Rewatching Evangelion

In the summer of 1997, when I was impossibly young and attending college, there was a great deal of commotion on IRC about an animated series from Japan called Neon Genesis Evangelion. It had everything that a young man might be interested in, incredible machines, lots of action, a story that had realistic characters that evolved over time, and sexual innuendo. As luck would have it, there was a video rental shop on the way to school that carried a small selection of anime, including the first three VHS tapes of the series. On a warm Saturday morning, I rented the videos and got together with some friends who shared a similar interest in Japanese pop culture to see what the series was all about. As many people who have seen Evangelion would attest, the story was absolutely remarkable. I was hooked.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The availability of anime in Canada at the tail end of the 90s was spotty at best. Fans of the genre would often have to travel great distances to find a hobby shop or comic book store that dedicated half a shelf to the art form. I remember one summer day where a high school friend of mine and I drove nearly 150km to downtown Toronto because there was a rumour that Silver Snail, a large comic book and collectable shop, had recently started carrying VHS tapes, DVDs, manga, and even figurines of the more popular shows. The rumour proved to be correct, and we both gladly spent more than we should have on whatever tickled our fancy the most. Evangelion, however, proved hard to collect. A lot of places would carry the first half of the series, which was 26 episodes in length, but few offered anything after episode 14. It wasn't until somewhere around 2004, nearly seven years after my introduction to the story, when I could at last watch the entire series from start to finish; largely thanks to sources in newsgroups and BitTorrent.

Discussions about the show online always struck me as a little shallow. Evangelion was written like a good Pixar movie, in that people of varying ages can enjoy it as much as their understanding of the world and themselves allow. I knew that the message in the show went much deeper than I could comprehend at the time, but lacked the resources to gain the insight required to better understand the core subjects. There was no denying that the show was not about giant mechs taking on bad guys intent on destroying Tokyo-3. The show was also not about religion despite the myriad of references to interpretations of Christianity. The message that I took away from it at the age of 24, which was during a very low point in my life, was that the internal demons that encourage us to believe we have no value are ultimately wrong and the best way to overcome the feelings of isolation and self-loathing is to talk to people and make some connections. Whether this was a valid interpretation or not is almost irrelevant, though, as I decided to tread back into the world and make those connections I sorely lacked.

Fifteen years have passed since I last watched the show. A lot has happened in my life since then. The demons of self-doubt continue to bother me on a semi-regular basis, but I have never again felt as despondent as I did in my early 20s. Within a decade and a half I was able to go from being a self-loathing individual drowning in student loan debt, renting a single room in a shared house, and subsisting on a single tuna sandwich a day to the person I am today, complete with a different set of faults, weaknesses, strengths, and merits. Was this all due to an animated show about a group of broken people who believed they were saving the world from imminent destruction? No. But it certainly was a piece of the puzzle.

Two weeks ago I decided to give the show another watch as the complete original run is on Netflix and today the 26th episode was watched. The show is still as enjoyable as I remember it being as a young adult. The story still as complex. In the intervening years since watching it previously I've been fortunate enough to read a number of books and listen to podcasts on psychology, religion, personal growth, and more. I've also lived for 15 years, learning along the way and adapting to new situations. This allowed me to enjoy the story from a different perspective, as a parent and as a person who better — but not completely — understands the challenges that life throws our way. I can better appreciate the gravity of the decisions characters grappled with. I can better understand why some of the supporting characters did what they did, knowing full well at the time that it was perhaps not the best choice. Being human is not easy, but it is generally better to be than to not. Many of the greatest works of art over the last few thousand years carry this message. Evangelion implies the same.

As individuals we are all defined by our limitations and incredibly vulnerable. However, nestled in the tragedy of our failings is also our potential. When unharnessed it can appear a maelstrom of anxiety and self-inflicted pain but, when we build the courage to grapple with the chaos of being and accept our impediments, we can bring order into the world, into our lives, and into the lives of others who may also suffer. This makes life worth living.

