Matigo dot See, eh? The Semi-Coherent Ramblings of a Canadian in Asia Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:05:09 +0000 EN Matigo dot See, eh? Clean The Semi-Coherent Ramblings of a Canadian in Asia hourly 1 Streams (19F260) Five Things Sun, 21 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 717ac8ef-0a82-e7e9-1c46-2e697af28e58 The third Sunday of every other month is neighbourhood cleanup day, a responsibility that every suburban home owner across much of Japan must participate in. The day itself may change from region to region, but the efforts are about the same. People in a neighbourhood block get together in front of the area leader's house at a pre-determined time, listen to some updates about coming changes or the comings and goings of residents1, then get to work cleaning the drainage gutters and tidying up around the houses. It's not at all a glamorous task, but there is some genuine good that comes from this tradition that, according to a neighbour of mine, goes back almost 400 years to Japan's Edo period.

Neighbours See Each Other

The first decade of living in Japan was done mostly in rented apartments where the practice of cleaning up the area is just not required. There are companies hired by the landlords that come around every so often to ensure the buildings are generally presentable. As a result, the only time I would see a neighbour was if they just happened to be outside when it was time to bring Nozomi for a walk. There was one neighbour who I regularly spoke to at the last apartment, but he moved out a couple of years before the boy was born. People generally kept to themselves.

Neighbourhood cleaning encourages people to go out and mingle with their neighbours while performing a common task. A lot of people generally talk to the people who live on properties that are immediately next to or behind them, but the neighbourhood is a long rectangle consisting of 22 houses. My house is on the north-eastern corner and it's very rare that I ever see the people who live in the south-west unless they're driving by. While I am not particularly proactive in meeting new people, I do generally enjoy chatting. Many people might feel the same way.

A Common Goal

The purpose of the neighbourhood cleanup is not just to ensure the roads and gutters are clear of debris, though this is a lovely byproduct of the habit. The goal is to enshrine a feeling of pride and responsibility. We're all responsible for the appearance and atmosphere of this little slice of the country so, if it is kept in good shape, everybody wins. Property values depreciate slower2, potential home-owners are more willing to move in, and people generally feel better about being at home. Nobody wants to live in a filthy area.

After the Cleanup

One thing that I found completely unsurprising about the neighbourhood cleanup was what happened afterwards. People would return to their homes and begin cleaning their yards3 or chat with neighbours. For me, I generally pick weeds just outside the fence to keep the area looking nice, given that this house is generally the first one that people see when returning to their own home. Being "only 40 years old", I'm occasionally asked to help with some heavy lifting nearby and this is a good opportunity to learn more about the people around here. Everybody knows about the boy, as he's the youngest person in the area4, and they love to ask questions about what he can and can't do just yet. This sort of neighbourly help was a common thing when I lived in rural Ontario, but was non-existent in the cities. All in all, it's a good excuse to help each other out.

A Critical Eye

Cleaning the neighbourhood gives a person some incentive to look at their own home and see what can be done about any shortcomings rather than ignore small problems in the present until they're bigger problems in the future. Going around my own home, I've found situations where part of my fence needed repair5, soil was eroding, and eavestroughs weren't catching enough rainwater as it slid off the roof. None of these things were serious when discovered, but they could have led to bigger issues down the road.

A Good Example

Kids in Japan are expected to clean their schools. Not just the classrooms, but the hallways and toilets as well. Non-executive employees in Japan are expected to clean their offices. Not just the desks, but the carpets and toilets as well. Children will see their parents going out on a Sunday to help keep the neighbourhood clean and recognize it as an important civic responsibility. By setting a good example, there's a greater chance that the tradition will continue into the future as kids become adults and buy their own homes one day. It's our responsibility to keep the places we use and enjoy in good working order, after all, and nobody is exempt6 from this social expectation.

These are some of the reasons that I enjoy and appreciate the neighbourhood cleanup day.

  1. This would involve hearing about who had recently given birth, who has moved into the neighbourhood, who has moved out, and who has passed away. In my neighbourhood, where the median age is somewhere north of 60, we generally hear about who has passed away two or three times per year.

  2. Land values depreciate so fast in this country it's a wonder anyone buys property. I've heard a number of people in real estate say that land is generally worth something until there is a house on it. Given the sticker price for the 70m² plot of land with my name on it was higher than the cost of the house by $20K, this doesn't bode well for the assessed value of the largest asset I'll ever own.

  3. Given that most people around here retired over a decade ago, the yards are already generally quite clean.

  4. There are a dozen or so kids under the age of 14 in the neighbourhood. This isn't a retirement village, but many of the residents did move here in the 70s with their own young children. People have grown up, moved out, and started families of their own. When people pass away, the children take over the home and generally have it torn down and the land put up for sale. This isn't always for financial reasons, either, as many people tend to move to other parts of the country for work or education in their 20s. It's just not realistic to leave a house abandoned for sentimental value, particularly when governments are now charging homeowners a 12% annual tax for leaving a house empty.

  5. Nothing serious, give the fence isn't yet a year old. One of the brick tiles had come loose and needed some better adhesive to stay on the post. Fortunately this was covered under warranty.

  6. Some people may choose to not do it, but this doesn't make them exempt.

Normal Hours Sat, 20 Jul 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 9da82e7e-fcf8-01e0-53af-7e91e02a9fc6 Today I managed to take three naps. None of them were planned. Instead the desire to sleep was just so great that I would close my eyes "just for a moment" and wake up 20 minutes later. The first nap was on a bench overlooking a nearby park. The second time was on the sofa while the boy was using me as a jungle gym. The third time was right before taking Nozomi for an evening walk. Again, none of these were planned; they just happened.

Next week, I'll try to work normal hours and get to bed no later than 11:30pm. Sleep is very much a recurring topic in my writing, but for all the wrong reasons. Aside from a few years of solid rest before the boy came along, I've had some issue with sleep since the age of twenty.

In the early 2000s I would fall asleep rather quickly and enter into the same very long dream several nights a week. The dream felt as though it spanned years. I'd wake up completely disoriented to the point where I needed to have a calendar next to my bed with the days crossed off so that I'd know when I was. Returning to the waking world always left me wondering whether I was actually awake or stuck in another dream.

By 2006 the epic dreaming changed to bouts of insomnia that would span days, weeks, or an entire month. It was impossible to get more than 15 to 20 minutes of sleep at a time. The only thing that would allow a longer period of rest was alcohol, but this was something I did not want to rely on as I'd sworn off drinking a few years earlier.

Between 2013 and 2016 I slept like a log and would wake feeling mostly refreshed and ready to take on the day despite being a rather turbulent time in my life. It was around this time that my current sleeping pattern emerged, which is that I generally lose consciousness within 30 seconds of putting my head down. There was the occasional time where I'd be awake for hours on end because of worry or anxiety, but these nights were few and far between.

The last two years, though, have been weird. Inconsistent sleeping times and waking to take care of the boy has taken its toll. I'm falling asleep just about everywhere I sit if the last few nights have seen fewer than 4 hours of actual sleep. This is not cool and will only lead to some serious health issues. For this reason, I need to re-institute some of the old rules I followed between 2013 and 2016:

  1. No computers for an hour before sleeping
  2. Be in bed no later than midnight
  3. Always wake up by 7:30am

These three rules are incredibly simple, but rather difficult to implement given that I'm most productive between the hours of 10:00pm and 1:00am. That said, I'd rather suffer the consequences of not working at night over the consequences of not sleeping.

Autocomplete Fri, 19 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason bddbec8a-1e8a-a5cd-922f-f5e3df0fcbcf For reasons I'm completely ignorant of, there seems to be a string of videos on YouTube and other places where celebrities hold up a cardboard printout of the Google Search Bar with the start of a question involving their name, and then a bunch of auto-complete options underneath. The auto-complete options are generally covered with some sort of tape to prevent viewers from seeing the questions ahead of time, and the general idea is that the person in the video will answer each item regardless of how silly they might be. For celebrities and other well-known people, this list is generally quite long. Can the same be said for a random nobody like me, though?

Google Autocomplete

Sadly, no. I've been online for almost a quarter century, been published in a handful of magazines, actively participated in various Linux and development groups, and either hosted or produced almost 1,000 podcasts … but Google has almost nothing on me. Heck, they don't even know the answer to the single autocomplete question they offered1

Google Page One

Mind you, this is to be expected. Many years ago when I used as the URL for this blog, I tried quite hard to get up to the top of the Google rankings for my name. I don't remember my best result, but it was certainly in the top 4. There were two radio station DJs, a poet, and a repeat petty-thief that I would compete with at the time. Somewhere around 2015 this changed and I chose to remove myself from Google as much as possible. Cached results and links from other blogs kept my ranking rather high for a while but, as websites went dark and this blog moved to its current domain, the doppelgängers began to take over the first page. Then the second. Then the third. Currently I'm down near the bottom of the fourth page, which is still too high in the results for my liking.

Google Page Four

There's a pretty good chance that autocomplete will never show more than this when people type my name in the search bar, and this is a good thing. People who want to find me will know how to look. All it takes is one more word ….

One More Word

  1. I've twice published a blog post specifically about my marital status. The first was in August of 2007, soon after I moved to Japan. The second was after our ceremony the following May.

Distracted Thu, 18 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason be0ac102-4b76-a9eb-f67a-465edf06a4dc There are a lot of things going on in the world, but who can keep up any more? There are other things to focus on until the next time the cell phone vibrates, demanding a glance from everyone in the vicinity to see what urgent matter requires attention. For the sake of this argument, it's a Slack notification. A colleague is asking a question about the big project. The document that's been sitting half-written on the notebook will have to wait while the phone gets treated to a pair of thumbs hammering out a reply. As the message goes out, there's a reminder notification on the notebook for a video call that begins in 5 minutes, which is just enough time to grab a cup of coffee.


The water is boiling. People are chatting. Someone brought in a box of donuts. In the background a weather forecast is being reported on the local TV station. Rain today. Rain tomorrow. Probably rain the next day, too. So much for a weekend outdoors.

Three minutes later there's a fresh cup of coffee sitting on the desk along with a little snack. The headphones that regularly hang on the wall have a ridiculous tangle in the cord that couldn't have possibly happened through normal usage and needs addressing. Just as the cord is straightened out, a notification pops up to signal the start of the video call. The headphones are plugged in, the camera is properly pointed, the microphone is set, it's time to answer the call.

"Hey," the person on the other end starts. "Did you have a chance to finish that document? We'll need it for the second part of the meeting."

"Not yet. I've just been swamped all afternoon."

Digital Textbooks Wed, 17 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 1fa96a11-ec39-8a53-7a5d-b2be7b98c578 Back in January 2010, when the iPad was first announced, I started thinking about what a digital textbook might look like. This was back at a time when I was still very much involved in classroom activities and delivering lessons in front of hundreds of people every week. The paper materials worked as well as ever, but a properly portable device with a decent sized screen that didn't require a keyboard and mouse to be attached all the time could open up a whole new set of opportunities. This was not at all a unique concept and, before the end of the year, several large companies had released early versions of their digital textbook platforms.

Unfortunately, what a lot of organizations did was release what was essentially a PDF viewer with some chrome around the edges to better enable search, allow for annotations to be typed — as pen entry was not going to be decently supported for a couple of years, and a hefty sticker price. Over time this got better. Companies started to offer versions of their materials that looked like websites rather than PDFs, enabling embedded video and interactive homework sessions. When the newer iPad Air devices started to ship the hardware had become powerful enough that some textbook publishers, such as National Geographic, started to include activities that made use of augmented reality so that a learner could better understand the contents. That was just a few years ago, and now textbook developers are really starting to take advantage of the raw processing power that people have available.

Yet despite the plethora of companies that have run with the technology, pushing the tools as far as they can go, a lot of educational institutions continue to be incredibly conservative with their use of digital textbooks. It is almost as if schools want to use the traditional paper books simply to save the time and hassle of students needing to borrow a charger or dealing with cracked screens. These aren't the only reasons schools have yet to make use of digital textbooks to a greater degree, of course. The bigger issue, I feel, comes down to the complexity that is introduced when something that has traditionally been analog gets sandwiched between silicon and glass.

Over the years I've worked on a couple of different textbook solutions in an attempt to find something decent that could be used at the day job. None have worked out very well, but the latest tool I'm working on is beginning to show promise in ways that the other five solutions1 never could. One of the things I've wanted to build for a little while now is an adaptive resource that evolves with the student, becoming simpler or more complex based on an individual person's needs. Core aspects of lessons would continue to exist, of course, otherwise teachers would be overwhelmed with a seemingly infinite number of textbook activity combinations. A resource that can adapt with a learner can make self-study and after-lesson practice lot more interesting.

This idea is also not at all new, as there have been tools that do this and integrate with various LMSes for years to send and receive new custom materials. What is new, is a window of opportunity to introduce the idea within the day job to people who might just welcome the ability to offer something of greater value to our students while making use of the plethora of idle lesson activity resources we've recently collated from around the world.

Another demo may be in the near future.

  1. Only one of these solutions has been used by teachers at the day job. The other four were simply not good enough.

Failing at Email Tue, 16 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 7b5151d8-df59-5e95-f0b7-f6d813bfb6e6 Over the last couple of months it's become rather apparent that I'm failing at email. The messages that matter the most are rarely answered in less than 24 hours, and the ones that consume more energy than they're worth tend to receive attention first. A different approach is needed.

Same Old Same Old

Many years ago, when I had a full head of brown hair1, the first hour of every day was dedicated for email and other forms of communication. This would ensure all the important messages were tended to before I would lose myself in the tasks of the day. The rule worked quite well, as it meant that people were not left waiting for too long and nobody felt ignored. This also made being awake important, as it's never a good idea to read messages until reading comprehension kicks in. Misunderstandings at the start of the day can ruin the rest of it.

Unfortunately, this started to change a year or so back when it seemed that every morning would bring a laundry list of incomplete complaints from colleagues. I'd read every message expecting to understand what it is that a person was having trouble with and only wind up getting confused, which would frustrate me enough to go onto the next incomplete complaint which just upset me further. In an attempt to not dismiss people's reports and ensure my responses were kept professional, emails were read at the end of the day. The problem with this is that people are left waiting an entire day to get a response that they won't see until the following morning, and I'm generally exhausted come midnight or one o'clock, which makes it harder to write proper messages back. To make matters worse, this rule wasn't just for work emails, but personal messages, too!

This is no way to stay in touch.

To this end, starting tomorrow morning, I'll ensure that messages are properly checked and responded to at least twice a day. First around 10:00am, and then again around 4:00pm. If there are any messages that need tending to afterwards, then they'll get attention before I sign off for the night. Colleagues who really need to get in touch know that I'm always on Teams and next to a phone, so this shouldn't be too much of an issue. While this plan is centred mostly around the day job, what I'm hoping to do is better manage the personal Inbox as well. Rarely will I receive more than 3 messages overnight, so there's really no reason to not respond in a timely fashion.

Now to set some reminders ….

  1. I still have a full head of hair, mind you. There's just more grey involved.

I Am I Mon, 15 Jul 2019 14:30:00 +0000 Jason d15b47ef-9f1b-bd4c-b945-440169e6a324 This past weekend I've been exchanging emails with an activist1 who has taken offence to a number of blog posts on this very site. All in all, the emails have resulted in the following statistics: 4 messages from me totalling 6,317 words, and 6 messages from them totalling 297 words. Their final message was a polite "Just be glad you don't live in Canada because you'd be swatted".

This is to be expected, though, as a simple mind will resort to violence when words to adequately justify an ideology, opinion, or accusation fail to materialize.

The crux of the activists position was that, as a cisgendered Caucasian male, I should not be writing about anything that is not directly related to being a cisgendered Caucasian male. They took offence to some posts about Japanese working culture. They took offence to some posts about politically-charged topics. They even took offence to some posts about my house, saying that I used my privilege to own property, which is one of the dumbest fucking things anyone has said to me in quite some time2.

Doing a bit of research, I found this person has been attending McGill University for the last few years and, rather than apply their newly-honed skills in social psychology to the betterment of society, are so bored with their youth that it warrants visiting random blogs on the Internet and typing in all caps about why someone should be ashamed of themselves because, just like Hitler, they were born white. How terribly sad that this is the sort of activity that a university-educated person chooses to embark upon. Surely there are better things to do.

Interestingly, this twerp has given me a reason to reconsider my Canadian citizenship. Do I want to keep it? I've been in Japan long enough that I could begin the process of becoming a citizen here, which would grant me the luxury of being able to vote and surprise people when they see a Japanese passport. I continue to read a handful of Canadian news sites on a daily basis and do not recognize the country as the same place I grew up. Yes, there is media bias to account for, yet the country's general vibe seems to be one of listless finger-pointing and public shaming. What's left of the education system is a joke that I refuse to let my children experience. And the politically-charged atmosphere seems to have almost completely turned ideas into thought crimes.

Why in the world would I want to subject my family to such a hostile environment?

But maybe for them Canada would be much more welcoming. My wife is neither male nor Caucasian. My son, though male, looks more like his mother. It might just be me who would be unwelcome. If this is the case, there's really no point in maintaining citizenship. What benefits do I enjoy as a Canadian in Japan aside from owning a .ca domain name? Having thought about it off and on over the last few years, I haven't identified a single one.

  1. I know, I know. I said I wouldn't do this anymore, but it's hard to not respond to messages.

  2. If someone has a problem with me earning enough money to own a house in a country I wasn't born in, yet claim to be pro-immigration, they need to seriously sit down and think about what it is they truly believe in, because it's not what they think it is.

Five Things (to Accomplish One Goal) Sun, 14 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason e14679b5-1453-8c3c-3fd8-b8a7654ccc74 Back in November of last year I started publishing Five Things posts on Sundays as a way to make use of some of the "mini blog posts" that have been accumulating in the various places I used to keep track of potential post subjects1. I like these as they are generally pretty easy to write and are a good place to assemble a collection of disparate ideas. The lists can also be used for a common theme, which is what I plan on doing today to outline something that I've been thinking about for a while with regard to "rich format" writing.

The problem that I have, if it can even be considered as such, is how to publish blog posts that have a custom layout for a single article. The majority of the things I write can be displayed as they are, in a single column with images being full-width and placed between paragraphs. However, for some of the longer-form content that I've been writing, this is suboptimal. What I would like to do is have something more akin to a magazine-style than a uni-column blog. Narrow devices would continue to see really long pages in a single column and wider devices would see two or three columns of text in a semi-dynamic manner across "pages" the height of the browser … assuming I can do such a thing without frustrating the reader.

There are some news sites that I used to read that would occasionally put out a special report or longer journalistic piece with a completely custom layout involving rich photography, layouts, backgrounds, and the like. These would look pretty good on a phone, interesting on a tablet, and unique on a notebook. Looking at the URL of the article, it was easy to see how a publisher accomplished the task of displaying a relatively one-of-a-kind site design: an alternative distribution engine or HTML flat-file. I'd like to do something smarter than this.

A New Post Type

A lot of the post types that are part of the 10Centuries system come from the IndieWeb. Notes are social posts, articles are blog posts, quotations are links elsewhere with a block quote containing something from the source URL and perhaps something written by the author, while bookmarks are essentially the same as quotations minus the author's remarks. There are other types in the system, such as Locations2, Places3, and Scribbles4, but there will need to be one more that acts as an extension of the article type: essay.

By using a different post type, it will be easier to allow people to filter out the really long posts from their viewing while also signifying that a post type should be handled a little differently if there is some applicable form of metadata, such as a completely customized page layout. Going this route will also make it possible for readers to subscribe to just essays via RSS or JSONfeed if they so choose, which may prove to be quite beneficial if people prefer the longer content over the day-to-day blurbs.

Support for HTML

At the moment, 10C is very much a Markdown-based blogging tool. While some forms of HTML can be typed into the editors and kept intact5, it's pretty much impossible for someone to truly customize a post for things like right-aligned images, tables, and even simple JavaScript tags. All of this stuff is stripped out for one reason or another. If an essay type is going to allow a completely unique layout, then raw HTML support will need to be accepted.

I will need to think about how to handle embedded JavaScript and links to external resources, though.

Summary Display

Summaries can be written for any object that exists, whether it's a social post containing a single emoji or a 25,000-word rant on the injustice of delicious food being high in calories, but the feature is generally not surfaced at this time. Given that it would not make sense to have a complete essay on the landing page (of a blog), a summary would need to be provided so that readers understand that they can read more of the long-form piece by following a link, which will then reveal the full HTML of the site.

This would probably be something that is made optional, as some writers might actually want their landing page to consist of 10 long-form essays in a single-column view.

A Writing Application

Not everyone can write HTML, nor should this be an expectation for people who just want to have creative liberty over the things they choose to publish. An application that allows people to write the content and customize it in a simple GUI that also previews exactly how something will look online will be key to making this sort of thing work. There are a number of rich blog editors that allow something close to what I'm looking for, so it may be possible to accomplish this goal with MarsEdit or something equally usable.


When something is important, you make the time. I'll admit that the last few weeks I've been setting aside time to work on solving problems at the day job rather than 10C or even a freelance effort6 but, as things begin to slow down, it should be feasible to get back into the 10C feature updates. There are a couple of items that have passed testing but are waiting for other features before release, so I need to sit down and get this done. Time is something I eternally struggle with. Hopefully it will be possible to have all the basics in place before August so that work on an application can begin soon after. Both Windows and macOS will be targeted first, with the more mobile devices coming afterwards.

  1. These have all been consolidated back into Evernote since returning to macOS a couple of months back.

  2. Private Geolocation data, generally with a comment, photo, or other piece of information.

  3. Public Geolocation data that is shared across the network as part of the goal to contribute back to OpenStreetMap.

  4. An Evernote-like object that is used for note-taking with the ability to embed objects.

  5. The HTML is actually not kept intact. Acceptable tags are converted to Markdown before being stored in the database so that as HTML tags evolve over time, it's easier to ensure the newer standards are being followed.

  6. I really need to get back to this and release the updates. The client is generally quite patient, but I'm not comfortable leaving work undone for a month.

Nap Time Sat, 13 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason c327dfe9-ced3-63f2-90a4-b79910712e33 Almost every day, after lunch and around 1:30pm, the boy goes upstairs for his nap. When Reiko is home, I use the lull in parenthood responsibilities to head out for a short walk. This allows me to clear my head, listen to a podcast or two, and sit in the park for a short time. Today, despite the occasional bout of drizzle, I sat on the hill while listening to a podcast where a panel of intellectuals debated whether the large tech companies should be broken up or not. It's an interesting topic to debate and I can certainly see why some groups believe that forcing a company to split up will resolve perceived injustices1. However, while listening to the conversation I managed to fall asleep.

Very rarely do I sleep during the day, but this nap seemed warranted. It lasted perhaps half an hour and, in that time, the mind could organize itself and rest a bit. I woke up feeling quite refreshed despite sitting on a concrete block at the top of a hill while leaning against a chain link fence. Sleeping in the park is generally frowned upon, but there was little chance of anyone seeing me from most of the walking paths. Anyone looking would certainly find me, but my preferred spot in the park is generally quite secluded in the summer.

Napping is something I try to avoid as it's generally a poor use of my time. There is always something to learn, to create, to fix, or otherwise accomplish. That said, I may have overdone it this month with some of my efforts at the day job, much to the detriment of other objectives and responsibilities. That said, today's nap was probably one of the better uses of personal time. I just need to try and avoid losing consciousness in the park.

