Remixing KPLX

At some point in the last year of App.Net, I stumbled upon KritzelKomplex. It's an independent German comic that has since been renamed KPLX1, and it features a cast of very cute worms that provide commentary on the world we live in. At some point some of the comics seemed to be "open to interpretation" and, not wanting to let the Creative Commons license the comics are under go to waste, I decided to blank out the speech bubbles and insert my own commentary. I called them "remixes", and most centre around Star Trek in some fashion. This was the first one I shared:

001 - Harry Kim As Hero

Not particularly funny, but I thought it was a nice take on the J.J. "Sparkle Trek" that has reshaped many people's opinion of Star Trek. Other short strips poke fun at the CBS lawsuit against Axanar and the "new rules" around fan-made productions, comment on the recent Pokemon craze, or mirror the fevered panic that permeates the news industry. But some of my favourite strips are just silly. Like this one:

022 - Clippy Wants to Help

If you think this one looks familiar, it's because it was also used for the fan-made Star Trek productions above. Clippy was added and the rest of the story pretty much wrote itself.

Recently there haven't been too many of these remixes made, primarily because the concepts I had planned were all politically motivated and that's a subject I'd rather leave to others. The reworking of these strips can certainly touch on topical subjects, but why spoil a perfectly good comic with comments about Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, or Trudeau2 when one can riff on Star Wars fans?

012 - Sensitive

Much of my humour makes use of obscure references that only a small group of people might pick up on, but today's remix was a little different. Something that's been bugging me for days has been Bill Cosby's sexual assault mistrial. A lot of people have over-simplified the case as a "he said, she said", but nearly five dozen women have come forward in the last few years to say that Cosby has done some pretty horrible things to them. The likelihood of this being "just a misunderstanding" or "a post-intercourse revocation of permission" or "the actions of a woman digging for gold" is absurd and the way the victim was portrayed in court, by some of the press, and by armchair lawyers on the Internet denigrates all women who have been subject to abuse and rape from famous assaulters. It just seems that, regardless of the mountain of evidence that might be produced, powerful men who think with their penis can get away with assault just because they earned millions by being an actor or an athlete.

So I remixed this original comic to this:

028 — Lizabeth Salander

It actually felt good to get it out there. It felt good to see these two worms say something that a lot of others would probably agree with. And while I do not condone violence, I do appreciate the idea of justice. This simple, three-panel strip with its obscure literary reference communicates more in seventeen words than all of the words in this blog post.

I should do this more often.

If you haven't already, do check out KPLX. It's really funny and, even if you don't understand German, the expressions on the characters faces are worth seeing. The artist3 also has a Patreon page so, if you can spare a few dollars a month, it'd be great to support and encourage more of this person's work going forward.

As for the remixes, I'll continue to make them, though most will be visible only on Nice.Social, which you can find under the hash #KritzelRemix.


    as an homage to XKCD, perhaps?
  1. As I'm still Canadian, I do pay quite a bit of attention to Canadian politics ... for reasons I'm not completely sure about.
  2. I don't know the artist's name, unfortunately

Questions

Why is it that my mind can spend such an incredible amount of time seeking answers to questions it is unable to formulate? Why is it that despite the incredible run of good fortune over the last 18 months, I am generally unhappy and generally alternating between light depression and extreme rage? It makes no sense. It serves no greater good.

I want to be happy. I want to be able to brush off the little nuisances that crop up in everyday life. These are not impossible objectives, and yet they are. Is this just a lack of sleep? Is it from a lack of personal time? Is it something else? So many questions. So few answers.

A City Park at Night

A City Park at Night

Scenes like this can lull a person into a false sense of security regardless of where they might happen to be in the world. An empty park in the middle of a busy city during the late evening should be a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the daylight hours. Yet here in Japan people tend to stay away from the parks after sunset to avoid people who might do them harm. This is fine by me, though, as it means I can enjoy walking through a scenic area on the way home from work without dodging cyclists, runners, or anyone else that might want to spend some time closer to nature.

There may be safety in numbers, but there's solitude in none.

