The Disconnect

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

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

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


Kato Yuuji Driving Around in a Megaphone Van

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Dumb to Write

Whenever the opportunity arises, I like to tune the world out and put on a podcast where people far more intelligent than I will ever be discuss topics that I've considered but never deeply thought about. Over the last few years it seems as though just about anyone with an IQ high enough to put most members of Mensa to shame has started a podcast or YouTube channel where they discuss the topics that deeply resonate with them in an effort to help others who are not as cognitively gifted learn the value of thought. So while I listen to these people explain a concept or rationalise an opinion, I take their viewpoints and compare it to mine. Do we agree? Do we differ? What information do I need to acquire before deriving an informed opinion on a topic? This is how I spend my scraps of free time … and it makes me feel downright stupid.

Every few years I take a couple of intelligence tests to see how I fare. The first time was when I was 22 and the most recent was at the age of 39. Over the years the numbers have consistently put me between the likes of Homer Simpson and Stephen Hawking1. When I listen to the likes of Steven Pinker, Malcom Gladwell, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Joe Rogan, I feel cognitively inept. It's as though these people, despite their incredibly busy schedules and lives, have been able to dedicate so much time and effort to exploratory thought while I have used my thoughts to think about … nothing. I think about work. I think about how to solve problems. I think about the role modern technology can play in the classroom. But does any of this matter?

Listening to smart people gives me the opportunity to learn new things and explore unfamiliar ideas. Listening to smart people also gives me the opportunity to understand problems from a different perspective. However, listening to smart people also gives me the feeling that I have ultimately wasted a lot of my mind thinking about problems that probably didn't need me. A different way to present textbooks? A different way to manage online learning? A different way to construct a publication platform? Who cares? My work does not engage people but instead sits in the background as invisible as possible to enable what amounts to a micro-goal. I feel as though I've wasted the mind that I've been given by not using it to think about the more complex problems that plague the human condition.

Maybe Reiko is right. She's long said that I would find more value in academia than working within a corporation. By not pushing ideas to their limits and by not exploring concepts to their logical evolution, I feel as though I'm vacuous and too dumb to write. Thought without risk is not thought at all.

  1. Homer Simpson apparently has an IQ of 55 and Stephen Hawking has never revealed his — or whether he's even taken the test. That said, the guy was clearly a genius. Albert Einstein earned a score of 160. Most people are somewhere between 90 and 110.

Seven Days

The first time I remember shaving, new episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation were still being broadcast weekly. This was how I remembered when to shave because, as a 17 year old, there would be about a millimetre of growth on my face after an entire week. Several of the men in my family would laugh at the peach fuzz that I'd insist on shaving off, saying that I could never claim to shave until it became a part of my daily routine. By this metric, I have never shaved a day in my life. Regardless of what I eat and regardless of how often I remove the fur from my face, there will never be more than 3mm of soft hair around my mouth and neck if its left alone for seven consecutive days.

It is thanks to this consistent growth pattern that I've generally shaved my face just once a week for most of my adult life. The one exception was the years when I worked in a classroom and five o'clock shadows were deemed against dress code1. In order to project the image I was expected to present, I would shave pretty much every other day of the week. After leaving the classroom, however, I started shaving less frequently. First it was a Sunday-Wednesday schedule. Then Sunday-Friday, meaning I'd always be clean-shaven for the weekend and the start of the working week. Then Sundays only. And now … I shave only when family members complain about how "lazy" I look.

Seven Days of Growth

The picture above was taken earlier this evening and shows a full seven days of growth. I really see no reason to take out the razor blade2. At some point in the last couple of years I've actually come to enjoy having this bit of scruff on my face. It gives me something to stroke while thinking. It adds an extra bit of sensory perception for those times when mosquitoes are stupid enough to land on my face. It keeps people's expectations of me low when I'm out and about in the community3. The one question that I've yet to work out, though, is why I can't grow a decent beard or moustache.

A good deal of my genetics clearly comes from my mother's side of the DNA. I have a full head of hair despite my age, which none of the men on my father's side could say at the age of 30, let alone 40. The brown is lightly peppered with grey, just as it was for my mother and her brothers at this age. It has even managed to maintain some semblance of being smooth and soft to the touch, something that everyone who has cut my hair since the age of 25 has commented on. So when I look at my mother's two brothers and their full-grown, forest-thick beards, I wonder what it is that is missing from my genetic code to allow for the same. For the vast majority of my life I've enjoyed being clean-shaven and having to take the razor out only occasionally. Over the last few years, for reasons I don't really understand, this has started to change. I'd like to give a beard a try, but only if it can grow consistently in a reasonable amount of time.