Right Twice a Day

Once again it seems the battery in my 14 year old Fossil Arkitekt watch has given up the ghost leaving me in a bit of a jam with knowing the current time at any given moment. There are certainly alternative tools available, such as the phone, the notebook, the wall-mounted time piece, and just about every appliance in the house, but it's just not the same as being able to quickly look at my wrist and see just how far into the current day we are. Batteries in this particular watch seem to be good for just two years and, while this is certainly better than I can expect from any other battery-powered device in the house, there's a slight amount of disappointment with just how often it seems the watch needs a new battery. If I were a little more foolish, I'd likely consider upgrading.

As one would likely expect, I have an appreciation for timepieces. Smaller mechanical devices, in particular. The amount of precision and detail that is required to craft a reliable and durable watch is phenomenal and a joy to observe. The rhythmic ticking is reassuring. The unobtrusiveness is welcome.

When I was seven years old my father promised to buy me a watch as soon as I could prove to him that I knew how to read an analog clock. By reading, he didn't mean being able to say things like "It's twelve twenty" or "It's three forty-five". Many children can do this by the time they're in elementary school. He wanted me to say the time "correctly". It's twenty after twelve. It's a quarter to four. With the incentive in place, I practiced with gusto and earned my first timepiece, a wind-up Citizen watch with a white face and brown faux-leather band. That watch was worn and cherished daily up until the strap tore, which then gave my mother an opportunity to replace it with a black plastic digital device that smelled of chemicals for the entire time I owned it. In high school I had two digital watches that I would alternate between depending on the season. In college I went without anything on my wrist, choosing instead to look at a cell phone1. After college, though, I wanted to wear a watch again. Something beautiful. Something elegant.

A Fossil Townsman Chronograph with a stainless steel band fit the bill perfectly and was worn daily until it was stolen in 2005. The loss was completely my fault, as I had taken the watch off to wash my hands and arms in a public location. When I realised the watch wasn't on my arm a few minutes later, I went back in search of time timepiece only to see that it was gone. Naturally, nobody had turned it into the Lost & Found, so I was out a watch until the following weekend when I picked up my current minimalist Fossil.

If I were to choose a new watch, though, it would have to be an automatic device. Something that never needed winding or batteries. Something that would adjust itself autonomously if I were to travel to a different time zone. Something that would last far more than 14 years. Something like a Tissot Mechanical Automatic with zero complications and -- ideally -- no visible numbers.

This isn't feasible just yet but, if the opportunity arises, I'd jump at the chance to have a watch that should -- if taken care of -- outlive me. So instead of picking up a new watch, I'll just get another battery for the Fossil I've worn for a third of my life. It shows clear signs of wear, and this is part of the reason I'm not yet willing to take it off my arm just yet.


  1. This would have been back in 1997, which meant the phone was an Ericsson KT-688.

Attention to Detail (Part II)

A few days ago I wrote a couple of sentences on how attention to detail separates artists from generalists and the subject came up this weekend while standing in line for Hogwarts at Japan's Universal Studios theme park in Osaka. This was my first time to the park and, I've got to say, Universal has a winning strategy with how they designed and executed on their money-maker, though it's most certainly not due to any careful consideration or mindful approach to park design. One might even say that the park is more enjoyable because of the lack of meticulousness that is seen in every aspect at the country's other large theme parks: Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea.

The family and I didn't get to spend a great deal of time at Universal Studios this weekend, primarily because we planned it at the last minute and because I had to be home for an important work-related meeting in the evening of the second day. That said, we did get to enjoy the rides and activities around Sesame Street and the Harry Potter attractions. The boy was fortunate enough to get pictures with Elmo, Cookie Monster, and a number of dance performers. We interacted with a lot of the park staff, asking questions and getting help with some of the "magic" tricks that we could do. The lines for the handful of toddler-appropriate rides we stood in moved generally well, only stopping when there was a small accident1. As one would presume with theme parks, everything was priced beyond comprehension. 650円 ($6 USD) for a 250mL cup of "Butterbeer" and 925円 ($8.50 USD) for a single postcard that you can mail to someone in the country2. But price gouging is to be expected. People are paying for memories. The products are secondary.

