No Fancy Bread

A couple of weekends have passed since my last recipe post and a lot of this has to do with having a sick child at home. As anyone who has had kids or grew up with younger siblings will know, a young person will cough unabashedly over anything and everything in the house while they're ill. As someone who enjoys cooking and eating clean food, this means not doing anything special for a little while. Runny noses and excessive coughing aside, though, this illness has been good for the boy as it's his first time to have caught a cold. Hopefully his immune system will take this lesson in viral infections and become stronger as a result.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I don't remember being sick very often after recovering from a but of the chicken pox when I was around eight years old. That was not at all fun, and I still carry a scar from one sore that would break open every time I slept on my stomach, but it set me up to better protect myself against contagions. Not being one to seek physical contact with people, it was easy to completely refrain from coming into contact with classmates. I made a conscious effort to not touch things at school unless they were mine. I never ate around others. A self-imposed isolation to get around the very real problem of picking up germs.

This didn't mean I was a complete germaphobe, but I was very careful about how I interacted with the world. A lot of these habits continue to this day, though I cannot avoid physical contact with the boy or Nozomi. As a result, I am fortunate enough to say that I'm generally healthy most every day of the year. When I do catch something, though, it's a doozy.

As a result of all the proximity to a sick boy who coughs right in people's faces without restrain, I do have a bit of a sore throat. Wearing a mask does help a bit, but one can only block so much. Hopefully I won't get much more than a runny nose. The boy, however, is starting to feel much better after four days of medicine. He'll continue to have a cough for another week or so, and will probably carry around whatever virus he has for a week beyond that, but he's returning to his energetic self. Hopefully this will mean a return to the yummy bread recipes before October.

Sitting on a Park Bench

When Nozomi and I head out for our evening walk I like to stop by a covered bench in the park where we can both just rest and watch the world go by. There is rarely much action to be seen beyond some local residents walking their dogs or teenaged boys playing basketball on the dirt court nearby, but it’s an excellent place to think. This is usually what Nozomi and I do for about fifteen minutes every evening … though I don’t know whether my puppy does much with her time other than enjoy being in the moment, surrounded by fresh air and the sounds of nature.

Lucky puppy.

The Park Bench

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bad person. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too selfish, asking for things that I think I want, then finding I don’t actually want those things. This recurring idea has come up time and again as I think about my career, it’s path, it’s potential future, and where I want to be in five years. When I talk to people about my ambitions they usually tell me that what I have right now is really, really good and that I should be thankful for the freedoms and simply enjoy the moment, because any sort of movement within the organization would result in losing some of the flexibility I’ve been granted.

I understand where they’re coming from, and I appreciate the directness so many provide. I’m just not sure I can sit still. There’s still so much I’d like to do despite the dwindling number of working years that lie ahead. This is why I wonder if I’m an awful and selfish person. Do I ask for too much? Do I not appreciate what has been awarded to me?

These thoughts are best considered in near quiet isolation. Fortunately there is a covered bench not too far from my home where Nozomi and I can just sit. And think. And watch the world go by.

Four Year Old Bugs

How long can a bug in your software go unnoticed? As I discovered with 10C earlier today, the answer can be measured in years. The problem has been solved by replacing 9 incorrect characters with 5 correct ones, but the fact that the issue could exist for so long in a piece of software that I use every single day is disappointing. Fortunately this bug was little more than a CPU-sapping SQL query that returned some inaccurate statistics that few people look at. It could have been much worse.

Oops!

Over the years I've accepted that the code I write is far from perfect. There are certain goals that I am for, such as ensuring resources are carefully used and that operations finish in milliseconds rather than full seconds, but people are bound to make mistakes from time to time. One of the many things that I truly like about writing software is that fixes can usually be introduced fairly quickly, and often without anybody's knowledge. People just see that things work, and that's the way it should be.

Unfortunately not everyone can be this lucky.

Every Day

Jeremy Cherfas recently wrote about writing every day where he was reminded of a blogging challenge from a decade ago "when blogging was still new and exciting". The premise of the challenge was to write fifty posts of exactly 100 words for 50 consecutive days. For some people this would have been incredibly easy. For others it would have truly been a challenge as there was still a preconceived notion back in 2008 that blog posts had to have an audience. This idea has gone by the wayside, but the various challenges themselves are still very much part of the charm of being involved with a group of bloggers.

