All Good Things

Nozomi and I have covered a lot of ground in the neighbourhood since moving here almost seven years ago. Every park in a three kilometre radius with grass has been visited at least once. Every path for jogging and walking has been trekked at least once. Every large rock that puts off the slightest whiff of pheromones has been sniffed (by Nozomi). In five weeks' time, Nozomi and I will have a whole new neighbourhood with new parks to explore. To make matters more interesting, we may even have a new participant with some of our daily walks.

Nozomi and I Returning Home via "The Poopy Park"

So while many of the places that Nozomi has come to know and enjoy over the vast majority of her life will be too far for her to visit in the very near future, new people, places, and (hopefully) puppies await. I just hope she enjoys our new home as much as she's enjoyed this one.

Ideal Working Spaces

Given the opportunity to design your ideal working space, what would it look like? This is something I've thought a lot about over the last few years, particularly when employed as a developer, and is a topic that came up quite often during the design phase of the house Reiko and I are having built. In this home I'll have a bit of a dedicated space where it will be possible to set my computer down to do some work and — most importantly — leave the machine where it is at the end of the day. While a lot of people take desks and personal working space as a given, it's something I've not really had for well over a decade. At the end of every day, I need to put everything away so that my working area can be used by other people. This is true both at the day job, where I work inside a seldom-used classroom, and at home.

Given an unlimited budget or a very lenient employer, my ideal working space would be inside a library. One with large windows, row upon row of books, and clean tables where people come and go while respecting everyone else's space. Something along the lines of the image below, which is one of the many reading rooms at the University of Zurich, would suit me quite well.

Reading Room 2 at University of Zurich

What's unfortunate is that this sort of environment is quite difficult to have in one's home without vast reserves of wealth; something I will never possess. So, to keep things a little more realistic, my ideal working space for now would be a wide desk next to a window, where I could have my notebook connected to an external monitor or two, my podcasting equipment out and ready at any time, and a decent chair that would not make my body start to hurt after a few hours. Something like the image below, only in a better-lit room.

A Clean, Decent Working Space

What's great about having a dedicated workspace in the new house, aside from the fact that it's actually dedicated, is that Nozomi's sleeping mat will be right beside the desk. This will make it easier for her to remind me to take regular breaks and to get outside for some fresh air. Wins all around!

Of course, I'll be sure to share some pictures after the house is complete and everything gets set up. Only another few weeks to go!

Almost Ready for Occupancy

It's been a little while since the last update on the future home for my family, and today seems as good a day as any to share some of the many, many photos that have been snapped over the last seven weeks. As the first image below shows, quite a bit has been done and we're no longer looking at an empty plot of land with roped off sections outlining where the house will be. Instead, we actually have most of a home!

The Exterior

This past weekend saw the completion of the roof with the focus changing to the exterior walls where a moisture-resistant sheet was being applied to the frame. Hopefully by this time next week the siding will be completely installed so that the focus can return to the interior, where very little has changed in the last two weeks:

The Interior

One of the more interesting bits about seeing the house built is that both Reiko and I did not think the home was going to be as big as it actually is. Seeing drawings on A3-sized paper is quite a bit different from witnessing the real thing. Of course, our perceptions can't really be trusted given that we've spent almost 7 years living in a 1-bedroom apartment, the last 12 months of which has involved three people and a puppy sharing the same limited amount of space. Just about any home would look bigger by comparison. That said, this two-storey home will be a welcome change from the apartment we've lived in since returning from the Tokyo area in April of 2011.

One other interesting bit about home building in Japan is the amount of information that the neighbourhood gets to read before a family moves in. Right near the front door of the home is this board:

The Information Board

On here is my name — as the registered owner of the house — along with the name of the building company, the managers in charge of the construction, who to call should there be questions, and even the name of the sales person for the housing company1. This will likely result in a lot of neighbours knowing my name before I've even heard theirs. Of course, given that this is a home purchase and not a rental, I'll likely have several decades to learn everyone's name and where they live.

Construction is expected to be completed in a few weeks, likely while I'm in the US for business. We'll have the keys to the place on March 31st, and will move in less than two weeks later on the 12th of April.

  1. a really stand up, patient guy. If only all salespeople were as awesome as this guy, we'd all wind up being happier customers.

A Losing Battle

For as long as I can remember, sweets have been one of the more forbidden pleasures of life. As a child, there were the sneaky trips to the cookie jar at night for a forbidden snack. As a teen there were lunchtime donuts consisting of frosting and jam. As a young adult there was pretty much anything I wanted, considering I lived alone for a decade and was gainfully employed for most of that time. Sometime around 30 this began to change. While the occasional sweet was still very much enjoyable, the quantity I wanted waned. By my mid-30s, having a sugary sweet was something I could do no more than twice a week before feeling queasy. Last year, at the age of 37, I noticed that while there was still the desire to enjoy a chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate bar, or donut, I'd often lose interest after smelling the food. Not always, mind you, but often enough that the body's disinterest in sugary foods could not be ignored.