  1. The perceived injustices will generally not be resolved with the imposed corporate breakup, either. It's unrealistic.

Ghosts n' Stuff Fri, 12 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 2ad9ac67-ca6f-2afd-9c09-3dea3b5cc9f9 According to the tracking application, I've managed to sleep just about fourteen hours in the last five days1. Insufficient sleep is nothing new for me as I will often forgo rest when I'm feeling particularly creative. More than this, there was a 12-year period in my life when insomnia was a very real issue that would come and go with such frequency that I generally kept two books next to my bed at all times; one to continue reading, and one to start reading after finishing the first. This week's lack of rest is completely by choice, though, and the familiar consequences of self-imposed sleep deprivation are beginning to manifest.

Split-Second Lapses in Consciousness

The first sign that the body is running on empty is the ever-so-subtle lapses in consciousness. This can happen at any time, but happen generally when I'm sitting down or walking Nozomi in the park. The feeling is always the same, too. I'm doing something, then there's a tingle that runs up my spine, then a split second of darkness followed by some sort of chemical release in the brain that I generally feel when being startled awake. This might be adrenaline or something else, but the sensation is unmistakeable.

These ephemeral naps rarely last more than half a second, and I've yet to fall down as a result of one while walking the puppy. Sometimes I wonder if I actually lost consciousness for a split second or if the chemical rush temporarily interfered with my ability to remember.

Figments of the Imagination

If ghosts were real, the world would be full of them. That said, when I'm struggling to remain conscious, the mind will sometimes create things for me to see that simply do not exist. It could be a mosquito flying above my head. It could be a tall, purple humanoid standing under a tree while Nozomi and I walk past. It could be a predatory animal with its fangs bared and walking in my direction. These things disappear when I try to look directly at them, making them mere figments of an exhausted mind.

One of the things I often wonder by this point is whether the mind is so desperate for sleep that it's dreaming while also being awake. Not in a daydreaming sort of manner, but in a "let's split the hemispheres to survive this test of endurance" sort of way. Can a brain do this? I wonder ….

Unfortunately the most I'll be able to sleep tonight is a paltry 5 hours. However, being a long-weekend in Japan, there will be ample opportunity to enjoy 8 solid hours of unconsciousness on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights.

  1. This is for a number of reasons that have already been written about, so won't rehash any of it here.

Taut Thu, 11 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason d6707a51-d1a8-f1f4-852d-a2e832b95b1b Just how far can a person figuratively stretch themselves before a literal injury? This is something I occasionally consider when I sit back in my chair and think about what I'm doing with my time. The last two weeks has seen an incredible amount of productivity, creativity, and accomplishment at the cost of a couple dozen hours worth of sleep and, given the chance to do it all again, I would make many of the same decisions without any hesitation. Being able to create something from nothing is a wonderful skill that separates us from many other forms of life on this planet. Can a person do too much of it, though?

A common theme in many of the articles I've written over the years has to do with my preoccupation with mortality and, more specifically, time. For as long as I can remember there has been a near constant concern about how long tasks are taking. In the back of my mind there is an irrational sense of urgency for darn near everything. Am I responding to email fast enough? Were the server updates completed in time? Will the new code be ready to deploy in the next couple of hours? "Everything" needs to be done and "nothing" is moving as quickly as it needs to. When I catch myself getting suck in one of these cycles it's important to look away from the glowing screens, lean back, and take some deep breaths. Not everything is a race, but it can sure feel like it at times.

As one would expect, there are consequences when the mind is forever rushing to complete its self-imposed To Do lists. Headaches and anxiety are common issues, of course, as is an unconscious shortness of breath1. One effective way to alleviate these problems is to go out for an hour-long walk, which encourages proper breathing, exercise, and alcohol in the park, but another is a little more noticeable for the family: cleaning.

I clean my house a lot. It can be quite therapeutic given the mess that three people and a puppy can make in an area over the span of a few hours or days. If there's a reflective surface that is part of the cleaning, it's even better. When the desire to slam the computer shut and take up a career as a parking lot attendant gets a little too strong, I like to simply walk away from the keyboard, grab some cleaning equipment, and get to work restoring order to a little bit of the chaos that is my home. The boy enjoys the spectacle and Reiko doesn't complain so long as I'm not in the way, which means that cleaning is one of the better outlets for unproductive thoughts. Half an hour is usually enough to turn a frown upside-down and a full hour will see quite a bit of the house organized. By the time I sit back down at the computer, I'll be feeling better and ready to get back to the task at hand.

This wouldn't be necessary if I could learn how to relax and maybe not invest so much passion into various projects. Passion is how I create, but passion is also quite exhausting.

  1. When I really focus on what I'm doing, I seem to forget to breathe. This means that at some point the body takes over and sucks in a big breath, reminding me that the subconscious elements of biology can't stop just because my attention is ultra-focused somewhere else.

3653 Days Wed, 10 Jul 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason ba311fcd-ec50-1dd2-861b-3cfb94f7719c On my tenth birthday my grandfather1 said something to me that made absolutely no sense at the time and I never followed up with him. Later I would figure out why he said it but, being just a young child who was far too nervous around adults, I nodded and kept my mouth shut.

So I guess you're 3,653 days old now. You've a long way to go to reach me.

This struck me as odd because there are 365 days in a year, and I was 10, so that would be 3,650 days, not 3,653. As for reaching him, we were both seated at the same table. I could reach him just fine.

Someone a little older would instantly realize that February 29th in 1980, 1984, and 1988 were taken into account to add the three days to the expected number, and reach in this case was figurative rather than literal. The mind of an uncomplicated ten year old2 is not something I would ever want to return to.

The other day while out grocery shopping with the boy, I remembered a blog post that I'd written a while back about how the grocery stores I used to frequent would have breakfast cereals next to the salty snacks. The post was written ten years ago today and it strikes me as odd that, of all the things I've stopped doing over the years, blogging is not on the list. The first couple of years worth of posts are pretty rough, with obvious grammar and stylistic problems. Many of the posts that I had written in exchange for links from other sites or as paid content continue to exist on here3 as do many of the posts that I cringe to look at today for the out-dated mode of thinking.

As I've said in other posts over the years, these older and less refined items will not be removed from the site unless there is a really good reason. They are a reflection of who I was at the time rather than who I aim to be today. I strive to better myself day after day, which means that having a record of poor writing and incomplete thinking is a good measuring stick to see what has changed, roughly when, and maybe even why.

So if this site is essentially a series of personal documents that outline the evolution of thought through the exploration of memories, opinions, and summaries, is it still considered a "blog" or would it be more accurate to describe it as a "journal"?

In my mind, a blog is generally a site containing posts on a narrow set of topics. A journal is a personal digest that focuses more on what's inside the mind than out. Definitions will vary wildly from person to person, but this is how I approach the two descriptions. This site is clearly a repository of half-started thoughts and conjecture, meaning it's not a blog but a public journal. It's been one since its inception 4,649 days ago on an underpowered Synology NAS sitting atop my fridge in Vancouver. This definition won't change the sorts of topics I write about nor the style, but it's sometimes interesting to think through descriptions to see if how we define a thing is correct or not.

  1. Yep, the same one I keep talking about.

  2. I don't remember everything about this day, but I do remember with a good amount of clarity and subconscious blank-filling this particular moment in time.

  3. There have been some people who have gotten in touch over the years to ask that I remove a post linking to them because they no longer want the association.

Overnumerousness Tue, 09 Jul 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason a4d9fc5c-e268-b714-bd07-b7ef4d272c71 Earlier today I was making some notes about an application I am considering pitching to the day job, outlining how the tool would work, who would use it, what they would use it for, and how the existing gigabytes of data that already exists would be adapted to work within this system with minimal effort on anyone's part. The concept is less than a week old, making it far too immature to discuss with colleagues in any real sense, but there is certainly a need for this sort of mechanism within the organization given that our current process is complicated, expensive, and prone to error. As I read through the rough notes to confirm nothing was missed, a familiar thought crossed my mind: why not make this for the world instead?

Every few months it seems another idea pops into my head for something that could help a specific group of people at the day job. Most of these concepts never leave their notebook. A small number receive further refinements or feature ideas over a period of months without moving into the demo or exploratory phase. Others still seem to be made into a functional proof of concept before a single note is written. A lot of the problems that colleagues face within the organization are hardly unique so, by creating something that might enjoy a wider audience, more people might benefit from whatever tool I create.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work in theory.

In reality the vast majority of the things that I've created for the world have seen very little uptake because I'm quite poor at marketing and I invest the vast majority of my day in spending time with family and accomplishing tasks for the day job. The hour or so I have outside of these two areas is generally spent reading articles online or writing new ones here. So by planning a tool that can be used within the day job, there's not just a better possibility that the project will succeed, but a better possibility that time can be dedicated to make it a success.

Time is a key ingredient for most forms of success. Unfortunately, it's forever in short supply and there is generally an endless of active priorities that require attention. Looking at the number of different software solutions that have not yet been — or never will be — pitched at the day job, there is an overnumerousness of tasks that can be optimized and automated away to allow people to focus on the more important elements of their work. Most of these can be generalized and created for a wider audience but, given the struggle I have finding consistent blocks of time for 10C development, would anything ever get completed to such a degree that it might get shipped?

There is a lot that can be shared with the world but, given the complexities of some of the problems at the day job, it would make far more sense to focus on the captive audience I know than the general population I don't.

I Win Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 66edf39e-d032-d380-33d0-c8042e41801a The title of this post has been rattling around inside my head for half a day despite the fact it's incredibly egotistical and not at all accurate, but defines exactly how I feel about how the trip to Tokyo turned out. Today was an opportunity to talk about the "secret project" with a number of managers who have a vested interest in seeing a solution to a problem that teachers across the country have been rather vocal about. Two had seen it, the others had not. Less than 20-minutes into the presentation, everyone was in agreement that the demo was good enough to deploy to a couple of locations as a trial. Before doing such a thing, though, executive approval was required. The CEO agreed to a quick demo and discussion on the topic, gave it the green light, then said "I'm glad we have something to tell the schools now. Every visit has involved complaints about the 'global system'". My objectives were accomplished. Teachers at several dozen schools will soon have one less thing to fight with during the day. People were generally smiling and happy. The day could not have gotten better.

Yet the title of this post irks me.

Working in a company of 10,000+ people means that a good number of them are going to be incredibly intelligent, incredibly perceptive, and incredibly competent. I've been fortunate enough to work with many people who fit two or more of these attributes and I look forward to working with them in a productive manner in the future, too. The great thing about working with intelligent, perceptive, and competent people is that there is always something to learn along the way. By assuming an attitude of "I win!", I risk coming across as yet another over-confident, egotistical bastard who doesn't appreciate the efforts of others, which is most certainly not always the case1. What I presented today may help the organization in the long run, but it was done in a manner that will likely rub some senior-level colleagues the wrong way. While no rules were officially broken, generally when there are questions or concerns involving someone else's project, it's uncouth to reverse-engineer what they've done, hammer their system to extract content, then present it elsewhere in a manner that is completely off the radar.

Justifications aside, I simply cannot shake the feeling that I've "won". What it is exactly that I've won? This remains to be seen. Perhaps I've won some new enemies. It could be that I've won the question of whether the day job should be hiring out our jobs to vendors rather than making use of the many people within the company who can accomplish various goals, be they related to software or otherwise. Maybe it's something else entirely.

What I want, more than anything else the day job can offer, is to hear colleagues say that they want to use my software. I understand this is a very captive market and that there is generally nowhere else to go. That said, by creating something that people want to use, I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment; I have taken complaints, worries, and concerns and built something else. Is it better? It's not for me to judge.

The system I'm trying to replace at the day job was created by intelligent people. The problem comes down to expectations. People at the school level in Japan expect software that will present them with a dearth of features designed to help them do their job. The system from HQ in the US checks all the boxes, but fails in execution. Mine excels at execution while failing with a simplified set features. Rather than thinking "I won", it might make more sense to look at this as a group effort and proclaim that we won.

  1. I will not lie and say that I always appreciate the efforts of others, as this is demonstrably false. There are several examples on this website alone where I say that someone has gone out of their way to help, and I've snubbed them for whatever reason. I am not at all a good person, nor can I pretend to be one. What I can do, however, is aim to be better today than I was yesterday. I honestly try to do this, though there are many, many examples of when I've failed.

Five Things (I Sometimes Miss) Sun, 07 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 80ebaea3-3eb7-658b-1a21-8f247e48d231 While walking the puppy this evening a familiar scent wafted through the cool air. It was of tobacco mixed with a hint of red wine, like the Colt's Old Port cigars my father would occasionally smoke … and that I would occasionally enjoy as a young adult. Almost 20 years have passed since the last time I lit a cigarette, and it reminded me of a couple of things that I occasionally miss while half-a-world away from where I grew up and learned what not to do.

Du Maurier Cigarettes

A number of friends of mine smoked while in high school. I have no idea how they managed to get their regular supply of cigarettes, nor do I know why the school turned a blind eye to the practice1. While in school, I didn't take up the habit as I just didn't have the money for it. The fact that my mother smoked a pack a day2 at the time meant that there was always a ready supply of second-hand smoke in the house, so there really wasn't much point to putting lit leaves into my mouth aside from the sense of community. After finishing school, when I started earning regular money, I decided to pick up the habit for a while. The reasoning remains a mystery, but I distinctly remember enjoying having a cigarette in my mouth while drawing, sketching, and coding. Whether it was lit or not did not matter.

When I smoked cigarettes, it was always Du Maurier. This is what my friends enjoyed, and it was different from what any of my parents smoked, which meant it was good enough for me. Some time around the summer of 1999, shortly after I moved into my own apartment, I was at a convenience store and saw packs of Colt's Old Port cigars behind the counter. When I was much younger, my father would enjoy a pack of these perhaps once a year. So, being a walking self-contradiction, I picked up a pack and finished them over a gluttonous weekend of video games and pizza.

As the year 2000 quickly approached and my passion for computers continued to heat up, I had to make a decision: I could either quit smoking to afford the seemingly constant upgrade cycle, or I could make do with the Pentium 150MHz system I had and maintain the habit.

I quit smoking cold turkey and haven't touched a tobacco product (to my knowledge) ever since.

That said, I do sometimes miss the friends and and fun I had while smoking.

Tim Horton's Donuts

Tim Horton's Donuts

While I understand that Tim Horton's in Canada no longer bakes its own donuts, and the recipes have changed, and the chain is a shell of its former self, I'll admit that I do wish I could step back in time to enjoy a Boston Creme donut with a large coffee, double-cream, and not-a-hint of sugar. The Mr. Donuts in Japan is far, far superior than anything I had while in Canada, but sometimes there's nothing like a too-sweet donut with a mediocre cup of coffee alongside.

Cool Ranch Doritos

These things are not at all good for you, but I would have at least two big bags every weekend. One on Saturday, and one on Sunday, usually while playing Age of Empires in the basement apartment I rented in Hamilton between 1999 and 2001. Life was simpler back then, and my stomach was much stronger. Only twice have I had a small bag of these Doritos since I turned 30 and both times resulted in gross disappointment. Perhaps it's because I wasn't playing Age of Empires at the time ….

The Internet Before AOL Joined

Believe it or not, there was a time in the Internet's short life when the worst thing you could do is refer to Star Trek as "Star Track"3, or say that The Phantom Menace wasn't all that bad. Now it seems that the worst thing anyone can do on the Internet is to use the thing as there will always be some group to take offence and demand blood. This isn't the fault of AOL nor the initial wave of fresh-faced web surfers who were unaware of the existing nascent cultures on IRC and Usenet, but this was when I started to notice a rising tide of anger and frustration posted to the web4.


Of all the things I miss, time is at the top of the list for things that I miss the most. When we're young and in school, regardless of how much homework we might have from our "mean teachers", there was always several hours of free time every day. In university this number increased by two. After university, even with a day job, a young person could have as many as 15 hours of free time per day and require only six hours of sleep. That works out to about 65 hours of free time per week5 for a young person to do whatever the heck they want. When I was in my early 20s, this meant upgrading my computer, playing games, goofing around on IRC, and coding unpopular applications for the Palm handheld.

As a 40 year old person with a family, mortgage, bills, and a demanding job, "free time" is something of a luxury. Still, I do what I can to make the time for the things that I enjoy, be it blogging, working on 10C, or freelance jobs that occasionally come through. 65 hours a week is all but impossible at this point, but I can enjoy the 10 or so that are regularly set aside.

  1. So long as people did not smoke on school grounds, of course. Smoking was mostly frowned upon but teachers can only guide teenagers, not control them.

  2. This works out to 25 cigarettes.

  3. Like Tim Cook recently did. Not cool, Mr. Cook. Not cool.

  4. Yes, there were always angry and frustrated geeks online. The more niche the topic, the angrier the crowd. That seemed to be the rule. The ratio is what seemed to change after September of 1993.

  5. 9 hours Monday to Friday is 45 hours, plus 10 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. That makes 65.

Chicago Sat, 06 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 243c534d-dbea-1dba-3b89-224ca34a5e22 In the early 1990s, back when I was barely a teen and "had it all figured out", my future was all about art and architecture. This was before I was introduced to the possibilities of computer programming and before I even considered Asia as a place of residence1. Rarely would I go more than a day without sitting down to draw an elaborate building, be it a skyscraper or a school that didn't rely so much on "hosable construction"2. Occasionally I would even venture to create something residential in the form of a nice house with enough space for people to enjoy. Much of this was inspired by the creative drawings I would see when visiting grandparents, but there was also a book that I distinctly being captivated by that sat ever so prominently in the art room in high school. The book was on the architecture of Chicago with an emphasis on skyscrapers.

Sunrise in Chicago

The building that really captured my attention still stands today at 333 West Wacker Drive and is probably best known for its distinctive curved front. It was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, completed in 1983, and even made an appearance in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Even at 36 years of age, the building looks fresh and modern. Very few buildings can say the same after just a quarter century.

It was from photos and sketches of this building that I would create drawings of my own. Structures of glass and steel would rise into the sky like an organic crystal rather than the giant cereal boxes that so many tall buildings resemble. Roads would curve around the gardens at the base of these structures or, in one instance, dive underground so as not to disturb the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the modern-day obelisk. Most of these pencilled renderings were completely untenable, given that they would insist that the city revolved around them rather than integrate in a symbiotic manner as good architecture demands. These were the sketches of a child, of course.

Studying architecture provided a lot of incentive to learn how to apply mathematics to solve problems3, study how people interact with the world, and appreciate the balance between the beautifully chaotic world of nature and the tranquil order that can be brought about through human ingenuity and creativity. These are skills that I still rely on today despite working in a completely different field.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have evolved had I not learned how to program computers. Would I have become an architect? Would I have designed yachts? Would I have just taken the easy route and gotten a job somewhere and stuck to it? There will always be questions of "what if" but, at the end of the day, I can't imagine doing anything else. I make a living working from home with just a handful of tools. Despite my occasional rages and bursts of expletive-laced hyperbole, life has been pretty good these past two years.

  1. I'm sure I've shared this before, but I distinctly remember telling my mother and step father at the age of 14 that I would one day live in Japan … to which they laughed and said "yeah, right".

  2. "Hosable construction" is generally how I refer to any building that can have any mishap, be it spilt milk or the slaughter of 1000 cows, cleaned up with nothing more than a hose connected to a water supply. A lot of the schools I attended were concrete affairs. Durable, cool in the summer, but very institutional.

  3. This is something that the schools are not particularly good at explaining. Sure, kids can learn about the quadratic equation, but when should we apply this sort of equation? This is what kids need to know.

Ending the Week on a High Thu, 04 Jul 2019 21:00:00 +0000 Jason b14d9349-d1d9-ff44-519b-918f1c7fc297 Generally at the end of every week I take a few moments to fill out some of the paperwork required by the day job, reporting on what it is I did every day for the week and marking the hours worked. This information is used by my managers as a means to understand where my time is generally spent and by payroll to cut a cheque at the end of the month. While recording the information for the last five days1, I was struck by how much was actually accomplished. It's no secret that I've been rather bored with some of the stuff at the day job these last few months, but this week was quite different. The standard fare of bug fixes, database management, Excel work, and SQL tasks were all in attendance, but so was actual development. Creative muscles were flexed, useful knowledge was acquired, and something new was created.

The last time I felt this good on a Friday night was … I don't know when, but it really needs to happen more often.

The act of sustained creation is something that I enjoy a great deal. We create, change, and destroy things in short bursts a hundred times a day, but how often can we sit down and focus on something for an entire week or more and see that the fruits of that labour are good2? Back in 2016 and 2017, I had the opportunity to work on objectives that were days, weeks, or even months in the making. This was when a new LMS3 was being developed at the day job and incredibly complex problems had to be solved with seemingly simple code.

Many of us enjoy solving problems. Some of us enjoy solving problems with code. For me, I enjoy solving problems with code that encourages people to re-adjust their expectations.

  1. I keep very detailed records of what I do every day in Outlook, which makes it rather easy to report exactly what I did, when, and — if applicable — with who.

  2. By "good", I don't mean "awesome". I mean that the effort resulted in something positive that has brought some marginal amount of order to the chaos of reality.

  3. Lesson Management System, which is a fancy way of saying "a piece of software used in schools".

Pop Thu, 04 Jul 2019 00:00:00 +0000 Jason 621b17b3-1376-f851-8033-9e2350a2725a Over the last couple of days and perhaps weeks1, I've been working my computers pretty hard to get a number of "high priority" tasks completed on time. As one would expect, this means that machines are running quite hot for most of the day as information is processed, massaged, and organized in the manner it needs to be. One of the nice things about working with computers is that you can tell them what work needs to be done, give them a staggering amount of it, and just let the machine go on its own until everything is complete … or there's an error. Just like people, though, our digital tools do have their limits and I think my MacBook Pro today hit one. While busy processing a bunch of data from a notoriously petulant vendor API, the machine had a very distinct pop! sound, as though something that hit the aluminum body hard. Given that the notebook generally doesn't move and I wasn't typing angrily2, what could have possibly caused the typically silent machine to make a popping noise?

A cursory inspection of the machine revealed no damage. There has been no smoke, nor has any sort of electrical burning smell been noticed. Perhaps I imagined it?

Just in case, I made sure that all my files were saved and that any uncommitted files were pushed up to GItHub. If something were to happen it would be better to have important information saved off the machine so that work can carry on with a different device.

Everything continued to work just fine afterwards and, an hour later, I stood up to have dinner with the family. Shortly after leaving the machine the pop sound happened again. There is nothing else on the desk that could possibly make that sound. Not the printer. Not the 24" monitor. Not my coffee cup. It must be coming from the notebook. It could be an expanding battery, a capacitor that's about to give up, or some other expensive problem that I can neither entertain nor afford right now. However, another cursory glance later, nothing out of the ordinary was found. The notebook is hot on the bottom3, but nothing out of the ordinary. Again, there's no sign of smoke or the distinctive smell of burning circuits. So that the heck might be causing this sound?

There was a time long ago when I would look forward to any excuse to open a computer. That time has long since passed, which is why I'm using a notebook with a  logo for my most important work rather than something else4. I just want the machines to work. Given that I have a rather important series of meetings and demos to deliver in Tokyo on Monday, a dead notebook is not something I'd like to contend with. Hopefully the popping sound is just thermal expansion forcing some glue loose or some other trivial matter.

  1. The days are just a blur lately. What separates one from the next? It's hard to tell.

  2. I'll admit that I do sometimes hammer the keys pretty hard when responding to email. When I notice this, the message is generally left as a draft for an hour or two … unless I opt to burn a bridge or five.

