Blueberry Corn Muffins

Blueberry Corn Muffins

Why must every recipe from my mum's cook books be in imperial units? This weekend I decided to try something new and found a recipe that piqued my interest. Blueberries and corn bread are foods that I've enjoyed separately, but never together. In the famous line from the Blendtec promos; will it blend?

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh blueberries

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Mix almond mix and apple cider together. Set aside
  3. Combine all dry ingredients (including sugar) together in a small bowl
  4. Add almond milk mixture and coconut oil to a mixer.
  5. Using the whisk attachment, add in the dry ingredients all at once and mix until just combined
  6. Portion batter into muffin cups and top each one with blueberries
  7. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean

This was quite a bit easier than last week's cranberry bread to clean up, and the results were quite lovely. It's probably a good thing that there are no (decent) bakeries within walking distance of the new house. I have reason to make things myself.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Looking back at the last five years, I'm often surprised that the four tools in this photo have made my current lifestyle possible. A lot has changed, and it's about to change even more given the added responsibilities that are being layered on by the day job.

Servitude

When smart people are confronted with hard problems, the derived solutions — however incomplete — can often appear as magic. This has been seen time and again over the course of history, and particularly the last three decades, when people are given a glimpse of the future in the form of hardware, software, or both. Societal changes are often enabled by technological advancements, and the pace of this evolution seems to increase exponentially with every generation. A large number of the seemingly mundane tasks performed in the 80s and 90s have been replaced by automation, ideally freeing people to work on the more cerebrally taxing elements of a job. However, it seems that a number of us are sprinting in the dark. We spend so much of our time asking if we can do a thing with technology, and rarely step back to ask if we should do that thing.

This is how I feel when I look at a tool like Google's Duplex; an incredible feat of engineering that has required the combined genius of thousands of people, from dozens of disciplines, decades to make into reality.

Google CEO, Sundar Pichai

Whether the demos presented at Google's 2018 I/0 Developer Conference are "real" is irrelevant to the larger question involving the societal consequences of such a convenience. As an expatriate living in Japan, I can see a number of ways Duplex could make my life easier. Saying to a device in English "Okay, Google. Call my son's doctor and book an appointment for next Monday or Tuesday." and having the machine do all the hard work in Japanese on my behalf would save me from having to study things like proper Japanese phone etiquette, varying pronunciations and dialects, and the vocabulary for things like "personal health booklet" and "health insurance card". Then there's the seemingly endless complicated terms involving concatenated words based solely on the kanji characters in a word. Then there's the other hassle of picking up the phone and spending 20円 for every 30 seconds I'm on the call.

My goodness! The convenience!

The list of phone calls I'd never have to make continues. Why call the office to ask for information when I can just ask Google and get a phone call back if my criteria is matched? "Okay, Google. Call the office and ask if Bob is there. Put me through if he is."

Why call a nearby store to ask if they have a widget I'd like to buy when I could just ask Google?

Why call a friend to ask if they're free for coffee?

Why call family?

These questions are not to say that Google's Duplex is a bad thing, per se, but that it can be used in a way that is counter to the foundational technologies it was built upon. Google is an Internet company. The Internet was made possible due to telecommunications networks. Telecommunications networks were built to enable — you guessed it — communication. Duplex eliminates the need to communicate with other people, even if it's just people we don't necessarily want to communicate with.

My concern, which may be completely misplaced, is that people will begin to over-rely on the convenience of tools like Duplex and unintentionally dehumanise the people their digital assistants interact with. I've seen this with the way some people refer to and interact with Uber drivers in the US. I've seen this with friends who use apps to order pizzas in Japan because they can't be bothered to learn Japanese. I've seen this in online communities where differences in opinion begin to create rifts between people. When we're not interacting with the people doing things for us, we tend to treat them as servants or otherwise unworthy of conversation.

Is this the path we want to travel?

This isn't to say that we shouldn't have this sort of technology. It has its uses, and there's a great deal of benefit that can be afforded as a result of the convenience. We do, however, need to be conscious of how we use the tools and how it affects our interactions with the people around us. Despite the myriad of ways modern technology has allowed us to communicate with each other, it seems that many of us have forgotten how.