Refined Sugar Up Close

Not wanting to gorge on foods and beverages rich in refined sugar certainly has its benefits. Our bodies change over time and this is likely yet another sign that middle age wants to wrest the last vestiges of youth away in the hopes that I give up the illusion of invincibility and accept my fate as an ordinary human, as frail and flawed as anyone who has ever walked the planet. What I find interesting about this change is its selectiveness. Carbohydrates, foods that are incredibly rich in all kinds of sugars and starches, are still very much a part of my diet and I enjoy these with every meal of every day. Bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta are not disappearing off the table anytime soon. So what is it about the sugar in snack foods that is no longer interesting?

Unfortunately I don't have the answer to this question. What I can say is that it's nice that the body is providing a natural reason to ignore the sugary treats. I just wish the mind would also stop reminding me of how much I used to enjoy the unhealthy foods from my past.

How to Tie Your Shoes

This week marks the official start of the big corporate re-alignment project that I will be flying to New Jersey to participate with next month, and one of my colleagues who has been an integral part of the LMS project is in attendance for some of the preliminary, non-technical meetings that will set the tone and direction for the coming year. Given the high hopes a lot of people are pinning on this project, it's interesting to hear that the LMS that I've worked on over the last two years has been gathering a lot of attention. So much so that my colleague has been asked to deliver some demos and walk-throughs of the project and how it's impacted school operations across Japan. Given that he's been the main project lead since development officially started in 2016, this is an excellent opportunity for him to show off the fruits of his labours. However, as the sole developer of the system, people have reached out to me via email and Skype to ask a number of questions about the future of the project and whether it can be adapted to work for schools in different countries.

"Of course it can be adapted to work in other countries," I tell them. "It's just software."

Wearing Nice Shoes

A lot of people want to know what's next for the project and whether it can survive going from being developed by a single person to a team of people around the globe1. Some want to know whether something designed to be used in Japan can really be used in countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Switzerland. Others think it's an interesting concept, but wholly unnecessary given that we had software that sort of kind of did a small bit of what the LMS is capable of. What I find most interesting is that the questions being asked are the wrong ones. Wrong not because they're born from the typical tunnel vision that afflicts organisations around the world, but wrong in the sense that they skirt around the actual question that people are hinting at but never directly stating:

Why are people — particularly managers and teachers — excited about this tool?

It's this why that should be asked again and again because that's really the only way to understand why so much of the other software that's been created for this company by very smart people around the world has failed to live up to the needs of the people who actually do the work. This isn't to say that the project I worked on is necessarily better. From a technological standpoint, it's downright archaic in how it accomplishes its purpose. From a business process point of view, however, it's perfectly aligned. Considering how I worked in the classroom for almost a decade before developing the LMS with the support of some very smart people, this shouldn't come as a surprise at all. Too much of the software companies rely on are created by people who mean well, but don't fully understand how the processes, people, and cultures within an organisation mesh together to create the businesses that customers interact with. Or, in the case of my employer, students.

One of the key ideas that I hope to share with my global colleagues when we meet in New Jersey is this notion of asking why until we reach the real reason behind a project or a feature request. It's something a former colleague/mentor of mine taught me, and it's been incredibly useful over the years despite the plethora of software projects I've created that served nobody but me.

So here's a simple question: why do so many of us tie our shoes with a knot?

Taking this question all the way back will have us ask fundamental questions about the kinds of shoe we buy, the reasons we buy them, the goals we hope to accomplish, and eventually the reason we wear shoes at all. A lot of the people I've worked with — no matter how smart — have often stopped asking why at the first or second level. When it comes to solving complex problems, this is just not good enough. Problem solvers and solutions providers need to go much deeper than one or two levels. We need to reach the core. Otherwise, anything we create to solve a problem is just an incomplete idea.

  1. to add a little bit of fun, the project needs to change from being a self-hosted tool on a LAMP stack to being written to run completely within the Salesforce ecosystem; a platform I've never worked with. It should be interesting and lead to even better opportunities going forward.

The Best Things In Life

The old adage that boldly states that the best things in life are free was clearly coined by a person who enjoyed walking their dog in the morning. Nozomi is fast approaching her eighth birthday but you wouldn't know it from the way she attacks the local parks, sniffing every blade of grass along the way.

Nozomi Enjoying a Walk

In less than two months we'll walk these familiar walking paths one last time before moving six kilometres to our new home. Fortunately, the parks in the new neighbourhood are even closer than the ones we currently enjoy.

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