Disney was similar, in that we could get some pictures of the boy with Elastigirl in her red outfit, the "cast" were all incredibly friendly, and the prices were at least triple what you would expect to pay anywhere else. However, Disney theme parks are quite a bit different from anywhere else (that I've experienced) primarily due to their attention to detail. Every aspect of a Disney theme park is considered with such meticulosity that every detail of every object in sight involved a great deal of fussiness. The buildings show no sign of modern construction techniques nor is any visible aspect out of character. There is not one "normal" streetlight in the entire park. Every character statue, assuming they're bipedal, is standing straight with head raised to look just over the horizon and their shoulders are back. Even the visible nails and screws that are used on the buildings and furniture are unique to Disney. Nothing happens in a Disney park without a remarkable amount of pre-planning.

USJ3, on the other hand, cares about the look of their sets … but not nearly as much. There's patches of natural rust next to almost pristine paint on metal railings. The backside of Hogwarts Castle, which is clearly visible when walking through the snaking waiting line course, consists of industrial cinderblocks painted white whereas the rest of the castle looks like a castle. Outdoor play areas for young children have some character-based flourish, but nothing is so unique that it wouldn't be seen at a regional amusement park. Heck, parked outside the 50s diner they have a 1954 Corvette convertible, a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, and a Bill Boyer-designed 1963 Ford Thunderbird. Sure, one could make the case that a 50s-style diner would still exist in 1962, when the '63 Thunderbird hit the market, but you can bet good money that any car parked outside a period-specific restaurant at Disney would be 100% confined to that period.

Naturally, these little differences do not necessarily detract from how much a person can enjoy the atmosphere of Universal Studios. Reiko and I both agree that we probably had more fun at USJ than either DisneyLand or DisneySea this year despite the semi-planned nature of the trip to Osaka. Metal rusts. The partially-obscured back-ends of buildings are irrelevant when it's the façade and interior that people are more interested in. And how many people of theme park visiting age can really spot from a distance the difference between a car from the 50s and a car from the 60s and genuinely give a darn?

I spot these things because this is part of who I am. The little details that go into everything fascinate me. What are the characters in movies doing while the main speakers are hogging the attention? What rarely-eaten garnishes were put on the plate next to the main dish? What kind of trim panelling was used around a door at a friend's house? How do Acer, Fujitsu, and Toshiba notebooks differ from a MacBook? All of these receive some degree of attention from me because I like seeing how people create things. Observing the creations of others generally provides a perspective on what's important at any given time. Disney wants everyone from the disinterested adolescent playing Nintendo Wii to the super-fan-OCD-types to think they're in a magical place where everything is unique and special, especially the mundane things that we typically ignore. Universal Studios wants everyone to enjoy activities based on blockbuster movies and children's characters, knowing that most people couldn't tell you the type of tires that Dr. Emmett Brown had installed on his modified 1981 DeLorean DMC-124.

There are pros and cons to each approach. For me, I think the lack of "perfection" at Universal Studios actually helped me enjoy the short visit a bit more.


  1. One boy didn't go down a slide properly and the friction caused him to flip face first onto the surface and skid down the rest of the way with his forehead acting as a brake. It was quite the sight to see. Every parent in the vicinity made a collective "Ooh!".

  2. A postage stamp for a postcard is 42円 from a convenience store and Sesame Street postcards can be had at fifteen for 100円 (15 for a buck!) at the dollar store. 925円 for a single sheet of paper with a picture on it? Just because it's from a theme park? Get out of here!

  3. USJ is what people call "Universal Studios Japan" over here. It's just easier to say three letters than nine syllables. Also, saying the full name with a Japanese tongue requires just over two seconds, which is a long time to say any single noun in Japanese.