Given how a week's growth on my face looks like something the average guy can conjure in 24 hours, the definition of reasonable will likely need to be defined as "less than a year".

  1. Some of my colleagues did decide to grow a beard after starting their teaching careers, but would not have the rough look for more than a day or two. Their hair would grow at a rate of a millimetre per day or more. Mine, however ….

  2. I generally shave with a simple Gillette Sensor that my mother bought for me when I was 17 years old. It's the last physical object I have from her, too. Because my facial hair is pretty soft a blade can generally last about six months before it needs to be replaced. Blades come in packs of 5 for about $8 at the nearby grocery store. This works out to me buying new blades every 30 months or so, which is just crazy. My father, on the other hand, goes through a full pack of blades every two weeks and pays way more than $8 for replacements.

  3. Not being clean-shaven in Japan is generally a sign of laziness and/or untrustworthiness. So, by having a bit of a bad beard, I can generally afford some distance when sitting at the park or reading in a book store. When there's nothing on my face, people are much more likely to approach me and start a conversation … which I've actually started to shy away from.

Ever the Cynic

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress.
You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church.
You could say I lost my sense of direction.
You could say all of this and worse, but
If I ever lose my faith in you,
There'd be nothing left for me to do 🎶🎤🎶

Sting opens his famous song If I Ever Lose My Faith In You with these lines and, like so many of his lyrics, it has stuck with me for years. This describes very clearly how I have felt about the reported world lately. I've lost my faith not in science itself, but in the articles that receive the most coverage as they're funded by organisations with an agenda and presented as "news" to serve another agenda. For 20 years I've had little faith in the Catholic Church — and still do — due to the organisation's inability to honestly face itself. But these are not the things that keep me awake at night. These are not the losses of faith that bother me the most. What has preoccupied my mind for the last few years is the constant loss of liberty on the Internet and the lack of pushback from the people who made the network what it is today.

In the 90s and early 2000s it seemed that the Internet was going to play a hand in solving all of our problems. Information that was once hidden away in obscure books found in only the most discerning of libraries would become freely available to anyone who needed it. Debates could be had on any topic with any number of participants, allowing the free exchange of ideas and — ideally — the ability to learn something new about something worthy of passion. Anybody who wanted to publish something could, regardless of their background.

But a lot of this is gone.

Books — and any other form of publication — that contain less-popular ideas are locked up behind paywalls, scrubbed from existence, or hidden from search results. Open conversation is all but impossible, as armies of one-dimensional characters march across the web in search of offence. Voices that do not convey messages in support of specific agendas are shamed and/or silenced while no reasonable discussion or debate is permitted. And liberty on the web is even more of an illusion than the liberty that we might experience in real life.

You could say I've lost my faith in tech companies.
You could say I've lost my faith in the western education system.
You could say I've lost my faith in what's sold as "traditional journalism".
You could say all of this and worse.

Despite my cynicism and overarching pessimism regarding the established institutions, though, there are always alternatives and solutions. The hard part is discovering the substitutes and keeping them honest.

Over the last few years I've reduced the number of websites that I visit down to just a handful. I've disabled JavaScript for all but five domains, three of which are run from a server in my house. Applications are only installed on my systems if I trust the developers. Should there be a requirement to use something that may be suspect for the day job, it's spun up in an isolated virtual machine that is completely segregated from everything as much as possible1.

The modern web and most of the larger institutions that depend on it have become terribly deceitful and disrespectful. What we need is not just a viable alternative for the various services that we've come to rely on, but a plethora of options. With a multitude of viable and respectful options to choose from, perhaps we'll start to see a little more sanity return to the web … and maybe then I can re-enable JavaScript in my browsers.

  1. This is what I've done for a lot of the Java-based development tools I'm expected to use at the day job, as they all try to send far too much data to a server "in the cloud". This is despite me explicitly choosing during installation to not share metrics.

