Playing Nurse

As much as it pains me to admit it, Nozomi is not a young puppy anymore. Sure, I still call her a puppy and occasionally prefix it with an affectionate adjective1, but at 9 years of age her snout is starting to have more white hairs than gold and she's much less interested in long walks. This has has become even more true over the last couple of days; Nozomi is having trouble managing stairs.

Nozomi Enjoying Yesterday Morning's Walk

The problem started yesterday morning, but she certainly tried to get down the stairs for her walk to the park. On the way back, though, she just stood in front of the stairs and looked at me with a look that said she wanted to jump up the small steps2, but she just couldn't. I helped her out the last little bit of the way home and decided to bring her to the vet today to see what the problem might be. Did she develop a hernia? Is it something serious? I can't stand to see her in pain or struggling.

Based on the diagnosis, it's nothing too serious. She probably over-extended herself a couple days ago and she has a strained muscle in one of her hind legs. As a result, she'll need to take it easy the next couple of days and get plenty of rest. Both of these should not be a problem for her, but it does mean that I get to be her nurse again. She gets half a pain-killing pill with breakfast, and the other half with dinner. When we go outside, I'll need to carry her to the park, then put her down on the grass so that there's no need to jump the little curb between the walking path and the lawn. And, of course, she'll need a bit more attention during the day so that she doesn't get too restless and move around more, which would aggravate her leg muscles.

I don't mind pampering the puppy every now and again, but I do sometimes wonder if she'll learn how to fake an injury to get a little bit of extra care.

  1. I often call Nozomi Silly Puppy, primarily because she was very silly when she first joined the family.

  2. The concrete steps outside are just 5cm high. This is because Nozomi's legs are 6cm long and Reiko's parents are in their 70s. Big steps create problems. Little ones are manageable.

Five Things

Another Sunday means it's time for another list. The last couple of days have seen a ridiculous amount of negativity projected my way, which has certainly taken its toll on my patience, but August was a pretty good month overall. The boy is starting to read more. Projects at the day job are moving forward. The summer heat and humidity has been replaced with some cooler temperatures with intermittent storms. All of these things are positive and each is worthy of a celebration … some more than others, of course. September is shaping up to have a bunch of positive events take place, too, and I'm looking forward to each one of these.

A Week Off … for Training

The last week of September will involve a solid week of Mulesoft training through an all-day intensive course. There will be a great deal of learning and a great deal of Java. Once complete, there will be a closed-book exam where I get to put the skills to use an earn certification for the technology, which will get put to use almost immediately with some upcoming projects at the day job. An added bonus of the training is that I'll need a new computer, and I've managed to convince the day job to provide a 15" MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM, as the 13" MacBook Pro I've been using for the last few years is simply not up to the task of dealing with AnyPoint Studio, the IDE used for Mulesoft development.

A New MacBook

Yes, this was mentioned in the previous point, but it's still something positive to look forward to … even if this is potentially coming a mere couple of weeks before Apple releases the fabled 16" MacBook Pro with the older-style butterfly keyboard, which is the same style that I've enjoyed since 2012. With 32GB of RAM and a dedicated video card, a number of the heat problems that I've been struggling with lately should be drastically minimized. It will also be feasible to do some of the more computationally demanding tasks that colleagues have been asking for help with. If the keyboards on the current 15" devices are as problematic as posts on the web make them out to be, then I'll attach an external keyboard and use the device that way. There's still a whole lot of positive with this hardware acquisition.

Reiko's Birthday

While she doesn't really like birthdays anymore, this annual celebration is a perfect excuse for the boy to make something nice for his mum. Last year involved a great deal of work on my part, as he was just one year old at the time. This year he'll get to help in the kitchen to make something nice. There will also be cards, flowers, and — possibly — something akin to a cake that is not a cake1

Cooler Temperatures

September is here, which means the summer heat is about to give way to a series of typhoons that will cool the country down and bring in the short, two-week autumn period where everybody wants to be outside before five months of winter hit. For me, this entire cycle is a positive as it means that the stupid mosquitoes that bother me at every opportunity will disappear for a short while. This is, of course, one of the many reasons that winter is my favourite season.

And finally …

Reading List Zero

For the vast majority of this year, the reading list has been sitting at about a dozen books to read. Some of these were the result of recommendations from authors of other books, and a couple were even picked up because I strongly disagreed with the author's stance on a subject but wanted to read a coherent argument about why they felt they were right. All in all, it's been a challenging reading year as I've managed to read just one work of fiction and 82 books that cover topics such as modern religion, historic events, sociology, education, child rearing, technology, and even a biography2. Rarely is the list shorter than a three or four books, but I've not had any new recommendations from other readers or authors for a number of months. If I do get down to zero, then I might just use the rest of the year for some science fiction, as the year of "real stuff" has been a bit much at times … particularly when reading something from someone I might slap in the face3.

