A Place to Relax

Over the last few weeks I've been trying to remember the last time I felt really relaxed for more than a handful of hours. "Slow time" has all but disappeared since moving out of the classroom and into a development role at the day job. This isn't just because of all the new responsibilities and expectations that arose from the career shift, but a rapid series of changes at home, too.

Reiko received her master's degree in March of 2016 and almost immediately received an offer to work at a university, a dream she's had for as long as I've known her. Then I moved into my new role at the day job. A few weeks later we discovered Reiko was pregnant with the boy. Then we invested a great deal of effort into getting everything and everyone ready for a new member of the family. Then the boy was born, which drastically changed ... everything. While getting accustomed to parenthood, we took on the challenge of buying a house, which I've documented on this site quite a bit.

And all the while Nozomi patiently waited for everything to slow down and return to normal. Or as normal as one can hope for, considering the new addition to the family.

One of the many things I've wanted from moving into our new home is the ability to slow down and enjoy time with the people and puppies closest to me. While there are still a lot of constraints as everyone settles into the new neighbourhood, I have made sure to set aside an extra bit of time for Nozomi. She doesn't ask for much aside from nice walks, nice tummy rubs, and a nice meal twice a day. These things are not too much to ask for and, fortunately, there is a lovely photogenic park literally 45 seconds from our front door.

Nozomi Enjoying the Scenery

Nozomi Exploring the Grass

Hopefully Nozomi doesn't mind if I use our walks to do a little photography.

Yes. Blogging Should Be Easy.

Rajiv Abraham recently asked "Do We Really Want Blogging to Be As Easy and Simple As Tweeting?" and, despite all of the concerns that he raises in his post, the answer is unquestionably "Yes". There should be zero barriers for any person in the world to share what they want to share online, regardless of our opinion of the content. This is the freedom that was promised with the general availability of the Internet, and it's a freedom that we should fight to protect. To discriminate against ideas — even bad ones — sets the stage for powerful groups to censor anything they disagree with. As someone who has a history of having bad ideas and being wrong, I am not keen on losing my voice so that someone I've never met might not take offence to my words.

The crux of Rajiv's argument is laid out in his first three paragraphs:

The problem with the Internet today is that just about everybody is an expert. People have labeled themselves creator, blogger, influencer, journalist, author, etc. The problem really isn’t the labeling, it’s the access to platforms like Twitter and Facebook that has given everybody the power to troll and spread misinformation, even deliberately.

Imagine that happening with independent blogs. Right now all you need to do is block Twitter and Facebook to stop with most of the negativity, trolls, and the fake news. Give these 2 websites a wide berth, and you are safe for the most part, though mainstream media continues to be a problem.

Now imagine all of the fake news, trolling, and negativity amplified a 100 times. Going to be really hard to get away from, but that’s exactly what will happen if the barrier to blogging is as simple and easy as access to Facebook and Twitter.

Funny story; we've had this before. Between 2005 and 2012 the number of blogs containing deliberately misleading or "fake news" measured in the millions, and search engines indexed them all. SEO was all the rage and people who were investigating anything online would have to wade through dozens if not hundreds of poor-quality websites to find real information. As walled gardens such as Twitter and Facebook captured people's attention away from blogs, people who wanted to spread their words (and malware) adapted to use the social networks and the blogs that preceded the social network migration became derelict and eventually faded as domain names expired and hosting packages were cancelled.

Something in me wishes that self-hosted blogging continues to require some knowledge of domain registration and web hosting, use of FTP/SFTP, some basic HTML and CSS, knowing the difference between categories and tags, some knowledge to be able to link out to other websites, etc.

"Bad" websites didn't go away because there was a barrier to entry. An afternoon on WPBeginner will give a person the requisite step-by-step to acquire hosting (free or paid), buy a domain name, install WordPress, and begin spreading lies and hate to anyone who might be interested in the topic. But an afternoon on WPBeginner can also give a person the step-by-step to set up a blog where they can share pictures of their dog, or their favourite recipes, or foreign language writing practice. Throughout my life it's been made incredibly clear time and again that for every jerk we encounter, there are several dozen awesome people who unconsciously make this world the interesting and wonderful place that it is.

Should blogging be as easy and simple as Tweeting? Absolutely. 100% yes. Would an artificial barrier to entry protect anyone from reading articles they deem to be trash, or "fake news", or hurtful lies? Not at all. If anything, any artificial barrier to entry would just make it harder for the billions of awesome people we haven't met to share their sliver of happiness.