When I started blogging "for the long run" in 20061, I quickly discovered a group of writers who were full of optimism. People like Ms. Danielle, Nick Ramsay, Rob Neville, and dozens of others from all over the globe. We'd engage in various challenges and memes. We'd promote each other's posts. We'd fill each other's comments sections. We'd help out with projects whenever it was feasible. By 2008 Twitter's Fail Whales were appearing less often and the service's meteoric rise in popularity resulted in a lot of blogs being abandoned as people preferred the more immediate medium offered by the microblogging service ... which is exemplified by two of the links I posted to earlier going to Archive.org, and the other being for a site that hasn't seen an update in almost four years. People were writing a lot more than ever before, but in shorter bursts and often with a different set of goals in mind.

As with everything, the pendulum of popularity is swinging back from microblogging services and people who enjoy the challenge of conveying ideas in textual mediums are returning to longer forms of writing. While blogging will likely not reach the same level of hype as was experienced a decade ago, I'm quite happy to see sites that were once dormant for months at a time become more active. It's doubtful that people will consistently write every day for any length of time, even with an artificial word-count constraint to encourage creativity and motivation. However, with a little practice, the people who truly enjoy writing might just rediscover some of the joys that can come from publishing more complete thoughts online and interacting with readers in a more insulated environment.

In my case, while I would genuinely love to have something to publish every day, making the time to hammer out something cohesive and understandable is quite challenging. This doesn't stop me from trying, though.


  1. The posts from before October 2006 will not be making an appearance online anytime soon

Extortion Fail

There's an email making the rounds lately with the from line being your name and the subject a password from some time in the past. As this is something that is bound to grab people's attention, unless the've always used random password generators, consider this post a Public Service Announcement. Here's the message minus the password:

Scams and Extortion Won't Work When the Victims Don't Care

As far as email extortion attempts go, this one is pretty good. The perpetrator starts off with a password we'd likely recognise then cuts right to the chase. The demand here is pretty simple, send $4,000 USD1 in BitCoin within 24 hours or people I know will receive a video of me pleasuring myself to porn found on the Internet.

If I were 12, this would terrify me because I'd think my parents would ground me for being stupid online. As someone who has spent 20+ years on the Internet, being sent a video of someone fondling themselves — regardless of whether I know them or not — isn't going to make me think any less of them. If a video of me doing something like this was sent to everyone I knew, it might be embarrassing for a couple of days, but I doubt anything negative would happen as a result. I'm a faceless nobody and, ultimately, few people would care.

Whenever I see messages like this a couple of questions pop into my head. The first is "How many people will actually pay this price?" and the second is usually along the lines of "Why didn't they try just a little harder to make it more believable?"

There are a couple of problems that stood out when I received this message, and they could be easily addressed had the perpetrator put a little more thought into their extortion attempt.

1. Offer Some Pseudo-Evidence

Starting the email off with an out-dated password is all well and good for people who haven't updated their online credentials in 8+ years2, but the message tries to scare people by saying that a key logger has been installed on the system via a remote connection instigated via the browser, which made it possible to collect information from a device that I purportedly used while browsing pr0n. Just thinking that a key logger is on a system would be terrifying enough, given the number of servers and databases full of actually valuable, exploitable data I have access to. However, the person says that an image of me was captured from the webcam.

"Prove" it. Considering that most people who might actually have $4,000 USD available to convert to BitCoin and send are likely not pleasuring themselves at noon, what this means is that a tiny, fuzzy picture of someone in a dark room could be used as pseudo-evidence. Keep the picture tiny so that physical details are hard to make out, but ensure there's just enough of a face and a dark room visible to make it seem plausible. People using the web for pr0n will likely not have a webcam pointed at their genitals, so there's no need to get too specific.

2. Do What You Say

At the bottom of the message, the following sentence is seen: "I have a special pixel within this e-mail, and at this moment I know that you have read through this message."

There is no pixel in the message. There isn't even a Base64-encoded string in the body of the message that can be rendered into one. If you're going to say such a silly thing, then put a 1-pixel image file in the email even though most mail clients will strip it from the body and show the thing as an attachment. If there is going to be even a hint of a threat, see it through.

