Incentives

Would I do what I do for the day job if I weren't paid hourly? This thought crossed my mind today when a colleague who works to the letter of their contract said that it didn't matter how much overtime they might put in, their salary for the month would remain the same. Sticking to expectations makes a great deal of sense, too, as it pretty much enforces a seemingly realistic work-life balance. When overtime is required for whatever reason, the hours are subtracted from another day in the same pay period. Every month sees an almost consistent 160 hours of effort rewarded.

Could I do this job on a salary rather than Base-plus-OT? Probably not.

When this week is over I'll expect the cumulative time to reach about 75 hours in total. There are still three weeks to go in the pay period. An average month sees about 6 weeks of work reported with all the supporting evidence required to ensure an audit of my recorded hours aligns with reality. The way 2020 has been going so far, January might just see seven weeks of work performed.

If I were paid base and nothing more, there is no way that I'd want to maintain the amount of effort that's put forward. If I were paid base plus hardware1, I might put in a couple of hours extra per week, but it would be difficult to maintain for the long term. Base plus hardware plus overtime seems to be the reason I'm pushing so hard … and the ego boosts that go along with solving complex problems encourage a great degree of effort as well.

One of the positive benefits of all the overtime is that I've come to value my personal time at a much higher value than ever before. If the day job really wants me to work on a weekend because they're in a pinch, I can do it. But it will come at a price that makes it worthwhile not only for me, but the family as well.


  1. I'm fortunate that the day job has provided quite a bit of hardware that allows me to perform all of the tasks that I need to complete, and then some.

Rage

In my youth I was a very hot-tempered kid, often angry, and very easy to set off. As one would expect, this occasionally resulted in some fights at school followed by a trip to the principal's office. Once there was even a 3-day suspension doled out because I took on a bully for being a jerk to a friend of mine. This particular event had a rather large impact on me because it was the only time I was suspended from school and it was because I did what I felt was right; standing up to someone my own size to protect someone who was physically much smaller1. Doing "the right thing" resulted in the very same verdict that was handed down to the aggressor. This unfair form of justice showed me that the only real way to defeat a bully was to do so in the shadows, away from authority, and away from witnesses who might call out to that authority.

Over time the anger became controllable to a certain extent, but it never went away. When puberty hit and the rolls of fat around my waist disappeared to be replaced with muscle, physical violence became much more problematic. Consequences would be much more dire and juries far less forgiving. To this end, I reigned it all in as much as I could, releasing anger through video games and the one sport I was halfway decent at; baseball. This helped immensely as the rage could be effectively channeled and used in moderation. The hot-temper continued to exist, and things could still set me off, but I knew how to bury most of what might have been released and to keep it at bay. Violence was never an appropriate answer, after all.

This control remained pretty consistent right into early adulthood. While I would occasionally lose my temper and shout or — in one egregious instance — punch a hole in a wall, the rage was never, ever directed at a person.

Something changed in the fall of 2006 while I was working at a printing company just south of Vancouver, though. While at the day job I was called into a managers office to hear how his people had to work extra hard to do something that a computer could do with greater speed and accuracy. The manager was correct, but the development team just didn't have the resources to build the requisite functionality fast enough. There were a myriad of other priorities that had to be tended to first, and my boss had made it very clear that none of the developers were supposed to make exceptions for a couple of months until we had caught up on the core business needs; a completely reasonable expectation. I attempted to communicate this to the manager who was asking for help and he made an offhand comment that went something like:

We don't complain about all the buggy software you guys release. The least you could do is invest an afternoon to help us out.

Not cool. Understandable, but not cool. I gave my obligatory "I'm sorry we can't help you any sooner" response and left the room to grab a coffee from the cafeteria. As my anger continued to boil, I kicked the wall in an effort to release some of the pent up rage.

There are two things that should be conveyed before continuing. While I was developing software at a printing company, I would often head out to the shop floor to communicate with people, test hardware, trial updates, and the like. This meant that I had to wear steel-toed shoes when at the office. Also, the way the office layout was designed, everyone had to walk past the manager-in-question's office to get to the cafeteria. Kicking the wall to the left would result in a thud heard in the men's washroom. Kicking the wall to the right would result in a thud heard in the manager's office, and quite possibly enough of one to shake some wall-hung photo frames.