  3. I raise the back to improve airflow. The machine gets noticeably hot when sitting flat on the desk.

  4. I still have Lenovos doing important work. They're just in the background rather than under my fingers

Better Than the Alternative Wed, 03 Jul 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason e8c2a9ca-51fb-c798-2cb9-97ff5624021e For a little over half an hour yesterday, just about every website that I am responsible for keeping online fell offline. The first indication that there was a problem was a series of messages on Nice.Social. Then I tried a few other 10C-based sites and couldn't load anything reliably. Having seen this a couple of times before, I thought that my ISP had once again changed my static IP assignment1. Testing the theory proved this idea wrong, though, so I tried other remedies. Rebooting the router did not fix the problem. Rebooting the server did not fix the problem. Then I decided to check CloudFlare and saw the very same messages afflicting their site that afflicted mine: 502 Bad Gateway.

Turns out that CloudFlare, a service that I rely on quite a bit, was taken offline by a software update gone bad.

CloudFlare Message

In the first couple of hours after service was restored, when geeks could get back to being angry on forums, a number of people said that they have "had enough of CloudFlare" and will take their business elsewhere. Others lamented that the Internet had become "too brittle" as a result of people being so dependent on a handful of American companies for critical services. Some even said things so absurd that it makes no sense to repeat them, but feel free to explore some of what people on TheRegister had to say.

As a paying customer of CloudFlare, I'll admit that there was quite a bit of frustration when none of my sites — inside or outside my home — or services were responding to web traffic but would handle SSH just fine. That said, "things happen" and systems became unavailable for anywhere between 27 and 50-odd minutes2. My SLAs with clients need to be carried out and, in all, this service outage will cost me about $40 in credits that I'm applying to accounts. Not a huge amount, but not something I would like to hand out daily. Will I be moving off their service to use someone else? Not a chance.

While it's unfortunate that there was frustration and downtime, there's really nothing better or easier that I'm aware of. A number of my APIs have integrations with the CloudFlare API, making it possible to programmatically create, update, and deactivate DNS records, SSL certificates, trigger DDoS protection, and more. More than this, the people at CloudFlare have been pretty open about the problem and work hard to have one of the most reliable systems on the planet. Jumping ship because of an occasional hiccup like this would be premature. If it becomes a monthly or weekly pattern, then I'll be more incentivized to find or create an alternative. Currently this simply isn't the case.

I trust that CloudFlare will learn from the mistake and ensure it doesn't (easily) happen again in the future.

  1. Yes, I know. I've had the same conversation with their tech support on numerous occasions. It still seems to be that every 45 to 60 days I'm given a drastically different IP address.

  2. Based on server access logs here at home as well on Amazon's EC2 instances.

Seeing More Grey Tue, 02 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 0f0d3740-4cf9-02ea-b860-0c435dc8bc26 If there is just one thing that I remember about the summer of 2019, it will be the rapid onset of grey hairs. There has always been a handful of non-brown hair peppering the top of my head or eyebrows, but never before has the number of visible grey hairs grown at a noticeable rate. I don't mind the grey hairs, nor do I have any particular feelings towards the occasional strand of white. If anything, these melanin-poor strands add a little bit of character.

Interestingly enough, there's also a lot more grey on Nozomi now that she's well into her 9th year. Every summer she (somehow) manages to shed enough fur to fill a large garbage bag and, after brushing her for nearly half an hour every morning, she's more grey than gold1. Will she one day be completely devoid of her golden fur? Time will tell, but I do hope she maintains her youthful energy for walks, dinner, and hugs regardless the colour of her mane.

Nozomi and I are certainly showing some signs of our age. Fortunately neither of us feel particularly old just yet.

  1. This is an exaggeration, but the silver fur really is noticeable when we're close together … which is most of the day.

Knowing Better Mon, 01 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 89501c27-eee9-b836-4b70-2a12e777ff35 Today was one of those rare days when the stars aligned to allow an incredible amount of work to get done at the day job. Colleagues were busy with their own tasks, managers were focussed on other people, and, for a little over eight hours, I could focus not on the work I should have been doing but the work that needs to be done. While I may fall behind on some of my tasks, I am confident that my efforts last week and this week will save a lot of time, hassle, and money over the coming months because "I know better".

The quotes are important in that statement. There are literally tens of thousands of people around the globe who I can consider a colleague. There are hundreds of managers as well. To declare that I, an individual employee who spends more time talking to his dog than his boss, can know better than the scores of hard working thinkers across the company can seem a little too hubristic even for me. Sometimes, though, good things can result from the efforts of a single person.

Looking at the recent efforts in context can provide a more complete picture of the dilemma that I'm faced with. Here's the gist of the situation at the day job:

  • several hundred colleagues across the country are not at all happy with a new piece of software from HQ that they're forced to use
  • they have organized amongst themselves to write up a list of grievances with the software, ranking them from high to low priority
  • they have explained how they need the software changed to better do their jobs, complete with pictures

First of all, I'm really impressed with the list everyone put together. It provides actionable information that a person can actually use to make something better. Just saying "the software sucks" is not at all productive. Second, the fact that there are diagrams to look at is just outstanding. Could they make the work any easier?

The problem, however, is that senior management is deaf to these issues. They believe the new software tool is both the future and absolutely perfect in its current incarnation. Senior management has never used the software, though, but the middle management that surrounds them is quite happy with the tool despite also not using it in a classroom setting. Having worked in the classroom for almost a decade, I can tell you that bad software can make a great teacher look mediocre, and an uninitiated teacher look far worse. The schools need something better and fast, which is where my little act of disobedience comes in. The company needs someone to listen to the teachers and provide solutions and, as they're not being responsive enough, I've taken it upon myself to provide the solution. This is the correct use of my time, though it may not seem like it at the moment.

A lot of people who have worked for a large organization have likely run into this sort of situation a number of times, where colleagues are dealing with friction and something needs to be done. Given the freedom and flexibility to self-manage, the average employee might have the requisite knowledge or skill set to provide a solution, but management refuses to permit the problem from being solved because of various reasons1. The only way forward is to redirect some time towards the bigger problem and hope the consequences are sufficiently light to warrant the risk. It's generally easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. If the solution a person provides is a good one, permission can always be retroactively granted and followed up with a "thank you".

  1. Some of these reasons may be completely reasonable, too.

Five Things Sun, 30 Jun 2019 11:00:00 +0000 Jason 864fee82-5473-a992-d4a1-217a5c915ba7 Over the last few years I've managed to build a number of software tools for the day job, allowing people who work at the school-level to more quickly put the computers away and focus on the students in front of them. Having worked at the schools for nine years, I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of colleagues and get their input on what it is that software would need to do in order to make their jobs easier. When I was transferred out of the classroom and into IT, I put a lot of this knowledge to good use to create some of the systems that students, instructors, and school staff rely on day in and day out. While I technically no longer write software for the company1, I do end up building a lot of software to help people answer questions, collate information, or otherwise get a job done in a manner more efficient than an Excel sheet can offer.

A couple of months ago some new digital textbooks were rolled out across the company. This is the first official digital textbook system2 from my employer and the response has been … less than ideal. There are over 2,000 teachers across Japan, and the vast majority of them have done nothing but complain about this newer system as it's slow, counter-intuitive, and cares more about flash and pizzaz than the job it needs to perform, which is presenting learning materials that are stored as static HTML files. Not a day goes by where there isn't at least one email waiting for me in the morning from an instructor who has gotten fed up enough with the new system that they invested some of their personal time to find my email and send a message asking me to fix it. Unfortunately, I can't fix it. The project isn't mine and, to make matters worse, I've burned every bridge with the department that was responsible for commissioning the project3. So even if I wanted to try and help by making some changes to the source and sending it up the chain as a pull request in Git, nothing would happen. Also, I'm buried in a number of other high-priority, mission-critical tasks that make it pretty much impossible for me to help.

Which is why I've chosen to simply "cheat". Some time was dedicated on Thursday and Friday to reverse engineer the API4 and I've managed to build a system that can scan the entire textbook library, grab the titles that do not exist in the digital textbook system I created, pull the HTML (and parse it into something that makes sense), and save a bunch of additional metadata to the database so that additional features like "search by grammar point" can exist. This week I'll invest two or three hours a day to getting the UI tweaked so that it looks better on a tablet, which is the primary way instructors use the textbooks, as well as ensuring that page loads are completed in under 0.25 seconds. Given that the new system needs about 12 seconds per page load, teachers will appreciate the speed increase. Hopefully by this coming Friday I can hand off this temporary solution to the right people in Tokyo who will then authorize it for release across the country.

And now it's time for the list part of this article: Five things that education-support software needs to get right.

It needs to be fast

Speed is crucial, and it's always so disappointing to see when software that cost more than my house is slower than poorly-configured WordPress site. Pages should always load in less than 1 second, ideally showing the text before any images or other bandwidth-heavy assets begin downloading. Too many applications try to be "fancy" with their animations showing spinning arrows while assets are loaded in the background. Teachers don't have time for this when they're flipping a page mid-lesson. Load the text and get the heck out of the way.

It needs to be intuitive

When people were trained to use the new digital textbook software, the sessions ran for about 80 minutes. Eighty minutes for 2,000+ teachers is a lot of wasted time and money. Training for my digital materials was not required because the interface operates like a typical Kindle, which most people already knew how to use, even if they've never used a Kindle. Also, my LMS will have links to the exact page an instructor is going to need for their class built into the person's daily schedule. Tapping a button would open the book you needed to the page you needed with the resources and notes you needed in under a second. Changing pages could be done by swiping or tapping the edge of the page. There were no animations at all. Things just changed and got out of the way.

It needs to let a teacher see exactly what a student sees

Instructor books have included student pages for over a hundred years. Teachers rely on this in order to plan better lessons. If a teacher has to guess at what a student is seeing when they open their textbook — or use any other learning material — then the support pages are nothing of the sort.

It cannot have any friction

Far too much software in the workplace contains far too much friction, disincentivizing people from using the tool in the first place. If the software is being designed primarily for use on a tablet, dispense with the dropdown lists unless they're rarely needed or honestly necessary. Arrows to toggle between pages and chapters work far better. If there are audio components in the lesson, show a scrubber bar and the length of the audio. Let people quickly skip ahead or skip back by 5, 10, or 15 seconds to quickly get to the audio segment they seek. Are there page numbers? Show them!

It must be critiqued by the people using it, not managers

The software that I've built for the day job has been critiqued a lot over the years. Sometimes very harshly. Sometimes very justly. The feedback has always been welcome, though, as it means that the person criticizing the tool (hopefully) cares enough about their job to want to do it better. The first version of my digital textbook system had a number of complaints in the first couple of months, and near-daily updates worked through those issues one at a time. This made the system much, much better for everyone5. People can sometimes be incredibly harsh when providing feedback and they can sometimes be incredibly wrong. It's important to listen and, ideally, respond back. Sometimes a harsh critique can be resolved with a little more training and a mental note to revisit a design element later.

Over the last couple of years, I've tried to adhere to these five things when building things for use at schools because it's the efforts of the teachers and students that ensure I receive a salary. If I make their lives harder, then there's no reason for them to keep me around. If I actively work to solve their problems, then everybody wins.

A lot of the software used by teachers and schools is just awful, but it really needn't be.

  1. As a "senior systems administrator", I'm in charge of data. Fortunately, this was made intentionally vague as heck by some senior managers who knew that my move valuable work is generally the stuff I was never asked to do.

  2. Funny story, I built the first digital textbook system for the company as a proof of concept while still teaching lessons back in 2014. In 2015 there were a couple of revisions made to handle some new feature requests like embedded YouTube videos and whatnot but, the demo I built in 2014 is still used today across Japan as part of the Lesson Management System I later developed.

  3. The bridges were burned because I despise office politics and petty betrayals. Far too often they would take work done by me or other colleagues and claim it as their own to senior management or, worse, describe us as an "unhelpful roadblock" because we're not dropping every other task to attend to their whimsical demands.

  4. This revealed a host of actual security concerns, as I've learned that authentication tokens can exist forever so long as they're used once in a 24-hour period. Also, by poking at the API, I've found it possible to get access to areas that my account shouldn't have access to. This "security theatre" can take place because the front end changes the menus and options based on the account permissions. So long as someone doesn't know how to use a RESTful API client, the data is "safe".

  5. It's a shame that HQ in the US has decided to throw 99% of my code away come November for stuff written by external vendors in Chicago, New Delhi, and Sydney. Alas, I'm still employed, so shouldn't complain too much.

Something to Talk About Sat, 29 Jun 2019 14:30:00 +0000 Jason bcbd41b2-1caa-3d43-fbe6-4752c1e3b4d0 Odd as it may seem, a number of neighbours have been talking about me over the last year or so. I'm the only foreigner in the community who has bought a home rather than rented and, unlike a lot of men my age, I don't leave the house every morning in a suit. In fact, the only time people see me leave the property is when I'm taking either the boy or Nozomi out for a little walk1. Land in Japan is not cheap, nor is a house, so the question that's been on a lot of people's mind is how I can afford this lifestyle. Earlier today, while returning home from a short walk to the park, I fell into a conversation with someone I've seen from time to time walking their dog, but have never spoken to. We talked about the neighbourhood, our kids, our dogs, and eventually our careers. When I explained what I did, the response was something along the lines of "Ah, that's quite a bit different from what we've been thinking", to which I asked what has everyone been thinking?

"At first we thought you might be yakuza2", my neighbour said. "Because you were always home during the day and don't shave very often." He has a point. I generally shave every five days if I can manage it. By the fifth day my facial stubble is about 1.5mm long, making it just long enough to do something about. Working for the Japanese mafia does not seem like a good long-term career, though.

"Then we thought that maybe you didn't work, but that your wife did." Stay-at-home dads are exceedingly rare in Japan. Exceedingly rare. This is primarily due to the unfair practices that many companies use to ensure that women who become mothers are incentivized to quit. A parent who puts their child before the company is deemed "troublesome", and women generally choose their kids over their careers. Most men would like to do this, but will find their careers stagnate just as quickly as their female colleagues. As a result, a lot of guys are afraid to put family before company. The culture is changing for the better … but very slowly.

"Yamaguchi-san3 said that you have a Juku4 face, so you might work at one of the nearby offices, but we don't see you wear a suit in the afternoons."

The neighbour listed off another four guesses before coming to the last theory.

"My wife said that every time you go out, you're carrying an iPad5. She thought that maybe you were a pro Pokémon Go player and that you sold characters you find to people online."6

Of all the possible careers that were mentioned, I don't think I could do any of them for very long. My skills and qualifications make it possible for me to work at a cram school to teach either English or some sort of computer-related skill, but the pay would be about one-third of what I earn today. This would make owning a house in this neighbourhood all but impossible unless Reiko was also working full time. The first theory, working for the yakuza, would probably result in a world of hurt very quickly. I have neither the temperament nor the ability to intimidate, which means I'd be a lame member bussing tables and maybe running errands. This is not exactly my idea of a worthwhile job.

That said, now that more people know what it is that I do and who I do it for, I'm going to hope that the gossip dissipates a bit.

  1. I do get out a little more than this, but people tend to see what they want to see.

  2. A Japanese gangster.

  3. The area leader for this year.

  4. A cram-school. These are generally open from 3:30pm to 10:00pm.

  5. This is true. I carry the work iPad when I'm out of the house so that I have an active Internet connection and can also respond to questions from colleagues.

  6. People can do this? I've never played the game, but would be surprised to discover this is possible as it seems about as volatile a revenue stream as BitCoin mining.

More Phantom Quakes Fri, 28 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 3e7db302-3e11-73d0-2f34-c1471173cdb8 Japan was hit by one of its largest recorded quakes at 2:46pm on March 11, 2011. Measuring an incredible 9.0 on the Richter scale, a little more than half the island nation felt the ground beneath them move. I was working in Tokyo at the time, Reiko was at a clinic, Nozomi was alone in the apartment. A thousand aftershocks were recorded in the 34 days after the initial quake, and another 10,000 have been added to the tally over the years. To say that this six-minute seismic event directly influenced some immediate life decisions would be an understatement.

Growing up in the Great Lakes region of Canada, earthquakes were a relatively rare occurrence. I remember feeling one in 1986 and hearing about another in 19981. When I moved to Japan, where earthquakes happen far more frequently, one could be felt every couple of months. Rarely did this ever cause a problem and, more often than not, I was unworried given that the buildings and infrastructure across the country was generally designed to handle up to a magnitude 6.0 quake before showing signs of stress2. There was one quake I recall in 2009 that forced several local train lines to stop, stranding me in the middle of nowhere until a taxi could be hired, but nothing I had experienced before the Tohoku earthquake ever made me nervous. Since then, however ….

In the immediate aftermath of 3/11, Reiko and I made the decision to leave the Tokyo area to return to central Japan. This is the area where she grew up and has family, and this is also the area that I was most familiar with, having spent a couple of years working in Nagoya before heading to Tokyo to work at a start-up. Resources were scarce and, worse still, Nozomi was refusing to eat food. She was far too nervous after the quake to have any appetite. Her bones started to show despite her fur, and she was always shaking. Despite all the 頑張ろう日本!3 advertisements everywhere, none of us had any reason to stay close to Tokyo. I received permission from my employer to work remotely for a couple of months, and we made the move.

Nozomi needed almost 18 months to calm down and eat food on her own again4. Reiko was good after just a couple of weeks. I don't know if I've ever calmed down, though. Despite the relative lack of seismic activity in this part of the country, I am always on edge when I hear what I think is the telltale sound of an impending earthquake. There is a distinctive sound buildings in a neighbourhood collectively make when the ground begins to move, and I think I hear this a couple of times a week. Every time I do, I have a very "deer-in-the-headlights" reaction.

  1. Immediately stop whatever I'm doing
  2. Listen
  3. Really listen
  4. Are any of the phones in the house blaring the emergency earthquake notification?
  5. Are the windows shaking?
  6. Where are Nozomi and the boy?
  7. Choose the fastest route to collect everyone and be ready to move

And then, more often than not, what I thought was the vibration of dozens of houses turns out to be a passing truck that is ignoring the weight-restriction rules5 posted on the road some 15 metres away. The phones are silent. The windows are stationary. Nozomi's napping, and the boy — if he's awake — is probably playing in the living room. There's no need to collect everyone and move to the front entrance area, which is pretty much the safest place to be in the house should a large quake hit.

A "phantom quake".

Based on a number of articles I've read on the matter, these sort of imagined earthquakes should dissipate over time until they're essentially gone. In my case, they seem to be increasing. I doubt this is PTSD or some other condition as the only thing that was hurt long-term by the quake was my job at the start-up6, so what might be causing the uptick in nervousness? Work-related anxiety? Time pressures from all the competing voices who expect something done? Some combination thereof?

The one time I can safely say that phantom quakes do not happen is after I've spent some time on the hill in a nearby park. Listening to podcasts while enjoying some vodka has an incredibly calming effect on my nerves, but this is hardly a perfect solution.

  1. I was in a moving car with my mother at the time, so the magnitude 3-ish quake was pretty much dampened out. We didn't know there was a quake until arriving home later that day to a house full of agitated sisters. (My sisters, of course. My mother doesn't have any sisters.)

  2. The building codes have since been updated, of course. Now all buildings in the country must be able to withstand a 7.0 with 9.0 being the recommended goal. My house is supposedly capable of withstanding a series of 9.5 quakes before becoming structurally compromised. Hopefully this will never be put to the test.

  3. This was a government-sponsored advertising blitz that tried to raise the country's spirits after the 3/11 quake. It translates to "Let's do our best", which was also pretty much what people were saying while rebuilding the country between 1945 and the late 1970s.

  4. This was a pretty dark time for Nozomi. She sometimes needed to be force-fed, otherwise she would just avoid solid food for days at a time.

  5. There's a weight restriction of 5 tonnes, though it's not uncommon to see trucks that carry a lot more driving way too quickly down the residential street.

  6. This worked out for the better, though, as the company was sold to Mixi a few months later, and that's a company that I simply cannot work for.

Culture Over Technology Thu, 27 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 610da1a0-dd9e-b4ea-ff26-54edcb990a81 Earlier today I was listening to a recent episode of the Joe Rogan podcast where Bob Lazar and Jeremy Corbell were interviewed about a recent documentary on the former's experiences with extraterrestrial technology. Generally I don't pay much attention to stories about alien visitations and whatnot but, if Joe Rogan is asking the questions, then there's no harm in listening to the conversation unfold1. Based on Bob Lazar's claims, a research centre associated with Area 51 had as many as 9 extraterrestrial craft in the 1970s, each from a different origin and each with their own team of dedicated scientists working to understand how the vessels operated. There were some specific references to the kinds of technologies that were associated with the one craft that Bob was working on, and about halfway into the show he explained that he was disappointed with himself for ruining his only chance at being around — and reverse engineering — extraterrestrial technology.

For me the technology would be interesting, but not the most interesting area of research. I would want to know about the organisms that travelled in the ship. What do they look like? Do they have the same biological needs as humans? Do they breathe an atmosphere like ours? How do they communicate? What is their lifespan? What is their culture like? What is the history of their world? And, perhaps most importantly, why do they have a humanoid body? Technology would certainly play a role in the history of these people, just like ours has allowed us to migrate across the planet and harness the atom, and I would find it a fascinating area of study, but not nearly as much as the history and culture aspects of the species.

Unfortunately, I'll likely never have the opportunity to learn about an off-world civilization. I do believe that the universe is teeming with life and some of it is sentient like we are, though I am doubtful of the visitation stories. Given the opportunity, I would certainly invest the time and effort into understanding a truly alien culture and perspective with the hopes of sharing that knowledge with the rest of humanity.

  1. Mind you, the episode featuring Alex Jones spouting off all kinds of weird "conspiracy" stuff was a bit too much. Managed to get through only the first 45 minutes of that show.

Back to Zero Wed, 26 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 581cf18a-9d3b-eeb4-e5ed-9a2e1d785d74 Earlier today I took a look at my To Do list notebook and decided to do something drastic: I sent it through the shredder.

Some Graph Paper and a Decent Pen

Generally I keep a dedicated notebook for the task of To Dos. Every page is dated and, at the end of every day, I write the incomplete items from the current day onto the page dedicated for the next day. As people ask for things throughout the day, I add the request to the list and attack things in an order based on what I see as more important or more interesting. This system has worked well for a number of years as it allows me to go back and see certain patterns. Unfortunately, the nightly process of writing incomplete items onto the next day's sheet has become a bit of a strain.

At the start of Monday there were 18 incomplete items that needed attention, about four of which are very much my responsibility. Tuesday saw 23 incomplete items waiting for me in the morning. This morning it was 31. Every day I'm checking off six or seven items but the list just continues to grow and I'm running out of energy to tackle many of the tasks that involve chasing down people who are consistently missing their commitments. I'm not a manager, yet I certainly feel like one with all the emails, "pings", and phone calls to people in an effort to figure out whether an up-stream process has completed or not.

The problem is that I'm simply not keeping up with all of the things that people are expecting done and the anxiety that I feel as a result of the ever-lengthening list is simply unsustainable.

When an Inbox is siting completely empty, we call it "Inbox Zero". When a To Do list is completely empty, I call it liberating.

Of course, one does not simply destroy a list of tasks and their history and expect that everything is gone. Some of the responsibilities still need to be completed and will be worked on tomorrow when I return to the desk to begin yet another day of work. For tonight, though, there will be no list transfer. Heck, aside from the plastic spiral loop that I threw in the recycling bin, there is no book anymore.