September has just begun and I plan on making sure it's a positive one.

  1. Reiko doesn't like cake.

  2. Finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs a few months back. It has been sitting in the Reading List for 4 years.

  3. I read things from people I strongly disagree with, like Milo Yiannopoulos, in order to have a better understanding of their arguments. This allows me to construct better arguments for why their stance on a topic may be incorrect. Not exposing myself to ideas I detest is not exactly the best way to go through life.

The Wrong Solution

Two months ago I built an alternative digital textbook system for the day job that read from existing source material, sliced and diced the data, and presented something that was the same, but different. The amount of thought and effort that went into the task was not inconsequential and the work resulted in a lot of late nights and even a couple of all-nighters to get out the door. The system has been used at a limited number of schools here in Japan for a month and has received mostly positive reviews. As a result, the software will be deployed across the rest of the country this coming Monday.

I should be proud, but I'm not. In fact, I started to feel as though this was the wrong solution earlier this week when I started to see the work that had been done by another team that was working on something very similar.

Deacon Jones Quote

The problem, as I see it, is that the digital textbook system I developed is too much about me. It was instigated, designed, coded, and refined by me. Every line of code that powers the system was written on the very same computer that is being used to write this post. While this means the tool is tiny enough to run relatively well from a Raspberry Pi, this doesn't solve a larger problem that the company is going to face in six months time when every school across the globe consolidates on a single system. A system that I did not create.

My mistake was putting expediency and pride above logic. What I should have done was build the tool into Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System that the organization already has experience with. Putting my efforts into this system would have made it possible for the alternative digital textbook system to be properly compared with the other tools that are currently in use and in development. More than this, it would make the next year or so of work much easier for me given that I'll be responsible for managing a Moodle-based system in 2020. Refining skills and improving my knowledge of that system would benefit more people.

Seeing as how it's currently Saturday night, there's little chance of getting everything converted over to Moodle and ready for Monday. Instead, a little more planning and foresight will be required.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll put some time aside every evening to work with Moodle and test the feasibility of using that platform's Books feature to display textbooks with the appropriate format and responsiveness. The current textbook tool will continue to operate as a test of the design and features list, and I'll use this to collect feedback from teachers to see what they like and dislike about each of the digital textbook systems in use at the company1.

Hopefully this next attempt to solve a business problem will be done a little better.

  1. There are three, now. Two coded by me, and one from HQ in the US.

Watching Artisans

There's something "magical" about watching a skilled person perform a task. When my grandfathers were still alive, I would often watch them build things in their shed or, in the case of my father's father, I would ask him to draw a picture of Mickey Mouse slapping Donald Duck with a glove "Bugs Bunny Style" and watch as he turned a scrap sheet of paper into a work of art with nothing more than a sharp HB pencil. Today I enjoyed a bit of downtime in the park and stumbled across a video of a highly skilled goldsmith turning a pair of AirPods into "GoldPods". He didn't take the easy road and slap a bunch of gold foil on the plastic, though. He went all in and made them the way Sir Ive would expect them.

18K Gold Airpods

This is the level of detail and craftsmanship that I aim for with my work, though there's no way a video of my day would be as exciting or interesting. If we're going to do something, then it makes sense to do it well regardless of what the job is. People will notice when someone genuinely enjoys what they're doing and people will stand back and appreciate when a master is at work.

Not everyone has a job that people notice when things are being done correctly. Generally we only pay attention when something has gone wrong. That said, it's important to look around every once in a while and appreciate the excellent work that so many of us do day in and day out that seldom receives any recognition.

Stupid Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are idiots. The combined cognitive power of every mosquito on Earth would still register lower than that of a shattered ceramic coffee mug. One would think that after billions of executions at the hands of humanity, the darn things would learn to leave us alone. Unfortunately, these insects make poor students.

Stupid Mosquito

People used to laugh when I said that, if I ever found Aladdin's lamp, one of my three wishes would be the instant eradication of every mosquito on the planet. Aside from offering frogs a slightly more diverse diet, what benefit do they serve? The things spread disease and can ruin an evening outside faster than a classroom of cranky children with chicken pox.

The willful extinction of a species is not generally something to celebrate but, if we do manage to eradicate every mosquito on the planet, I'll wear short sleeves at dusk and not shed a single tear. Until such a time, though, I'll need to invest in some better repellant.