Renaming and Rejuvenating

Over the last few years the name of the software powering the 10Centuries service was, for lack of a better name, 10Centuries. While this works fine for services that operate in isolation, it can make for a bit of confusion when talking about something. The next version of the software will be doing something I've wanted to offer for years with 10C and allowing people to host their own instance of the service. In order to keep things simple, I've decided to rename the software starting with the next version simply to v5.

For people who have been using or watching the development of the current site, the first question will undoubtedly be something like "what about all the half-written features in the existing software?" A valid question, too. I plan on completing a few more items for the current platform before putting more attention into v5. Photos and ToDos have some more updates coming, as does the long overdue Comments API, which is functional but has not yet been implemented across the various site themes. With these three key areas complete, it will then become possible to focus on the next version of the software while also seeing whether the newer updates are remotely popular.

One difference with how v5 will be developed compared to other projects I've worked on involves documentation. This is an area that I've been historically weak at, often writing a few pages only after being rightfully pestered by people who are showing an interest in the system. With v5 I plan on writing and updating the documentation with each and every commit. This will hopefully keep everything better aligned and up to date. More than this, the documentation will be part of the software package. This will make it possible for people to read about the tool while offline. A small thing, perhaps, but completely doable given the files will all be plaintext with standard Markdown formatting.

What's Going In v5?

v5 will have a number of features that I've not seen anywhere else. People will naturally be able to publish blog posts, podcasts, social streams, and other basic things that many publishing tools can already do, but it will also allow for automatic backups across servers. This can be to other servers that a person operates, servers operated by people they trust, or to the main 10Centuries service itself. By doing this, a person can safeguard their data from being lost forever if a server goes offline. The feature will be an opt-in service, of course, and encryption will be used at every level to ensure only authorized access to the data.

This distribution mechanism is also how the social feeds will be managed. Rather than have a social client that subscribes to different feeds like an RSS mechanism, the posts will be read into the same server pools, and distributed this way. People will still have the option to selectively subscribe to accounts on different services, of course. The pool would simply allow for a global timeline to exist.

Some other nice features that will go into v5 include:

  • IndieWeb support out of the box
  • JSONFeed support out of the box
  • Archive.org support out of the box
  • Podcast download stats
  • Simpler website templates
  • Bi-directional sync with other social networks
  • and quite a bit more

Why?

Why not? I've looked around at a number of the open options for a lot of the core and bonus features I'd like to see in a package like v5 and found some great work hidden behind incredibly complex configurations. v5 is going to me my attempt to simplify this stuff as much as possible. Software is still too complicated in 2017. I think we can do better.

Development of v5 will happen in the open via GitHub, and people are encouraged to participate if they choose. While it will be impossible to appease everybody, it shouldn't be improbably to satisfy many.

Nozomi the Puppy

Some people walk away from the computer during their lunch break. Me? I like to fiddle around with pictures while trying to learn how to make a very specific kind of image.

Nozomi the Puppy

If you're interested, the full-resolution image can be downloaded here.

Thinking About A New Pastime

For as long as I can remember, the night sky has been bathed in light pollution. While growing up in Southern Ontario, bright lights from the nearby cities would obscure all but the brightest of stars. In Vancouver the problem was exacerbated due to the sheer size of the city. In Japan, there are clear nights where even Orion's Belt is practically invisible due to the overwhelming intensity of omnidirectional lamps that scratch away at the darkness, as though the nation's residents were terrified of imaginary monsters that lurked in the shadows. Never have I seen the Milky Way with my own eyes. Never have I peered through a telescope to see the planets closest to our home. Despite all this, my passion for space and the exploration of the universe has been as constant as the northern star, and I'd like to do something with it.

Northern Lights at Washington Pass

In the summer of '99, I joined UCB's [email protected] project and have contributed a portion of my CPU cycles ever since. Over these 18 years, I've not been credited with a single discovery of an extraterrestrial signal but, as one might expect, neither has anyone else. Since this time, though, thousands of planets outside our solar system have been discovered and more are identified and confirmed every week. Most worlds are detected with methods such as measuring a star's radial velocity and transit photometry, or via reflection/emission modulations and relativistic beaming, or examination of ellipsoidal variations, pulsar timing, variable star timing and transit timing. All of these have worked in the past to identify worlds both large and small in our galactic neighbourhood. But I'd like to do something different. I'd like to use direct imaging to try and identify worlds around distant stars.