What I hope to accomplish with this act of destruction is to reduce the anxiety that I generally feel. There will always be a lot of work waiting in the morning, which is one of the reasons I'm employed. If there wasn't a long list of tasks then my managers would likely find a way to keep me busy. By not having a running list that grows by the day it might be possible to relax a bit and focus a little more on the important work that needs to be finished. Will there be a risk of feeling anxiety about possibly forgetting something? Sure. But if something is truly important, there will be a message in my inbox … or on Teams … or on Slack.

Being useful is something I take far too seriously. Maybe by eliminating some of the structures around how I perform my job I can slow down and focus more on what's in front of me, maybe even improving the quality of my work as a result.

People can only run at 100% for so long, and I'm tired of burning out.

Why Do Writers Write? Tue, 25 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 9701f27a-5da2-208b-7708-ae8b81851deb Earlier today Becca asked a question that people have asked in one form or another for countless generations: why do writers write? I see the answer as being in the same vein as the answer to "Why do people climb mountains?" The response — "Because it's there" — will either answer the question or lead to further queries that try to dig down to the very core of its meaning: because we can.

Writing in a Notebook

Writers write because they can, just like players play, singers sing, bakers bake, and fathers … fath[1. One day I might just look up the etymology of "father". Something tells me it did not come from fath.]. And who can blame them? There's a lot a person can find alluring about writing. Ideas that we transcribe can be transmitted to an immeasurable number of people over a period spanning centuries if not longer. Writing is currently the only way for a person to achieve some measure of immortality. Writing is currently the most intimate way for an idea to be shared. My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts.

Writing is the closest we'll get to a Vulcan mind-meld for at least another quarter century.

For me, though, the reason I write is because this gives me a chance to think. Writing is an outlet that requires a certain amount of structure in order for it to work. Notes, be they scribbled on paper or hastily typed in list form somewhere, are unstructured and generally meaningless without context. It's this context that I seek when putting ideas into some sort of document. Not every attempt is successful, but this is a necessary part of the process. Thoughts need to be refined over time. Context must be examined for gaps or irregularities. Any concept that cannot be defined is an incomplete theory or worse; an unjustified belief.

When thinking is secondary, then I like to write just because it gives me an opportunity to share a story with the world, no matter how trivial or asinine. Not many people will care if my phone's display has burn in, if I walked in a stream with my son, or if I made paper boats in my youth. This is completely fine, too, as I'm not writing for a large audience.

I write because I can — because I want to.

Burn In Mon, 24 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 68a000d5-9b8a-a265-90b4-4f77db5922cb In an attempt to rid ourselves of domineering phone companies1, Reiko and I picked up a pair of unlocked devices in May of 2016. As one would expect, these devices have seen quite a bit of usage. What I didn't expect, though, was that my screen would one day have all the signs of burn in; a condition where pixels on a screen are damaged as a result of displaying a bright image for too long. What exactly has caused this problem? The keyboard.

Unless the screen is showing some sort of video the keys for the English keyboard are always visible as an echo overtop whatever night be the intended image. The last time I had this problem it was on an old 15" LCD display from 1999 which had the SETI@Home screensaver2 outline permanently visible. None of the tricks to resolve the problem worked, so I wound up sending the thing off to be recycled before I moved to Vancouver a few years later.

This does make me wonder if this is a common issue among people who type a lot on their phones. In my case, the keyboard is open for an hour or two a day. I take notes, chat, and respond to with emails on the phone. Given the propensity for young people to be on their phones far more than the average adult, I did a quick search to see if this was a common issue only to find that not only is it common, but it can happen on new devices, too! I've clearly just been fortunate enough to either not have the issue or not notice it until recently.

Thank goodness for small favours.

This experience did raise an interesting question, though: could a phone's digital assistant software listen well enough for a person to dictate an entire blog post and have it published? Would a person who may need to control their computer completely through voice be able to compose and publish a blog post? Are there blogging tools out there already that can handle this level of accessibility?

It's something I'll need to research, as this is something that I would like to have available.

  1. It's only recently that a person in Japan can demand their phone be unlocked after a contract is complete, but phone companies can still refuse or otherwise make the process so complex that people give up. SoftBank is the worst for this, with Au being a close second.

  2. Yeah, the screensaver burned the pixels. That's academic software for you in a nutshell.

Five Things Sun, 23 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason d1401ba2-c8aa-c053-d12e-2595b387b6a4 Over the last couple of months I've found myself able to set aside some time during some days to continue building 10C, adding features and resolving bugs along the way. This has made it possible to complete a number of outstanding issues and even improve overall performance through optimized database queries. Despite the number of closed tickets and checkboxes in notebooks, there is still a lot to be done. This week's Five Things will outline some of the next features that will be restored/released.

A Proper Landing Site

Oddly enough, there is no proper landing page for 10C anywhere to be found. This has always existed for the v2 and v4 releases of the software, but v5 has seen more attention paid to the people who currently use the system rather than trying to encourage others to join. On Friday I made some progress on a site design that doesn't embarrass me and this important site will hopefully be ready for deployment later this week.

Comments on Sites

Comments are certainly possible on blog posts but, for the moment, this has been limited to using Nice.Social. Comments have been a bit tricky to work out primarily because in order for anonymous commenting, there needs to be an anonymous account with a special set of rules around its operation. The hard work of thinking through the solutions has been completed and documented, which leaves coding as the final step. This, too, should be ready later this week for people who choose to enable the feature on their site.


For reasons I can't quite fathom, drafts were never built into the API, meaning that only published items could find their way into the database. This is clearly suboptimal for a lot of people, so drafts will be making a return. Just as with posts, Drafts will be versioned to allow a person to go back and recover — or simply view — previously written text. Of course, any drafts not imported into 10Cv5 from v4 will be restored.

A JavaScript-free Blog Theme

One of the next blogging themes in the works has absolutely no JavaScript in place. The design will be simple, and the features will match those found on the default Anri blogging theme. The purpose of this theme is to show that a mostly static website does not need all sorts of extra code to work.

An Application

Sometimes an application is preferable to a JavaScript-powered website, and I plan on making a couple of them this year for the Windows and  platforms. The first tool will be geared towards private use of the system in the form of a journalling tool. After this, there will be additional, dedicated applications focussing on notes and blogging. One thing I can promise is that these applications will not be Electron apps. Instead the Windows application will be written in VisualStudio using C#, while the Apple versions will be written in SwiftUI. As one might expect, this code will be open source despite also being for sale in the applicable app stores.

There's a lot more coming to the platform this year, time permitting, but I'm quite happy with how the last few weeks of updates have gone. Hopefully the streak continues.

Something to Write About Sat, 22 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 7139e266-5f4a-2c56-f7a9-aa2124048907 Not a week goes by where someone doesn't reach out and ask how it's possible to write and publish a blog post a day, with Janie being one of the more recent people to ask. Writing daily is not at all an easy thing to do and there are times when I feel just too mentally exhausted to spend yet another hour in front of a glowing screen to hammer out a few dozen poorly-constructed sentences just to satisfy some arbitrary objective that will neither earn rewards nor be remembered for very long after the streak finally comes to a stop. That said, there are a few things that I do in an effort to ensure something can be completed daily.

The first is that I write. A lot. On any given day there will be anywhere between two and seven rough posts written into Evernote. Sometimes these are little more than a list of talking points. Sometimes it's a completed editorial1. The primary goal is to keep writing whenever possible in order to trigger tangential ideas and to practice penning a concept. Clearly conveying complex ideas that rely heavily on context with as few superfluous words as possible takes time. As Blaise Pascal famously wrote: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. Anyone who might read more than a handful of posts on this site will see that I still have a long, long way to go.

Sometimes writing isn't enough, though. There have been a number of occasions where two or more hours have been invested in an essay that will never see publication. After completion, another post needs to be written in order to maintain the daily publication streak. It's not enough for me to simply write. It needs to be out there for people to read. This often happens on weekends when extra time avails itself for a more nuanced piece. To deal with this, I decided many months ago to "cheat" with a recurring theme called Five Things, which was taken from another blogger who I accidentally stumbled upon while reading a ten year old blog post from Jeremy Cherfas2. By having a set weekly post type that is quite a bit different from the standard fare, there's an opportunity to explore different writing styles, ideas that are still just early concepts, and maybe reduce the self-imposed burden of a daily release schedule.

However, when writer's block hits, it hits hard. There are a lot of people that have either given up blogging or failed not start due to some type of writer's block. When this hits me, I often write a meta post about not being able to write3. Unfortunately this can only be done once or twice before it's clear that writing about writer's block is no longer meta, but a recurring subject. So to keep things interesting, I wrote a bunch of "templates" that start with a question, then asks anywhere from two to five follow up questions. All in all, I have 38 of these templates ready to be called upon to help me break through the logjam that is writer's block — or just creative exhaustion — and have used seven. Lots of these are vague enough that questions can be used again for future posts without coming across as a retread.

Here is one of my favourites:

What did you do as a child that you don't do now?⇢ When did you start?⇢ How did you start?⇢ Is there a specific memory that brings a smile to your face?⇢ Why did you stop?

Silly as it may seem, these little templates have helped quite often, even when I don't use them specifically to write a blog post.

This is how I write and publish a new post every day. It's not always easy. There not always time. There is, however, always something that can be shared.

  1. Many of the posts I complete are never published. This is primarily because doing so would warrant the kind of attention I wish to avoid. Some things are better left unpublished.

  2. Rabbit holes can sometimes lead to some pretty interesting places. I encourage anyone looking for something wonderful and/or unexpected to follow links on blog posts just to see where they go and where they lead to next.

  3. This is not a meta post.

Wet Feet Fri, 21 Jun 2019 01:00:00 +0000 Jason 1859fe63-8e77-534a-7778-4d092864a48b In a world designed for adults, it's nice to enjoy being a kid every now and again. Being Friday, I brought the boy to a nearby park1 where he could run around and use his energy without fear of breaking anything. There were quite a few "firsts" today, too. The first time he went through a tunnel on a jungle gym all by himself. The first time he drank from a water fountain2. And the first time he walked barefoot in a stream3. Naturally, I had to join him.

Standing in the Fountain

More than twenty years have passed since I last stood in flowing water. It felt just as nice today as it did when I was young and innocent. If there's one idea that the boy has helped reinforce, it's that things I enjoyed as a child are just as enjoyable today as they were back then.

  1. It's the same park where I like to go and sit on the hill but, given that the hill is a bit too steep for him to climb, we go to the more family-friendly side.

  2. After I told him in no uncertain terms to keep his lips OFF the damned chrome nozzle.

  3. An artificial stream, of course. The nearest natural one that I know of is absolutely filthy. Mud and mosquitoes everywhere.

Closer Thu, 20 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 791ccc6c-4e8e-4879-d0ef-847230af5ced While I would like to say that with each passing day, 10C inches closer to being a complete solution, the reality is that the project goes in spurts based on how busy I am with client and day job tasks. This week has been a little different, though, as there seems to be just a trickle of tasks coming in from bill-paying sources. This means the day job responsibilities can get cleared out during regular working hours and the rest of the computer time can be spent working on my 2,500+ day old pet project. The hours have been put to excellent use.

Over the last seven days there has been a noticeable improvement in site load times as various SQL procedures have been tweaked and modified for performance. In one case there was an inefficient index that needed tuning. A nice benefit to the changes seems to be less pressure on the CPU, as the system load is now about 20% lower than this time last week despite a very slight increase in traffic. These little back-end updates always bring a smile to my face, but I understand that most people will not care if an API call takes 150ms instead of 300ms.

A tangible update that people can see is now live on Nice.Social where the home timeline view has been restored as well as the ability to Follow, Mute, and Block. While many may laugh at the perceived simplicity of these functions1, the fact they're back gives people one less reason to write the system off. To keep things performant, I've rolled a lot of this data into a single data table with columns for attributes. This makes it much easier to manage situations where updates need to cascade2 very quickly. There are also a number of CSS tweaks that fix issues with the dark mode and a new way of showing geographic data in the form of a static map.

Looking at how much has been accomplished since Monday, I can honestly say that I'm closer to being somewhat satisfied with the tool. There is still a lot to be done, but the core basics are being knocked off one by one.

Tomorrow will be the last day I get to work on the site for a little while, so any released updates will need to be good ones. Right now I'm leaning towards password recovery and the start of a 10C landing page.

Maybe by the time the typhoons start to hit3, I'll be less embarrassed by the state of the UIs.

  1. They certainly are simple to write, but once you start working with databases that contain millions of records in the Post table, things slow to a crawl. I wanted a design that would scale to tens of millions before needing attention.

  2. When an account is blocked, the follow and star attributes are reset to no while any existing pin is removed. Keeping all of this on a single table means these rules can be built into a trigger rather than a stored procedure.

  3. They generally come this way starting in late July.

The First Bots Wed, 19 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason bd3acacb-6cdc-7d75-2485-24dde7f9759d Many years ago, when was a reluctant social network1, people had a tough time finding new members to welcome them to the community. There were a lot of accounts being created every day, but most of them were completely automated and quite literally spammed the global timeline, rendering the stream of posts all but useless. People lobbied the creators of the platform to do something about this, but the requests fell on deaf ears. It was at this point that I decided to take matters into my own hands and created Nice.Social, a web client for, along with an API that would read the global timeline in an effort to determine which accounts were powered by a person and which ones were just automatons. The API was called NiceRank and, in the space of four months, it was able to accurately identify the viability of an account with a high degree of accuracy. By the time the service shut down in 2017, a total of 87 spamming techniques were identified in total across every published post to the network. Not everyone liked the system, but it did make it easier to use the global timeline to find real people — which is why the thing was created in the first place.

Given my rather public stance on spam2, it may be a bit unexpected to hear that I plan on creating not one, but two bots for the 10Cv5 platform. These will operate independently of the main source code, but they'll perform the following functions:

  1. To send a welcome message in the Global timeline to let people know there's a new member, and to give new accounts something to see in their Mentions
  2. To share earthquake data

What makes these bots different from a blind spammer, though, is the interactions that will be possible. Much like the bots on IRC, people will be able to ask questions and get an answer back. For me this will be most useful with the earthquake bot, as there is a lot of seismic activity in Japan. The initial data integrations will have just information on quakes in and around Japan while other regions are added later. What I'd like to be able to do is @mention the earthquake bot and ask a question like "@bot last earthquake near Toronto" and have it return a simple message with the data and map outlining the epicentre and maybe intensity rings. This sort of tool is not at all unique or new. Like I mentioned earlier, this is something that people have been doing on IRC for a quarter century through the use of eggdrop bots. What I would like to test is whether something like this would make sense on a service like 10Centuries.

There are some features that need to be restored and rolled out before these tools come online, though. Right now everyone who uses the service is generally limited to three views: the Global Timeline, Mentions, and Interactions. If there's an automated poster in the Global timeline, then there's a good chance that people will see the account as spam, which defeats the purpose of a person-readable Global timeline. In order to keep this clean, bots will be using Personas that are clearly marked as such. If a person wants to interact with a bot, they'll need to change their visibility filter settings to include bot messages, then — if they want to see the posts from the bot regularly — subscribe to updates. was theoretically supposed to work in a similar fashion. As per the terms of service, a broadcast account was supposed to have their type set as "Bot" when the account was created. More than 90% of the accounts filtered out by NiceRank were marked as human. To ensure a similar thing does not happen on 10C, the code for NiceRank has been "dusted off"3 and would be much more useful as part of a core API than operating as an auxiliary service. Should there be a deluge of spam (or RSS feeds), then the API can be expanded to include NiceRank to first flag, then re-assign personas that are incorrectly labelled.

Unlike the previous version, there would be no visible score. That was perhaps the biggest mistake I made when the tool was on, as a number of people misunderstood the intent behind the service and demanded they be de-indexed. It was unfortunate and probably preventable had I better communicated why there was a score and how it was calculated.

The short term goal is to have these bots set up and ready to join the network next week. There are a number of features that need to be tested more and deployed before any bots can go live. Hopefully the interactive tools will be seen in a more positive light than the blind broadcasters who just shout mindlessly into global timelines everywhere.

  1. I don't know how else to describe it, given that the creators of the platform were hoping the system would turn out to be a unifying API that could be used for a whole host of things, not just a social network. That said, people got hooked on the idea of a "Twitter replacement" … including me.

  2. I am not a fan.

  3. Just a git clone nicerank.git sort of thing so that it's immediately available. The last update was in January 2017, and the code is … disappointingly ugly.

Anti-Negative Tue, 18 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason f2f61022-26a7-ba91-17f9-a3a1f8e509de Why am I so negative when doing things for the day job? This is a question that I've been struggling with for quite some time and there has yet to be a good answer beyond "Maybe I'm just a bit too selfish". Looking at the myriad of posts that I've started this month and not published, there is a clear trend towards complaining, which is the main reason the posts were abandoned and left to collect digital dust in Evernote1. If people wanted to read such tripe, there's better-written stuff to be found on the popular social networks. What I really want to do is use the daily writing exercise to focus on something that is decidedly not negative. While this isn't always the case, it's something I am for.

There is a lot to be happy about, too. The boy managed to get accepted into a good kindergarten not too far from here2, Nozomi is in good health, Reiko and I are managing our jobs as well as the household responsibilities. Several years ago everything around me today would have seemed all but impossible. So where is this negative bias coming from?

As I've already alluded to, I might be just a bit too selfish. What I want I cannot have just yet3, but what I have is better than most. It's an absurd situation and I know it. More than this, though, is a feeling of uselessness at the day job. The tasks I'm doing are important, but they're not interesting. All the interesting work has gone to other people and I have missed the boat. This shouldn't be seen as a negative, yet the boredom of writing, testing, and verifying data migration scripts day after day does wear on a person who wants to create something new. This is clearly selfish and fuelled by an ego that is probably three sizes too large. Rationally, I recognize this.

Yet for a creative outlet there are not one, not two, but three other projects that I get to work on. The first is 10Centuries, which has seen a number of pretty nice updates to the API over the last few weeks to really speed things up. There is still a boatload of work that needs to be done to make it worth using, but progress is being made. The second is an inventory management system for a client in the US. I've written a bunch of software for him over the years and this new project is different enough from everything else I'm doing to encourage some additional learning. The third is a textbook management API that will be used internally at the day job to handle the rather large library of materials that are used across the globe. It's not a particularly large project, but it's one that I am quite capable of handling. So, again, why the negativity?

There are better ways to spend one's time than being upset.

  1. Has it been two weeks already? Where does the time go?

  2. The competition to get kids into the limited kindergarten spaces is quite intense at times. That said, the boy has a number of advantages that will help him through to university … if he chooses to capitalize on them.

  3. To be self-employed, doing things that make a positive difference in the lives of some people, and earning a fair amount as a result. I don't need to be rich so long as the bills can be paid and retirement can be saved for.

18 Degrees Mon, 17 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 091e4dc8-c6f7-ad71-c40c-837c12a1a8b2 A couple days ago Randolph had some drama on Twitter after writing a few words on seeing the difference between 4K and 1080p, which brought to mind the discussions I've had with people who are genuinely happy using a 15.6" display running at 1366x768 pixels; a screen resolution that gives me eyestrain within minutes. While WXGA1 does not work for me, it clearly gives millions of people just what they need. Ever the walking edge case, what I need is smooth characters on properly-lit screens. My 13" notebook's primary display runs at 1680x1050 while the 24" 4K Dell P2415Q next to it runs at 2304x1296. Would I want to run these screens at their native resolutions if I could?

No, of course not. That would be silly.

Display Resolutions that Work (for me)

Like Randolph said in their post, this topic started with a (now deleted) Tweet thread from SwiftOnSecurity that suggested that notebooks with hi-DPI screens be set to run at 1080p by default to improve performance and conserve battery power. This is a perfectly logical statement given that a lot of people today are clearly still happy with 1366x768. Going up to 1920x1080 with the next notebook — if there will even be another notebook purchase2 — would already be a nice improvement. Proper scaling would ensure that characters are smooth and pleasing to the eye while also saving on power and heat … which is one of the reasons I am not running my displays at higher resolutions.

When I first started using the 4K Dell, I wanted to run it as close to its native resolution as I could. Sure, the text was small, but the screen real estate was great when working with long SQL queries or web designs while the screen was turned to portrait mode. Even at 3008x1692, the highest resolution macOS supports on the Dell, the letters were smooth and easy to read. There was just one problem: heat.

Because the machine had to work much harder to push 6,853,536 pixels3 dozens of times a second, the fan would run constantly and the processor was 18˚C warmer when idle, which is the same amount of temperature rise seen when I'm compiling complex applications or using an Excel file that contains Asian characters. Was the extra screen real estate worth the noise and narrower thermal envelope? Would the faster battery drain be worth the price of pushing those pixels? Not in the least, hence the 2K scaling.

I agree that for most people, 1080p would be an excellent screen resolution to start with. People who want more or less working space can change the display to something they're more comfortable with. If someone can't see the difference between a 4K or 1080p resolution unless staring at text, that's great. If someone can, that's great too. Computers allow us to configure preferences for a reason.

  1. WXGA is 1366 pixels wide by 768 pixels high. Many cell phones ship with higher resolution screens now.

  2. I really, strongly feel that many people would be better served by a tablet with a detachable keyboard. Whether it's Android, iPadOS, or Windows doesn't matter. The portability and flexibility suits a lot of people's lifestyles.

  3. The combined number of pixels for both screens.

Five Things (I Would Photograph If I Were Any Good) Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 92030f4d-531f-1488-7285-482a4ce378e5 The first digital camera that I owned was an HP Photosmart 635 camera back in the early 2000s. It ran on a pair of AA batteries, took SD cards no larger than 128MB, and started disintegrating after the first six months of rather light use1. The experience was not particularly great, so I generally didn't want to use the camera very often. Later, when cameras started appearing in phones, the image quality was so poor that I often refused to take a photo because the pixellation would "ruin" my memory of the moment. In 2006, when I first visited Japan, I borrowed a friend's Olympus digital camera and was quite impressed with the results. Later that year I bought a Canon A95 and used that to take about 2,200 photos2 over the span of 7 years. It wasn't until Nozomi joined the family that I actively wanted to take pictures of the people, puppy, and places around me … which meant using a 4th Generation iPod Touch more often than not.

Over the intervening years, I've taken far more photos than I can keep track of. iCloud tells me that there are 24,818 pictures in my library, but these are just the ones I've kept, which is not the same as the number I've taken. The images that are blurry beyond recognition, horrendously out of focus, or just plain awful seldom see the next day. When "the cloud is the limit" to the number of pictures a person can keep, it's more important to ensure that every photo we keep has value in order to reduce the amount of visual checking and rechecking that goes on later. One thing that I can say for certain is that since 2011, my pictures have become noticeably better. Subjects are in better focus. The rule of thirds is observed a lot more. I try to frame static subjects when the opportunity arises. The use of focus to have the subject appear sharp while the background is blurry has also proven quite enjoyable and is easy as heck with the prosumer Canon DSLR we picked up before The Boy joined the family. However, this is pretty much the limit of what I can do to make a good picture. 90% of the photos I take are simply not worth sharing.

So, being Sunday, today's Five Things will involve five subjects that are not family and that I would like to learn how to photograph properly.