From Letters Into Words

The boy knows how to read hiragana, the first Japanese character set children learn here, and can recognize most of them with a high degree of accuracy — even if it's a handwritten scrawl. Watching him absorb this information has been incredibly interesting and now he's beginning to put the skill to use by reading individual sounds and realizing they make a word. He's able to read simple road signs like とまれ1 and can get through some of the pages in borrowed library books. Judging from the frequency and energy put into his singing, the boy has also known his ABCs for several months. Reading English books has proven to be more difficult for him, but there are definite signs of improvement.

Mr Men Books

One of the many routines that both of us look forward to every day is the bedtime stories. When the evening shower is complete, the teeth are brushed, the toys put away, and Mommy is hugged, we go to the bookshelf upstairs and choose two books2 to read. Once he's in his bed and ready, he chooses which book to read first and I tell him the story; complete with different voices for all of the characters. The Mr. Men series has been among his favourite books recently, with Mr. Greedy and Mr. Nosey taking top spots followed closely by many of the first ten books3.

The boy has a pretty good memory for food and books and can name most edible foods in both English and Japanese after eating it just once. With books, he'll remember the story almost instantly and begin saying back some of the more memorable sentences verbatim. However, since he started to read Hiragana, he's been exploring words in the books. This week he's even started to do this with English despite the complexity of pronunciation4. To say that I'm happy is an understatement.

Even after the boy starts to read books on his own, there will still be a desire for bedtime stories. We both look forward to this chance to relax and there's no reason to stop until he feels he's "too old" for such activities. However, being able to read is going to open so many doors for the boy that I can't help but feel excited for him. There are a lot of stories to read. Far more than anyone could possibly hope to get through. Being young and inexperienced, he'll be able to read a story and feel surprised when there's a twist. He'll get to explore the classics and begin to visualize what the world was like before he was born. He'll have the chance to go on epic journeys with protagonists who start out as shy innocents and return home as wise adventurers. Sure, I can read these books, too, but I've read thousands of stories over my lifetime and can spot the patterns and upcoming plot twists rather early. There's much less surprise. The boy gets to experience the joy from our common stories for the first time.

If the boy does develop a taste for reading, I'll do what I can to maintain the thirst for more books. A lot of adults I talk to haven't finished reading a book in years. I generally get through two or three every week. My goal as a parent will be to ensure my son lands somewhere between these two extremes for his entire life. A person who likes to read likes to use their head. Nothing will be more valued in the future than the ability to think.

  1. This is typically seen as 止まれ, with the initial character being in kanji to more accurately let people know they should stop. However, in areas with a large number of families, the simpler form will be found painted near crosswalks.

  2. While the goal is for him to be content after two books, he generally wants to read every book in the house twice. To maintain some semblance of sanity, I've limited him to 3 books that I'll read to him, and 2 books that he can bring into bed.

  3. The first Mr. Men book I read was way back in 1985. I was six years old and wanted to read Mr. Bounce after the school librarian read it to the class. Why the brain remembers stuff like this, I'll never know.

  4. Japanese characters have just one pronunciation. English, of course, has lots of different ways to say vowels depending on what and where they are in a word.

Comfortable Rain

After what feels like months of insufferable heat and humidity, people in this part of the country are breathing a sigh of relief as an unexpected low pressure system brings cooler temperatures and much-needed rain to the area. The forecasted high for this week is just 31˚C with humidity low enough that the air conditioner will get to enjoy a couple of days off … which will do wonders for the electricity bill. There is one problem with the rain, though.

Handprint on the Glass

The boy can't play outside.

Over My Head?

One of the many, many things that I would like to accomplish this year is to publish an iOS app to Apple's AppStore. Given that the company is making a large push to Swift UI, I've been investing an hour or two every day to watching some of the many videos from this year's WWDC. These have been incredibly interesting and have given me quite a bit to think about with regards to modern application design, but they're also showing me some of the things that I've not had to think about for several years and how these technologies have evolved. Tools like Augmented Reality and Machine Learning. Watching the videos I'm often scratching my head not because of the complexity of the implementation, but because I just can't see how these could possibly be useful outside of a few niche situations. However, when I compare this to the buzz around these two terms in educational software circles, AR and ML are being positioned as the greatest thing since 3-ring binders.

What am I not understanding?