I kicked the wrong wall.

The manager wasn't going to have any of my attitude. He was next in line to be Vice President of manufacturing, after all. I was just a punk with an attitude. So he called his good friend, who happened to be VP of the company, and complained as though I'd just pooped on the hood of his car. By the time I was back at my desk, I had a very angry C-level executive storm in the development lab and ream me out in front of the other developers. Knowing this was a no-win situation, I said nothing and let him scream and shout until he had said his piece and left. Soon after I called my boss to let him know that he might receive a visit and then I put the phone down …

… and lost it.

I ripped the keyboard from the computer next to me and smashed it in two over my knee, grabbed my coffee cup and hurled it against the wall and, before my tantrum could continue, something odd happened. There was a pop in my head that was both felt and heard. Almost immediately my rage dissipated and I was enveloped in a very odd calm. My colleagues were all staring at their screens, pretending to ignore me, but I knew I was way out of line. I apologised softly, picked up my notebook, and left the office for the day.

The memory is still quite vivid despite the passage of time, quite possibly because of how odd it was that in the middle of a rage, the anger vanished. Since that time, I've not had a tantrum of any real sort. Sure, I've been angry and frustrated from time to time, but never to that degree. It is almost as though whatever popped in my head — whether real or imagined — was the source of the excessive anger that could propel me into a blind rage.

Now let's skip forward fourteen years. The rage that I haven't felt in any meaningful way since I was a punk kid seems to be coming back. Working from home means that the people I care about are unwilling witnesses to an ugly side of me. The anger is contained as much as it can be, and I will never direct such raw emotion towards any of them, but it's not something that anyone should see. It stresses Reiko and the boy. It worries Nozomi. It is unproductive and unhelpful.

It needs to go away.

Generally when the anger gets to be too much, I try to leave the house and go for a walk to a nearby park to sit on a hill and watch the cars go by. If the weather isn't too cold, I'll even pick up a couple of cans of citrus-flavoured vodka to help take the edge off. Doing this helps me drop the anger and approach the world properly. Respectfully. And with good humour. This remedies the situation for five to six hours before the previous anger returns, albeit to a much lesser extent.

This isn't cool. I don't like this at all.

There is just so much wrong with this whole picture, and the source is completely internal. I've written at length over the last couple of years about how I take the wrong things way too seriously, about how I never seem to take time off properly2, and how frustrated I am despite all the good that has come about over the last four years.

What I need to do — and what I will do — is take some time off work so that I can refocus myself. This might be through meditation, or engaging in a hobby, or just catching up on some reading, but it needs to be done. I owe it to my family to be sane. I owe it to my colleagues to be professional. I owe it to myself.

Rage has its place. It's time I put it back there.


  1. I was a fat kid in the 80s. This probably doesn't mean much anymore, given cultural changes in the last 30-odd years, but that's besides the point. The friend being bullied was a recent immigrant from Pakistan who was as thin as a rail. He could handle himself with speed and agility, but there are limits when the attacker is substantially heavier and can land a much harder punch.

  2. Taking days off work only counts when I don't check email, the chat applications, or any of the servers. It also helps if I do not think about any of the projects I'm working on and the next steps required.

One Hundred

Today is a special day for Reiko's grandmother, though she probably doesn't realise it. One century ago today, in a very different sort of Japan, Reiko's grandmother was born at a Shinto temple in Kyoto. The world was a very different place in 1920. Japan was a very different place. Few people had electricity or telephones. Fewer still had ever left their hometowns. The Japanese empire was expanding across the Pacific islands and into China and its emperor was squirrelled away from the public to hide his various neurological issues.

A great deal of change occurred in the 100 years that followed. The nation burned and then calmed down. Abject poverty, once the norm, was almost completely eradicated by the 1960s. Education was granted to anyone and everyone who wanted it, to whatever level of knowledge they sought, regardless of their family connections. Medical knowledge jumped ahead by centuries in the span of decades with the imported knowledge from specialists and universities around the world. The nation rebuilt itself almost completely from the ground up over a quarter century after World War II, channelling traditional Japanese determination and imagination to create something that many tourists today still consider to be a nation living in the future.