The Night Sky

Night photography has proven quite tricky with the DSLR and all but impossible with the phone. When the moon is shining bright, illuminating some fluffy while clouds from above while a city illuminates them from below, I am often awestruck by the beauty of it all. Light against the darkness. The contrast is easy to appreciate. Unfortunately my knowledge of ISO levels, exposure times, and other night photography techniques is insufficient to adequately capture the fleeting moment where the distant city, the fluffy clouds, and the incredibly bright moon are balanced "just right".

Parks from 15cm (Above the Ground)

Many years ago I wondered what the world looked like from Nozomi's point of view, as her eyes are generally just 15cm from the ground when we're out for a walk. So I started taking pictures with my phone at her level to reveal a world of giants. Trees that are impossibly tall. People that are skyscrapers in an of themselves. Grass that is tall enough to obscure a discarded bicycle just metres away. Some of the pictures did turn out quite nicely, but a lot had the wrong focal points. With a bit more practice and perhaps a better use of a mini-tripod, I'd love to create a series of images that can be shared with the world.

Historic Locations Permeated By Modern Tech

When Reiko and I take the boy to castles and other historic places around the area to introduce him to the history and culture of the country, I am often amazed by how many people are experiencing the location through their phones and/or tablets. The contrast intrigues me. To capture this in an image — or series of images — would be incredibly interesting.


One of the many things that visitors to Japan often comment on is the lack of litter in the streets despite the ever-present dearth of garbage cans. While many people will hold onto their garbage until they can find an appropriate place to dispose of it, some people will "accidentally" drop things on the ground and just keep walking. When this happens, a janitor will usually be along in a matter of minutes, find the refuse, and take care of it. These people can also be seen sweeping stairs, cleaning public washrooms, organizing magazine racks, and just about anything else that would involve keeping a place tidy and organized. A lot of Japanese people that I talk to barely notice the janitors who keep our public areas clean for barely minimum wage, but I tend to see them everywhere I go and occasionally stop to thank them3. I would love to capture some of these people doing the things they quietly do in a well-framed image that conveys not the action being performed, but the human behind the broom. The images I've captured thus far have been fraught with lighting errors and focus problems.

Distant Worlds

What science-loving geek wouldn't want to take pictures of distant planets? The better the resolution, the bigger the smile. There's no denying that the earth is pretty amazing and has a lot of subjects to photograph, but the universe is a big place. There's a lot more we can all see and share with each other.

  1. Being single and a workaholic, I didn't really have many opportunities to take photos outside from one or two road trips every year.

  2. 2,200 photos according to the internal counter, which I have never reset.

  3. Most janitors are not accustomed to being thanked, which is a shame.

Dishonest Rage Sat, 15 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 9884292f-81b2-220a-1080-180813cb00bf Not too long ago I was an avid reader of The Guardian, a British news agency that dubs itself "independent and impartial". For years I would read dozens of articles on the site every day, visiting in the morning, after lunch, and again before bed, to keep my fingers on the pulse of the world … so to speak. However, a few months back I came to the conclusion that The Guardian — and many sites like it — was openly lying in order to push its own agenda. A news organization cannot claim to be independent, impartial, or even trustworthy if they are distorting the facts of news stories on a regular basis1. That said, I find myself going back to the site once a week or so in order to look at the articles with a new perspective: what are they lying about this time?

Unfortunately, it didn't take long to find something.

The Last Supper - Leonardo da Vinci

An article written by "nobody"2 outlines the reasons behind a Chilean bishop's resignation just weeks after being honoured with the title by Pope Francis. The article implies that bishop Carlos Eugenio Irarrazaval believes there is no place for women at The Last Supper and that they "like to be in the back room".

As one would expect, these comments were sliced, diced, and shared out of context for "other people to decide" on. People got angry. Really, really angry. And bishop Irarrazaval tendered his resignation in an attempt to reduce the attacks against the Catholic Church, an institution with no shortage of blood on its hands for other sins. Here is an exact extract from the Guardian outlining the "suggestion" that there's a reason for no women to be seated at The Last Supper:

The Guardian's Take

The problem with this article is that it contains just 30 words, carefully chosen, from an 18-minute conversation with a CNN Chile interviewer. There is no context behind these words. There is no lead up to see how the words came into being. There is even a lovely ellipsis in the middle of the single longest sentence, where context is conveniently removed from what the former auxiliary bishop had to say.

In the May 23rd interview, the priest was asked about the role of women in the Church, to which he responded:

We all have to ensure that they can do what they may want to do. Obviously, Jesus Christ marked out for us certain guidelines, and if we want to be the Church of Jesus Christ, we have to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Jewish culture is a male dominated culture to this day. If you see a Jew walking down the street, the woman goes ten steps behind. But Jesus Christ breaks with that pattern. Jesus Christ converses with women, converses with the adulteress, with the Samaritan woman. Jesus Christ let women care for him.

It is true that at the Last Supper there was no woman seated at the table, and we also have to respect that. Jesus Christ made choices and he didn't do it ideologically.

Context is important. Letting a person speak is important. If I were asked why there were no women steated in The Last Supper, I would probably say something along the lines of:

Who am I to suggest what Jesus should have done?

The Guardian, and sites just like it, are intentionally spinning fabrications and willfully misrepresenting people and institutions in an effort to make them appear as some form of -ist or some form of -phobic regardless of the truth. For some people — whether it was justified or not — this has resulted in a completely destroyed career. For others it has resulted in an endless stream of abuse being hurled their way online and in public. And for what? To discredit "the patriarchy"? To "raise awareness" of perceived injustices in the world?

There are a lot of real injustices that need our attention but it seems that, in much of the English-speaking world3, the primary goal of our modern-day soapbox preachers is to supplant rational and contextual discussion with collectivist dogma that offers a person nothing of value beyond cognitive subjugation. We've seen how this plays out on a number of occasions in our history. It's often messy. It's often wasteful. It's often completely preventable. But only if people maintain their right to individualism and critical thinking, both of which have been under attack for as long as I've been alive.

  1. Everything on The Guardian involving Trump and the current American government I consider to be severely distorted to the point where it cannot be relied upon. Even when the writers are telling the truth, the historical dishonesty of the publication makes me suspect of everything they have to say. What's their agenda? What's being taken out of context? What's being twisted? Is this article different from the willfully warped ones?

  2. Generally, when an article is attributed to Reuters or some other non-individual, the content of the message is highly suspect and likely taken out of context. If nobody is willing to have their name next to an article, then it's perfectly reasonable to consider it "Fake News" … a term I never thought I would ever utter.

  3. I can only speak about the stuff I read in English, Japanese, and Korean. Asia has it's fair share of problems, but the attacks on individuals are generally done based on societal taboo breaking, not taking a handful of words out of context to generate an alternate narrative.

Outgrowing Hardware Fri, 14 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 0b20f5c3-56eb-6d1e-c7cb-2c87eeab0aff There is a small collection of tools that I depend on every day to help pay the bills and keep food on the table, three of which are in the photo below. A MacBook Pro that I've been using day in and day out1 for just over three years, a 24" 4K Dell P2415Q monitor, and an iPad Air 2. The monitor and iPad are just fine for what I ask of them. The MacBook, however, is starting to struggle with the workload.

The Workspace

This is the 17th computer that I've owned since 19942, and it's the one that has been with me since the promotion out of the classroom and into a development role at the day job. The keyboard — which has very obvious signs of wear — is quite comfortable and the battery is still good for 5+ hours when plugged into the 4K monitor3 and a full workday if it's running standalone. The screen has some occasionally noticeable issues, but is still better than 99% of notebooks I see people using when out and about. The CPU4 can generally keep up with what I'm doing, too, as my job basically involves working with text. Lots and lots of text. What I need — and I understand this is a common gripe I've had with my recent machines — is more RAM and a faster storage device.

Because this is a modern MacBook Pro, there is no chance of upgrading the RAM. It already has the maximum 16GB installed and there's no way to add more, even if I were to try and get creative with a soldering iron. At the day job I've had to start working with Java, and this is just using all of the memory I have available on the notebook. 24GB would be a safe number for now, and 32 would offer that extra bit of flexibility when it comes time to run some heavier workloads locally. As this is not at all possible without replacing the machine for a recent 15" model, I can't even entertain the thought.

The storage card, however, is a different story. I've recently learned that it's possible to swap out the custom solid state drive for an NVMe device, which would just about double my read and write speeds. One of the things I really liked about the Lenovo X1 Carbon that I was using with Linux5 was its incredibly fast NVMe drive. It could write data at 1,200MB/sec and read at just over 1,400MB/sec. With these kinds of speeds I was consistently impressed with how quickly I/O-heavy database work was completed. The MacBook Pro cannot get the same speeds from an NVMe card, as the older notebook is limited to just two PCIe channels rather than the 4 available on many newer computers, but double the current speed would be a definite improvement. It would also be nice to go from 256GB of storage to a full terabyte. The cost of this upgrade would be about $250 all told … which may be worth it.

Will this buy the machine more time, though?

It's a strange feeling to "outgrow a tool". While there can be frustrations when working with a device that is clearly struggling to keep up with you, where the fans are spinning as fast as they can go and the case is going from "noticeably warm" to "I'd better stop and let the computer cool down a bit", there is also a great deal of sentiment embedded in the machine. This is the computer I used to create one of the best pieces of software I've ever written. This is the computer I used to write the vast majority of 10Cv4 and 10Cv5. This is the computer that has been used to clean up and edit a whole host of photos of the boy and Nozomi. I've been angry at the machine, and through the machine. I've also been incredibly happy, thoughtful, captivated, and reflective while using the machine. One can easily think about replacing a computer … but then what do you do with it? I am not one to let a computer sit around collecting dust when it can be useful in some capacity.

The bulk of my issues could be eliminated if it were possible to upgrade the RAM. Unfortunately this is simply not feasible. The remaining options are to upgrade the SSD to an NVMe drive to reduce the amount of time waiting while the system swaps memory from RAM to the storage medium, replacing the machine entirely6, or doing nothing and sticking with what I've used almost daily for 1000 days. The machine is still "young" by modern standards. If it weren't for the current workload at the day job, this machine would still be sufficient. There must be another option that I'm not seeing.

  1. Aside from a 4-month stint with a Lenovo where I tried very hard to be 100% Ubuntu. I gave this up almost a month ago due to the excessive amount of friction that I was facing when working with colleagues who, for the most part, use Windows. Ubuntu is a pretty decent operating system with a lot of software available for people to get work done, and I love the freedom that comes with running a proper Linux-based desktop. That said … the friction was just too much.

  2. There was a time not too long ago when it was normal for a geek to replace their computer every 12 ~ 18 months, either through upgrades or a direct replacement. Fortunately this is no longer necessary.

  3. I generally try to run off battery every couple of days to ensure the cell cycle. Maybe this isn't necessary, but I have an aversion to leaving a mobile computer — that needs to be mobile — plugged in all the time.

  4. The processor is a 5th generation Core i5 5257U running at about 2.7GHz.

  5. Aside from the keyboard. The ThinkPads still have one of the best notebook keyboards on the market.

  6. This would be tricky and expensive. I would likely aim for a 27" iMac, as that has expandable RAM.

Unpublishable Thu, 13 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 05a6ef62-554d-6266-506a-f81fa561fc0b There's a topic that I've wanted to write about for years in order to better formulate my thoughts. Any time I've tried to have a conversation with people on the matter the end result has never been very satisfying. By writing about the subject, I'm forced to slow down and really think about what's being written and how things are being laid out. Do the points build on each other? Is the central theme followed the entire time? Are digressions and tangents kept to a minimum? By following the basic principles of writing, it's possible to put together an argument on just about any topic.

Yesterday I finished writing one of the longest pieces I've considered for this site. It weighed in at 7,218 words and covered quite a bit of ground. A number of memories were shared, conversations with people summarized, and a couple of religious texts were even referenced, all culminating in the 5-word central thesis of the piece. After reading through the essay twice, I decided that the item was ultimately unpublishable as it could result in some potential problems if my life insurance provider ever stopped by to read the article.

This got me thinking about what sorts of topics would be considered taboo to write about for a person who happens to find themselves gainfully employed with a family, a mortgage, car payments, various insurance policies, and a slow-but-steady freelance client base. To say that "nothing is taboo on the Internet" would be demonstrably false, yet there does seem to be a bit more freedom for a person to discuss ideas that might be unpopular if spoken aloud, particularly if something is published under a pseudonym or anonymously1. There are obvious taboos on posts that would promote violence against others, such as lynching, rape, and murder. There might even be taboos on posts that would intentionally mislead people, which are perhaps best exemplified by "Flat Earthers". That said, there are a lot of topics between claiming the world is a disc and pictures of kittens — the safest topic in the known universe.

Over the years I've written a number of posts that were originally intended for publication on this or another blog only to keep them offline for fear of reprisal at some point in the future. None were quite as long as the essay from yesterday, though some could have certainly resulted in some heated words2. Is it right to keep these offline? Or would this be an ideal use case for password-protected posts?

  1. Real anonymity on the Internet is very hard to find. It's often best to understand that there is no anonymity online without putting in a lot of work to hide who you are and where you're connecting from.

  2. Some of the opinion pieces I've written about the territorial disputes concerning islands around Japan have certainly resulted in some hate from drive-by commenters.

Apricot Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies Wed, 12 Jun 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason ff5f719f-fb63-1e98-faef-304e818e14c6 Earlier today @sumudu posted a picture of some oatmeal cookies his daughter made and it brought back a bunch of memories of being in the kitchen with my mother a quarter century ago, making different kinds of cookies and seeing which ones people enjoyed the most1. Several years later, when I was living in Vancouver, I was out with friends and a cookie shop beckoned me to spend money. Inside there was the standard fare such as chocolate chip, double-chocolate chip, and even a double-double chocolate chip2. What caught my attention, though, was an oatmeal cookie that had cranberries and apricot. In Vancouver, a treat like this is called a "breakfast cookie".

As one would expect, I picked up several.

Apricot Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

A couple years ago when I started compiling recipes from family to use in my own kitchen, I remembered this cookie and went looking for a comparable recipe online. The recipes I tried weren't quite the same but, with some experimentation, I think I landed on a pretty close facsimile.


  • 110g unsalted butter, softened (1/2 cup)
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ - ½ tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 1½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried apricots, diced
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries


  • Line a pair of trays with baking paper
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until combined
  • Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth
  • Turn the mixer onto a low speed, and add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and oats, just until everything sticks together
  • Stir in the apricots and cranberries
  • Use a tablespoon to scoop TimBit®-sized3 balls of dough on the prepared trays
  • Flatten the dough just a bit
  • Refrigerate the trays for about 30 minutes, which ensures the cookies bake up thick
  • Several minutes into the chilling time, preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F)
  • Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until the edges are golden and the centres still soft

This will make about 14 decent-sized cookies and the house will smell absolutely delectable. The last time I made these — about a year ago — the neighbours across the street came over to see what was in the oven. They were surprised to find that I was the one baking the cookies and they were more surprised when they had one. Oatmeal is not very popular in Japan for some reason, but the batch of treats I made didn't make it to the end of the next day.

I may just need to set a reminder to make these in the autumn when cranberries are not priced into the stratosphere.

  1. Everyone seemed to love the sugar cookies the most, though I was always a fan of the crunchy peanut butter cookies. Mum put a stop to these after a while, though, because peanut butter started getting quite expensive in the mid-90s.

  2. This was named after the excessively sweet, excessively creamy Tim Horton's coffee order that was so popular at the time. It was a milk chocolate chip cookie made with coffee. At around $3 per cookie, I never tried it.

  3. A TimBit® would be the "donut holes" sold at Tim Horton's. These would be about 3cm in diameter, give or take.

Reassurance Tue, 11 Jun 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason f65fd230-9c92-cb1e-adb6-ef8e9f9a8516 While I find it a little hard to believe, the boy's nightly routine has clearly made me more approachable at the day job. The implementation differs, but the similarities I see between putting a two year-old boy to sleep is not much different from working with middle managers. This isn't to say that those unfortunate souls sandwiched between C-Level1 managers and local managers act like children2, or that my son acts like a middle-aged adult. They're quite different in a number of regards. What the two have in common, though, is the requirement for specific questions and regular reassurance.

When the boy goes to bed, I generally stay with him for about half an hour so that he can settle down and get ready for sleep. We read some books. He signs a song or two. I tuck him in and arrange his toys in a manner so that he can reach them without becoming untucked. Questions are asked with every activity. "Which book would you like to read first?", "Do you like the bear in this story?", "What song are you signing?", "Where would you like your raccoon3?". The questions encourage dialog and give him the illusion of control. Once everything is set up and done, I'll rub his chest and wish him good night before heading downstairs to continue working.

Every so often, though, he'll start to cry shortly after because … who knows? At this point I need to go upstairs, ask how he's doing4, then calm him down by saying everything's okay and that he's safe. Sometimes I'll need to tuck him in again. Sometimes he'll ask for something and, so long as it's within reason, I'll get it for him. This process might repeat three, four, or five times on any given night depending on how tired the boy is. The more tired, the longer it takes for him to sleep.

Patience is an absolute must when working with children. The world is full of unknowns and they lack the knowledge, skills, and experience to make sense of it all. It's hardly any wonder that kids need consistent feedback and reassurance.

One thing that I've noticed over the last couple of months is that a lot of the management team at the day job also needs consistent feedback and reassurance. With the global project being in full swing and rapidly approaching the next critical phase, people are understandably anxious and nervous. People's weekends are at stake if anything goes wrong. People's bonuses, too. An endless stream of emails hit the inbox daily from people who have a lot of vague, superfluously-worded questions that boil down to the same underlying query: Are we okay?

Just as with the boy, I've found myself responding to messages like this by first clearly outlining the current status of my team's tasks, then asking some specific yes/no questions that are related to the reader, followed immediately by some follow-up information or an answer. In one of today's emails, this looked like:

… Did you have a chance to read the weekly summary report that {person} sent out Monday evening? She's about three days ahead of schedule on her end, so we should be ready to start testing the new data before the weekend. If that's too early for you, then we can stick with the current timeline and begin testing next Tuesday.

A year or two ago I would have likely been much more direct and to the point, answering just the questions I was asked without thinking about the underlying reason for those questions. What's worse is that I would tend to give answers in context, providing details that would have an email stretch on for several paragraphs beyond the point a person might stop. The context I provided was only for the answer, but people aren't interested in the answer. They're interested in the answer to the question they didn't specifically ask: Is everything okay?

This is probably something that "everybody" discovers at a young age, however, I've not been very successful in learning how to better interact with people until the last couple of years and there's still a lot I don't understand. Fortunately there is still time to catch up.

  1. CEO, CIO, COO, etc.

  2. Well …

  3. He has a stuffed toy raccoon, not a real animal. He's given this character the name "Chilli", but I can't for the life of me figure out why.

  4. It's a rhetorical question, but it encourages him to try and voice why he's upset.

From Data to Information Mon, 10 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason fa98c21b-0315-87c0-9324-970dddf92474 For a lot of people it seems there is no difference between data and information. In reality, the two could not be more different. Data is primarily unstructured or semi-structured elements that exist without meaning or context. Information is structured data that has context and can be used to make decisions. One of the first questions I ask when I begin to design systems that will store data is what sort of information a person wants to get out of the tool later. The answer will fundamentally guide the sorts of data that is collected to ensure that the desired information can be returned and, more importantly, be expanded upon as time goes on. This second part is just as crucial as the first.

Earlier today I found myself reverse-engineering a system designed by a vendor in order to solve a rather serious business problem created by the very same system. The problem amounted to an API that was designed to present a great deal of data rather than actionable information. As a result, teachers in the classroom have found it incredibly difficult to deliver their lessons. What struck me as odd about the software is that an API is generally used to present data in a structure, thereby ensuring it is parsed as information. This particular tool, however, appeared to have a consistent structure but wound up being little more than a data dump of keys and values. It was up to the JavaScript that read the data to determine the context and convert the data into information. Unfortunately, the implementation resulted in a website that would crash older tablets or present just a partial subset of information, which put the onus of "filling in the gaps" onto the teacher who had neither the time nor the resources to do anything of the sort.

So, being the corporate fool, I quietly waded into the mess and started reverse-engineering this system in order to extract the data to populate a database of my own design, then structure the data in a logical manner for the business need, then present it to the teacher in a format they can use. Given that this is a system designed to show textbooks, the lack of structure and clarity in the vendor's system has me questioning whether they understood the actual problem the business needed to solve in the first place.

In the space of six hours, I managed to reverse out the entire system and copy the bulk of the data from the vendor's system into my own, then build a preliminary API structure to return to a browser. Tomorrow's task will be to take the information and turn it into a textbook with the same formatting and features, plus a bunch of other details that should have existed from the first day the system went live. Two days of work on my part and a brand new system can replace nearly two years of development from a high-priced vendor. This sort of turn-around for problem-solving solutions is probably why a lot of senior managers at the day job allow me to break rules from time to time.

While I can generally turn around and solve problems like this through sheer force of will1, how can others avoid making the mistake of leaving data bloated and without form?

It comes down to understanding what a person wants out of the system, that early question I ask before writing the first line of code.

For this example, the goal of the project was to have an API return enough information to dynamically construct a textbook. Leaving the front-end code out of this, what would an effective structure be for a textbook, or a group of textbooks? Let's break down what sort of data makes up the information that is a textbook.

At a minimum we would need:

  • title ⇢ the title of the book
  • chapters ⇢ the sections of the book, allowing for a table of contents to be built
  • pages ⇢ the pages associated with the book, and possibly a chapter object

There is a whole host of meta data that could be included, such as a cover image, authors, publisher, ISBN numbers, MSRP, inventory on hand, search keywords, access permissions, and the like. The sky is really the limit when it comes to metadata, but the receiving software needn't be overloaded with data it never reads. If an API is going to return structured data, most of it should be used. If a complete dataset is only sometimes required, then an API filter show allow an application to request a limited amount of data or the whole shebang. What's nice about going this route is that websites that call the API will not be returning large amounts of data to discard or uselessly store. The less data there is to transfer, the faster everything can operate.

The original API decided to include everything about a digital textbook, including elements that would never be read by the front-end code. Details relating to the source system with index keys and when the chapter or page was last edited in that tertiary system. Details outlining the amount of storage space remaining on the API server, which is of no value unless regularly uploading. Details that appeared to be just random numbers thrown into an array. Details that included the address and contact information for the publisher of the book … which was attached to every page object, resulting in 477 sets of duplicated publisher information for one common textbook. The entire package was 6.68 MB to download, which took an average of 4.1 seconds.

Not cool.

My solution, which is probably not the best solution, stripped a lot of this information out. I put the title, chapters, and pages into their own objects and ensured the basic metadata was in place to show ISBN numbers, and similar details. The entire package now weighs in at 682 KB and can be downloaded in under a quarter second. With some compression on the server, the JSON object can be reduced even further and expanded at the browser. The next step is to replicate the front end with less code and more functionality to aid the teacher in the classroom.

How did this happen?

The people who made the current system are not stupid. I've worked with them on a number of occasions in the past and know the main developers are doing the best they can within the bounds of the client-vendor relationship. One of the problems that I've seen time and again, though, is that people often fail to ask about the ultimate goal of any system. This one started out with a colleague saying "We need a digital textbook system" and then answering a hundred questions around the idea. Looking at the early notes from the project2. Not once did the question of "What does the teacher see?" get asked. Heck, from the meeting notes, that question wasn't asked until 7 months into the project! Well after the database and API were designed.