The problem is not a small one. Seeing a planet light years away amid the glare of its host star is akin to spotting a dime on the ground next to a bonfire from a kilometre away. It's not an impossible task, but it's not an easy one, either. There are dozens of teams at universities around the world working on this and, as of today, fewer than a dozen planets have been identified through direct imaging. They're all the size of Neptune or larger, and they're all pretty far away from their host star. What I'd like to do is take a crack at writing software that can help out.

NASA makes a lot of its data available to the general public, as do many universities around the world. What I hope to do is acquire a large number of images from various sources and begin the search for planets by writing the software that'll analyze photos from the same patch of sky again and again looking for differences. When something is found, then I can take a look and see what sort of pattern was found. If the results look like a planet orbiting a distant star, then I can see if the world has already been catalogued and perhaps pass on some more information. If the world has not been catalogued, then I'll be as giddy as a child on Christmas Eve. There are a lot of stars out there, and there's no reason to believe that I couldn't help the scientific community just a little bit, even if it turns out I've done little more than corroborate the existence of worlds already identified.

Ultimately, this will give me the ability to write some software that will hopefully add value to something that has genuinely fascinated me since I was a young boy watching Star Trek with my father. I don't get a lot of free time anymore, but I do have the opportunity to sit down, study patterns, and create algorithms that can do the same work with greater efficiency. Who knows, perhaps by working on software like this, another avenue will open up in the future.

One can certainly dream ...

We Shouldn't Be a Fan of Our Work

Last year, after almost a decade of circumventing rules at the day job to help people serve students better, I was moved out of the classroom and into a full-time development role to continue doing what I was doing as an instructor, but without all the cloak and dagger to make it happen. A lot of people were happy with the news, including myself. It meant that I could play a role in making something that colleagues all over the country might find value in, rather than something that just a handful of schools would use without really saying much to upper management about it. Over the last 15 months, though, I've come to dread going to work. I despise checking email. I want to be invisible on Skype all the time or, better yet, just shut the distraction down so that I can make it through the day without wanting to hurl a computer five stories to the pavement below1.

The problem is not with my colleagues. The problem is not with the endless complaints from people who storm into the little space where I do my work. Believe it or not, the problem is not even with the sound of silence from human silos within the organization who refuse to share their knowledge of the home-grown CMS my project must interface with. The problem boils down to a very fundamental issue that will never be resolved so long as I am working for someone else.

The issue is the result of an unsharable vision.

Steve Jobs and the First iPad

Way back in 2010, soon after Steve Jobs walked on stage and showed the world the iPad, I started thinking about how such a device could be used in education. By that time I had been teaching for almost three years and had the hubris to think that I could write software for a tablet that would make education easier for teachers, students, and all the support staff that are required to make a school function. Looking back at the early design sketches, I almost cringe at the naivety on display. The concepts I was dabbling with were far too similar to the way Microsoft approached tablet software in 1999.

Suffice it to say, the sketches went nowhere and I shelved the idea for a few years, revisiting the idea whenever I'd read an article about how tablets were being used in education.

Fast forward to 2013, I was asked to create a special kind of report for a new type of class that was being trialled in the area. Excel was a mainstay at the day job, and every report we gave to students or their sponsor came from this spreadsheet software. Me being me, I was one of the few people responsible for writing all of the reports in the region to ensure that every student and every sponsor would see a consistent message with consistent formatting and consistent quality. This new kind of report, though, needed something that Excel was not particularly good at without a complex series of macros. Instead, I used this opportunity to push through an idea that had been bouncing around in my head since the year before: build a data-collection website that is designed to be finger-friendly so that teachers simply tap-tap-tap their feedback and let the database do the heavy lifting.