  4. Goodyear Eagle GTs, on stock DMC rims.

Osaka Through Different Eyes

The family and I are in Osaka for the night, making this the fifth adventure in the fifth prefecture in the last five weeks. This amount of travel is highly unusual for us, as Reiko and I have gone almost nowhere in the last ten years due to having jobs where our holidays seldom overlapped, and a general lack of excess capital. While we are not quite as cash strapped as before, we understand very well that bills won’t stop coming just because they’re inconvenient. This will like be our last big trip of the year. Fortunately it has been quite eventful.

In the six hours that we’ve been in Japan’s most lively city …

  • We checked into a really nice hotel
  • We had some amazing okonomiyaki and yakisoba for dinner
  • The boy had photos with both Elmo and Cookie Monster
  • We rode some nice rides
  • Reiko lost her phone
  • Reiko got her phone back
  • Bath time actually involved a bath1

After everything was said and done the boy fell asleep within a couple of minutes and Reiko did the same. Hopefully tomorrow will be just as exciting … minus the time spent at the Lost & Found.


  1. We generally shower, because it uses less water and we don’t want to have any accidental — or intentional — drownings.

Weekend Getaways

For the last couple of weekends the family and I have been taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to see more of the country. First we went to Kyoto, then to Tokyo, followed by Inuyama, and today Kuwana1. Each of these cities is in a different prefecture, and each one was an excellent opportunity for photos. Tomorrow, if the weather and the family is up for it, we might just hit another city in another prefecture a couple of hours north from here.

While travelling across the country with a curious almost-three-year-old can be a bit difficult at times, I'm quite happy that we're venturing outside the typical areas. There's a lot of wonderful things to see and much of it will look better when it's experienced through the eyes of a child. These short trips are also an excellent opportunity to occupy the mind with something that is most certainly not related to work, which is a gift unto itself.

There is little hope of the boy remembering the bulk of what he experiences just yet, but I really hope that he's enjoying himself while out and about. He's still innocent enough that we could take him to the neighbourhood parks and he would be happy, which is certainly a blessing in itself. When we take him to distant places we're hoping to push him out of his comfort zone just a bit so that he can continue to develop and appreciate that there's more to the world than what surrounds our neighbourhood.

With any luck, if we do this often enough, he might just be able to fly halfway around the globe in a handful of years to meet my side of the family. Ninety minutes on a train followed by 13 hours on a plane then two hours in a car is rough for anyone. It can be downright unbearable to someone not accustomed to travel, though, which would spill over to make everyone else's trip just as miserable.


  1. I guess this post could be classified as the Kuwana post, though there isn't anything specifically about the botanical garden we visited.

Pseudo-Wireless

The easiest and most cost effective way to transfer energy or information from one place to another is through a wire. Wires are portable, relatively durable, and can usually sit in the back of a closet for years without deteriorating. Wires are also really good at getting tangled. Really, really good … and I've long since tired of the hassle.

Rule 8 in the upcoming 12 More Rules for Life is "Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible", which is something I've generally followed with my working space since I was a teenager. A wonderful working space allows for better creativity. There are fewer distractions. There are fewer nuisances. The definition of what constitutes beautiful has evolved over time, but the overarching goal has not. When my working space is clean, I feel at peace and can focus completely on what's in front of me.

Wires are not beautiful. Perhaps when I was in my 20s they were, as more wires generally meant more things connected to the computers. More things connected meant more potential. But the chaos that comes from dealing with the cables of copper and plastic is just infuriating. Zip ties help with the stationary lines that deliver power and transfer data to the development machines, but headphones, tablets, cameras, and phones all have their own requirements with cables that cannot be fixed to a place without cluttering up the visible side of a desk. It's annoying as heck and I plan on doing something about it.

If I am to make my working space better suited and more beautiful, then the wires will need to be managed better. This means that one of the development notebooks that runs all the time will be put into a closet, as it is generally used for data processing via Linux; something I am able to accomplish through a terminal connection. The camera charger will be moved to the upstairs bookshelf, which has a power outlet that has never been used in the 18 months we've lived here. The tablets are charged via lightning and micro-USB cables, so it makes sense to bring them upstairs to sit next to the home server. If a tablet needs to be recharged, it can be done overnight. I generally prep my hardware the day before use, so this isn't any extra work beyond walking up a flight of stairs. The phones are also easy, as the main phone is charged overnight next to my bed and the work phone, which uses USB-C, has a 15cm cable that can be hidden away behind the external monitor to charge the device overnight.