I'll admit that I tend to look at business problems from the point of view of the person who'll be stuck using the things I create rather than the managers authorizing my wage. This often means that I may not create something that leaders ask for and instead provide the solution their people want, which involves quickly turning data into information and getting the heck out of the way. Being an internal resource means I have a lot more flexibility and access to these people than a vendor might, which gives me an unfair advantage. Fortunately it's one that the right people have appreciated a few times in the past.

When it comes time to solve a business problem, one of the very first questions needs to be "what do you want out of the solution?" Everything else is just window dressing.

  1. Sheer force of will … and a quarter-century of experience writing software. I've made every mistake in the book, plus a bunch that have never been documented. It's important to remember past mistakes and their solutions so that future endeavours can be more successful from the start.

  2. Everything is recorded in JIRA … which is both a good and sad thing. Good because documentation is key. Sad because someone had to put all of this stuff into JIRA.

Five Things Sun, 09 Jun 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason f77028df-b645-7abb-87d7-4936912d37e4 Last week saw an incredibly productive Monday to Friday, with updates rolling out to several projects and even a couple of bugs being both discovered and quashed in short order. Interestingly, none of this was for the day job. Instead, the areas where I was most productive was with client work and the 10C platform, which is seeing some incredibly noticeable performance improvements. What's unfortunate is that these side projects cannot (yet) pay the mortgage, so the day job is still a necessary evil.

That said, with another work week about to begin, there are a number of things that I would really like to see take place.

A Boatload of Money

Monday: Win the Lottery

The next lotto jackpot is 7億円, which is 700,000,000 Yen (about $8.6-million Canadian). While I may not play the lottery anymore, I would certainly enjoy the opportunity to walk away from modern employment with a healthy bank balance and the freedom to create new things on my own schedule. The standard bill management would take place up front, with the mortgage being paid in full and a good sum set aside in a term savings account for the boy to receive on his 20th birthday1. But after this there would still be several million to play with, of which I would dedicate maybe the equivalent of two years salary, starting with …

Tuesday: Update the  Kit

Yep, there would be a trip to the nearby Apple Store to pick up an iMac, a couple of tablets, a pair of watches with matching phones, and even an iPod touch for the boy. None of us would need to wait around for our devices to catch up to us until sometime around 2023, which would be a welcome change from what we're doing today. One additional item I would likely pick up is an TV, which would allow for streaming from devices and a less cumbersome process when renting a movie2. Of course, our TV is 10+ years old, so …

Wednesday: Furnish the Home & Workspace

A nice 45" OLED TV would look great in the living room and would need a matching stereo system to go with it. While we're at it, another sofa would be picked up, some soft carpet, and a few other creature comforts to turn the living room into a comfortable place to relax rather than the boy's play room … though he would most certainly keep leaving his toys all over the floor there.

Thursday: Acquire a Nice Video Camera

At the moment any videos that are captured are done with a phone or a DSLR3 that was designed for still photography. What I would want is a camera that can record 4K video and be used both indoors and outside. This would certainly be used to capture memories with the boy when he's taking part in school activities, but the video camera would also be used for a fun little hobby …

Friday: Start Cooking Show

Given the amount of free time a lottery-ticket millionaire family might have, it only seems logical that we try something new. If neither Reiko or I need to work anymore, then it seems like as good a reason as any to start a new hobby together. We both enjoy cooking and we both have our specialities. A show where we teach each other how to make something from our country of origin might be interesting enough that people would want to tune in and see. Also, because we'd be doing it for fun rather than a possible source of income, we could focus on making an honest show rather than one that tries to attract product placements and the like.

If everything goes off without a hitch, we'd still have 600,000,000 Yen in the bank after the first year, and a growing number every year after that thanks to a low cost of living and a modest interest rate from the bank.

Of course this is all dependent on having the winning lottery ticket, which requires that I buy a lottery ticket. Given the 7 year losing streak while living in Canada, I wonder if my luck in Japan would be any better.

  1. The age of majority in Japan is 20, which might make sense for other countries to copy.

  2. The current process is to rent the video, download it, plug the notebook into the TV via HDMI, start the video, move the video to the TV, then turn the notebook so the screen doesn't distract from watching the movie. This is suboptimal.

  3. Reiko uses the Canon X7 Kiss for video more often than not, which is frustrating given the camera is not designed to be refocusing every microsecond to keep up with a fast-moving target like the boy. The audio quality also leaves much to be desired. I am a firm believer in having the right tools for the job after learning the basics with equipment already on hand. The cameras did admirably for a time, but something better should be considered when the need arises.

TMI? Sat, 08 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 72a309ab-a054-d8c5-0ed7-8ada25aa0feb Some of the recent posts on this site have shared bits and pieces of my youth with perhaps a bit more detail than is normal, and this has resulted in a couple of people asking whether some of the memory is filled in via imagination or remembered with an uncommon amount of clarity. Given that memories are malleable and do not generally have updated timestamps to show when or if something has changed, I generally need to answer "it's a little bit of both … I think". For most of my life after the age of six, I can tell you a couple of things I did for just about every day right up until now. There are gaps, of course, and there are fragments of memories that I generally view as suspect. Human frailties aside, the memories that I've shared on this site or in person when chatting with people are as accurate as I can muster. There are, however, tools that I can use to help trigger details of memories.

An indispensable tool when I wrote about the paper boats I made as a child was a mapping application that could show a satellite overview of the area I grew up. On the map I could trace the routes I used to walk alone and with friends. This would remind me of various details and warrant a little more investigation to fill in gaps that I might have forgotten. This was certainly the case with the metal grate that blocked human access to the tunnel where the Red Hill Creek flowed under King Street. I hadn't thought of that filthy metal barrier in decades but, when I traced the route I would send my boats, it was like being transported back in time to watch myself run alongside the shallow creek, careful for the stones and low-hanging branches, as a vessel of dubious seaworthiness made its uncontrolled journey downstream. This technique was also used to remember details about the day I almost drowned in Lake Erie, the general history of Hamilton, and details for a bunch of other posts that have not yet been completed.

What might set my memories apart from other people's is the area of focus. I tend to pay attention to small details or very specific elements of a place or situation rather than what someone might consider the main area of focus. This is also true of movies, where I'll observe what supporting characters are doing while others are speaking or otherwise being the centre of attention. Disney and Pixar movies are great for this kind of activity. So, because I focus on small details, it's easier (for me) to subconsciously reassemble a memory by filling in the blanks from one day with similar details from another. This doesn't make the memory any less real, but it does make for a rather vivid scene in the mind's eye.

What's odd is that this memory is not limited to just places I've physically experienced, but extends to books and dreams as well. I've been told on several occasions that this is "not normal". Given how many times I've solved complex coding problems in a dream and then later implemented the same solution in real life to great success, I'll admit that I'm quite happy to be abnormal in this regard. It does raise a question, though: how do people generally remember things?

There are a number of bad memories I've wished could be erased, but I've learned to live with them and accept that not every event in life will be a good one. Does the typical human mind generally forget entire spans of time? Do people not remember most of their school-aged childhood? If so, why do more people not keep a journal to hold onto memories for longer periods of time?

Memory is a fascinating thing. I've considered mine both a blessing and a curse over the years. At some point it's bound to deteriorate, which is one of the reasons for the recent posts about the past. Hopefully it won't happen anytime soon.

Heavy Rain Fri, 07 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 8840c28c-de32-54e8-08aa-a6bfaba99e2e On Monday the morning news boldly stated that this year's rainy season would officially begin on Friday. Being morning news and being a weather forecast, I didn't take the declaration very seriously as the accuracy of meteorology in Japan has plummeted to comically low numbers despite the national supercomputers dedicated to the task becoming ever more powerful. The prediction didn't change at any time throughout the week, though. Every weather person said that we'd have heavy rains starting from Friday.

Oddly enough, they were all 100% correct.

Lightning Over the City

The rainy season has begun, and it's letting the entire region know that we'd best pay attention. Given how warm the winter was, I am expecting this season's typhoons to be stronger than what we witnessed last year, which was already pretty devastating for some of the more rural communities around here.

Misusing Time Thu, 06 Jun 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 5a7ab457-d8f1-7da3-7a38-e0cc9894b42e Earlier today I was having a conversation with Sumudu about Evernote and the topic of where the data sits came up. A lot of SaaS platforms tend to store people's information on Amazon's Web Service platform or Microsoft's Azure alternative. Evernote is a little different in that the data we upload to them is stored on Google's Cloud Platform. Given my reticence at having Google know too much about me, the question of how comfortable I was with the knowledge that the scans of receipts and medical diagnoses that I've put into Evernote over the years is theoretically available to Google1. As one would expect, I am not all that keen on Google being the place where too much of my data is kept. But what is the alternative? I've tried multiple different note applications since leaving Evernote a few years back, and they're all a collection of compromises in comparison. What am I to do, then? Build my own solution?

A self-hosted Evernote alternative would be an interesting project to work on, and there is already prior work done for such a system that I could continue building on. One of the reasons I stopped working on my own Notes SaaS is because I wanted to focus on getting 10Cv5 ready and out the door. Another was that one of the big reasons I like Evernote is because of the seamless OCR feature that reads through PDFs and most image formats to find words and make them part of the note's metadata, making it possible to search for notes based on the text contained in an image. This is very cool and not at all easy to do with a personal project. There are software libraries out there that will do this, but many of them are either very expensive or just too resource-intensive to use on consumer-grade hardware. Rather than bang my head against the wall by building yet another note-taking app that requires people to compromise, it just makes sense to use Evernote platform … especially considering how I just picked up three Moleskin notebooks that work with the service.

Fifteen minutes later, while working on something for the day job, a solution to the OCR problem flashed through my head. I had devised a way to make OCR work, which would lead to the ability to search for words contained in images and PDFs, and to even handle handwriting to a certain degree. The difficult features that encouraged me to return to Evernote now had valid solutions. I quickly slapped together a proof of concept and, less than 20 minutes later, I had proved that the mechanism was sound. PDFs and high-resolution JPEG images were being "read" in both English and Japanese with minimal effort on my part. Lovely!

But is there a market for an Evernote alternative? What sort of features would I need to have right out of the gate to gain traction? Is this something that people would consider a subscription for — even if it's a one-time, lifetime subscription option — so that it might be possible to dedicate a proper amount of time and resources to the project?

There are a number of threads on various forums including Reddit where people ask about viable alternatives to the green elephant to no avail. A lot of people seem to want an alternative and lament the friction involved with the other note-taking applications.

An A5-sized notebook on the shelf next to me has a lot of handwritten notes and diagrams outlining the requirements of what a proper competitor would need in order to wrest people away from Evernote and the local-file options. There were even scribbles talking about how the server component could be made open source while saving some of the nicer features for the hosted version that I would make available. The ideas seemed reasonable.

Then I glanced at the clock and saw that an entire hour had been spent looking into something that, in reality, would likely be a gross misuse of time. If there was a strong market demand for an Evernote alternative, there would be plenty already. Fact of the matter is that there does not seem to be a large enough group of people (that I'm aware of) that would like yet another text editor on their devices. Rather than invest the time into something that would not help me towards the goal of self-employment by 2022, it would make much more sense to focus on the day job until the end of the shift, then spend some time with 10C and maybe fix a bug or two.

While the goal to be self-employed and provide useful tools to people is noble, it can't be done during regular working hours. A distraction like this may be alright for a couple of minutes, especially when a technical problem is solved, but any more than 5 and it quickly becomes a misuse of time.

  1. Evernote explains that, as a cloud provider, Google is subject to strict security and legal obligations which limit Google's access to Evernote data. The data put into Evernote belongs to the uploader. Google will not process data for any purpose other than to fulfill contractual obligations such as delivery. Given the fallout that would occur should Google be found in breach of this, it's probably safe to assume that nobody will be doing anything stupid.

Paper Boats Wed, 05 Jun 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 10772e5c-066d-7ffe-0e20-1bce76e74ac6 Our imaginations are wonderful places to escape from the rules and structures that define reality. Some children are incredibly fortunate to have both a vivid imagination and the time required to adequately explore their creativity. I was one such child, often building models of various vessels out of paper and embarking upon "missions" that would often consume an entire afternoon. One of my favourite pastimes around the age of 10 or 11 was constructing boats that were modelled on the large military and civilian ships that I could find in the family encyclopedia set. My models would rarely exceed 15cm in length, but what they lacked in tonnage they more than made up for in complexity.

Paper Boats on a Cold River

The first boats were quite simple. A sheet of paper would be folded in half with the ends glued shut. After the seal had taken hold, I would "open" the centre like a hotdog bun, attach a deck, and then cut the ends to be tapered nicely at a 45˚ angle. Once all of the glue had dried, I would bring the model to the nearby creek and release the ship into the water with the goal of following the craft as far as I was allowed to travel1. Unfortunately, the early ships would all tip over immediately after being put in the water. I had yet to learn about ballasts and keels.

As time went on and my knowledge of water craft improved, the models became ever more complex. Ships would have water-tight compartments where air could be trapped to keep the vessel afloat even if some glue had come unstuck. The best ballast was often the artificial gravel used with HO scale model railroads, so I would use that either at the bottom of the hull or — better still — within the keel after wrapping the plastic stone in cellophane. In order to keep the ship floating near the centre of the creek's winding route, a rudder had to be set at an angle between 8˚ and 12˚ turning starboard, otherwise it would wind up hitting the stones along the shore with every bend and curve. Masts were impossible to use without the vessel tipping over, so sails were out. Every ship had to rely only on the flow of the water to complete its mission. Of the dozens — or hundreds — of attempts, only two managed to travel the kilometre or so from the launching point to the King Street tunnel without hitting the shore or otherwise coming apart at the seams as glue bonds deteriorated.

It was fascinating work. The encyclopedias at home explained the basics of buoyancy and how ships generally worked, but the increasingly complex designs came about as a result of the extra study that was put into the effort. In my imagination, these weren't just paper models of cargo vessels, aircraft carriers, or passenger ships. These were water-borne craft that I captained, with a crew of people who were just as intently focussed on the objective. We had to make it to the King Street tunnel, where the creek would enter into a gated tube 3 meters in diameter2. We had to.

In order to build a ship that could make the journey I read every book on boats that I could find. The elementary school I attended and the nearby library had some magazines and books that showed a number of interesting designs, including some twin-hull concepts that would have made a sail tenable while also eliminating the need for a double-reinforced, complex keel to keep the ship upright. But these books were mostly about pictures rather than substance. The real breakthrough came when I went to the Hamilton Central Library on a school trip and looked up the technical books on ship design.

My adolescent mind was blown.

There were blueprints, complex equations, cross-section drawings, and pictures of yachts. I learned that a boat designed for fresh water would work differently in salt water. I saw manoeuvrability diagrams that showed very precisely how much area was needed for a ship of a certain size to turn or come to a complete stop. I discovered just how primitive and utterly simplistic my models were … and stepped up to the challenge.

For my most ambitious vessel, I would take everything I learned from experience as well as the ideas and concepts I thought I understood from the professional books at the Central Library to construct a ship that would travel from the "launching pier" near my school to the King Street tunnel and right on through the other side without coming undone or getting stuck on the shallow shore along the way. More than this, the ship would carry a cargo of one Loonie, which I could only use if the mission was successful.

The Planned Journey

For what seemed like weeks I toiled away on the ship. The hull was the simple part, as I'd become rather proficient having the paper bend and hold the best shape for the water. The keel was complicated, though. I don't remember how many times I rebuilt that part of the vessel, trying so hard to have the built-in tail rudder hold a proper starboard angle after the glue set. The decks were easy, and I even went so far as to have the Orlop deck made from a handful of carefully-shaved popsicle sticks. This sat on top of the in-hull ballast and would be where the single Canadian coin would be stowed. When everything was said and done, the ship was easily the most complex and most difficult thing I had ever built. My father was impressed with the attention to detail and asked if I was really going to have it sail down the Redhill Creek towards Lake Ontario, where I might never see it again.

So I thought about it.

And I thought about it.

And I thought about it some more.

While the ship never once met physical water, it regularly played an important role in the imaginary excursions I would enjoy from the comfort of my bedroom3.

  1. As one would expect for a child of 10~11 years, my father had set some boundaries for how far I could travel. As the creek trickled downstream, it would go under King Street in Hamilton, which was the farthest north I was permitted to go.

  2. The concrete pipe where the creek went under the four-lane busy street was gated, of course, to ensure kids didn't go in and drown.

  3. This was the last boat I ever built. Some years later, when I was attending high school, I had the opportunity to visit C&C Yachts in Niagara on the Lake, where fibreglass yachts were designed and built. During the trip the employee that was giving us a tour explained what it took to be a designer and a longtime friend of mine pointed at me and said "He's your man!". Sometimes I wonder if I would have been up to the challenge of the decade of schooling followed by a decade of apprenticeship.

Where to Rest? Tue, 04 Jun 2019 06:00:00 +0000 Jason ae0d78e8-046e-0e6c-ef9d-96c2d77f6bf7 Reiko's parents recently sold their cemetery plots and decided to put the money into their bank account rather than find a new place where their remains can be interred. This struck me as odd, given that Reiko's mother and father are both over 70 years of age and have no delusions of immortality. However, upon hearing the logic behind the decision, I cannot say that I blame them for making the decision that they did.

Very rarely is an entire body buried in Japan. Due to space limitations, bodies are typically cremated and the urn is placed in the family plot. These stone-marked locations are generally visited by family at least once a year in August1, when they are cleaned up and offerings are placed. I have visited the cemetery where Reiko's grandfather was interred on several occasions, but not in the last five years. Reiko's parents understand that young people generally do not visit cemeteries, and they do not wish to be "forgotten in a field of buried ashes". So, rather than be cremated and buried in a plot not too far from where the previous generation rests, my in-laws have decided that it would be better to be cremated and have the ashes divided evenly among three pendants; one for each of their children.

A Crowded Japanese Cemetery

One can see the logic behind this decision, though I do wonder about the long-term feasibility. How long will the ashes be handed down from generation to generation? Will people in a century or two even know who's ashes they're responsible for keeping safe?2 While I can see my son maybe holding onto my ashes for a generation, I highly doubt his children — should he choose to have them — would want to look after an urn full of dirt from a time long forgotten. This is the very same problem that I see with being laid to rest in a cemetery. Tradition can only go so far, and eventually our bones will be forgotten as the current generation focuses more on the present than the past.

When I think about where I would like my remains to go, two ideas come to mind. The first is that I would like to have my cremated ashes laid to rest next to Nozomi, ideally near a nice tree, on the little plot of land where my house resides. If Reiko chooses the same, then we can all be interred together in the same place while the boy inherits the property. The second is that I would like to have my ashes put into a paper boat and dropped into the ocean. When the fragile vessel dissolves, then the ashes will be naturally spread in to ocean. This will absolve any future generation of the responsibility of taking care of my remains. The last thing that I want is for a future generation to consider a jar of my ashes and charred bones to be considered a responsibility or a burden.

Of course I can say all of this in a matter-of-fact sort of way because, with luck, I still have another 35 to 40 years to go before this body fails. I do not fear my death, but I do worry about being a burden on the people left behind. This is why I have some decent insurance policies in place and have opted to donate my organs — minus the eyes and brain3 — to anyone who might need them upon my passing. When I am gone, the only thing I want to leave behind is 10Centuries. Everything else can be divvied up as it will serve zero purpose to me.

Do Reiko's parents see their passing in a similar fashion? Are they trying to minimize the perceived burden that comes with being responsible for visiting and maintaining the family cemetery plot? What is to be done about the plot for Reiko's grandparents? Will this be left abandoned and forgotten in a couple of decades? How about the great-grandparents who were born and lived during the time of the Japanese Empire? How about the generation before, which is the earliest generation — that I know of — to be buried in the cemetery near the in-laws' house?

These are not easy questions, as they carry a great deal of emotional weight and familial responsibility. What I do know, however, is that when my time comes, I want my body to be recycled as quickly as possible so that people can move on. My spirit will continue. 10C will continue. So long as Reiko and the boy are financially stable after my passing then I will be content, as it means that my responsibilities will have been properly carried out.

  1. "Silver Week" is the traditional time when it's believed that people return to Earth to roam amongst the living, but in ghost form. If their tombstones are in good repair, they can rest comfortably. If the plots have been forgotten, then they cannot rest. You can see the long-term problem with this sort of belief.

  2. I should really sit down with Reiko's parents and interview them on a podcast so that they can share their life story and the incredible change they've witnessed over the last 70 years. The Japan of today is vastly different from the Japan of the 1950s, yet there are still many similarities.

  3. Silly as it may seem, I consider the eyes and brain to be the essence of a human. This is what we are. Everything else is just an organic machine for the purpose of locomotion.

Getting Back Into Evernote Mon, 03 Jun 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 697e7179-99c5-561e-9254-76d3a728eca6 When I decided to put macOS back on the notebook a week or so back to remove some of the friction I was consistently rubbing up against when trying to work, I decided to also give Evernote another try. There was a time when the note application was my go-to resource. It was used extensively between 2011 and 2013 on the iPod Touches I had and, after getting an iPhone, the application became even more useful thanks to all the geo-tagging that could be done with the notes. Evernote was so much a part of my day-to-day life that the prototype version of 10Centuries was an Evernote-based blogging tool1. However, some time around 2015 the company started to change. The applications were slow, bloated, and too difficult to use on the phone. The desktop application did the job, but wasn't as good as previous versions as a result of a bunch of extra "chrome" that was added at the bottom of every note. By the autumn of that year, I uninstalled the software and let my premium account expire. The system just wasn't for me anymore.

The next couple of years weren't particularly great for digital note-taking. I tried OneNote and an array of alternatives that were all trying to be like Evernote, but none could solve the problems that I actually had. What I need from a note application is not at all revolutionary. In fact, Evernote did everything I needed and then some … but the applications were just hard to use. In 2017 I decided to give the service another try, installed the application on my phone, and almost instantly regretted it. My inbox was hit with a slew of spam from Evernote! They wanted to welcome me back. They wanted to offer a discount for a year of premium service. They wanted to let me know about new features. They wanted so much for me to centre my entire life around their service, which is not how notes work. Less than two hours after installing the application, I uninstalled it and added to the mail filter, sending everything automatically to trash.

Not having a decent digital note system is not an option anymore, though. An entire 150-page A5 book is filled with hand-written notes every five weeks for all the things I'm doing at the day job. Another one for 10C sees 15~20 pages written every week with ideas, bug analyses, data structures, and more. All of these things can remain in paper form and still be quickly referenced, but this still works out to over 1400 pages that I'm hand-writing every year just for development projects, not to mention client work and the various essays I've been working on that are in various states of completion.

Plain text files have been used, but don't easily support attachments or meta-data. Word processors like Microsoft's Word or LibreOffice's Write are overkill and do not have decent PDF OCR and indexing built-in. Try as I might, the best tool for the job since 2011 has been — in my mind — Evernote. So here I am with a trio of these …

Evernote's Squared Smart Notebook

This third time around has actually been quite positive. I'm not being inundated with spam. The applications on the tablet and desktop are actually pretty decent. The advertisements — for the moment — are minimal. I've even started scanning receipts and other documents into the service again, which is something I once did religiously in order to keep track of important things that needed to be quickly searchable later. For the most part, I'm enjoying the reduced friction that comes with using a tool that is wholly aligned with the things I need from a note management service.

My only hope is that the service continues to leave me alone while being dependable going forward. I'll get the premium account. I'll get the notebooks that make it easier to have hand-written notes and sketches get processed. I'll even learn to use Penultimate on the tablet with a stylus2. So long as the marketing engine doesn't get in the way of the service, it might just remain part of my digital toolbox for the foreseeable future.