Selling the idea was not easy, as people "just wanted an Excel report", but I used a long weekend to prototype the site and build some dummy reports. I presented it to the managers the following week, and they loved it.

This was shortly after my employer had rolled out iPads to all of the schools in a bid to make us seem more efficient and professional. Both counts failed and the project was bleeding money but, again, I had enough hubris to think that I could push through my own agenda while using company resources to solve company problems. Within six months the project had expanded to include several different types of reports, and people were generally happy with the system. A few times the project came close to being shut down when certain members of IT learned of the project2, but there was always just enough pushback from the local schools to keep the project alive.

In 2015, after a redesign of the iPad software teachers were supposed to use in class, a number of people gave up trying to use the tablets in the classroom. We still had to use them to record attendance, lesson goals, homework, and other details, but a large portion of the teaching staff gave up trying to use the tablets beyond the bare minimum. The problem was that the software was poorly designed for the job it was hired to do. The textbook application was nothing more than a frustrating PDF reader that stuttered and crashed every 15 minutes. The pedagogical tool was sluggish, hard to look at, and buried all of the student profile information, making it very difficult to learn more about students — or record updates — before walking into a classroom. Despite transitioning from paper to digital two years beforehand, people were pining for the day when we'd drop the iPads and go back to paper records. The older textbooks that made use of cassette tapes were easier to use and less embarrassing than the iPad software.

So I decided to do something about it.

Again, over a long weekend, I mocked up a new pedagogical system that would work on the tablets while making the system easier to use for teachers and staff. Information would be easier to find and filter. Textbooks would be searchable and come with custom lesson plans to help inexperienced or fatigued teachers. Reports — my specialty — would be built in to the pedagogical system meaning that teachers would spend less time writing them while students and sponsors received more data from them. In the space of four days the demo was ready and I started to show it around to people at the day job.

People loved it. Managers loved it. Even some of the students commented and said that it looked simpler. HQ, however, wouldn't hear of it. There were processes and procedures and hierarchies to obey, and I was bucking the system. They demanded it be shut down, even though there was zero student information in the system. I "conveniently forgot" to do so.

Then, in the fall of 2015, an interesting thing happened. The president of the company caught wind of these projects I was working on and asked to see them. He then asked why I "was being wasted". A week later I was approached with the opportunity to transfer to do software development in the IT department and, in March 2016, it became official. That 4-day design of the pedagogical replacement system is still being worked on and refined today, and people are generally happy with it ... except when they aren't.

Back to the Problem

Earlier I said that my problem boils down to a very fundamental issue that will never be resolved so long as I am working for someone else, and this is completely accurate. I have been working quite hard on the problem of creating effective software for use in education for almost five years, the first four years of which was in near isolation where I was able to design and implement features and functions as I saw fit. When I would watch people interact with my software, I would find problems. These were often actions they would do that I never once considered, and I would go back and find a better way to support their goals while also ensuring mine were met. People would come at me with ideas or complaints, and I'd listen and find ways to make the system better for them, again ensuring that my goals for the system were not lost along the way. The way I looked at the tool was very simple: the UI is for the teachers, the printed reports are for the students, the database is for me.

By doing this I was able to create something that teachers actually liked to use. Students were happy. I had a nice database full of numbers from which to quickly answer questions from managers.

Since moving into a role with IT this has changed. People at HQ are accustomed to working with software that fights you every step of the way. Want to record someone's attendance? You'd best have 3 minutes to spare, because what used to be a circle or an X on a piece of paper needs to be infinitely more complex in the name of "security". Want to know what textbook your student will be using after they finish their current book? Go ask one of the school's support staff, because the teaching software will not let you know that information without a fight. This is the state of corporate software in the world, and the previous solutions for the iPad and schools all came from this group of people. My software with it's opposite approach to the same problems is completely alien to the way they think about the job. This isn't a criticism or a disparagement. It's a fact. They're looking at problems as A⇢B⇢C⇢...⇢Z, and I'm looking at problems as A⇢F⇢Z.

