Ghost Town

On Thursday evening Japan's Prime Minister issued a "recommendation" that all elementary, junior high, and high schools across the country shut down from February 29th until the start of the new school year in April. This caught a lot of people by surprise, including the Ministry of Education, but also triggered a lot of companies to begin allowing their people to take time off, work remotely, or otherwise find ways to minimise the risk of contracting COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus. My employer has also been hard at work over the last couple of weeks to find a way to deal with this situation given the number of people affected not only in Japan, but in China and other countries where we have schools. With so many people concerned about the contagious virus, this seems like a very logical thing to do. However, with most kids at home and fewer adults out and about during the day, the neighbourhood has become something of a ghost town.

This afternoon I had an opportunity to head out for a short walk to my favourite thinking spot and, along the way, I passed just 3 people. Afterwards there were a few things that needed to be picked up from the boy's kindergarten, so I walked the 600 metres there and passed just two people along the way. The school itself was also deserted, with just two teachers present. Finally, walking the 1.3km home, there were fewer than a dozen people along the way. I had spent the better part of an hour outside and saw perhaps 20 people in total; a number I find hard to believe given there are roughly 45,000 people living in the six neighbourhoods that make up this remote part of the city.

People are understandably nervous.

The boy will be out of school for the next month and Reiko's classes at university do not begin until mid-April. Hopefully the pandemic will be mostly contained by then as the country can't come to a complete stand-still. People need to buy food and supplies. People need to earn money. People need to accomplish goals. While some of these are certainly possible from the comfort of our homes, we cannot all work and live from our house. Heck, even I need to get outside a couple of times a day just to see the sky and get some exercise.

Bots On Notice

What do web crawling bots do and why do they do it? It's a simple question with simple answers, but today I found myself asking "Why do they do it so much?". There are about 20,000 requests from almost 100 self-admitted bots hitting my web server every day, which works out to one every 4.32 seconds. Given that the average amount of computational time given to each request is less than a second, this shouldn't be much of an issue. However, looking at what many of these tools are for, I don't see why they should have the luxury of crawling around each of the websites hosted on 10C without offering something of value.

Bot Hits

AhrefsBot and MJ12Bot both enjoy hitting several thousand pages a day from a multitude of servers while others limit themselves to a few hundred or a couple dozen. Doing the research on these crawlers, it appears that they're serving the goals of advertising companies in search of trends and "free content". There are some valid bots, such as Feedly, though these are few and far between.

So, rather than encourage advertising companies from building complete link maps of every site on 10Centuries, I'll put in a little bit of effort to sour the milk. AhrefsBot ignores the rules set out in Robots.txt as to a number of other content scrapers, so it makes no sense to provide anything of value to them. I considered two options:

  1. Return a blank page
  2. Return a dynamically generated page that contains 10,000 randomly generated links to imaginary places across the web embedded within a giant Lorem Ipsum

Both of these options would be rather easy to implement, though the second one would be more interesting to create. I already have a Lorem Ipsum generator that can go as far as 500 paragraphs and having every couple of words turned into a link to (potentially) false URLs across the web would reduce the perceived quality of 10C-hosted content to junk status in a matter of days. The bandwidth requirements wouldn't be an issue for the most part so long as I try to keep the pages smaller than 50KB when compressed … which is a rather large HTML document, I must admit.

By setting up one of these mechanisms directly into the 10C core functions there should quickly be a drop in the number of undesired bots accessing the site to see what's new. More importantly, less spam traffic will mean a better response time for people who are legitimately using the service.

Grappling With Questions

There are a lot of questions that a person can ask themselves in the course of a day and it's interesting how simple so many of them can be. Generally these queries will be in the form of a closed question and resulting in a Yes/No response. These sorts of questions are easy and require very little cognition. Would I like another cup of coffee? Should I have another cookie? Is it too early to take Nozomi out for another walk in the park? These are easy. Over the last couple of months, though, I've been finding myself thinking about some of the more philosophical questions that can have a person debating themselves for days. A lot of these would likely be good topics to write about as the act of assembling the ideas into a cohesive structure would help me better understand the matter, while potentially providing others with a perspective similar or different to their own. The problem with this, however, is that the subjects are often too complicated for me to fully think through. I don't know enough of the surrounding context to reach a complete, wholly consistent solution.