And Reiko's grandmother had the opportunity to see all of this happen. She had the opportunity to participate in making it happen. Her children grew up and contributed to the development of the country and have lived just and meaningful lives. Her grandchildren grew up and have done just the same, typically entering into careers centred on nursing or education. Her great-grandchildren will hopefully carry the torch further still, accomplishing worthwhile goals while raising their own families and bringing humanity forward one person at a time.

When I think about how much has changed not only in Japan but around the world over the last 100 years, I can't help but think about what the world might look like in another six decades if I hit triple digits. Will the problems of today be remembered as a turning point to something greater or a temporary blip? Will humanity really peak at about 9-billion before worldwide poverty is eliminated enough to offer every person the opportunity to seek out an education, medical attention, and a fulfilling mission in life1? Will commercial interplanetary travel go from being science fiction to something resembling today's ocean-hopping flights? There are a thousand questions or more that I have about what the near future has in store for us and, if I treat my body just right, there might be a thousand answers revealed.

Reiko's grandmother has had the opportunity to see 36,525 days. Her memory is not what it used to be, and she often believes she's still living at the temple where she was born2, but she's still going strong. Hopefully she can enjoy many more sunrises, creative afternoons3, and moments with family.


  1. Careers may not be in many people's future by the 2070s if current trends continue.

  2. This would be impossible, as it burned down in a fire almost 85 years ago.

  3. She's quite good at making traditional masks. It takes time, but they're exquisite.

The "Social Credit" Carrot Is Actually a Stick

A recent article on Engadget outlined some of the problems that we're going to see happen a lot more often going forward as various social networks and California-based organisations begin to openly decide who may use their services and who may not based on activities elsewhere. Kaylen Ward, a model who helped raise a million dollars for the Australian Red Cross and The Koala Hospital, recently had all of her Instagram accounts shut down because of what she was doing on Twitter via private messages; namely that she would send a nude photo of herself to people who provided verifiable proof that they had contributed to one of the two previously-mentioned organisations. The article continues and details some of the known details pertaining to AirBnB's new "Trait Analyzer", a series of content scrapers and algorithms that compile information on people using information found around the web in order to build a "social credit" score, similar to what is seen in China though a great deal closer to home. These sorts of algorithms are not new, but they're about to become a great deal more public as companies vie to be the source of truth when it comes to measuring the worthiness of a human being.

But to what end? What value will this have in the long run?

Looking at patterns in the social spaces, anyone who does not openly and loudly identify as one of the ever-shifting, ever-evolving, ever-angry "progressive" ideologies will likely fall afoul of the algorithms and be painted as an antisocial, narcissistic, or psychopathic person. Just as we see with financial credit scoring systems, there will be nobody to take your case to1 and a person will find themselves ostracised for life because of something said in private, or 20 years ago, or not at all.

The ultimate measure of a person cannot be determined by what is shared — openly or otherwise — on the Internet or in conversation. It cannot be determined by looking at where a person stands in moments of comfort and convenience, either. The true measure of a person can only be determined by watching how they treat others; particularly those who are neither equal nor higher in status. This cannot be adequately represented in a score as determined by a computer based on evolving rules around an organisations perception of right and wrong. The people behind these social credit scores are not St. Peter. They do not deserve to be granted the authority to dictate our trustworthiness.

Just because we can do a thing does not mean that we must do that thing. Social credit scores will cause far more unnecessary stress and harm than good. They must not be allowed to gain any traction.


  1. No amount of communication with TransUnion or EquiFax has ever fixed the problems that were created on my credit score back in 2003 when someone made a credit card in my name, ran up the bill, then ran off to leave me with calls from debt collectors for months on end until I could prove without a doubt that I didn't create the card nor spend the money. My calls to the credit scoring companies were pretty much ignored with one person suggesting I "get a good lawyer, as that's the only way to get someone to look at the database".