It's no wonder there is a great deal more confusion at head office than at the schools. It's no wonder that when members of the various departments in Tokyo report "bugs" in my software, it's because they're not accustomed to software understanding a person's job and performing a bunch of steps transparently on their behalf. From a big picture point of view, I completely understand this. In the heat of the moment when I'm reading that email or new issue on GitHub that has nothing to do with an actual bug and everything to do with making the software harder to use, however ...

Flip that Table!

I'm too close to the project. I've invested a great deal of time and effort into making something that is designed to be used by people who really couldn't care less what the corporate interests are. That's why I invested so much time into making the UI for the people who would actually use the software rather than the people making snap decisions months after the initial decisions had already been made. This is why I call people people instead of using the same language as other people in the corporate structure. The whole thing has been designed to serve the people at the bottom of the totem pole. HQ wants things changed to serve their interests3, and I am growing tired of pushing back.

There are, of course, a lot of people that I've worked with over the last year at HQ who do understand the goals of this project and have gone to bat on my behalf more times than I can count. A lot of very smart people with very sharp insights have helped take a rough idea hammered out in 4 days through to the state it's in today. Many of them are just as frustrated with the various emails, non-issues, and Friday 5:30pm deployment cancellation calls as I am. But there's not much that can be done to change this. The vision of the project is simply too foreign at the moment for people, and the sole developer is too angry all the time to cast it in a positive light. I really need to take a step back ...

... and another step ...

... and one more.

Because it really doesn't make much sense to continue dreading going into work. There is a lot of good about going in, too. I like a lot of my colleagues. I like the ridiculous amount of freedom I have within the organization. I like seeing people use my software without realizing they're doing more in 30 seconds today than they did in 5 minutes last year. It's a great feeling! I just need to stop being so attached to this specific project.


  1. This would be especially bad, given that I'm using my computers at the day job.
  2. these are the same people I work with now
  3. 15 months into the project, mind you ...

Where Are All the Personal Blogs?

Blogging seemed to be everywhere a little over a decade ago. Anyone and everyone had their own site. People were commenting and pinging each other with aplomb. Technorati was a way to find interesting sites rather than just another advertising network. The way we interact with each other online has evolved immensely since those early days of blogging, but millions still write for their own site to share hobbies, passions, knowledge, and just about anything else one might want to read about. The problem is finding these sites without the use of the big, social silos that have all but put website discovery behind a paywall1. Search engines can help find sites on specific topics, of course. The trouble is sifting through all the commercial sites to find the non-profit ones that haven't been abandoned.

There has got to be a better way ...


  1. Facebook, Twitter, and other large companies may not charge people money to use their services, but they're most certainly not free.

What (Real) Problem Am I Trying to Solve?

Over the last year or so, I've invested a good amount of time into learning about blockchain, JSON, encryption, and a myriad of other tools that could be used in the next big version of 10C. After a great deal of research, I've come to the conclusion that blockchain is not what I'm looking for as a means of message validation and will instead fall back on other methods that employ technologies that are much easier to explain and verify. In addition to this, I've been looking at a number of other projects that are quite active across the web such as IndieWeb and JSON Feed1 to make the next version of the platform something people might actually want to use themselves. Yet, despite the effort going into the research and pre-development, a lingering question remains: what real problem am I trying to solve here?

There are already a number of open-source blogging tools that are admittedly much better in terms of UI and web standards than 10C. Why am I not simply using one of these as part of the larger goal? The same is said for social networking, photo sharing, notes, todos, and just about everything else I've been slowly building into the 10Centuries platform. What could possibly make anything I make better than setting up a NextCloud instance with a bunch of plugins to fill in the gaps?

It's a problem I struggle with because, while I am very much interested in helping people keep the words and images they want to share with the world online for a millennia, do I need to do it with a software platform that I build rather than one assembled from various open projects around the web? What could possibly make 10C better than WordPress with a myriad of plugins? Despite what people might want from the 10C platform, it is a silo. Even in v5, which involves a globally distributed system of servers operated by anybody who might want to participate, the system is a silo. A silo that anybody could operate, but a silo nonetheless.