A New MacBook

This morning, right before my second cup of coffee for the day, a package arrived containing a new tool that would help me accomplish new things for the day job. It was the culmination of several years of careful requests, strategic software acquisitions, and scores of "impossible task" completions. For inside the nondescript cardboard box was a very descriptive white box that contained the most powerful computer that I've had the luxury of using: a 2019-era 15" MacBook Pro.

The New MacBook Pro

This machine will replace the personal MacBook Pro that I've been using for the last few years for everything work-related, which will free up the older device for personal work. What I like about this is that there's a clear separation between where work files exist and personal files exist. If I'm developing for 10Centuries or any of my other personal efforts, then I can grab the older device and get work done without worrying about whether there might be some sort of career-ending argument in the future with regards to using work devices for personal projects or vice versa.

Of course, there won't be a total separation between work and personal use of the new machine. The image above clearly shows Nice.Social on the 15" screen. However, this limited use should not set off any alarm bells.

The primary reason for this new MacBook is to overcome the RAM problem that I've lamented for the better part of a year. Next week I'll be participating in a 40-hour online course for some enterprise tools where the suggested amount of RAM for a machine is 16GB. However, even when a machine has 16GB, the development software is still sluggish and outright painful to use. On top of this, I do a great deal of work with databases, both local and overseas, that often requires some rather complex transformations and seemingly endless datasets. My previous Mac could do these things, but just barely. In order to keep up with the demands of the job, I needed something more flexible. I needed1 32GB of RAM under the hood … and that's just what this machine has.

About this Mac

For the stuff I do most of the time, I am rarely constrained by the CPU. The personal machine has just a 5th generation Core i5, which is still plenty capable for the vast majority of what I do. The new machine has a decent 9th generation Core i7, which is noticeably faster in every way. In addition to this, there is a dedicated video card to help power the 4K external monitor and even one of the crazy-expensive USB-C to USB/HDMI/USB-C adapters. All in all, the day job invested quite a bit of money into this machine and I'm quite happy with the look and feel of the unit. The 15" display is quite a bit larger than the 13" screen on the older unit and the clarity of the picture is just a treat to look at. My eyes have yet to get tired from using the machine, which makes it substantially better than any of the Lenovo and Dell machines that I've been assigned over the years2.

But what about the keyboard?

Over the last couple of years I've read a lot of articles online where people have lamented in 10,000 words or more the keyboards on the MacBooks made between 2016 and now. There are the obvious mechanical reasons to detest the keyboard, such as not being able to type certain characters after getting a little bit of dirt under the keys, but there has also been a rather vocal contingent of people who have been sorely disappointed by the feel of the keyboard, saying that there's an insufficient amount of key travel and the clackity-clack when typing is just too loud. My personal MacBook is one of the last models to use the older style keyboard that everyone seems to love, so I was concerned that I might not like typing on the newer keyboard if it feels like typing on an iPad, which is how people have compared it. I've been typing up a storm on the notebook and am using it right now for this post, but I've yet to find anything bad to say about the keyboard. In fact, I like it much more than the keyboard on the previous device and possibly on every Lenovo ThinkPad from before 20173. The feedback feels completely natural. The clackity-clack as I type makes it sound as though I'm typing twice as fast4. The palm rejection on the massive touchpad is almost perfect.

What's there to rage against? I don't understand why so many people are demanding blood for releasing a keyboard like the ones on modern MacBooks. Am I "doing it wrong"?

Despite having the new MacBook for less than 12 hours, I have a very good feeling that it will compliment my work more than hinder it.

  1. Need is a strong term, but I'll stick with it. Technically I wanted … but it's hard to make a case for something we want. It's easier to justify a purchase with a need.

  2. The IT department has tried several times to ween me off the personal MacBook. I really gave it a shot with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, too. Unfortunately, there's just too much friction when I'm not using macOS on a Mac.

  3. The keyboard on the 2017 Carbon X1 feels very, very nice when typing. Any time I reach for that machine to do some maintenance — as it's a test server now — I am happy to use the keyboard. The screen on the X1 Carbon is nice, but it's nothing compared to an Apple display.

  4. I understand that this is just in my head … I think.

9,530 Words

Earlier today I wondered how many distinct words I've used in posts on this site this year so hammered out a quick 7-line SQL query and asked the database. 57.7 milliseconds later I had my answer: 9,530 words1. Depending on who you ask, this is almost half the number of words a native English speaker has in their active vocabulary. If I include everything that I've published to this site this year, then there will be 14,139 distinct words found across 5,376 posts … and there are still more than three months remaining in the year.