Take the sixth Commandment, לֹא תִּרְצָח (You shall not murder), as an example. This moral imperative to not engage in the unlawful killing of another human is very straightforward and easy to understand. We have the right to kill in self-defence if absolutely necessary. We have the right to kill as a form of capital punishment if absolutely necessary1. We do not have the right to end the life of another person outside of these two conditions2. This essential rule is incredibly cut and dry and, interestingly enough, most of us never think to break it … even if we're a non-practicing member of an Abrahamic faith, Pastafarianist, or atheist.

But why?

Why would an atheist find murder, defined as an unlawful killing, immoral? Where does an atheist get their morals and guiding principles from? What makes one thing good and another thing evil? Personal opinion? Federal laws? Something else?

This isn't to say that a person who does not abide by a religious text cannot be good. There are billions of good people around the globe. Not every person is going to have the same set of beliefs or morals, yet all of them will likely agree that murder is wrong.

So the question still stands. Why?

Do unto others as you would have done unto you? So if you don't murder me (or the people I care about), I won't murder you? This answer seems incomplete if not overly simplistic. What happens in the event a family member is murdered? Or two people? Or an entire branch of the family tree? Is it then okay to engage in some extra-judicial vengeance?

If there is no God, there is no punishment beyond that issued by society. Murder can then be considered "acceptable so long as you're not caught", sort of like speeding in a school zone, taking too many ketchup packets from McDonald's, or lying on a tax form.

But this is part of the problem I've run into when trying to weigh what's written in the ancient texts with a morally atheistic lifestyle. My arguments, which I will be the first to admit have been simplified for the sake of this post, are not deep enough on either position because I have simply not fully thought through the issues and quandaries that exist. One side requires faith and a belief that God provided humanity with a set of morals to follow and, because God is good3, the morals must also be good. The other requires a solid foundation of clear definitions for right and wrong based on emperical evidence compiled over our lifetime — or the lifetimes of others — and codified in a manner where morals can emerge free from the top-down, holier-than-thou format of a structured theology. The argument for a "Universal morality" is not convincing as morality cannot be any more universal than "common sense".

A person can read every book from authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Kerry Wendell Thornley, and even Bobby Henderson, and still not have the answers they seek for where morals come from if not from a theological foundation. This would mean that, even if a person were to say they did not believe in God, they would be living by many of the core principles attributed to God.

So, try as I might, topics like this tend not to get published because I lack the cognitive sophistication and historical contexts required to approach the subjects with any sort of cohesive clarity.

  1. Leviticus 24 states: A murderer must be put to death

  2. This is where a lot of the arguments against abortion, right-to-die, and mercy-killing stem from.

  3. This was another topic I've tried to write about countless times over the years. If God is good, then why is there so much pain, suffering, and outright malevolence in the world? "Because there is no God" is a shallow and unfulfilling answer as it raises several hundred follow-up questions, each with their own answers weakened by degrees of incompleteness.


Cold rain is hitting the side of the house with a regularity that belies the random distribution of droplets falling from the sky. The sound is remarkably calming, particularly when a slight breeze pushes the frigid February precipitation towards the glass door that separates my working space from the 2˚C weather outside. Nozomi is asleep in her bed, snoring peacefully without a care in the world. I imagine Reiko and the boy are doing the same upstairs given that it's almost twelve o'clock on a school night.

Behind me the hum of the fridge is distinct from the air conditioner, which is scheduled to shut itself off for the night in a matter of minutes. Every so often the hot water heater fires up to keep its 10-litre tank at a stable 41˚C. I mustn't forget to turn that off on my way to bed.

Some nights are best enjoyed when listened to. Tonight is one of them. The neighbourhood becomes quiet around this time as people turn in with the hope of a solid six hours rest before the next day begins. It's when everyone is asleep that I can hear the changes that have taken place over my lifetime.

On a similar night just five years ago I would have been reading on my phone while the sound of a NAS hummed noisily away in the closet that also doubled as a podcast recording space. Ten years ago the room would have been silent save for the ceaseless traffic of Highway 21 and the occasional passing of a JR train. Fifteen years ago the room would have been quite dark, but the bass from the neighbour's endless parties would shake my windows. Twenty years ago I would be sleeping in a bed much too large for one with a collection of replica Japanese swords by my side1 in the event someone broke into my apartment via the fire escape, as it was not exactly the safest neighbourhood to live in. Twenty five years ago the room would be completely dark and I'd have music piping into my ears via a pair of headphones.