  1. Quite literally. The only way to publish a post with Noteworthy is via Evernote.

  2. Much to Steve Jobs' chagrin, of course.

Five Things Sun, 02 Jun 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 59fd25a1-0ee3-619a-836f-0cab75b4d72c Another week is about to begin and, as one would expect, this means the weather is about to become lovely. For some peculiar reason, the best weather always seems to happen between Monday and Friday. One might argue that this is the result of a very selective memory, but I'm inclined to think that the universe likes to tempt people into skipping work.

This is why we have "sick days", right?

Sunglasses at Light

After going without for more than a decade, I finally have a pair of prescription sunglasses to use when out and about in the sun. One of the last big purchases I made before leaving Canada back in 2007 was a $890 pair of frameless glasses that could transition from completely transparent to decently grey with UV light. These broke a few years later and, being rather financially constrained at the time, I picked up a simple pair of regular glasses that would get the job done. This is the same pair I use today.

There are a couple of things I like about having a dedicated pair of prescription sunglasses. Not only is it easier to look at things outside during the daylight hours, but these can act as an auxiliary pair should anything happen to my indoor glasses. Until now, I've been extremely careful to ensure the boy doesn't damage my eyewear. Now, while I plan on remaining vigilant, there is less at stake from little fingers creating big problems.

Unhelpful Rhetoric

This week I was chatting with a couple of neighbours when we heard a fire truck followed by an ambulance race down a nearby street, sirens and PA speakers blaring. One of the men stated that the fire and police have been a lot busier in the area lately, to which another said — and I am quoting in English despite the Japanese that was used — "The change happened about the same time the last group of foreigners moved into town."

I couldn't resist. I had to ask how often the cops or fire department had been to my house in the last 14 months.

"Oh, you're fine," the neighbour quickly said as though trying to backpedal. "The problem is all the Brazilians."

To which I quickly rattled off a bunch of high profile crimes that have been in the news over the last two weeks, all of which have been conducted by Japanese people. Legal immigrants to Japan generally try to follow they rules because the consequences of causing trouble is too great a cost. I'll admit that my attitude towards immigrants in Canada when I was young and stupid was unfair1, but I will do what I can to help people understand that people who willingly choose to live and work in Japan are generally hard-working, law-abiding residents.

10,000 a Day

In the month of May my average daily step count was 10,005. The last time I saw this sort of number was when I was still very much into the idea of Quantified Self, which I had to abandon after the boy was born due to the over-complexities of recording activities that are interrupted thrice at a minimum2. That said, both the boy and Nozomi have been insistent this month that they have more time outside, and I am quick to support any reason to get some fresh air and sunshine. It's nice to see a 5-digit number again.

The Mazda is Back

Last week the Mazda was returned with a new transmission and two new associated computers. Before the car had problems, I thought the vehicle was smooth. After feeling how the car accelerated and maintains speed now, colour me surprised. I've not enjoyed a ride this smooth in years. The car feels brand new.


As I eluded to earlier, I've recently started to track some of my numbers again. For the moment, tracking will be kept relatively simple with steps, heart rate at the time I wake up, sleep patterns, and body weight. A lot of this is quite automated, which makes it easier to get back into the swing. One thing I am looking forward to, though, is picking up an ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ at some point to better track my pulse and other metrics. If I plan the budget just right, Santa might place one of these devices under the tree this year. Two would be better, but likely isn't in the cards for this year.

  1. I didn't mind that people came from other countries. What frustrates me was the communication barrier, as not everyone was fluent in English or Québécois. I used to ask "If you can't speak either of the languages, why are you here?" It was an idiotic and unfair question. As a settled immigrant in a historically homogenous nation, I understand the challenges that come with moving across the planet.

  2. This is why I had to give up tracking my sleep. I would be woken up at least twice every night, and three times on average. Try recording that into a phone application that expects a person to go to bed just once per night.

Nighttime Treks Sat, 01 Jun 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason c36a3d6f-69c5-a413-fe2b-5beda25c4f9b With the summer humidity here, Nozomi is back down to just two walks per day. Being a miniature dachshund has got to be rough. Everyone in the world is a giant and concrete at 15cm is always a warm surface just looking for an excuse to be hot. That said, it's not all bad. Nozomi does have a pretty easy life, even by dog standards.

Nozomi Enjoying a Walk

Last summer Nozomi and I would generally head outside a little after sunset for her evening visit to the park. The air is relatively cool and the grass feels nice on bare paws. However, because of all the changes that had happened in such a short time, Nozomi would want to return home within the first five minutes of her walk. She was completely uninterested in exploring the park or being outdoors. This year she can't get enough of the outdoors.

In the evenings we have a set route that she seems to enjoy quite a bit. We head to the park where she al it's immediately jumps on the grass for a quick uphill pee. Then we head to the baseball diamond so she can walk around the edges of the outfield and catch up on all her puppy smells. As we come around to the last corner, though, she turns left to walk away from our home. Instead we travel south to another pedestrian path and take the long way home, stopping every so often to greet neighbours or sniff something of interest. The look on her face as we conduct this trek makes the journey worthwhile.

She's clearly a happy and energetic Nozomi again.

Passionate Hobbyists Fri, 31 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 4d83f94d-c1ec-baa8-b727-d324bc0c905b Earlier today I was introduced to Dennis Prager via Fireside Chat Ep. 84, where he strongly suggests people get a hobby. He then goes on to explain why people should have a hobby and why some things people consider a hobby are more of a pastime. Ultimately I agree that people need to have a creative activity that can be enjoyed during leisure time. In my case I have several very different passions that I can engage in when stepping away from the computer, but I understand this is not particularly common in adults. Yet, while I agree with the central idea that people should have hobbies, I wonder just how many people honestly have no creative outlet in their life.

In the YouTube video, Dennis makes a couple of interesting statements:

  • the more passions you have, the happier you'll be1
  • a hobby is to create something beautiful
  • watching something is not the same as creating something, therefore "watching movies" is not a hobby
  • a pastime, such as a video game, is not a hobby
  • technology has made our passions extinct2

The first two points I generally agree with. One could argue the point about creating something beautiful but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The last three points I can disagree with on semantics, as some people enjoy reviewing movies that they watch, making the act of watching part of the hobby. Some people enjoy creative games, such as Minecraft, SimCity, and others. I would contend that people can certainly create something beautiful in the virtual world of a game. The last point, however, I disagree with. Technology may have changed the sorts of pursuits that people are passionate about, but passion is still very much part of what makes our hobbies worthwhile.

Kids Today …

There's no denying that I have a multitude of hobbies that all bring me varying degrees of joy, depending on how knowledgeable and/or competent I might wish to be3. However, I have been described — in polite conversation — as a walking edge case. What I have seen first hand with my community volunteering4, though, is that kids today are just as creative and passionate as I was thirty years ago and as kids likely were a century ago. Where we focus our passions has changed. Nothing more.

One difference that I see with young people around here compared to when I was their age has to do with ramp-up time. If someone wants to try something new, they can generally get started quickly, cheaply, and easily thanks to a plethora of applications and YouTube videos. I've learned more about photography since the boy was born thanks to professional photographers on YouTube sharing concepts like framing, tilt-shifting, bokeh, and more. Sure, an application could probably do all of these things for me, but I want to use my nicer Canon DSLR camera. This means investing the time into learning how to do things with the tools available to me. Kids can do the same with just as much ease.

Case in point is a young girl down the street who wanted to make a cartoon featuring her new kitten. She downloaded an app for her tablet5, did all the preliminary work of drawing, colouring, and adding some music that she composed in GarageBand herself, then showed the whole neighbourhood (literally) what she created. Now she's talking about wanting to become an animator and learning more about this form of art than she might have otherwise. The technology made it possible for her to explore an idea, make something she found amazing, and then springboard to the next level. Whether she chooses to pursue a career in art or animation is irrelevant at this point. She is passionate and she is learning.

Having a creative hobby is a wonderful thing and I would encourage everybody to have at least one. For many, a hobby may be put on hold for a lack of time, a lack of resources, or a lack of "safe space"6. To suggest that a person's lack of passion is the result of modern technology is a bit of a stretch, though.

  1. This is what he calls the Happiness Theory

  2. He is not at all anti-technology. He explains in the video that the amazing technology so many of us take for granted has pacified us with all its convenience.

  3. At last count and not including hobbies that are not related to programming or otherwise non-creative uses of time? Five. Baking, gardening, sketching, writing, podcasting and photography. However, I also really enjoy reading and listening to podcasts. While these may not be creative in the moment, what I learn from the books or audio can certainly be put to use later.

  4. I participate in a robotics course during the summer holidays, teaching kids how to program and think problems through to find solutions. Both girls and boys attend the sessions and they generally range from 7 to 15 years of age.

  5. I think it was her father's tablet, but kids generally use whatever they want. Parents will allow it so long as there's a little bit of quiet in the house.

  6. Try having a nice model railroad set in the house with a toddler. Tears will be shed.

Had I Known ... Thu, 30 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason ace70c90-1e1d-eeec-86f9-97318f22dcbb Earlier today I was asked to take a look at a piece of code that was written a couple years ago to solve a very specific problem at a European branch of the day job. It was just a simple Python script that called a series of SQL queries to correct some information that was missed by a sync mechanism between three applications. There was no documentation for how the code was supposed to work, nor was there any specification document providing the gist of the tool. However, being the organization's predictable fool, I agreed to take a look in an effort to discover and fix the reported problem.

Some Python Code

When the .zip file came through I was quick to get started on the debug process. The problem was that, after running well for two years, the code would throw errors galore and quit. In with the source files were some log files, so I started with those and quickly found the cause of the problem. The next challenge would be to resolve the problem, which naturally involves looking at the source code. I fired up a text editor and started digging into the Python, but something seemed a little off with what I was looking at. The coding style and terse comment blocks looked incredibly familiar.

It was my code. The attribution block at the top of the page had been completely removed, and any reference to specific GitHub issues to explain why certain code blocks did what they did were scrubbed, but the code was most certainly from a project that I had written in 2015 to work as an "interim solution" to a problem here in Japan. Locally, the Python project was certainly a short-lived fix. However, it seems that someone shared it with the German team in 2016 to solve a similar problem they were having and this temporary solution became a permanent one.

Less than 20 minutes after receiving the code from my European colleagues, I fired off and email outlining the proper fix to their problem, which would make this malfunctioning code completely irrelevant1. Had I known this fix would have been shared outside of the country, I would have written the tool a little more intelligently. There would be better error checking and more links in the code pointing to the GitHub wiki page where the software was most certainly documented. Then again, had I known this fix would have been shared outside the country, I would have likely followed up with international teams to make sure they did not use the sync hack after a proper resolution to the problem was found.

This does make me wonder just how much of my code has been handed out to the various international teams without my knowledge2. A lot of it was designed for a very specific internal purpose, so I doubt much of it would work elsewhere without a bit of effort.

  1. The problem turned out to be the code was moved to a new server running an incompatible version of Python. I had written the code for Python 3, but the server Germany set up was running an older version.

  2. and my name. Why delete the name of the developer? Why remove GitHub issue numbers from comments? I have a feeling I know who did this, but it doesn't make the unnecessary editing of comments any more understandable.

Babanusa Wed, 29 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason a376396c-fd36-9fea-e79c-a919d63d169e Working from home means that the boy and I get to spend quite a bit of time together. Today, while I was doing some research on local kindergartens he might attend, he jumped on my lap and started playing with the tablet, which had the maps application open. He understands that "things happen" when you run your finger over the glass, so that's just what he did for several minutes until he stumbled across a city in souther South Sudan that has almost zero information on Wikipedia: Babanusa.

Babanusa, South Sudan

The town appears to be located in the middle of a desert. Its roads are covered in sand. The fences surrounding all of the homes have accumulations of sand on the eastern sides. There doesn't appear to be any source of fresh water within walking distance, but we did manage to find 12 large tanks that are likely used to store the life-giving liquid. According to Google Maps, there are two mosques servicing the community and three small grocers. A handful of small cafes can be found just south of the massive railway junction that dominates the area.

While looking around the town, I started asking questions. Where are the signs of agriculture? Can food be grown here, or is it all imported from communities closer to the river 9km to the east? Are the haphazard-fenced homes outside the main community where the poorer people live? Aside from the railway junction, what are the main industries that keep people busy? There appear to be at least 1,000 homes in the area, so are there more than two mosques? There does not seem to be any signs of high-voltage electrical lines bringing power to the community, so where does everyone's electricity come from?

Following the main road west, there's a whole lot of nothing stretching on for kilometre after kilometre. And then … what looked like a scorched piece of earth where people clearly live — or used to live. There are all the signs of homes, a market, a place of worship, and even a school next door. Yet this place has no name on any map.

Scorched Earth, South Sudan

In my quest to find a name for this place, I zoomed out a bit to get some context for where it's located. When I saw the region, things started to make sense.

This is in Darfur, an area that's roughly the size of Spain and almost completely arid plateau. Whatever this land had once offered to the people living here has been stripped away by the ravages of war. This is why there does not appear to be any developed infrastructure, or agriculture, or even large farms of roaming livestock. It's a part of the world that is so foreign and alien to me that I wouldn't last a week. If one of the various militias didn't kidnap me in an attempt to collect a ransom, the lack of fresh water and food would do me in. The people who live here pay much more attention and are much more resourceful than I will ever need to be.

A lot of this information was kept from the boy, of course. He was just happy to play with the tablet. But while he gleefully tapped and scrolled around the map of a faraway land, I couldn't help but think about the blackened soil around the unnamed communities and wondered whether this was evidence of industry or the consequences of war.

The Time I Almost Died in Lake Erie Tue, 28 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 631aba6d-80f3-745b-9425-eb04a723cbbe Some of the many things that I like about Randall Munroe's XKCD comic is the honesty and intelligence that goes into every strip. His strips can make a person feel sadness for a robot on Mars, make people laugh, change a person's perceptions, and remind you of people you've known (and probably worked with). Today's comic was unique as it instantly reminded me of the time I almost drowned in Lake Erie, the shallowest and filthiest of the North American Great Lakes.

XKCD - Swimming

In the summer of 1992, when Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back and Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You seemed to repeat endlessly on every FM radio station in the area, my step-father's family was having a rather large get-together at Rock Point Provincial Park, which is not too far from the small town of Dunnville, Ontario. The exact number of people in attendance slips my mind but, as my step father came from a rather large family that multiplied to create many more large families, there were several dozen of us playing around on the beach and in the lake. As one of the older kids present, I was expected to be the "life guard" and keep an eye on the people swimming nearby. No problem. Then we started to play a game involving throwing a ball as far as we could ….

The rest of the story can be pretty much worked out from that one line alone.

The ball was thrown too far for any of the younger kids to get it, as they would have been no more than 10. So I swam out to retrieve the object. Getting to the ball was no problem but, when I turned and tried to make my way back, I couldn't make any progress back to shore. I would swim towards land, but see it recede with every wave. In my mind, I needed to push against something to get a little boost. This meant going down to the lake bed and pushing. I didn't think I had gone too far out, so the bottom of the lake shouldn't have been more than two or three metres from the surface.

I was quite wrong.

When I went under, I didn't find the bottom. I didn't find anything but colder water. Lake Erie is said to be a "fresh water" lake, but the green liquid is anything but drinkable. Visibility is less than 50cm on a good day. The light from the sun was completely gone and I was in a world of darkness. I panicked. There were no signs as to which direction was up1 and air was in short supply. My uncle Ron must have seen me go out to get the ball because before the situation got much worse, he grabbed my arm and pulled me to the surface. I didn't even know he was that close.

Someone told me that I must have drank half the lake given how much water was coughed up afterwards. I don't remember the coughing, but I do remember being carried to the beach and put in a plastic lawn chair.

Just like in the comic, I still get a little shiver of panic when I don't realize how deep the water is beneath me. This won't stop me from swimming, but it is a good reminder to pay attention and keep my wits.

  1. I hadn't yet learned about "following the bubbles"; releasing a bit of air and seeing which direction the gas rises. An uncle suggested that later.

Longevity Mon, 27 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason f526bfc0-af4c-aa6d-de20-bf6852b2f4bd In January of 2013, one of Sharp's last flip phones became available on SoftBank and my employer snapped up dozens of these for the sales team as well as some members of HQ. When I moved to the IT department in 2015, I was also given one of these in order to be available should any of my systems go down. At first I didn't like having "yet another device" but I've come to appreciate what this simple device offers. Despite its age, the battery still provides enough charge to go 7 days if calls are kept to a minimum. As an added bonus, the sound quality is decent and the physical number pad pushes back when pressed. One final compliment; the phone is "unapologetically plastic". I can't tell you how many times this device has been dropped on concrete, tile, down stairs, and out a window1 without once losing power or cracking somewhere.

So it's probably no surprise that SoftBank has been emailing people who still use this phone to say it's nearing EOL.

Sharp 202SH

SoftBank has said that support for the phone will end on September 30th, 2021 for business accounts, which gives people a little under 30 months to change their phone to something else. Being a flip phone with no data plan, the monthly cost of using this phone comes out to a little under $8 after tax. SoftBank, like the other two major carriers in the country, will not have any new phones lacking a data plan requirement before the end of this year. Even the more modern flip phones from Panasonic, Kyocera, and NEC all run Android. To make matters worse, anyone who buys an older 3G phone with the intention of running it on the network will find their phones inoperable come January 1, 2022. The older technology is being locked out of the network. It's unfortunate, but not at all unexpected.

2G arrived in Japan during the mid-90s bubble, when pagers2 were all the rage, and was phased out of the country in 2010. 3G arrived a decade later and wasn't widely deployed until 2010, when people started buying iPhones and Android devices. In both cases the technology had an operational lifespan of about 15 years. Will 4G and the upcoming 5G technologies see the same timespan?

There's little chance that my next phone will survive the entire operational period of a cellular technology. Devices that use the newer network capabilities will need powerful processors, large amounts of memory, and a bigger battery. For the moment, this means a smart phone. These slabs of glass and silicon can certainly last a long time when treated well, but there's little chance that the software written today will be compatible with very much in the 2030s.

We can hope, though.

  1. Okay, it's only been tossed out the window once. But it was an open window and the phone only flew maybe five meters before hitting the dirt. 10 seconds with a damp tissue and everything was good as new.

  2. These were called "pocket bells" in Japan.

Five Things Sun, 26 May 2019 14:15:00 +0000 Jason 01859b85-c365-901a-e6df-4f2f74076446 The original plan for today's list was to look at five things I wish I didn't know, as having the knowledge has generally resulted in a great deal of frustration. The list was mostly written, aside from the fifth item, which I couldn't really think of. On the list two of the items could have been rolled into a single entry as one only exists because of the other, and the others were poorly justified. Reading through the piece, the post could really have been titled Mountains from Mole Hills, as not knowing these things would not result in a happier, more fulfilling life. If anything, just the opposite would happen very quickly. So why not turn the frown upside-down and look at five things I wish I did know?


From my mid-teens to late 20s I studied and was very much a part of religious communities. First it was with the Roman Catholic Church, until "something happened". Then it was with the Christian Reformed church. Finally it was Islam, where I had some of the most intelligent discussions in my life with people who have invested decades into understanding not only their own sacred books, but those of other faiths. I learned more about the importance of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus while talking to Muslim scholars than from anyone else.

Buddhism, however, is something of a mystery. I've read some books on the religion and it's precepts, but my knowledge is still very shallow. By learning more about this religion, I might gain a better appreciation for some of the historical buildings in Japan as well as the role the belief system had in shaping much of Asia.

The Art of Conversation

There are a couple dozen or so rules of thumb that I try to follow when talking to someone new but, more often than not, I leave a conversation wondering how badly I engaged with the other person. This isn't for a lack of trying, either. I'm just generally not very good at conversing without a set topic. Perhaps with better verbal and interpersonal skills, I can develop and maintain lasting friendships.


If someone were to present either of my grandfathers with a piece of wood and (nicely) ask that they make something, a beautiful and unique piece of art would be created. Regardless of what it was, be it a birdhouse, a shelf, an old-timey crystal radio, what you would get back would look like something from a luxury store in Ginza1. With this skill, I could take a more proactive role in customizing my house and maybe even help some neighbours with their own projects

Canine Care

There is just one place in a 10km radius that a person can bring their dog to get a proper trim, and they're not accepting new customers because there isn't enough hours in the day to take care of everyone. If I want Nozomi to get her claws or fur trimmed, I need to take her 12km to the place she's gone since the age of 2. If I could do this, then Nozomi wouldn't have to go so long between visits and I could maybe help other dogs in the neighbourhood when they need a little bit of care, attention, and pampering.

Rocket Science

Who doesn't want to know rocket science? With a better understanding of the conventional technologies that are in use or active development today, it becomes possible to seriously examine some of the less-conventional — or downright unconventional — means of propulsion in space.

  1. This is generally seen as "where the wealthy shop in Tokyo"

Thrum Sat, 25 May 2019 14:15:00 +0000 Jason 59ed7faf-7bbd-3d27-5c88-32945c9f67e2 Snoring tends to be a problem for everyone but the snorer, which is why I generally sleep in a separate room from Reiko and the boy. All in all, this setup works quite well. On the days when I work well past midnight there is little chance of me waking people as I enter the room and climb into bed. Also, by not subjecting people to the sound of my snoring, the family can wake up in a much better mood than if I've been disturbing their sleep for much of the night. As there are three bedrooms in the house, I've decided to sleep in the "spare" that exists in the event Reiko and I have another child or invite someone to stay with us for a while. Also in this room are the servers and hard drives that power 10Centuries and the robust home network infrastructure. This means that every night I am lulled go sleep by the thrum of spinning hard dives and the occasional whine of a processor fan.

It's like music to my ears.

In the late 90's I was renting a basement on the east side of Hamilton1 and, as one would expect, I had a trio of computers running 24-hours every day. This was at a time well before the average person could afford solid state storage, so there was always the sound of multiple hard drives powering up and down depending on what was happening, power supply fans, processor fans, and large case fans. An endless cacophony of noise that would drive my parents to complain. However, I had always found the sound to be incredibly soothing.

Read/write heads inside a hard drive are mounted on the end of actuator arms that make a high-pitched sound as they moved from place to place across the disk. The 80mm case fans in the 90s could be made variable depending on the ambient temperature inside the box, so these would occasionally spin up or slowdown. If I were listening to a CD, the drive would spin up every time it finished the last track. These sounds, as ridiculous as it may seem, calm me in ways that meditation CDs simply cannot.

Laying alone in the spare room less than three meters from two servers, a 72TB NAS, a UPS, and some networking equipment is the perfect finish to any day of the week. The responsibilities and expectations from family2 near and far, as well as those from colleagues and clients, completely slip away when I'm in the room, laying on my bed, and just listening to the thrum of spinning hardware. I worry that this luxury will not be possible in the future if all storage is flash-based but, until that happens, I'll enjoy every moment of this modern rhythmic hum.

  1. Not too far from where my father and I lived for seven years before he remarried, as chance had it.

  2. I include Nozomi as family. Her canine genetics do not bother me in the least.

APIs as a Service Fri, 24 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 37700bba-35d2-5dc0-73ea-0bb1d69205b9 Over the last couple of months I've been investing a good amount of time into research and planning for my upcoming push into self-employment. Some common concerns involve questions like "How much money needs to be earned every month?" and "What are the expected monthly operational costs?", but the biggest question has always been "What can I offer that people actually want?". A couple of projects have been outlined on this site in the past, however it seems that one of the most common solutions that I am providing to clients has been absent from consideration: APIs.