Dark Comedy

When Adam Mansbach’s daughter, Vivien, was two years old, she would take up to two hours to fall asleep. Exhausted and exasperated, one night Mansbach posted a note on Facebook, “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, Go the — to Sleep”.

— via Wikipedia

This is probably a book that I would enjoy right about now, as the boy can require anywhere from 15 to 150 minutes to fall asleep at the end of a day. The amount of time required is not the result of any activity done during the day and seems to be completely arbitrary. The number of times I’ve had to tell the kid to be quiet, lie down, and get some sleep borders on the absurd … and it seems to be completely normal in households across the globe when a child is about three years old. How is it that parents across the planet find the patience to deal with this at the end of most every day?

Some clearly maintain their sanity by writing stories.

If I had the talent to do something similar in a non-copycat sort of manner, I’d write stories with the following titles:

  • Put Your Damned Pants Back On! We’re In Public
  • Save Some Food for the Rest of Us!
  • “No” Means No!
  • Ice Cream Is Not for Breakfast1
  • Think It. Don’t Say It.

Children can be incredibly cute for much of the day, but they’re incredibly good at driving people right up the wall at times.


  1. He’s had ice cream only a handful of times in his life, but he’s very insistent on having some at breakfast time … which is impossible as we don’t keep any in the house.

Getting Back to Basics

Earlier today I was looking at some of the work I had done on Noteworthy, the precursor to 10Centuries, and was shocked to discover that almost 7 years have passed since I last did any real work with the Evernote API. There was Evernote integration in 10Cv2, which was also had API links to Twitter, App.Net, Tumblr, but that was a slight adaptation of the original code. What surprised me about this number isn't so much that 7 years have passed. Instead, it was the reminder that I've yet to accomplish the core goals from v4 and v5 of the 10Centuries platform. Years are passing by while my incomplete codebase does just a fraction of what it used to.

493 days ago I started writing and publishing a post a day without fail. The streak has not been easy to maintain, but it's been an important objective. The goal isn't to publish just for the sake of publishing, but to encourage a little more thought and consideration throughout the day. While the quality of the posts have been hit and miss, there does appear to be an improvement in the writing process. Every day sees one or two posts shared out of the three to five that were written. This is a heck of a lot better than a post every week or two and the daily routine has made the failings in 10C's writing tools painfully obvious.

This leads into the next personal objective: to properly invest in the 10C platform again.

The boy will start school at the start of February, attending kindergarten for a couple of hours in the morning until April when he goes for the full day. While the boy is at school, I'll begin to dedicate a couple of hours every weekday to improving 10Centuries. From writing documentation to restoring missing features to building the various important elements that people expect from a modern platform, there will be no further excuses for not expanding the system. There is still an application on the way1 and it would be in the best interests of the platform to present itself as a respectable place to publish content.

This year there have been three updates released and another two are on the way at each end of next week. Evernote integration will come back. Twitter integration will come back. Better podcasting support will be added, too. Even at just 10 hours a week, 500 hours of development in a year is better than what I could muster last year.

For so much of the last few years I've invested the bulk of my time into my family, the day job, and writing. As the day job becomes less important, I plan on using the regained time to build something I can be proud of.


  1. The first application is centred around blogging with a focus on helping people write. It is being written to act as a writing support tool, encouraging people to write and offering help when people aren't sure what to write about. Ideally, this will evolve into a writing tutor of sorts. First things first, though.

After-Midnight Coffee

Despite multiple attempts to reduce the coffee intake, there are generally four to five cups of the lovely beverage made and consumed on a typical working day. The first helps to wake me up. The second is had while reading and responding to work email. The third is after lunch and sometimes followed by another. The last one, however, is generally after midnight. It's this final cup of the day that is the most enjoyable. When paired with an interesting book, it's a match made in heaven.

Over the last couple of weeks the after-midnight coffee has become something that I look forward to as it signifies the end of the working day and opens up what's left of the evening for something more relaxing. The activity is immaterial to the enjoyment that comes from the steaming hot beverage. It could be reading a thoughtful essay, writing a blog post, watching a video, or even listening to music in the dark. The activity can encourage a more thorough relaxation, but the coffee does the work. Neck and back muscles relax. Blood flow improves. A win-win for almost every evening.