What we remember about places tends to be the things we seldom think about. My memory of the places I've slept has certainly faded over time, but it's the minutia that tends to stick in my mind the most. Sometimes I wonder whether I would again feel comfortable in any of those places if given the opportunity. Fortunately I'm happier here with the rain, snoring dog, humming appliances, and sleeping family than anywhere else.

Late at night, when I'm essentially alone with my ears, I like to listen to home.

  1. I wasn't very bright back then. One could argue that I'm not very bright now, either, but I know not to keep weapons around with the intent to use them in a country where the "victim" of a crime is determined based on who needs the greatest amount of medical attention. This is one way that Japan and Canada are remarkably similar.

Bizarre Pizza

Pizza in Japan has often struck me as an oddity given the unique approach places approach the food from. When I was growing up, a large pizza generally came in a rectangle that was cut into 18 pieces and cost $20 and could feed three teenagers … or a family of 8. Many years later, while living in Vancouver, there was a pizzeria near my apartment that sold an 8-slice medium pizza with 3 toppings for $5. In Japan, though, an 8-slice pizza starts at $18 and quickly goes up from there. Suffice it to say, Reiko and I haven't ordered pizza very often in the 13 years we've lived together. That said, a flyer hit the mailbox today with an offer that is ridiculous enough that it might just be worth the absurd sticker price: 全力!ソーセージピザ1.

Aoki's Pizza

Just for giggles, I went to the calorie information page for the pizza shop and discovered that every slice contained a whopping 409kcal!

全力!ソーセージピザ Calorie Information

This would explain why waistlines around the country have started to balloon much like those in Canada did throughout the 1990s to today. It's understandable that restaurants will try ludicrous things in an attempt to attract sales, but this one is a bit absurd … even for Aoki's Pizza.

If the boy were a decade older, Reiko and I might entertain the idea of trying one of these. For the moment, though, we'll pass and enjoy a healthier dinner.

  1. 全力 (ゼンリョク) ⇢ With all one's strength / might.
    ソーセージ ⇢ Sausage.
    ピザ ⇢ pizza.

Five Things

A number of months have gone by since the previous Five Things post and I’ll admit that I didn’t think there would be another one given that it’s not always worthwhile to go through the unpublished and unwritten posts to grab fragments of an idea, but here we are. Over the last three months I’ve managed to go through a number of the terrible patterns that seem to repeat themselves every so often, which often results in a persistent reminder of that dark time for future versions of me to see and remember. Depression, burn out, bouts of crippling anxiety, and a steady increase in alcohol consumption are nothing new, but the rage that dogged a lot of my activities for several months was wholly unexpected and difficult to manage. This has dissipated for the most part as a result of a week away from work, but a feeling of anxiety is making itself known every few hours as the working day inches ever closer. This isn’t cool, as anxiety was a precursor to the stronger emotions I had battled in January and February. Will I have the same problem again in a matter of weeks or days?

As always, time will tell.

So, without further delay, here are five things that I’ve been thinking about this past week:

The Allergies Are Flaring Up

Here we are near the end of February and a number of people in the neighbourhood, myself included, are already reaching for an anti-histamine. Based on a bunch of weather stations in the area, the first six weeks of 2020 were the warmest on record for the last century by 0.4°C. The last time the average was this high was in 1989.

Nozomi Needs a Deck

On sunny days Nozomi likes to go outside around lunchtime, when the air is relatively warm, and just sit in the sun. This small pleasure is something I’m more than happy to accommodate as she genuinely enjoys watching the world go by while warming her fur. Unfortunately, she doesn’t yet have a place outside that is warm and comfortable enough for her. This spring we’ll be having a bunch of work done on the yard and I’ll make sure she gets a place all her own to sit, sun, and stare.

Getting Things Done

Despite the ridiculous hours I’ve forced myself to put in at the day job this year, things are actually getting done around the house. We’ve put up some new curtains, planned the new landscape for the yard, organized a better receipt-tracking system, and gotten into a comfortable routine to accommodate the boy’s kindergarten schedule. The first week was a little difficult but, now that we’re all getting used to a new school schedule, there are quite a few benefits to the boy being out for a couple of hours every day.

Reiko Is Exercising Again

One such benefit to the boy being at school is that Reiko has a bit more free time during the day. As we’re not at home for lunch we’ve started a little habit to enjoy a brief walk around the neighbourhood after having a light meal. This gets Reiko out of the house without the use of the car and is already having a positive effect on her energy levels. Prior to our little walks she would often have stiff muscles and digestion problems. Now, while she still has these conditions from time to time, her spirits are up and we’re enjoying the brief amount of time where we get to talk like adults. I genuinely look forward to these little trips, though she’s not yet willing to engage in a 7km trek through all of the nearby parks like I enjoy.