Awesome Cranberry Bread

Despite all the sleep deprivation, I wanted to try something different in the kitchen. Lately the breads I've been making have been pretty standard fare without much variation. What I wanted this week, though, was something a little more interesting. Back in Canada I would often enjoy a cranberry and blueberry muffin with coffee and a book on the weekends. Unfortunately I'm not quite set up to do muffins since moving to the new house, but this doesn't preclude the ability to make a nice loaf of something.

The first challenge was to find blueberries. Given that these are not yet in season, the only way to get them is to put a second mortgage on your home and hope there aren't too many mushy berries buried under a thin layer of good ones. Rather than spend a fortune on these, I decided to go with just cranberries. These are not especially popular in Japan, but you can get them in cans for a reasonable price.

Next up, the recipe (which was slightly adapted from my mother's copy of Cranberry Thanksgiving):

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 3 large oranges)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped

With all of this set and ready to go, preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with cooking paper to make it easier to slide the cake out of the pan after baking.

Cranberry Bread

First, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender (or your fingers), cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Then fold in the cranberries. The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

From here, spoon the mixture into the loaf pan. Bake for 70~75 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Once done, cool the bread on a wire rack after removing it from the pan.

Cranberry Bread

Now to make a good cup of coffee, grab a book, and enjoy a few minutes of peace.

Stupid Questions

This past weekend I was having a conversation with someone about the challenges of working from home when there's a toddler in the house. The boy has been incredibly patient with both Reiko and I over these past sixteen months while she and I have invested time in building a house, looking for furniture and curtains online, negotiating with landscaping companies, and generally trying to get work done while he's awake. It hasn't been easy to balance the responsibilities of parenthood with all the other things we would like to do, but we're getting better. Eventually the topic of the boy's possible future came about, and how I would react to various "what if" scenarios.

Hypothetical questions involving human development are generally worthless as they lead to hypothetical answers, but some of the questions I was asked were just downright asinine at times. Here are three softball questions I was asked:

What if he hates computers?

That's fine by me. I do not expect my children to enjoy all the same things I do. If they do that's great, but it's unrealistic.

What if he wants to be a musician or artist?

I would love it if he wanted to do something creative with his life. While there is not a great deal of money to be made in either music or art unless you're in the top 0.01%, I would not prevent the boy from putting in the effort to do something he loves. I would, however, strongly encourage him to have realistic alternatives lined up to pay the bills and put food on the table while working towards his goals.

What if he comes out as gay?

Why would this bother me? Some of the most respectable people I've ever met have had sexual orientations different from mine. If he wants to be with anyone at all, I simply ask is that he find someone he truly wants to be with who also wants to be with him. Gender, sexual orientation, and genetic lineages are irrelevant so long as he's happy and safe.

These answers are likely the same that many parents would say. Are they 100% accurate? Who knows. The future isn't here yet.

There are a lot of parents who have very rigid expectations for their children. I am not one of them. My job, aside from the obvious responsibilities, is to make sure he has all of the opportunities available to discover who he is and what he wants to do in life. Given the rate of technological change, people my son's age may very well be part of the first generations of immortal humans. Immortality is a long time, so I want to make sure he has as much an understanding of himself as is possible before my time on this world is up. This way, when he's centuries old on the inside and a couple of decades of age on the outside, he'll have the ability to recognise his evolving self and adjust future plans and goals accordingly.

Am I not taking this parenting thing seriously enough?

Trust Is Earned. Not Given Away.

Dylan Curran recently wrote an OpEd on TheGuardian where he makes the case that information-based companies should put an expiration date on the data they collect, giving people greater freedom online without necessarily affecting profit margins. His argument comes down to two paragraphs buried in his piece:

This is why we need online privacy: we have the right to be curious or conduct digital actions without constantly being tracked, or fearing future reprisals. As Edward Snowden has put it: “Ask yourself: at every point in history, who suffers the most from unjustified surveillance? It is not the privileged, but the vulnerable. Surveillance is not about safety, it is about power. It’s about control.” [...]

Therefore, I propose legislation to allow companies to harvest as much information as they like, but with one caveat: they must delete the information from their servers in quarterly blocks. This would allow us to keep using the services we like in the exact fashion that we do now.