3. Don't Be Specific About Stupid Things

Finally, when wrapping up, don't be stupid and put an easily verified number in the message like "I definitely will send out your video recording to your 7 contacts". Seven? Seriously? For someone who claims to have access to my entire contact list, they clearly have no idea how many people I actually communicate with on a regular basis. Throw a big number in there that's harder to verify, like 181 or be vague about it like "I'll send the tape to everyone you've emailed this past week" or some such. The only content in this extortion attempt that should be correct and accurate is the BitCoin wallet ID. Everything else should be plausible, but not easily verifiable. When stoking fear you cannot trigger any sense of doubt in the victim's mind, otherwise you begin to slip on the offensive.

Better yet, get a bloody job

There are just so many things wrong with messages like this and I continue to wonder how people can look at themselves in the mirror every day if this is how they maintain their lifestyle. There are better ways to earn money online and most of the career opportunities available can result in a real sense of pride and self-worth. There is no reason that an individual or small team that is creative enough to come up with a scheme like this cannot instead create something of value that people would be willing to pay a respectable fee for.

Mind you, I am a naive idealist at the best of times.


  1. This might be a "bargain" as I received the same email yesterday demanding $5,000 USD
  2. I'm sure there are lots of people who have not updated their passwords ever, let alone in the last eight years.

An Excellent (Star Wars) Story

This weekend I managed to free up a few hours of time and decided to watch Rogue One, a Star Wars movie that has received quite a bit of criticism over the years. The loudest complaints tend to be along the lines of "this is not a Star Wars movie", "there are too many characters from the other movies", and "this movie was only made to sell more toys". As someone who does not consider himself part of the Jedi "religion" nor an avid Star Wars fan — which can be surmised by the fact it took me a few years before I could make the time to even see the movie — I don't see what the problem is. The movie was incredibly enjoyable. So much so that I watched it again the next day just to pick up any parts that I might have missed.

Rogue One Promo.jpg

Were there illogical elements of the story? Absolutely. Was Vader's "dad joke" to Krennic out of place? Not in the slightest. Was the word "hope" said too often? Perhaps, but only if you're looking at the surface of the word rather than the subtext that is conveyed within. We are essentially following a group made up of dissidents and terrorists1 who have very little chance of standing up to a galactic superpower and succeeding.

All this said, a hater's gotta hate.

Personally, Rogue One is one of the best Star Wars stories I've ever seen. No, I have not read all of the books2. I have not seen all of the cartoons and animated shows3. I have not bought the toys, played the video games, or attended conventions. None of these things really interested me, even when I was a youngling. However, I would put Rogue One ahead of them all save for Empire Strikes Back and maybe A New Hope. The Force Awakens is pretty good as well, but does not pull me in nor make me think about the plight of the characters nearly as much as Rogue One managed to do. This is probably why I enjoyed the movie so much, too. Unlike most other Star Wars films, this one made me think more about the characters and their histories, ambitions, and motivations than any other. These characters were a lot more real to me than most of the people seen in the prequels, save for Qui Gon Jinn, and a lot more relatable than those seen in the original trilogy.

Seriously. Rogue One is just a really well-told story.

I'm sure some people reading this will disagree and call me an idiot and that's fine. Nobody is required to like the new Star Wars any more than I am obliged to like the new Star Trek4. What I can hope for, though, is that people who dislike a thing do not poop all over other people's enjoyment of that same thing. There are better reasons to be angry than a 133-minute form of entertainment.


  1. This is pretty much what the rebel alliance would be classified as if they were here on Earth and going up against any western nation.
  2. I have read just about every Star Trek book, though.
  3. Do the Family Guy parodies count? Those were great fun!
  4. I don't like the new Star Trek. At all. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, though.

Half a Lifetime Ago

This morning Nozomi and I enjoyed our morning walk quite a few hours earlier than usual, as today I'll spend most of the day at HQ in Tokyo. Whenever we head outside before sunrise, I'm instantly reminded of the morning walks I used to take when in college and after moving to Vancouver. The difference now is that the early morning is a time for relaxation, whereas in the past it was to make the trek to school or work by foot to save money.

We all head into the future one day at a time, yet I'm consistently surprised by just how quickly those days add up to weeks, months, and years.

Considerations

How does a person go about finding their place in the world, and is a person's place geographic or cognitive in nature? Does it have to be one or the other? Given that people do evolve over time, does this mean that a person's place must also change or can it act as a constant that offsets the chaos that is modern living? Can excessive introspection erode a person's sense of place, resulting in an unnecessary abandonment of good fortune?