Perhaps one day.

On the Right Path … I Think

One of the better aspects of the time off from work last week was being able to really think about the coming months and years. I’ve made some specific plans and goals for the coming months that will bring me closer to achieving my long-term objectives and, crucially, have made sure the goals are realistic. There is still a great deal to get done and a lot of things I need to learn but, for the first time in a while, I can actually see a light at the end of the tunnel … and it’s not an oncoming train. So long as I can consistently meet the realistic objectives, I can find myself in a much better place by 2022.

And there we have it. A short little look at some of the things I’ve been thinking about this week that we’re not published as a post of their own. I don’t know if the Five Things theme will continue every Sunday, but there’s no reason why they can pop up every now and again.

Another Week

I told myself today that I wouldn’t write yet another blog post about work. A myriad of alternatives were thought up with a few even receiving some writing time. That said, none of these were to be. Despite some lacklustre efforts to write about data structures or “the anatomy of a book”, here I am writing a post that is somewhat related to work and the internal struggles I’ve been trying to reconcile. The idea that has been rolling around inside my head for the better part of the last six hours is how attractive another week off sounds. A great deal of change took place in the code running 10Centuries, with bugs being resolved, features being released, and themes being completed. It felt good to do these things, too. With another four days, I could get quite a bit done with the digital Bible project that will quickly lead into the Bible Journalling features.

This would likely be seen as incredibly selfish, though. A single hand can be used to count the number of people waiting for 10C to have journalling in place, but there are a lot more waiting for me to get things done at the day job.


Clearly I’ve started to take my employment for granted. There are millions of people across the globe who would undoubtedly love to swap places, as working from home with a good deal of autonomy is the exception rather than the rule. Colleagues seem to value whatever it is I bring to the table, so much so that they’re willing to overlook a dour attitude and an obvious lack of trust. So, despite the good fortune, why is it that I cannot look forward to sitting at the desk to solve interesting and complex problems like I used to?

Have I been spoiled for too long? It’s certainly a possibility.

If this summer is anything like the last few, then August will be unbearably hot and humid. I’ll have 40 days of banked vacation time by then and the incentive to bring Reiko and the boy somewhere nice for a while. They’ll both be out of school for the summer and this would be a good time to travel somewhere north or very, very south. I wonder if this would be a good time to bring the family to Canada to meet a bunch of my relatives. Canadian summers are quite chilly compared to this part of the globe and I know my sisters and parents would love to see us.

Heck, the more I think about it, the better this idea sounds. Sure, it’ll be expensive to disappear to the other side of the planet for a couple of weeks, but the away time would be good for all of us. I’ll bring the idea up with Reiko tomorrow and see what she thinks.

The Disconnect

This past week has been quite the break from the everyday, despite sitting at the desk and working primarily on my own projects. The biggest takeaway is that splitting my working day into three sections rather than two might actually work to my advantage but, more than this, by taking a nice three-hour "break" in the early afternoon, I can enjoy a short walk with Reiko followed by a longer walk on my own followed by picking the boy up from school and tending to his immediate needs. The slower pace has done wonders for my blood pressure, too. While this three-block working style may not always be compatible with the day job, it certainly gives me something to aim for from next Tuesday when I open Outlook and Teams for the first time in ten days1.

Time management aside, this forced time away has allowed a number of decisions to be made:

  1. Monthly efforts will be capped at 180 hours2
  2. Lunch will be spent with my wife rather than a computer
  3. Work stops no later than 1:00am3

The last couple of years has seen an incredible amount of effort poured into projects that are being decommissioned and (almost literally) tossed away before the end of this year. While there are lessons that can be brought from the mothballed systems into the new one, it would be foolish to continue working as ceaselessly as before. The projects I'm supposed to be focused on have more people involved, meaning there's less that requires my hands specifically. This means there will be more opportunity to share responsibilities and cross-train. Everyone will win.

More than this, though, I plan on clawing back my time to focus on the things that I want to accomplish going forward. Over the last couple of months there has been something inside of me that has simply grown tired of what I see online and in the news. Very little of it is interesting anymore, which means that time can be allocated to better things. Family and reading are two areas that will win, but so will sleep; something that has been sorely lacking over the last couple of years.