Another added benefit seems to be the quality of sleep that comes about as a result of the late-night beverage. When I have a cup of coffee an hour before bed, there tends to be a lot less snoring and tossing about. In the morning when I wake, my head is not groggy or otherwise disoriented. Poor sleep has been a chronic problem for years and one that I've tracked with the help of SleepCycle on my phone for half a decade. Keeping track of what works and what doesn't makes pattern recognition a great deal simpler.

If there is a consequence to the midnight caffeine boost, I've yet to find it. Some people have told me that just sniffing a coffee with dinner is enough to keep them awake half the night. Sometimes I wish this were the case for me as well, as it would mean that a cup of coffee might actually help me stay awake1. However, if a high tolerance for caffeine is the price one must pay for the luxury of enjoying almost half a dozen cups of coffee per day, who am I to complain?


  1. Coffee does not help me stay awake in the least.

Writing Challenges

Over the last couple of months I've had a heck of a time writing blog posts not because of the daily schedule, but because the process is suboptimal. The vast majority of items on this site have been written as a "stream of consciousness" style with very light editing to ensure that something -- anything -- can be both written and published on the same day. This allows for articles to sound conversational and light, making it relatively easy for people to read while distracted by the day-to-day. This has been the general concept for almost 500 consecutive days and it's worked out relatively well. However, there are some subjects that I find incredibly hard to write about in this fashion due to a lack of cohesion across ideas. Family is one of the most difficult.

Today is my mother's 62nd birthday. This is quite the number, as some of the colleagues and acquaintances I look up to are nearing this age and already discussing their retirement plans, bucket lists, and signature project wishes. Despite sharing quite a bit of genetic history, we've not kept in touch very often since 2002. We had one phone call in 2008, which is the only time my mother had a chance to speak with Reiko, and we have relayed messages between one of my sisters on occasion since then, but this is the extent of our communications since I left Ontario.

The reason behind the general silence at this point is moot. Whatever reasons I thought there might have been to not communicate have either been forgotten or the memories outlining justifications have been warped over time to the point where they cannot be relied upon. What I do remember is that the side of my family where my mother was a central figure "got weird" around 2000, which resulted in quite the disintegration. My mother spent some time at a women's shelter with my youngest sister before moving into an apartment1. My two older sisters went to live with my father. My youngest brother -- the instigator -- went … somewhere. My step-father had an empty home.

I don't know exactly what happened and, even if I did, the knowledge likely wouldn't make the deterioration of the largest segment of my family any more logical. Families don't operate on logic and, for this particular page of history, ignorance is probably bliss. The fragments I've heard from my sisters do not seem plausible, but what do I know? I was living in a basement apartment in town when everything fell apart. I bore no witness2.

My mother and I would get together every so often over the next two years as she rebuilt her life after yet another divorce, and every time she would ask that I pick up cigarettes or lend3 some money. However, things started to get weird when my mother would try to explain why she had to leave yet another home without taking her kids4. The story kept changing and the details that were added did not add up. The characterisations she made of people I had known most of my life did not align with the people I thought I knew. To add to the confusion, one of my sisters had broken off all communication with my mother, accusing her of outright lying.

I didn't want to take sides. I didn't want every visit with family to turn into a he-said-she-said. I didn't want to deal with it.

So I stopped talking to people. For years.

Over time I did rekindle some relationships, though they're still rather fragile. We may have spent a lot of time together in the same house in the past, but we've all become very different people in the time since. How does one bridge a moat that spans decades?

The easy answer is that one doesn't, but this is also a cowardly answer. The correct response would be something along the lines of pick up the phone or hop on a plane. The worst that could happen would be that the people I've avoided will say "You're no son of mine" and close the door. The rejection would be warranted. However, by holding out the olive branch and seeking to rebuild relationships, it might be possible to overcome any misunderstandings and forge a new connection. My son could meet a larger group of family, and they could meet him.

As one would expect, this is no small feat. This would be a personal challenge that would require a good many internal walls to be torn down. Personal growth. Change. And change is hard. However, by doing so, it might be possible to pick up the phone on future January 15ths to call my mother5 and wish her a happy birthday from half a world away.