This is unrealistic. Companies like Facebook — the easiest target here — cannot be trusted to follow any legislation. Many of these large organisations have histories of ignoring laws, evading taxes, and buying off politicians to solve problems. Legislation requiring personal data to be deleted on a rolling basis cannot honestly be audited, and will therefore result in little more than lip service. To make matters worse, a lot of the organisations that harvest our data with wanton abandon are completely unknown to most of us.

Ultimately this needs to come down to personal choice. People who are unconcerned with the data collection practices that currently run rampant online can keep doing what they're doing. For those who want to pull back and try to reclaim some form of anonymity online, there needs to be trustworthy resources people can use to learn how to reduce their digital fingerprints. Even with GDPR going into effect this month, it will be almost impossible for anyone — not just citizens of the EU — to ensure that all of their historical data is removed from databases around the world.

The right to be forgotten and personal data management is something that each one of us will likely need to manage ourselves. Hoping companies will "do the right thing" on our behalf, with or without legislation, while we change none of our habits is a level of naïveté that is simply unrealistic.

2600

Round numbers are often treated with more significance than others, and numbers that coincide with memories can evoke a little bit of nostalgia, so it probably comes as no surprise that the 2,600th blog post on this site would be dedicated to the Atari 2600; a console that was great before Nintendo and Sega completely redefined people's expectations of video games at home.

Atari 2600

When I think back to when I used to play games with this machine plugged into the small, black and white TV we owned in the 80s, I'm reminded more of the competition I'd have with my father on a number of games. We'd play the standards like Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong, and Asteroids, but the game that really stands out in my mind is River Raid. The premise was simple. You're looking down from the sky at your jet which is following — yes — a river, and you need to blow stuff up without running out of fuel or flying over land. My father and I would spend hours taking turns on the game and trying to reach the very end of the river. Neither of us ever did make it to the end, and there might never have been an end to the game, but the competition was real.

Well ... it was real for me.

My father had the luxury of adult muscle control and not having to go to school the next day. I'd often complain that "it wasn't fair" for him to play while I was sleeping, and he'd just laugh and tell me "it's just a game". A line that, to this day, I despise. So when my homework was done, when the chores were finished, and when there wasn't any hockey game or Star Trek to be watched, I'd try to get some gaming in to hone the skills necessary to defeat my father's high scores and see farther than anyone else.

I don't think it ever happened, though. Eventually I wound up going outside with friends or burying myself in books or other toys. The Atari would sit unused next to the VCR. Occasionally I'd hear my father play a game or two of River Raid or Asteroids. I'd sometimes watch or join in. But around the age of 12 I stopped trying to compete with my father. By that time I was taller, faster, and stronger than he was. Though he was smarter, more patient ... and better at River Raid.

A little while later I received an original GameBoy with Tetris, and we'd compete with that game. But it wasn't the same. By that time I had the reflexes and visual acuity to go farther than many, including my Dad. We'd come up with different sets of benchmarks, like how many "full Tetrises" we could get, and who could get closest to the top and then bring the blocks back down to the bottom. It was fun, but not the same.

The Atari 2600 is where I really competed with my father. It may have been one of the few places where we'd actively challenge each other to succeed. And while I did try to out-do him just about everywhere else, like sons have done since the beginning of time, there was rarely any incentive to keep going.

When I remember how frustrated I would get when competing on River Raid, I think about my son and wonder what things he will try to do better. Will he also try to play games better than I can? Probably. Will he try to write software better than I can? Possibly. Will he try to bake bread better than I can? I sure as heck hope so. At some point he will start to do things better, I'll step up my game, and he'll continue to improve until I simply cannot keep up. But what will his Atari 2600 with me be? I'm really curious to find out.

The Barrier

Chris Aldrich recently wrote a post on the mission of the IndieWeb where he said this:

Social media WYSIWYG platforms like SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook/Instagram, et al. have become a problem as they’re not allowing us the control, flexibility, and privacy we would all like to have while they pursue their own agendas.

In these terms, the general mission of the IndieWeb movement is to be the proverbial simple text editor meant to give everyone increasingly easier, direct control over their own identity and communication on the open internet.

Comparing the IndieWeb to "the proverbial simple text editor" is an interesting way to describe the idea, given that there are a plethora of text editors for people to choose from, and a multitude of self-hosted publishing platforms as well. Both of these products, however, tend to target the same market: digitally proficient individuals who have experienced way too much friction with the full-featured, commercially-backed options that are generally accepted by the masses.