Productivity After Midnight

Twenty years ago my most productive hours were between 10pm and 3am. This is when I could get most of my homework done, and this is when "inspiration" would strike and I'd invest hours on whatever idea had triggered the surge of ideas and adrenaline. These night-owl hours became a lot more difficult to maintain after accepting a full-time job that expected an alert person at the store no later than 8:00am six days a week, but when the weekend would arrive I'd be right back to staying up half the night while creating something that did not exist the day before. Unfortunately the habit came to an abrupt end in 2007 when I moved to Japan.

Black Watch Face

An abrupt end until recently, that is.

My sleep patterns have been in disarray since the boy was born, but they went completely off the rails five weeks ago when I flew to New Jersey. Perhaps I'm just feeling restless. Perhaps I'm just nervous about owning a house and being in debt for a decade's worth of paycheques1. Perhaps I'm just so distracted during the day that the only time I can get any time to make things is after everyone's in bed and I don't want to lose more time due to personal exhaustion. Who knows. What I can say is that this newfound block of time has not gone to waste and is actually turning out to be quite beneficial.

Hopefully this continues. While spending six to seven hours in bed is quite enjoyable, creating things is what I want to do with my life.

  1. the mortgage is quite a bit longer than 10 years, of course

The First Night

My memory of this morning is a little fuzzy for the lack of sleep these last two weeks, but one thing I can safely say is that a pair of movers were able to put the contents of our house into their truck, move everything 6.4km down the road to our new house, then unload our possessions in the span of four hours. Colour me impressed.

With the family safely ensconced in the new house, Nozomi and I took to the park nearest our home to stretch our legs and — for Nozomi — some other activities. One of the many things that we appreciate about this move is how quiet the neighbourhood is. At the previous home we could always hear the thrum of machinery from one of the many factories that operated all hours of the night. These factories were all generally more than 400m from the home, but the noise they put out was ever-present. On top of this was the fact that the apartment was along the flight path of an airport a few kilometres away. Planes and helicopters generally flew during the day, but we could hear them every so often at night. A pair of nearby busy roads rounded off the general atmosphere of noise that permeated the neighbourhood. After living in this environment for almost seven years, a person becomes deaf to the annoyances.

This new neighbourhood, though, is quite different. It's not just quiet; but silent. I could hear every sniff Nozomi took while walking in the park. The lack of noise pollution is nice. Really, really nice.

The First Night

There's a lot to like about this new home, from the creature comforts to the area it's part of. What I really like about it, though, is that it's a larger space for the family. Hopefully we will not need to move for at least a couple of decades.

The Selfish Gene

Over the last two years I've started to think a bit more about the driver behind what motivates me to do what I do. There are the standard assumptions, such as money, ego, pride, and whatnot. But a trait that I've heard people associate with me more recently is selfishness; something I've actively tried to curtail by putting the needs and wants of others ahead of my own whenever possible. Most of us do have some degree of selfishness, but has mine become a key driver behind what I do both personally and professionally?

Richard Dawkins put out a book three decades ago called "The Selfish Gene", which explores selfishness and altruism through a gene-centred view of an individual or community. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said this book was "a classic example of science fiction" but, while reading through the chapters, I could see a great deal of the logic behind the arguments. The book is no more science fiction than any other tome on the human condition. People are people, and we are inherently selfish as a means of self-preservation. We help others who are related to us and, in addition to the genetic relations we're born with, we can create new relations cognitively. A completely logical statement1.

One particular quote that has stuck in my mind reads as follows:

A gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.

An interesting concept. This would mean that — potentially — a lot of the things that I've done for people without asking for anything in return were done with the expectation that I would get something in return nonetheless. These altruistic acts being more of an investment for future returns rather than a genuine desire to help people in some manner. Is this accurate? Have the things I've done for others really just been for myself?

There are a number of examples that people could point to over the last few months that would make this idea appear valid, and hundreds or thousands more over the last few years. Another philosophical argument is that there's no such thing as free will. If I am subconsciously acting selfishly and deluding myself to see these actions as "the right thing to do, just because", then am I truly in control of my decisions?

As with a lot of books that talk about humanity, there are a number of generalisations that can be seen in everyone we know. I'd like to think that while some of the good things I do for others may be with selfish intent, the vast majority are done because I want to help people accomplish goals. As silly as it may sound, the altruistic approach that was championed in real science fiction stories like Star Trek was incredibly influential while growing up and continues to be so. Making the world a better place one interaction at a time is something I strongly believe in. If this belief is just a delusion conjured up to defend my own selfishness, then what would that say about my ability to introspect and grow as a person? After nearly 40 years on this world, have I not overcome genetic programming?

Perhaps I'm overthinking this. Either way, it was an excellent read and one that I'll likely embark upon again at some point in the future.

  1. Mind you, just because something is logical does not necessarily mean it's always correct. Especially when humans are involved.