  1. The apartment they moved into was not too far from where my father and I lived for many, many years after the divorce. It was a part of Hamilton I knew very well.

  2. My step-father and I did work at the same company at the time but, even then, he and I never talked about it. He would ask if my mother was doing alright, as she and I had regular communication back then, but we hid the topic in the fog, so to speak.

  3. By "lend" I mean "give". Do kids ever ask their parents to pay back money that was incorrectly labelled as a "lend"? I never could nor would.

  4. My youngest sister did go with my mother, but not immediately. Just like with the first divorce, my mother went alone and later collected a single child.

  5. The phone number I have for my mother has been bad for years, and the only sister that does have it is very difficult to get in touch with. Of course, nothing tried, nothing gained.

⌘Q

We need to remember that sometimes it's okay to put things down for a little while. The emails will still be there when we come back. The messages on the various platforms will still be there when we come back. The myriad of expectations and deadlines will still be there, too. While there's no denying that work must be done, it would be better to approach the efforts without the stress and tension that causes errors. This is something that I need to remember when battling the compulsion to complete just one more thing.

Macbook Pro Keyboard

A couple of months ago the plan was to quit Outlook and Teams, the two most common communications tools at the day job, one hour before I planned on ending the day's work. The reason behind this wasn't to avoid communicating with colleagues in other time zones, though this was certainly an added benefit, but to ensure I wasn't chasing down information requested in a last-minute email. If something hits the inbox and I see it, then it's something I'll want to tend to. This generally escalates into a "one more thing" cycle that can see me not head to bed until 3:00am. It's simply not healthy. So by closing the applications an hour ahead of time, I'm able to finish off the things currently on the screen and perhaps strike a few more items from the To Do list.

Sometimes I wonder if moving out of the classroom and into a development role was really the best career choice. The burden of responsibility is much greater. The cost of errors much higher. Working in the classroom would mean having more personal time every week and being able to leave work at work. However, not moving into the current role would mean not having a house or a nicer car. A lot of the skills that have been developed over the last few years have been the direct result of solving problems at the day job. Staying put would have prevented me from working with some really smart people who share my passion for data completeness.

There's no denying that I'm happier where I am than where I was despite the challenges that must be overcome on a daily basis. No task worth doing is easy, after all.

But we do need to remember to step back. To press ⌘Q -- or Alt+F4, or people using Windows -- and step away from the keyboard. Doing something well is generally better than doing something quickly.

Humdrum

We're almost two weeks into the new year and I feel like nothing's been accomplished. Of course there has been quite a bit done around the house and we've managed to clear out a bunch of stuff that's been cluttering up the closets for the past year. The To Do list for the day job has certainly seen a good number of checkmarks added to completion boxes, as well. But, despite the obvious signs that things are being completed, there is this overarching feeling that "nothing" has been done.

This humdrum state is nothing new, though. The day-to-day can seem boring, tedious, and tiresome when a routine settles in to turn what was once interesting and invigorating into something completely unremarkable. The human condition means we're never satisfied with what we have for very long regardless of how good we might have it. Comparing my life today to what it was twenty years ago shows a night and day difference, so what is it that makes the start of 2020 seem so banal and monotonous that current efforts come across as irrelevant?

A lack of gratitude, perhaps?

The way I approach the day is clearly in error. While things are not what they could be, they are a heck of a lot better than I seem willing to admit to myself. Is this the result of a mild depression, a lack of sunlight, or a growing realisation of my own stupidity? Most likely. These deficiencies can be overcome, though. A few weeks ago I was very much in a depressed state1, but the feeling is dissipating with each passing day. The unseasonably warm weather makes afternoon walks around the neighbourhood more enjoyable, which is always welcome. And as for my stupidity and ignorance, that's a problem I've been working on with some effort over the last two years with clearly positive results2. There is a lot to be thankful for.

This is something I need to remember more often.


  1. This most recent dip resulted in some rather dark thoughts. Fortunately, nothing came of them.

  2. The "positive results" include making fewer stupid decisions, listening to my conscience more closely when it's advising I not do a thing, and learning more about how to be a better person.