Over the coming year, I hope to bridge the gap between "WYSIWYG platforms" and the text-editor self-hosted solutions with 10C v5, which will most likely be renamed "Streams" given it's focus on presenting flows of information. Just like 10Cv4, there will be a hosted version that I will offer the world to anyone interested in using it. Unlike 10Cv4, the new version will be available for people to host themselves. As of this writing, I've managed to get the installation and configuration down to a single line on an Ubuntu Server shell through the use of snap packages1, but this may still be too complicated for most.

Despite passively learning about the myriad of technologies and methodologies employed by the IndieWeb, I still feel there is far too much friction for the average person to actively participate. If we can offer the tools to allow people to more easily enjoy what they get from WYSIWYG platforms while also enjoying digital sovereignty, we may begin to see the larger organisations held to a higher standard.

That said, there is still a lot of work to be done.


  1. by going with a Snap, people do not need to install or configure Apache, MySQL, or any of the additional packages that make the software work. It's all done in advance and, because it's a snap, updates are instantly rolled out without the need for people to manage the software themselves. Yes, updates can be disabled.

The First Month

It's been a month since the family and I moved into our new home and, like so many time-related milestones as of late, it feels both longer and shorter than the actual time that's passed. Short, because 30 days can pass in the blink of an eye as a person with all the responsibilities and expectations that come with adulthood. Long because a year of house design, construction, and planning can mess up a person's perception of being at a place. Everything is far from perfect but, all in all, this has been a very positive move for the family.

The Park

One of the biggest perks of the new home is proximity to a very well-maintained public park. The places that Nozomi and I used to frequent these past seven years would see a landscaping crew come by three to four times per year, meaning that the grass would often be tall for most of the year with collections of garbage under many of the bushes thanks to litterers and weather patterns. Here, though, it seems there are neighbourhood groups that take turns cleaning the public space every Sunday. More than this, the vast majority of dog-walkers here actually pick up after their pets! Nozomi is certainly enjoying this new place to explore.

Nozomi's Smile

The boy also likes going out to the park, walking along the paths, and touching anything he can get his hands on. With my new role at the day job — if it can be called such anymore — I'll be working with people in different time zones a lot more often. This means that I'll have the opportunity to work from home a great deal more than in the past, making it possible to bring my son out to this park to learn more about the world around him. It's interesting to watch him explore everything for the first time, as I've come to take things like leaves, sand, and discarded stones as they are. For him, though, all of these things are unfamiliar and interesting.

Which raises a couple of questions. While the boy is exploring the park, I'm often watching his reactions as he tries to piece language and objects together. He's just 15 months old and already walking up and down stairs, hills, picking up sticks that are long and awkward, and all the other things that kids will do while learning about their own boundaries and quickly surpassing them. I will not over-protect him while he's discovering some of what this world has, as I fully expect he'll fall or injure himself from time to time. These are important lessons to learn. But I do wonder whether I'm too relaxed about him doing stuff from time to time. I see other parents worry and fret over just about everything ... but that can't be good for either party.

I will watch to make sure the boy does not do anything that'll break bones or leave a mark, but I want him to understand that the world is here to explore, enjoy, and share with others, be they human or something else entirely.

Hopefully the next 300 months are as enjoyable as this first one has been, though I know there will be trials ahead.

Eight

Today Nozomi marks the completion of eight orbits around the Sun and I find it absolutely astounding how fast the time passes. She's been a part of the family for almost 20% of my life and somewhere north of 99% of hers. When she first came home in 2010 she was an incredibly energetic ball of untamed energy with teeth sharp enough to cut through kitchen chairs. While her energy levels have certainly come down with maturity, her wonderful personality has remained incredibly consistent.

Here she is at 90 days:

Nozomi Age 90 Days

And then on her first birthday:

Nozomi Age 1

Two years later, at the age of three:

Nozomi Age 3

Last year:

Nozomi Age 7

Just a few days ago:

Nozomi Age 8

While the boy has had several thousand pictures captured in the 15 months he's been here, Nozomi's picture catalog eclipses his by a wide margin. It's often hard to choose which photos to share, but these five are some of my favourites.

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