In my mind, the use case for Augmented Reality involves learners heading out into the world and using the device as a window to seek clarification or confirmation. I can see this as being quite useful when people go into nature in search of specific insects or plants, and an AR-enabled bit of software confirms a person has found something. This is also true for Machine Learning, where a lot of data can be collected and processed locally while out in the field. For STEM subjects, these two tools can give people the visual confirmation or interaction necessary to firmly ingrain a concept into a person's mind. There are some mathematical concepts that I use very often now that were impossible for me to understand in high school, and it took a video on YouTube many years ago to unlock the how of an equation so that I could understand why and when we use it. A video is not the same as AR or ML, but these two technologies can be used to derive the visualizations based on input from the physical world.

However, I don't write tools for students or teachers of STEM subjects. My software is all about skills training with languages making up the bulk of the courses. The educational circles I belong to online for this area of study all rave about the buzzwords including AI … but I don't quite understand their excitement. The use cases are far too niche and still much better suited to a real person with real experience teaching a class.

Am I just not seeing far enough? Am I biased against "intelligent" software? These are certainly possibilities.

Five Things

While Nozomi and I were out for our evening walk, I did something different that would have likely appeared odd to anyone watching. When the weather is nice, the puppy and I generally walk over to the benches along the first base line of the nearest baseball diamond and just sit for a while. This gives her some time to observe the world go by while I get to rest my ears from all the noise that generally orbits an incredibly energetic young child. However, rather than sit in silence, I attached a Zoom iQ6 microphone to my phone, fired up Hindenburg Field Recorder, and spoke for 12 minutes about why I haven't made any of my own podcasts for well over two years1. The gist is that I'm boring and, until something interesting comes along, it doesn't make sense to plan, record, edit, and distribute a show.

What might make me more interesting to listen to?

Hmm …

When I used to put a podcast out several times a week one of the most common criticisms was that the topics were too varied. Aside from Discover ADN and the limited run from Dog Days of Podcasting in 2015, no show with more than 10 episodes had a consistent topic. Doubtfully Daily Matigo was by far the most egregious example of this and it was even part of the intro:

A short podcast, never longer than 24-hours, where I get to discuss whatever happens to be on my mind.

With this in mind, if I want to create a podcast for people to subscribe and listen to, it will need to meet some criteria.

A Limited-Run Series

Several years have passed since I was last heavily invested in a personal podcast project. Having a show with no specific end date in mind can allow a person to ease into a show and build a rhythm, but this can also result in a lot of aimlessness. This is what I feel killed a bunch of the shows I used to enjoy from 5by5 and back when these networks started to wane in popularity. Having a show with a planned ending point generally results in a better-focused show with new episodes building on the previous conversations.

A Niche Topic

A common topic like current events or sports can certainly appeal to a wide audience, but generally results in an over-crowded market. A good, niche topic can allow a creator to explore a subject without feeling rushed or as though they're competing with hundreds of better-funded, well-staffed productions. One of the downsides of going with a niche topic, though, is that the largest audience will likely not learn of the show while it's running. This means that the episodes will need to stay online long after the series comes to an end to allow the highest number of listens.

Hosts with Chemistry

This is a hard one to "manufacture", which is why podcasts generally work better when its friends or colleagues working together. When hosts know each other well, conversations can become incredibly interesting to listen to as there's little reason to speak in a guarded fashion. Playful teasing can also come across as more natural and add a bit of fun to a show.


The hosts need to care about the niche topic a little more than the average person. The hosts need to have opinions — ideally opinions that are at odds with each other on occasion. From here there can be a healthy debate about the subject where, hopefully, arguments can be laid out and explored. If one person can walk away having learned something, chances are someone listening to the show will do the same.

A Defined Target Audience

For the kind of podcast that I've been describing, having a clearly-defined target audience will make it possible to know the kind of language the shows should have and generally who it is that will be listening. If a person is going to create a show for beginners in a subject, then it's important to ensure buzz words and other topic-specific language is defined in a way for new people to quickly understand and learn. The inverse is also true, as professionals may not want to listen to a show that is too simplistic or shallow.

Which means …?

I'll admit that I've been thinking about starting up a limited-run podcast that looks at the use of modern technology in education and what challenges need to be overcome. This is a topic that I've been involved in through work for a number of years and is something that I am quite involved with on a daily basis. I write software that gets used in schools, after all. The target audience would be people in similar roles, perhaps not software developers themselves, but actively involved in finding new and interesting ways of implementing tools that aid in the learning process. What I'm missing, however, is a co-host. Someone to discuss the subject with. What I would like to do is find someone with a different set of opinions and expectations, as this would result in a more meaningful debate. Ideally we'd have similar objectives while arguing the implementation details.

Would there be time for such a thing, though? Podcasting has certainly become easier in the last few years, but there is still a lot of work involved.

  1. I've produced hundreds for other podcasters over the years, though. Even helping some launch careers in radio. I have not appeared on any English-language podcasts since late 2016, though.