Is this what people actually want? Would I be better off investing my time contributing to open projects that already have large, vibrant communities and encouraging adoption of ideas rather than of software?

One of the reasons these thoughts have been rolling around in my head is because I'm downright exhausted, and any amount of free time I might have enjoyed in the past is all but gone as a result of expectations elsewhere. This tiny blog post right here required 8 separate attempts across three devices and 30 hours to complete. This right here. Which is the length of something I used to bang out on an iPod Touch with Evernote while on the train to work. Despite all of my best efforts I just feel as though I'm letting people down as a result of diverted attention, and I really dislike letting people down.

So what is the real problem I am trying to solve with future versions of the 10C platform? Automatic distribution of encrypted content across servers to act as a backup for friends/family when systems go down? Self-hosted community creation on minimal hardware? An API-driven system that is open enough for people to easily create their own tools that interact with the system? Yes on all counts. But does it need to be something that I've written top to bottom? Is absolute control over the software stack really that important to me? Is it important to others? This is the question I need to answer ....


  1. this one will make its appearance in the existing version of 10C quite soon

Podcasts

One of the very first podcasts I regularly listened to was The Talk Show, hosted by Dan Benjamin and John Gruber. Within a few months this list had grown to include Back to Work with Merlin Mann, Hypercritical with Jon Siracusa, and Build and Analyze with Marco Arment. All of these shows were hosted on the budding 5by5 podcasting network, and they all had similar themes depending on the time of year. A number of podcasting networks have come and gone since then. Some have evolved. Some have stagnated. But the wonderful thing about these shows is that just about anyone can make them so long as they put in the time and effort.

Podcasts I Listen To

Over the last few months I have not been speaking into the microphone very often, though I have been producing a bunch of Japanese shows that are starting to see some mild success in terms of downloads. Many of these shows have several thousand downloads per episode, and a few have even been approached by companies who are looking for advertisement reads. A wonderful sign of success.

That said, I miss having my own shows. Ones where it's my voice that's going out on the Internet. The issue comes down to a lack of time, and this lack of time has resulted in a number of the projects I want to work on taking a back seat to responsibilities that must be taken care of. All this is fair enough, but I still look forward to the day when I can get behind the microphone again and start putting out my own shows.

But on what subject?

There are a number of show ideas that have been put down on paper over the last few months, but few seem to have a shelf life beyond six or seven episodes. Some of the show ideas include:

  • having a kid in Japan
  • buying a house in Japan
  • a picture and 1000 words1
  • interviewing Japanese podcasters

These are all things that I'm pretty much doing right now, though not as a podcast. Would any of these appeal to me long enough to invest the time into? The first two show ideas would be for others rather than myself, which is fine. Sharing information of this kind could be incredibly useful to expatriate parents who call Japan their home. Is it something that can carry for an entire year, though? The last show idea is essentially Show Me Your Mic but with a focus on the Japanese podcast community. The show wouldn't make sense to put out in English, though, as the podcasters would not really grow their listener base.

This third idea, though, is something I've unsuccessfully been trying to build into 10C as a feature called "Places". I say it's unsuccessful because the feature is not yet released and is not fully conceptualized. There are some gaps in the tool to make this something people might be interested in, though it's most certainly an "art project". As a podcast, it would involve taking a single photo of a place, and sharing that with a short audio description describing what is not in the picture. This could be historical references, common uses, or what popular location it's adjacent to. Theatre of the mind, so to speak.

Is this something people would listen to, though? Of the four show ideas, this is the one that I would find most interesting, even if the show didn't break 100 downloads per episode. One of the things that I tend to see online is a focus on what people can see, rather than what they cannot. Going in a different direction from what's expected would be quite unique, I think.

But then there's the time issue. Where would the time come from?

If something is important enough, a person will make the time to do that thing. The question I need to ask myself is whether this is important or not, and go from there.


  1. this is something I've considered for the longest amount of time, as it sounds like an interesting idea. Take a picture of an area and, in 1000 words, describe what's not in the picture to give the image context.

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