With this done, the only wires I'll need to regularly interact with are used by headphones and microphones. Perhaps at some point in the future a decent pair of wireless headphones will solve this particular problem.

Wires certainly have their uses, but I've grown tired of battling with them every time I try to get something done.

No Good Will Come of This

Once again it seems that in order to meet tight deadlines I'm bullying myself to stay well past the middle of the night to fiddle with whatever happens to be the top priority of the moment. When we're in our late teens and early 20s, staying up all hours of the night to accomplish something was invigorating. A power nap between 5am and 7am was plenty to recharge the batteries for another 22 hours of zeal. So long as half a Saturday or Sunday was spent curled up under the covers, then the cycle could repeat for years … and I have enough first-hand experience doing this to say that years is no exaggeration. When a person is in their 40s, however, the late nights take their toll. Once a week is doable. Twice is a bit rough, but not impossible. More than this results in a person plummeting down a well of pessimism and indifference1.

Weltschmerz is where I find myself again and, unfortunately, it's not a city in Germany2.

At some point I will learn that no good comes from giving up sleep for the sake of an arbitrary deadline. The more I get done, the more there will be waiting for me the next day. Besides, my doctor has told me to slow down. Who am I to argue?


  1. One would be forgiven to think pessimism and indifference were not compatible, as being pessimistic shows that one is not indifferent, but humans are generally complex and often self-contradictory.

  2. I would love to visit Germany for a couple of weeks. Long enough to see the sights and enjoy the culture, while short enough to warrant the desire for another trip.

ASCII-motions

A number of things surprised me when I received an iPod Touch back in 2010. The device was my first Apple product and it presented me with something that I never had when using Palm OS or Windows Mobile1; simplicity. Rather than side-load 3rd-party software for simple features, it seemed that anything a person might need from the basic operating system were already in place … even copy-paste2. There was support for multiple languages and keyboards right out of the box. Applications were easy to find and install. Within the space of a week, the iPod Touch had almost completely turned my stance on Apple products 180 degrees.

This wasn't the only thing to change as a result of the iPod Touch, either.

Early 2010 was right around the time when I was most engaged on Twitter. There were a number of fellow-gaijin3 that I would regularly communicate with when not in the classroom and the Twitter applications for iOS were far and away better than anything I had used on Windows Mobile beforehand. As a result of the language support, I was able to more easily read Tweets that contained Japanese and Korean characters4, emoji, and silly ASCII art. More than this, it was possible to write my own messages with multiple character sets and yellow-faces to convey a mood alongside a 138-character message. It was with the iPod Touch that my predisposition to including some sort of emoji in my message really took off.

Emoji has been part of my online writing style since the late 90s when mIRC on Windows was the primary means of communication. Faces like :P, :), -_- and :/ would trail the vast majority of public messages on IRC to add an extra layer of information, letting people know whether I was being serious or silly, joyful or sad, ambivalent or angry. The utility of these extra letters was indisputable given the number of times arguments would break out simply because someone read something on IRC literally rather than with any measure of jest. But more than this, I liked having the faces. There's no denying that I generally spam a forum with messages when the opportunity arises and I wanted my messages to be noted for something other than the verbosity. A trailing face to convey a feeling, even one in jest like ಠ_ಠ, was the perfect answer.

Emoji in iOS was something completely different to the simple text-based faces I'd been using for 15 years. Unlike the ones from IM clients such as Skype, ICQ, and MSN Messenger, Apple's emoji were colourful and fun to look at. More than this, they were easily accessible! Tap the globe on the keyboard to cycle between English, Japanese, and Emoji. Choose the best expression or complimentary weather-or-food-related icon, then hit "Send". Could anything be simpler?