Road to Nowhere

Years of work at the day job have culminated in what I have today, which is actually pretty darn good when examined objectively. Analytical and problem-solving skills that atrophied while working in the classroom are now in use for the vast majority of each workday. I've been given an incredible amount of space in which to work, with the luxury of being able to make key decisions without first acquiring buy-in from others1. And the pay is better than I've ever received at any point in my life. All of this adds up to a situation that a million people around the world would give their left foot for without a second thought.

And yet ... I'm bored.

Working in a corporate environment — remotely or on premises — requires a certain set of skills that I neither have nor desire. A person needs to be comfortable with the politicking, the aimless meetings, the hidden agendas, the pockets of resistance, the wasteful spending and a whole lot more. Navigating through these road bumps and minefields takes away from the one thing that actually matters to me, which is best summed up as getting things done. This isn't to say that people inside corporations don't accomplish anything, as this is demonstrably false on so many levels. What frustrates me about working inside a corporation are the mismatched resources. Activities that require specialised resources often do not get them, while frivolous items seem to receive the most attention. Looking back at the companies where I was happiest, either as an employee or a contractor, the places where I felt the most comfortable employed fewer than 20 people. My employer, being a global organisation, has thousands on staff across four continents.

One of the many benefits of working in a smaller company is that every person plays an important role. Colleagues learn what each person is capable of and generally works towards making the most of those abilities. There are still the silly politicking, meetings, fiefdoms, and other energy traps inside a small business, but these generally seem much more manageable. At the end of the day, people understand that a small business heavily relies on each and every person.

Large organisations are better insulated against loss should one or more people decide to leave. This is generally why people feel safer when working at a big company, particularly in Japan. Companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and others will absorb mind-numbing losses for years before laying off full-time employees. This "safety" is attractive to a lot of people, particularly those with a mortgage and kids. My employer is nowhere near as large as big Japanese multi-nationals, though it tries to act like one.

Ultimately, my feeling of boredom does not come down to not having enough work, as there's plenty to go around and more that can be taken on just by raising a hand or sending an email. My restlessness comes from being unnecessary. There is nothing I do at the day job that cannot be done by another person. One of the few attributes that make me stand out from colleagues is my insistence that we not spend money and instead make better use of internal resources, such as people and existing hardware, but my opinions have long been unpopular among middle managers who don't care about budgets and just want accolades from above.

In the last two weeks I've had interviews with two potential employers to see whether there's a local company where I can actually feel useful. The first place would ask me to be a "sales engineer", and the second needs a generalist who can manage servers, databases, and a team of three. Neither pays as well as my current employer, and both would require me to make a 1 hour commute to and from the office five days a week, six during "peak time". This isn't appealing in the least.

A question that's been floating around my head for quite some time is whether I even want to work with computers anymore. While it's something I enjoy a great deal, there is nothing preventing me from writing code or working with databases as a hobby or occasionally as a freelancer. Working in a completely different field could be quite liberating, as it would require a new set of skills to be acquired and refined. A career walking dogs would likely fall short of paying the bills, but there are other options out there including ...

Going Back to School?

Not a month goes by where I'm not told I should work at a university in some capacity. The idea does have its appeal, though it would require a great deal of work up front. A doctorate degree takes a long time to earn, and the competition for professor positions is quite fierce. The challenge is not an impossible one, though. Given the opportunity, I would jump at the chance to study astrophysics and astronomy in great detail, then share my enjoyment of the subject with the next generation of people who want to learn about this vast universe we live in.

Is this realistic, though? I'll be 40 years of age next spring, which means a Ph. D wouldn't happen until 46 at the earliest. In that time bills will still need to be paid, food put on the table, and time spent with the family. These career-changing considerations can come across as incredibly selfish and terribly risky given the challenges in being hired afterwards. Is this something I should just set aside?

Nobody has ever said that being a responsible adult is easy. We need to have perspective and make decisions that benefit the many rather than the one. Yet when I think about where I'll be career-wise in five years, I can't imagine being patient enough to continue working as I am now. For all the good that has come as a result of writing software for the day job, I really wonder if my time there has run its course.


  1. For the most part. There are always exceptions.

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