SELECT po.`type`, COUNT(DISTINCT ps.`word`) as `words`, COUNT(DISTINCT po.`id`) as `posts`
  FROM `PostSearch` ps INNER JOIN `Post` po ON ps.`post_id` = po.`id`
                       INNER JOIN `Persona` pa ON po.`persona_id` = pa.`id`
 WHERE ps.`is_deleted` = 'N' and po.`is_deleted` = 'N' and pa.`name` = 'matigo'
   and po.`publish_at` >= '2019-01-01 00:00:00'
 GROUP BY po.`type`
 ORDER BY `posts` DESC;

The question of how many distinct words I've used online came up after struggling to think of a synonym for the word anachronistic in a work-related email. There was a time not so long ago when I could have easily gone through a list of possible substitutes for this as one of the few pleasures I have with corporate communications is using atypical language to encourage a readership. If I'm sending an email at work, it's because there is something that must be communicated. Sure, some of these messages may come across as a soliloquy bordering on the absurd, particularly when I'm trying to make a point about the importance of practicing what is preached, but I tend to think pretty hard about whether I should send a message as the medium has a rather high cost involved: I must dedicate the time to write something that is more formal than a sentence or two on Slack or Teams, and others must dedicate the time to read the multi-paragraph document2. Lately, however, my language skills appear to be deteriorating. Is it because I'm rarely speaking English with other adults now?

One of the many features that I appreciate in Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems is the ability to quickly look up words and find their definition. This is something I generally rely on when reading Japanese websites and run into some kanji that I don't recognize. The last few months I've found myself toggling the feature to use the built-in thesaurus while composing emails. Heck, I even use it when writing blog posts now. It's as though I'm forgetting how to communicate with nuance … not that I've ever been very good at it.

Using "Look Up" in macOS

This disappoints me.

The point of having a large vocabulary is to both understand and be understood. Using specific and accurate language allows a person to convey precisely what needs to be communicated. Simpler, less sophisticated language, while more easily digestible, can lead to miscommunications and lost time.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to head into the office once or twice a week after the boy starts school so that I can interact with peers again.

  1. This unfortunately includes things that are not words, such as numbers.

  2. Most of the emails I send at work consist of at least three paragraphs … and I mean paragraphs. These generally contain 100+ words each and provide context to whatever it is I'm saying. Providing context is really important at the day job, as there are just too many people juggling too many things and forgetting details. I really dislike writing a short message and getting a response back after a day that is on a matter completely unrelated to the task at hand.


Earlier today I had written a rather long article on introspection and how a two-year self-analysis in the mid-2000s helped guide me to where I am today. After some consideration, though, this isn't something I believe can be shared at this time. There wasn't anything embarrassing written, nor was there anything that would shock people. Rather, it struck me as stepping over the "Too Much Information" line. Perhaps at some point in the future, when I can write more eloquently on the topic, something can be shared with the world.

Introspection is an interesting process. It can reveal some hard truths as well as new areas of strength. Every so often I dedicate some time to just disconnect from the world, sit down, and think. The most common question is Why? and is generally followed up with a How? or two. The overarching goal of the introspection is to have a better understanding of why I do what I do and what might be improved or leveraged going forward.

Over the last six months I've come to a number of conclusions about my current self. There are things I need to learn, things I need to unlearn, and things I need to think a great deal more about. One unexpected turn of events is that I've made the decision to return to organized religion and there are other changes on the horizon as well. For most of my life I've tried to find purpose in the wrong places. It's high time I start to think more clearly.

Beta Life

Back around the turn of the century, when I was much younger and more foolish, I wanted to be on the bleeding edge of software updates. If there was a beta version for something I used, I wanted in. This started with Microsoft’s Windows 2000 beta program and carried on right up until the second beta of Windows XP’s third service pack. The reason I stopped was because I’d grown tired of the instabilities and excessive re-installations. I wanted something that I could “trust”. It made sense to stick with the public releases of operating systems and core productivity software, and stick I did. When Windows Vista launched, I stayed on XP and watched. This proved to be smart. When Windows 7 came out and people loved it, I stayed on XP and watched, choosing to wait until the first service pack was released before taking the plunge. This caution even carried forward for Apple hardware, as every device has run only official versions of its operating system.