Working hard has it's advantages, but there are limits to what people can expect from themselves. I've clearly pushed too far in too many directions for too long. It's time to be a little smarter4. It's time to disconnect.

  1. I'm seriously considering a straight [⌘]+[A]⇢[Delete] in both Outlook and Teams to start the day on Tuesday. Anything that is truly important will be sent again. Everything else can probably wait or — knowing how corporate "emergencies" tend to operate — be completely ignored.

  2. Last month I seem to have managed 250 hours of work, which is more than six weeks of effort put into a 22-day period that included national holidays.

  3. Given that I start at some point between 9:30am and 10:00am during the week, this seems reasonable.

  4. I say this a lot, particularly when it comes to better time management. This is something that really needs attention on my part.

Staring at the Night Sky

After the sun has set and the wind has slowed to a gentle breeze, I like to sit in the ballpark across the street and stare at the night sky. This is generally during Nozomi's evening walk and, because she's completely occupied with whatever might be on the ground, our attentions diverge. Every so often, though, she'll come sit next to me and ask for a little head massage while I ask her questions she can't possibly answer … verbally. This was certainly the case tonight after a small meteor or decommissioned satellite plummeted through the upper atmosphere and was obliterated with a colourful display of atmospheric friction at work.

Night Sky

"Do you ever just stare at the sky?" I asked her. Considering that Nozomi is a dog, I already knew both the answer and that she could not reply. It would be interesting to discover that a non-primate mammal on this planet, though. What would they think of the stars in the sky? Would they see shapes and create their own constellations? Would they perceive the points of light as spirits of ancestors looking down to provide guidance? Would they just look at the sky like we do a TV and enjoy the view for what it is?

When I was young, I imagined flying to the stars like the characters of Star Trek. Powerful starships would ferry people to and fro, exploring the wonders of the galaxy while also lending a hand where necessary. This isn't something that I will have the opportunity to do in my lifetime, but our descendants may have a chance in the coming generations as our technology continues to improve and the yearning to wade into uncharted territory compels people to take great risks for an opportunity of even greater rewards. Fortunately there is nothing stopping us from using a little imagination from time to time.

The stars have fascinated me for as long as I can remember and the local neighbourhood seems oddly suited for stargazing. Light pollution from the nearby cities does obscure a great deal of the spectacle above, but there are more distant points of light visible from here than most other places in the country that I've stayed. That said, the country tends to dim after 1:00am as many street lights, amusement centres, and other sources of light shut down until the morning. On the rare occasion where I've stepped outside the house in the middle of the night, the majestic sky is so captivating that it's hard to look away.

Having Fun

Today I managed to accomplish only one of the things I had on my To Do list, but tackled two others that should have been resolved long, long ago. The final issue required several hours more than I had anticipated, which meant that there was no time remaining to tackle the new API work that was planned for 10Cv5, but I'm happy that some of the core functionality that people have kindly put up without for almost a year has been restored in a better, more consistent fashion. Hopefully some of the other important elements can also receive attention in the near future.

All this said, this evening I noticed that I've actually been having fun these last few days. Sure, there are bugs that need attention, features that aren't quite right, and interfaces that need some love, but these things are generally interesting and provide the incentive to make the v5 platform a little bit better every time the opportunity avails itself … and sometimes when it doesn't. Before taking some time away from the day job it seemed that every time I would sit down at the computer there would be message after message outlining problems that generally did not need to exist but needed to be resolved with a velocity that neutrinos would struggle to match. Now, though, because I'm working on a personal project that has generally interested me since 2011 and because I've yet to succumb to the itch, sitting at a computer and digging through layers of hacky code can bring a smile to my face.

This is something I really should do more often. The family seems to prefer me with a smile. Nozomi enjoys her longer walks thanks to the lack of pressure from the Endless Inbox of Terror1. Heck, I'm sure my computers are happier, too. The challenge will be dedicating the time and sticking to the plan.

With just two days remaining in this short leave, I'm looking forward to seeing just how much I can get done. There isn't any chance that I'll get everything related to Journalling complete this week, but it should be perfectly feasible to get some of the scaffolding in place in such a manner that I can begin testing the UI over a period of time to refine how the features operate.

As hard as it is for me to believe, development has become fun again.

  1. This is despite all the rules that have been put into Outlook. If everything were to hit the Inbox, then email would be unbearable … moreso.