The End of Cherry Blossom Season

After two short weeks it seems that the cherry blossoms have fallen.

The Walking Path

Fortunately this puppy doesn't mind one bit whether the trees are a bright pink or a lush green.

Nozomi Enjoying a Walk

Thirty Nine

In Japan there's a silly joke people sometimes play with the number 39, pronouncing each number individually like "さん きゅう"1. This sounds very similar to the Katakana English way of saying "thank you", which is where people will try to use the number in a light-hearted fashion. We often see this in marketing advertisements or items targeted at young people. I mention this because today marks the completion of my 39th orbit around the sun and the beginning of the next. While most of my thirties have been marked with a great deal of stress, strife, and struggle, the last few years have actually been pretty darn nice.

All in all, I have a lot to be thankful for.

With this in mind, one of the big goals I have for the coming year is to get back into meditation with the goal of being able to relax every so often. As with many things, when we take a step back from the issues that stress or anger us, it's possible to disconnect ourselves from our natural responses. From here it — generally — becomes easier to either find a better solution or otherwise approach the situation with a calmer head. This isn't always possible, but just a little more perspective in my life would go a long way to resolving the things I dislike about myself.

After nearly four decades of being me, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

  1. Which would be pronounced: san kyuu

The Blue Bridge

When Nozomi and I go for a walk, we typically head 130 metres south to the Hatta River. There are a pair of walking paths on the south bank, and it's a great place for the puppy to exercise her nose while I enjoy the view. With less than two weeks to go before we move to our new home and bid farewell to these familiar parks, I thought it would be nice to have Nozomi try and cover as much ground as we could so she could get "one last sniff" of the various routes we've taken over the years. While she's not young or energetic enough to manage the 5km+ walks we used to enjoy, she can still enjoy a good 1500m walk without needing a little break. For this reason, we made a slight detour along our regular route to make one final crossing of The Blue Bridge.

Looking South Across the Blue Bridge

The Blue Bridge is not the proper name for this pedestrian bridge, but it's the most apt name I could come up with. Many years ago the city decided that bridges in close proximity to others would be painted different colours. The red bridge that Nozomi and I usually walk across is just 80 meters west of this one, and a yellow pedestrian bridge is another 80 meters further. Because this bridge bounces as people walk across it, Nozomi is not too keen on this route. That said, once she's on the bridge proper her nose gets to work tracing the paths of all the other animals that have crossed the shallow river the same way.

Nozomi Enjoying a Break

There are close to a dozen bridges spanning the Hatta river within walking distance for the puppy and I. Hopefully we'll have enough time and good weather to revisit them all before exploring a new series of parks in the next city.

Finally a Home Owner

Today, after just over a year of research, discussions, planning, paperwork, and visitations, the family and I took possession of our very own home. At two stories and three bedrooms, it's quite the upgrade from the 1-bedroom apartment Reiko, Nozomi, and I have lived in for 7 years, and the boy for just over one. Its proximity to schools, parks, and other families are great. The lack of industrial factories in the neighbourhood is welcome. And the relative quiet from the lack of planes and helicopters flying overhead will be a welcome change after almost a decade of living along the flight path of a military airport ... in three different cities.

The Exterior

There's a lot to like about this place that will soon become our home. In addition to the extra interior space and neighbourhood pleasantries, the home was custom designed to suit a number of very specific needs for both Reiko and I. As we're both quite tall by Japanese standards, the kitchen counter is 10cm higher than in most homes. This will save us from bending slightly while working in the kitchen or washing dishes. Of course, we've also gone and had a dishwasher installed — our first — which will really come in handy on those days when we just can't be bothered to try and save water or electricity. As one would expect from a modern building, the home is very ecologically friendly in terms of water, power, and gas consumption.

The Living Room and Kitchen

Other niceties of the home are the working spaces. There's one downstairs next to the kitchen as well as one upstairs in the master bedroom. Both workspaces have a network port in the wall for computing devices, and the one upstairs has some extra considerations to make it better suited to podcasting.

Looking Up at the Boy's Room

What's particularly nice about this house is the size of the bedrooms. The stereotype for Japanese homes is that everything is small. This isn't always the case, but it certainly is for bedrooms. Fortunately, the boy has a room 50% larger than the average child's room, and there's an extra one open in the event he has a brother or sister in the near future. This spare room can also act as a guest room for when people come from out of town.

There's still quite a bit left to be done, such as building the rear fence and getting the landscaping constructed, but everything is scheduled to be complete before the summer heat hits.

Buying a home has required a decade of savings, a great deal of patience, and a pair of contracts that obligate me to paying an amount of money I've never thought possible to mortgage. The reality of the situation has still not completely set in.

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