But this changed today when, for reasons that amount to impatience, I installed the most recent betas for the upcoming version macOS 10.15 and iPad OS 11.1. Did I need to put these on mission-critical hardware? Technically no, but this will make development with Swift UI far easier going forward. There are a number of little projects that I’d like to write, both personally and professionally, and this just seems like the right time to do it.

The notebook and tablet have been running their respective test versions for the last couple of hours and, while I’ve yet to really push the devices, they feel solid and a tad faster than when running the previous OS. Hopefully this means that some efforts are being made to make the software better for people using older devices.

Let the testing begin ….

Five Things

We're halfway through the month of September, 70% of the way into 2019, and once again finding that Sundays happen a little too frequently. Maybe if there were more days in the week, time wouldn't feel as short. Nonsense aside, it is time for another instalment of Five Things.

Vacations are something that I generally don't do very well. Accumulated vacation days at the day job generally expire1 and, when I do take time off, it's to work on other things. This is not exactly the best way to maintain one's sanity. That said, today Reiko and I booked a hotel in Tokyo for a couple of nights next month and we'll be heading up there with the boy to enjoy a nice family outing … minus the puppy2. As this will be the first time that the boy has slept in a bed that is not his own, Reiko and I are expecting some bouts of tears and tantrums. That said, there are a handful of things that we're are hoping for with this trip. Five to be precise.

Good Weather

You can take a Canadian out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of a Canadian. The first concern that I had with the dates we chose was the weather forecast. A day in Japan in October can be incredibly hot … or very windy … or lashed by a typhoon. We're hoping that none of these outcomes interfere with our trip. If there is to be a typhoon, it will hopefully pass through the region the day before we travel. This will ensure blue skies and lovely temperatures for at least 48 hours.

No Emergencies

I will bring my work phone as well as the work tablet, but none of my notebook devices will be making the trip. The last thing I want to do at any point during our vacation is whip out a computer to solve a problem that likely shouldn't exist in the first place. The phone and tablet will allow me to do the basics if required and nothing more. These devices will also be my tether to the web while out and about, making it possible to write social posts and blog articles.

Then again, maybe I'll just disconnect completely. I haven't quite decided on that front.

Short Lines

We're going to at least one theme park in Tokyo. Tokyo's daytime population3 is the same as the entire nation of Canada all year 'round. Given that this will be the boy's first trip to Tokyo and the main park we're visiting has a $70 entrance fee, I'm hoping that the lines are minimal.

Lots of Photo Opportunities

I'm bringing four cameras with me. Two cell phones, a tablet, and a nice Canon DSLR. I plan on being present as much as possible, but I also want a bunch of great photos to share with family. More importantly, though, I want some great photos so I have an excuse to justify another picture frame or two on the wall in my home office space.

Lots of Good Memories

The boy is at an age where long-term memories should start to be encoded by his brain. If some of his earliest memories can be of this trip to Tokyo, where he'll get to ride the Shinkansen for the first time, see the nation's capital for the first time, sleep in a hotel for the first time, and see the ocean for the first time, then I'll be a happy parent. Some of my earliest memories are of happy times spent with my parents4 and I'd like the same for the boy.

All in all, this trip will be good for us all, even if the weather is sub-optimal and the boy doesn't want to go to the theme park5. We have just four weeks to wait.

  1. They've valid for a maximum of two years from the time they're allocated. Unfortunately, they are not paid out if they remain unused.

  2. Sadly, puppies are discriminated against at most places.

  3. There are about 35-million people who work in the greater Tokyo area on any given weekday. I used to be one of them.

  4. My earliest memory is from a very vivid nightmare that I can still recall with a crazy level of clarity, but most of the other ones from the ages of 3 and 4 are of happy times … except that one time I slammed the car door on my thumb at Canada's Wonderland. That was a couple of months before my parents split … I think.

  5. I've worked out a "Plan B" in the event he simply refuses to stay in the main theme park. There is a zoo and aquarium not too far from the hotel, and we know he likes these places. That said, two year old children can be quite fickle.

