lead to some pretty interesting places. I encourage anyone looking for something wonderful and/or unexpected to follow links on blog posts just to see where they go and where they lead to next.

  3. This is not a meta post.

Wet Feet

In a world designed for adults, it's nice to enjoy being a kid every now and again. Being Friday, I brought the boy to a nearby park1 where he could run around and use his energy without fear of breaking anything. There were quite a few "firsts" today, too. The first time he went through a tunnel on a jungle gym all by himself. The first time he drank from a water fountain2. And the first time he walked barefoot in a stream3. Naturally, I had to join him.

Standing in the Fountain

More than twenty years have passed since I last stood in flowing water. It felt just as nice today as it did when I was young and innocent. If there's one idea that the boy has helped reinforce, it's that things I enjoyed as a child are just as enjoyable today as they were back then.

  1. It's the same park where I like to go and sit on the hill but, given that the hill is a bit too steep for him to climb, we go to the more family-friendly side.

  2. After I told him in no uncertain terms to keep his lips OFF the damned chrome nozzle.

  3. An artificial stream, of course. The nearest natural one that I know of is absolutely filthy. Mud and mosquitoes everywhere.


While I would like to say that with each passing day, 10C inches closer to being a complete solution, the reality is that the project goes in spurts based on how busy I am with client and day job tasks. This week has been a little different, though, as there seems to be just a trickle of tasks coming in from bill-paying sources. This means the day job responsibilities can get cleared out during regular working hours and the rest of the computer time can be spent working on my 2,500+ day old pet project. The hours have been put to excellent use.

Over the last seven days there has been a noticeable improvement in site load times as various SQL procedures have been tweaked and modified for performance. In one case there was an inefficient index that needed tuning. A nice benefit to the changes seems to be less pressure on the CPU, as the system load is now about 20% lower than this time last week despite a very slight increase in traffic. These little back-end updates always bring a smile to my face, but I understand that most people will not care if an API call takes 150ms instead of 300ms.

A tangible update that people can see is now live on Nice.Social where the home timeline view has been restored as well as the ability to Follow, Mute, and Block. While many may laugh at the perceived simplicity of these functions1, the fact they're back gives people one less reason to write the system off. To keep things performant, I've rolled a lot of this data into a single data table with columns for attributes. This makes it much easier to manage situations where updates need to cascade2 very quickly. There are also a number of CSS tweaks that fix issues with the dark mode and a new way of showing geographic data in the form of a static map.

Looking at how much has been accomplished since Monday, I can honestly say that I'm closer to being somewhat satisfied with the tool. There is still a lot to be done, but the core basics are being knocked off one by one.

Tomorrow will be the last day I get to work on the site for a little while, so any released updates will need to be good ones. Right now I'm leaning towards password recovery and the start of a 10C landing page.

Maybe by the time the typhoons start to hit3, I'll be less embarrassed by the state of the UIs.

  1. They certainly are simple to write, but once you start working with databases that contain millions of records in the Post table, things slow to a crawl. I wanted a design that would scale to tens of millions before needing attention.

  2. When an account is blocked, the follow and star attributes are reset to no while any existing pin is removed. Keeping all of this on a single table means these rules can be built into a trigger rather than a stored procedure.

  3. They generally come this way starting in late July.