Looking at my Tweet archive5, 52,189 messages — a little over 70% of the total — had an emoji. The percentage is similar for my App.net posts, where 61,091 posts contained an emoji. As for Nice.Social, 78,346 social posts contain at least one; a ridiculous 84% of the 93,267 posts there.

But the time has come to put an end to these colourful distractions, return to the simpler text-based faces, and maybe cut back on the nuance-projection altogether. There's too much emphasis being placed on this set of higher-ASCII characters and the "fun" of using emoji has long since evaporated. Other people can continue to use these characters to their heart's content, of course. I will not judge in the least, given my inclination to use them to excess over the past decade or more. However, I don't see me reaching to put a "Simpson's Yellow" face into my social posts anymore.


  1. Previously known as Windows CE, for Consumer Electronics.

  2. Prior to version 3.0, there was no copy-paste functionality in iOS. Mind you, it seems that Apple has done a pretty good job of making it much harder to use in version 13.

  3. 外人 (gaijin), being short for 外国人 (gaikokujin), which means "foreigner" in Japanese.

  4. To get Japanese on Windows Mobile, I paid $50 USD for a 3rd-party language package that only ended up making the HP iPaq run hotter and less stable. There was no chance of seeing Korean characters without spending another $50, which was not something I wanted to do given what the Japanese language pack had done.

  5. All 73,818 Tweets I had ever sent were downloaded and imported into 10C before the account was deleted on Twitter. As they're all in a database, this makes asking questions and deriving statistics pretty darn easy.

Attention to Detail

Regardless the last, the difference between a job done and a job well done is all in the attention one pays to the details. Anyone with an appreciable degree of OCD and a hint of Asperger's will find it incredibly easy to get lost in the details only to miss deadlines and deliver work that was never specifically requested. However, when executed well, a person can complete something that is so polished in its implementation that few people are consciously aware of the spent effort. This is what separates the artists from the generalists. This is what brings joy to a job.

Ingratus

A lot of times when I'm feeling particularly frustrated with the day job, I get ideas in my head that sound an awful lot like the conspiracy theories one of my crazy uncles would spout after he had a few too many bottles of Molson. I imagine that people have it out for me, that I'm being given the jobs that nobody else will do because it's not prestigious enough to warrant their time. In my head I see a pattern of poor communication as an active attempt to make me look like a fool to the senior management team. Bizarre ideas that benefit nobody. When I notice the sequence taking shape, I try to stop and ask myself what the problem really is. There's no denying that I tend to put in long hours to solve tedious and complex problems that few people care to understand. There's also no shortage of preventable issues that I'm asked to resolve ahead of higher priority concerns simply because someone knows how to force something to the top of the To Do list. These are normal nuisances that should barely register on the radar, yet they can sometimes trigger such a great deal of frustration that nothing about my work seems enjoyable. Fact of the matter is that a billion people around the world put in long hours to solve tedious and complex problems that few people care to understand, many of which are likely preventable if a little foresight is employed.

Compared to a lot of people, I have it pretty darn good. There's a roof over my head. Food in the fridge. Ample supplies of electricity, clean water, and safe air. The technology I have access to is more than enough to accommodate just about any problem, be it related to the day job or the family. The people around me are generally in good health. Not a day goes by where I don't learn something that is both engaging and directly related to an interest. Colleagues seem to value what I have to offer, and the family makes efforts to accommodate my working hours. Heck, I even get to work from home!

So what the heck is there to be frustrated or angry about? I had to work incredibly hard for over two decades at multiple jobs on two continents to get to where I am today. Why is it so hard to just be thankful for the good fortune that I've been lucky enough to enjoy for three years? Is this part of the human condition to always want more? Or is this simply an obvious lack of gratitude?

Try as I might, it's very hard to remain positive all the time. That said, I'd much rather spend my working days feeling neutral and disconnected than negative and paranoid. I am thankful for the life I currently lead, which is far and away better than any other time in my short history. Why is it so difficult to just maintain the proper perspective and remember that work is work and nobody is out to intentionally make a fool of me?