Where Facts Don't Matter

When a group of people get an idea in their head and refuse to accept any answer that does not align with their preconceived notions, at what point does the attempt to communicate no longer make sense? This is a question I've asked myself a couple of times over the last few years as some colleagues reach out to complain about how a certain group of statistics is unfair and biased against them personally. The idea that math is being used to unjustly punish people who earn the money that pays my salary is absurd and I have conveyed this back to the aggrieved person in as open and complete a manner as I can muster because anything less would be disrespectful. Yet it seems that not a month goes by where someone doesn't openly reject the explanations and claim bias against themselves or unnamed former colleagues.

The issue revolves around a single question on a survey that is offered to some of the customers at the day job. The answer to this question is used to determine, in aggregate, how well a colleague lived up to expectations. It's entirely subjective on the part of the customer and there are cases where someone's had a bad day and a response is later revised or removed completely. Several years of data has shown that people who come to work with a positive attitude generally score an average of 1.13 points higher1 than those who are generally less invested. Employees with a higher score are generally rewarded in some manner. Employees lower in the rankings are not. None of this is rocket science and the numbers cannot lie. Yet some feel there is bias in the single equation that is used for everyone regardless of rank, seniority, competence, or friendship.

This is the gist2 of the SQL query used to generate the number that is upsetting people:

SELECT AVG(score) as avg_score
  FROM Responses
 WHERE is_deleted = 'N' and employee_id = {whatever}
   and response_at BETWEEN DATE_FORMAT(DATESUB(Now(), INTERVAL 1 YEAR), 'YYYY-MM-01 00:00:00')
                       AND DATE_FORMAT(DATESUB(Now(), INTERVAL 2 WEEK), 'YYYY-MM-DD 23:59:59')

In plain English, this is telling the database to collect the average score for all responses that:

  • are not marked as deleted
  • are for a specific employee
  • are received between the start of the current month a year ago today3 and the end of the day two weeks ago today4

Where can bias exist in this equation? It was kept brutally simple on purpose.

But some people don't care. Given the range of concerns and grievances that make their way to my inbox, sometimes I wonder if people want to feel like a victim of a conspiracy in order to justify some aspect of their personal or professional life. Narratives like "I can't get a raise because the system is against me" rarely make for a good story for the sole reason that it's usually not "the system" that's against a person. At the end of the day, we are our own worst enemies When I worked in the classroom I would occasionally feel that "the system" was against me. However, after becoming part of the corporate machine, I quickly learned that there is no system. There are policies, practices, and habits that may not be communicated very well and there are protectionist fiefdoms that get in the way of progress, but there sure as heck isn't "a system" that intentionally hinders one group over another.

This is what I try to convey to people when they complain in my general direction about something that they find frustrating that actually has absolutely nothing to do with them personally. Yet my words are rarely taken seriously. As part of the corporate machine, "the system" has clearly gotten to me and now I must be lying in order to protect … something? My job? My position? Neither of these would exist if it were not for the employees who are spending their days interacting face-to-face with customers5.

But this logic is rarely accepted. Perhaps some people want to be angry. Perhaps some people want to feel downtrodden. Perhaps some people just cannot accept that maybe the negative attitudes they exude at the office bleeds into the classroom. Based on life experience, though, when everything seemed to be against me, it was really myself that I was battling. The rest of the world had nothing to do with it.

  1. This is on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being perfect and 1 being a cause for concern.

  2. I'm not supplying the actual code, because who cares? The purpose of the query is to show just how painfully simple it is. There is no place for bias to insert itself in something so primitive.

  3. Today is September 14th, 2019. So the start of the month a year ago today would be September 1st, 2018. This was done so that numbers could be seen rising when employees check their stats during the month. If we were consistently using "a year ago today", then people would see the total number of responses vary every day, which would make the whole purpose of the endeavour suspect.

  4. There is a two week delay between when a person provides feedback and when an employee can see it so that, if there's a problem reported, the customer can be spoken to ahead of time. A lot of the lower scores have nothing to do with the employee, so there's no reason for someone to feel penalized before the reasons can even be confirmed.

  5. What's interesting is that I've pretty much made my living the last couple of years building the tools that support the people complaining. I go out of my way to understand their problems, challenges, and concerns, then solve the issues in an open and transparent manner, often on my own time. Fortunately, the people with the longest list of troubles are few and far between. Most colleagues are consistently far more positive and creative than I could ever hope to be.