Stuck in the Past

At what point does a person begin to think more of the past than they do the present or future? This is a question I've been thinking about a bit over the last few months as it seems I've been overcome with nostalgia for a time that's lost to the sands of time. While I do very much look forward to listening to many of the music podcasts that come out weekly with new artists and tracks, what I've really enjoy listening to this year is songs from the 164GB music collection I've amassed1 over the last two decades. Looking back at some of the posts I've written on this site over the last few months I can see at least a dozen examples where I'm retelling stories from the late 80s and early 90s, and even went so far as to lament the extinction of the mix tape.

Have I become an old man, or is this just a consequence of watching a young person discover the world around them and I'm reminded of my own early years? Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Shadows — Noah Silliman

Of course, the future has always been an important part of my present and continues to be so. Between now and the spring of 2022 I have a rather detailed list of things that need to be accomplished if I am to reach some very specific, longer-term goals. In order to make these goals possible, the present is structured and scheduled to make sure that the immediate concerns of the day are addressed in addition to the items that will need to be done in the coming weeks. As these mini-goals are completed, the larger goals become ever more attainable. Examples of this would be the elimination of new freelance work and the winding down of the side business as well as the research and development of various skills and tools that will be needed going forward. Yet it seems that while I'm doing these activities, I'm thinking about the past. How things used to work. Why things (generally software-related) used to be a certain way.

This strikes me as temporally inconsistent. We cannot be in two places at once and there's no doubt in my mind that if I were given the opportunity to jump back in time, I would outright refuse because the world that was is not the world I would enjoy being a part of anymore. Sure, it would be interesting to go back 20, 25, or even 30 years in a DeLorean as part of a vacation or for historical research, but I wouldn't want to live through the 80s or 90s again … especially when I think about what sort of technology I'd be giving up for another quarter century2. The present is very much when I want to be.

So why all the nostalgia?

A friend of mine says that it's a natural part of middle age. We look back at what we've done, look at where we are, and then try to accommodate areas we feel have been ignored or left deficient. Some people go out and buy a sports car. Others join a gym. Some decide to upend everything and get a divorce. I guess for me, I'm listening to an entire back catalog of music in an attempt to better appreciate the messages contained in the lyrics and compositions. I've long enjoyed Tracy Chapman's albums, but they've taken on a new meaning over the last few years thanks to live experience. The same goes for the early works from Sting, Paul Simon, The Cranberries, Billy Joel, Seal, Faithless, Moby, The Wallflowers, and about 150 others.

There is an exception to the music, though. When I was in university I collected a lot of anime soundtracks. Aside from a single, hard-to-find remix of Fly Me To the Moon from Neon Genesis Evangelion3, I've not felt any desire to listen to these albums. Anime music has become, for the most part, utter noise. Given that I couldn't understand very much Japanese when I bought these albums, it makes me wonder whether the reason I spent so much money on this fizzled passion was the sheer exoticness of the works. This isn't to say that there wasn't some enjoyable music written for animated TV shows or movies, as there was a lot of really good work released. However, just as I no longer watch shows like The Great Space Coaster or The Flintstones, the time for me to watch anime has long passed4.

When I was a teen my parents would often listen to "oldies" radio stations that played the same 250-or-so songs from the 50s and 60s on an endless loop. Even the commercials would sound like they were from another time. As one would expect, this would drive me up the wall at times because, in my opinion at the time, there was so much great new music to enjoy. Now here I am, a little bit older than my parents were when I was a teen, listening to my own private oldies collection. Stuck in the past, while living in the present, and working towards the future.

  1. The music collection is 100% legal, too. I have the receipts or the source media for each and every track. Back when I used iTunes Match, it took about a month to upload and sync everything with Apple's servers, then I could listen to my music anywhere. It was convenient as heck … until I discovered that iTunes Match didn't like explicit lyrics. It's really hard to enjoy certain songs when the cursing is ducked out.

  2. Going back to computers with CRTs or really low-resolution LCDs? No thank you. I'll live with a 33MHz CPU if I must, because the operating systems and other bits of software are designed around it. However, I wouldn't want to spend my days staring at a pixellated display. That was fine when I was young and indestructible. 40 year old me wants 2-million or more tiny pixels on any display I look at for more than 5 minutes a day. Call it a "First World Problem" if you must, but a poor display does more damage to a person using a computer than a slow processor.

  3. There are so many mixes of this song from Eva. So, so many.

  4. This is how I feel about anime in my life. If other people my age or older enjoy the medium, that's great and they're free to do so. It's not something to pass judgement on.