Modern C++

When I sit and think about it, I build an awful lot of APIs. Here are some of the more interesting solutions that I've built at the day job or for clients in the last two years:

  • library management
  • pedagogy and digital textbooks
  • online skills training
  • Proprietary CMS ⇢ Salesforce sync middleware
  • Proprietary LMS ⇢ Moodle sync middleware
  • Weather station data collection (for IoT devices distributed across forests in Japan and Thailand)
  • ISBN book catalogue (with an emphasis on textbooks and other learning materials)
  • Email ⇢ Evernote sync middleware
  • restaurant inventory management
  • and many tiny, single-function resources

This seems to be where I'm investing a great deal of my time, building tools that interact with systems, but are generally not seen1. Is this not the area that I should be looking into developing and expanding?

One of the reasons I make these APIs is because the reasonably-priced options that already exist in the world have glaring issues with consistency, or completeness, or are simply far too complicated to be used within the imposed request limitations. As for the unreasonably-priced APIs … I don't get to play with those very often as they're generally cost prohibitive, even for larger corporations.

There are two APIs that I've been thinking about building to solve some of the data organization problems around podcasts and RSS feeds, which are very similar in many respects. Thinking through the sorts of tools that people might actually want, this would make more sense than creating yet another MySQL client.

This is something I need to seriously consider this weekend.

  1. I do occasionally build things that have a web interface, but these UIs are more functional than beautiful. Fortunately there is always ThemeForest to help meet a design deadline for under $20.

Tired of Friction Thu, 23 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason c7d77360-3abd-8673-a3e0-c3af1ba82152 This week has seen a couple of changes to my digital tools as I try to get back to basics, reducing the friction that gets in the way of productivity. macOS has been reinstalled on my personal notebook. Evernote has been re-installed and is receiving some documents to keep track of and index. The Lenovo X1 Carbon notebook, like the W541 upstairs, has been turned into a server. For the last couple of months there has just been too much friction involved with the day-to-day, and I've spent far too much of my time working around problems that shouldn't exist rather than focusing on the work in front of me.

The Workspace

So for the next little bit, I'm going to try this setup again. Closed software that I can generally trust to do the job its hired to do, with the cross-platform compatibility that I generally rely on to meet deadlines and deliver results.

If I later regret the decision, it will not take very long for me to restore the Lenovo notebook back to a development machine thanks to the backups that were made1.

  1. and tested. You do test your backups, don't you?

Mario's Castle Wed, 22 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 955fec16-040c-40b3-f9ec-9deb63e44d03 There's a park not too far from my home that the boy and I enjoy going to once or twice a week. This particular play area has a lot of the standard equipment that one would expect to see in a place designed for children, such as swings, slides, and see-saws. What makes this place unique, though, is its "Mario Castle".

Hill Park

At the top of a hill is a castle with red bricks. There are tunnels underneath, ladders that take you to the top, and a 30-metre slide that will bring a person down to the walking path below. Whether this glorious fort is actually called Mario's Castle is up for debate, but this is the name that I call it given that it reminds me a lot of the castle in Super Mario Brothers for the NES.

Another Look at Mario's Castle

In front of the castle is an elaborate play area that includes a number of slides, tubes, rope bridges, and even a zip-line. All the things that I would have absolutely loved had there been something like this around my home when growing up. Fortunately I can take advantage of my role as a parent to act like a kid. The boy and I are often the only people under 50 in the park when we visit, as most kids would be in school at the time. This gives us free reign on all of the equipment.

Slides and Tubes

One of the many things that I find interesting about being 40 is that I don't feel 40. My muscles and joints do not ache nearly as much as my parents said theirs ached at my age. I can still run and jog for several minutes before breaking a sweat. Climbing isn't an issue, nor is lifting my body up onto a rope bridge from below … which is something that would probably result in a broken leg if I didn't do it right. Generally I believe my body to be healthier and in better shape today then it was when I was in my 20s1, which makes it easier to keep up with the boy as he runs from place to place, packing as much fun into every 60-second block of time as possible.

This year in our adventures, the boy and I have visited 17 parks around the neighbourhood (and surrounding neighbourhoods). This one here, with Mario's Castle, is by far our favourite. One day we'll need to drag Reiko along and have a nice picnic under one of the lush trees.

  1. There are a lot of differences between my body today and my body 20 years ago, such as the amount and type of food that I can consume in one sitting. For the most part, though, it's better.

Magic and Math Tue, 21 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason cee038f0-fd93-6c4a-b3db-00835dbcf1f4 Earlier today a number of updates to 10C rolled out to fix a handful of bugs and introduce new functionality in both the API and the Social site. While the features are certainly nice, one of the most rewarding aspects to today's release is seeing the average CPU load on the web server drop from a pretty steady 1.1 to just 0.28. Memory usage is down as are response times. Today's update saw the next push to use the system's MySQL database engine more like I would SQL Server.

I've been on record to say that SQL Server is the best relational database engine on the planet and I stand by this assessment. It's incredibly fast, powerful, and comes with a slew of excellent tools that I find to be incredibly reliable. Licensing and other aspects can be quite complex at times, but the technology itself is rock solid. For a while, I actually had 10Cv5 running completely off a SQL Server on Linux installation during the year-long alpha period, but opted to change the database engine to something a little more common in the open source world.

MySQL is an interesting tool in that it powers a lot of the Internet, is relatively easy to set up, and doesn't cost a dime. I've been using this database engine for 15 years and seen it develop quite a lot over this period of time. One area where it has seriously lagged behind SQL Server is with the performance of stored procedures and triggers. These programmable objects were just slow and easy to break in the MySQL 5.x versions, which meant that a lot of people — myself included — would write their web applications to use a series of ad hoc queries that are created in the API layer and passed to the database when needed. The more recent 8.0 release of MySQL has completely changed this paradigm. The database engine is faster. Memory is better used. Indexes remain in memory longer. All in all, I feel that 8.0 is the best release of MySQL there has ever been.

Since the beginning of v5's planning, I wanted to make more use of the features and functions that are found in a traditional relational database management system. Objects like triggers, views, and stored procedures are excellent tools to enforce consistency in a database at the database layer, freeing up the API layer to be more of a communications bus than anything else. Triggers were relatively easy to set up on the tables and they're providing some of the much-needed functionality to keep people's data safe and organized.

One area that I've stayed away from until recently has been stored procedures. In SQL Server these are wonderfully powerful objects that allow for a series of complex operations to take place completely in the database before a set of data is returned. In the MySQL 5.x versions, a stored procedure could be used for a complex task but was often slower than simply sending an ad hoc query and processing the results in the API middle layer. With version 8.0, this resistance is no longer necessary. Stored procedures in MySQL 8 rock. They're incredibly fast, reliable, and require less memory and fewer disk reads on average than sending a raw query string to the database. The change has been night and day, and it's reflected in the load times across the myriad of sites and services powered by 10C.

Being able to use stored procedures with 10C and not battle with a performance hit is going to completely change how I write this application and how people who choose to self-host administer the software. If MySQL continues to see the sort of improvements witnessed between 5.7 and 8.0, then other relational database engines will need to see similar changes in order to keep up.

Encouraging Technological Fragmentation Mon, 20 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason d4acd500-d614-6e1b-5968-8948bbafcc00 On May 15th the US government issued an executive order that could effectively reshape the technology that many of us will use in the coming decade. Chinese companies are being accused of using their position as the world's factory to secretly modify the electronics that permeate our lives, making it possible for the Chinese government to monitor everything that everyone does at anytime and anywhere. If this were a joking matter, one might believe that this is little more than jealousy on the part of America's covert ops industry. In addition to this order, the US Commerce Department took additional measures by adding Huawei and 70 affiliates to its "Entity List", which bans the Chinese telecom giant from buying parts and components from US companies without US government approval. Earlier today Google signaled its logical intention to comply with the revised laws by suspending some of its business with Huawei. Other companies outside of the United States that provide hardware and software to Huawei are also cutting the company off in an effort to stay on good terms with the US government.

This leaves Huawei, the second largest mobile phone maker on Earth, in a bind. They cannot get all of the parts they need to build products. They cannot get access to all of the services that Google offers people who use their Android operating system outside of mainland China, which will give potential customers a reason to not buy a Huawei product. Their other products, including TVs and traditional computers, will soon face a similar series of problems.

The people in leadership roles within China will not take this lying down. Huawei and other companies will not have their livelihoods held for ransom every time a foreign government, be it the United States or someone else, decides to issue a decree. The Chinese government could react with a number of measures, but many of these would just hurt their own economic position. Rather than lower themselves to an endless game of action-reaction, it may be time for some of the technological innovations in China to replace those developed elsewhere; a technological split from the west, so to speak.

Zhaoxin is a viable domestic alternative to Intel and AMD for x86-based processors. Kylin is a modern desktop operating system that is certainly up to the task of replacing Windows and macOS if people were so inclined. Huawei has been working on their own fork of Android for quite a while and have even hired some former Nokia people to make it happen. Next generation RISC processors are open-sourced, meaning they can be used by anyone regardless of a government order. It wouldn't be easy, but there is no reason why Chinese corporations, with the support of their government, couldn't "fork" current technologies and begin diverging from the products developed primarily in the United States, Europe, and Israel. In the space of a decade, China could be a technological Galapagos, much like Japan was in the 90s. So long as the Chinese business leaders are smarter than their Japanese counterparts, then it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Chinese technology begin to replace western technology first in developing countries and later in developed nations.

The parallel development of technologies would probably appear to be a duplication of work at first but, within just a few short years, a noticeable diversion would become apparent. Customers would vote with their wallets. Markets would expand and contract. Companies would adapt or fade from relevance. The reality is far more complex than a 700-word blog post might make it out to be, but a technologically independent China would have a lot of benefits. Not only for the people of China, but everyone around the world. A technological race to domination would drive a lot of innovation and require a lot of intelligent people.

The rising tide raises every boat.

Of course, this could also backfire and result in drastically incompatible systems. I'm optimistic that we would see more good than bad from a technologically independent China, though.

Five Things Sun, 19 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 8f8be454-6a64-2b21-a65e-dc74cdb97c24 It's that time of the week again where people lament the shortness of the weekend and the length of the working week. For me this is generally when I am the most optimistic for what lies ahead as a list of attainable objectives has been assembled over the weekend and the first of many checkboxes can be marked as complete in less than 12 hours. In addition to having a list of things to accomplish, Sunday is also a time for Five Things™ and maybe a little reflection.

Modern Ink-Jet Printers Rock

The old Canon inkjet has decided to insist on being as difficult and temperamental as a hungry toddler so, rather than put up with such nonsense, we went out and picked up another basic Canon. As a new printer will often come with some sample photo paper, I printed out a couple of photos and was immediately struck by the vibrancy of the colours and the clarity of the image. At some point in the last few years it seems that Canon has also worked out how to print right up to the edge of the photo. There isn't any colour bleed or leaking anywhere to be found.

This printer will see a lot of use over the coming weeks.


Before the boy was born I would generally clock close to 8,000 steps a day. This was in part because I could invest the time into walking places. After I started working from home, though, this number dropped to just a few hundred steps a day. Now that the boy is more keen to head outside and explore the world it's feasible to have days with a healthy amount of walking. Last week was the first time in over a year where I averaged just over 7,500 a day.

Hopefully there will be more of this in the future.

Prescription Sunglasses

After what seems like forever, I'll soon have a pair of prescription sunglasses to wear when out and about. I generally do not wear non-prescription sunglasses as the lack of focus and difficulty in reading distant objects results in a pretty severe headache, so the more expensive option is needed. The last pair of prescription sunglasses I had were actually "transitions" that would (slowly) get darker with direct sunlight. These were broken in 2008 and I've been going without ever since.

Yesterday Reiko and I went to a place and ordered ourselves some decent protection. We'll receive the glasses in 10 days. I'm quite looking forward to this.

Napping in the Park

Yesterday and today I fell asleep while sitting on the hill in the park. This is generally a bad idea, but the rest has been truly invigorating. When I wake up after a ten to fifteen power nap outside, I feel as though I just had a night at a really nice hotel. While I hope this doesn't become a habit, I do hope that power naps continue to be as beneficial.

No More News in English

Over the last couple of months I've come to realize that most of what I read on English news sites is either fabricated or grossly misrepresents the facts in order to push a specific agenda. This practise is nothing new for tabloids, but every source of news has effectively become a tabloid in a bid to inflate thier numbers. I'm not playing their game anymore. If news sites want me back as a reader, then they'll need to have the same journalistic standards as Japan's NHK news desk. Nothing else is worth my time.

This coming week should be quite a bit more productive than last week, and I'm hoping that two updates to 10Centuries will restore some of the important functionality that people have been asking for.

1985 Sat, 18 May 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 53229413-a4fd-2196-f2ce-971c142385dd Earlier today my sister sent me a photo that, while undated, would have been taken in 1985. Based on all the things that happened that year, the photo may have been taken in late August or early September, shortly after my father collected Christine and I from the foster home where we were staying after our mother left. My youngest sister at the time is not in this photo as she would have either still been staying with an aunt or had just recently been retrieved by my mum1.

My father, sister, and I in 1985

What immediately strikes me about this photo, aside from how thin we all are, is that only my father is looking at the camera. Christine and I are looking off to the side at someone else. I know it has to be a person we're looking at because the photo was taken in the 3-bedroom apartment we moved into shortly before I started attending elementary school2. The person who took the photo would have been standing directly in front of the table where we had a 12" black and white TV3. Whoever we were looking at would have been sitting at the dining room table, as that would have been the only other furniture in the apartment at that time. Judging from the grin on my face and Christine's exuberance, I have a feeling it was either my mother — who my father always allowed to visit us despite whatever feelings he may have harboured — or her brother Leo. Unfortunately, my memory of that day is practically non-existent.

Photos were not all that common in my family before the advent of the "camera phone"4 so, for this picture to exist, there must have been some occasion to celebrate. My son hasn't gone a day in his life (outside the womb) without at least one photo being taken. Will he one day look back at these digital memories and remember a simpler time? Will he wonder why there are so few pictures of him and I together but thousands of him with his mother?5

The boy and I Looking at Cherry Blossoms in Kasugai Alongside the Hatta River

There's no way to foresee the future and how the boy will remember his early years, but I do hope that if he looks at these pictures, he sees that I'm just as invested in him as my father was in his children.

  1. My youngest sister was just a few months old when Mum left all three of us with a babysitter and a note to give our father after he returned from work. Because she was so young, my Aunt Vicky stepped up to take care of her rather than send her off to foster care. I never learned why Christine and I weren't picked up by other aunts and uncles, but then I never really asked. My father doesn't really talk much about this time in his life aside from how hard it was to climb out from under all the debt.

  2. Not just any elementary school, but an English-speaking elementary school! Prior to this, I attended French schools as that is my mother's first language.

  3. It was this 12" TV where I watched a whole lot of Star Trek and Saturday morning cartoons. This was also the TV where my father and I would play the Atari for hours on end. I didn't realize just how strange it was for people to have a 12" black and white TV as their living room TV until the early 90s, when my father finally paid off the last of the debt from the divorce and received a tax refund. We went out that weekend and bought a 26" colour TV with a remote and a VCR. So much luxury. TV shows had colour!

  4. Flip phones with a really awful camera completely changed the way my family approached photography. Once they saw the advantages of digital pictures, they took dozens of photos every day.

  5. The answer is pretty simple: I'm the family photographer.

One Fri, 17 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 443109ac-388d-21c0-d67f-4930a656cdd3 The neighbourhood is an interesting place at 1 o'clock in the morning. Street lights shift to alternate-pole lighting. The last public transit vehicles have left the area. Almost everything that needs sleep is unconscious in its home. And then there's me, sitting a well-lit room hammering away on a keyboard while solving problems with raw math and a playlist of loud music. Nozomi does her best to ignore me.

There is a lot to like about one in the morning. The only caveat is that the boy will expect me to be awake and ready to play no later than 7:00am.

Stuck Thu, 16 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason e9b3865c-e34a-a405-03bc-a60276f3d49b For reasons I don't quite understand, this week has been incredibly long. There has been almost no motivation to do any work and, worse still, the work that I have tried to do has been absolutely awful. Today, despite several attempts to shake the lack of creativity and energy, I've managed to accomplish absolutely nothing aside from the bare minimum … which is not at all what I need to be delivering in the next couple of days. I am, for all intents and purposes, stuck in what appears to be burnout for the second time in 2019, and the fourth time since May of last year. What the heck is going on?

Generally when I run head first into burnout there is an unhealthy dose of depression that goes along with it. Unfortunately the only way out of this unproductive rut is to plough right through, forcing things to get done in the hope that something will trigger the dark cloud to go away, allowing creativity to return and the lethargy to dissipate. When I first started encountering these low-points in the late 90s, they would generally last for a day or two at most. The current incarnations are much more persistent, often stealing a week or two of my time, making every waking moment while working at the day job feel like an eternity.

This run of sluggishness is different in that there doesn't appear to be any signs of depression. Instead there is just an ambivalence to getting work done, which makes no sense.

Two deadlines arrive tomorrow with a third this coming Tuesday. If I can't shake this lack of motivation, then schedules will slip. While nothing I work on is of life-and-death importance, any delay that I cause will have a domino effect on the rest of the project. It's true that I haven't been sleeping all that well over the last couple of months — if not years — so this may have something to do with it. Tonight, rather than invest some time into client work after the day job, I think I'll just head to bed.

Given the substandard quality of the stuff I'm typing today, this is probably the best thing to do.

600 Hours Wed, 15 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 2f6c3285-07b5-7c0b-6437-ecdca7a5d33d Today marks the 245th consecutive day that I've written and published a blog post on this site, which is a number that I find astounding given the number of times I've tried and failed to do this in the past. As these posts are all stored in a database it's easy to quantify what's been done even more, but these metrics would just add noise to the goal of the current objective of publishing at least one blog post every day for 365 days … or more. That said, the vast majority of my day is spent thinking about numbers. To not slice and dice my efforts here in an effort to better understand what's been done would run counter to my nature. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to kill some time while listening in on a meeting at work by writing a quick little script that would take a look at the source files for the blog posts I've written — including the unpublished ones — and try to work out roughly how much time I've invested in writing since September 12th, 2018.

The answer is just shy of 600 hours1. I thought it would be more.

Setting a goal to both write and publish a post every day is easy. Achieving the goal is another story altogether. When I would try to publish daily in the past, it was often necessary to have a couple of blog posts written and put in the queue ahead of time so that there would always be something to publish, even if I couldn't write it that day. This tactic is being avoided this time as one of the benefits to writing every day is the unseen information stored in each post. Articles with a great deal of repetition were written at the end of the day or during times of burnout. Posts that consist mostly of photos are for those days when I am just staring at a blank page for far too long. Items that have clearly defined sections were written over a period of hours with at least two revisions. It's this extra information contained within the patterns of every post that I find the most interesting as it reveals elements of my mental state as the fingers hit the keyboard.

One of the reasons this personal site exists is because it's a reflection of who I am in more ways than one. There are bugs, imperfections, poorly-written posts and, occasionally, better ones. Some of the ideas I write about have evolved over time while others may have remained mostly static. It's very much a personal Wayback Machine.

Writing and publishing every day is not something everyone can do every day, and I struggle with blank pages just as often as anyone else. There's no stopping this streak, though. 365 consecutive days is the minimum goal, and there is no upper limit. With all this writing practise, I hope that the articles are being written better and with fewer digressions.

  1. The best estimate is 594 hours 29 minutes, but this can't include situations like standing up to use the bathroom or stopping because the boy needed attention. It should be taken with a grain of salt.

The Logical Conclusion Tue, 14 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 4b286428-9c89-9224-62d8-32b37849a7ab Some of the recent conversations around employment equality have been quite interesting to observe. Regardless of whether the people discussing the topic are on YouTube, using podcasts, or publishing opinion pieces on well-known news sites, the same handful of arguments are trotted out as a reason for why employers must be forced to use discriminatory practices when acquiring new employees through the use of heavy-handed legislation, or why it's a fool's errand that should be abandoned. What's unfortunate is that some of the people debating the issue use the same words to mean different things, which results in unnecessary frustration and a surplus of decibels.

There are generally two meanings for the word "equality" that I see when people are discussing the obvious gaps in population representation within certain fields:

Equality of Opportunity, which is described as a state of fairness in the job market. Everyone is treated the same and not prevented from applying for a job due to artificial barriers, prejudices, or preferences. The objective here is for an employer to hire — or promote — the most talented or qualified based on verifiable and testable metrics. This is generally how meritocracies work, though it is not at all easy to maintain.

Equality of Outcome, which is described as a state where every member of a population has the same material wealth and income, or where everyone literally has the same things. A transfer of wealth is required to make this happen, resulting in a society with no super rich and no super poor. Everybody has food, clothing, shelter, access to medical services and education, and just about everything else a collectivist society can realistically support. It is, in short, the ideal of communism.

Both of these concepts have their pros and cons. Neither are complete solutions to the problem of the obvious inequalities we see in modern life. A lot of large organisations around the world try to present an equality of opportunity. There are missteps and poorly worded job ads from time to time but, for the most part, many of the employment laws found in North America, Europe, and even here in Japan will punish a company found to be guilty of discriminatory hiring or rewarding practices. This is a heck of a lot better than the openly hostile employment practices that were seen more than 25 years ago.

Equality of outcome, however, is something that I do not see as being realistically feasible for any amount of time without dropping the pretence that citizens of a nation have free will. In order to have a viable equality of outcome, ensuring every field of employment has the same ratio of various groups that are found within the general population within a short period of time, people must have a static career path assigned to them at some point during high school with no option to appeal barring a major catastrophe or war.

The "career chip" would need to go from being a gag in Futurama to a real thing that controls what a person can do in their life, as this is the only way to honestly ensure there is an equality of outcome without drastically destroying the economies and infrastructures that underpin the success of a nation.

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

This idea is not at all new, and it was something a high school friend and I were chatting about a while back as he explained the challenges in adding "visible diversity" to his team of spot welders, as it's become corporate a requirement. Every one of the 46 tradesmen who reports to him is male. Based on the published demographics of Ontario, 23 of these skilled workers should be women. His employer, a well-known steel mill in Hamilton, has been looking for more diversity on the factory floor for years, but there is simply no interest aside from young men. This is despite the very healthy salary1, several weeks of vacation per year, and a generous retirement package. How else can this gap be closed other than to force people into careers based on the very criteria that an equality of opportunity state decries as discriminatory?

A post from 2005 outlining some of the occupations dominated by gender in The Netherlands2 shows some career paths that are generally not very diverse, and these professions have certainly been dominated traditionally by men or women for a number of generations if not millennia. If an equality of outcome supersedes everything else, then there really is no other option.

This wouldn't be all bad, though. Young people concerned with their post-education futures will be given one less thing to worry about. Greater diversity in the professions would mean that jobs would be required to become much safer to accommodate all levels of skill and motivation. And organisations could more easily ensure that management positions were also filled by people who reflect the general population. If there was also a redistribution of wealth and every job was paid equally well based on age rather than seniority or ability, then someone assigned to drive a bus could earn the same as someone assigned to perform open heart surgery. Nobody would go hungry or miss a car payment3 ever again! These are all positives, and I don't say this as a joke at all.

Would the consequences4 be worth it, though?

I am a firm believer in equality of opportunity. Everyone should be judged on their skills and merits. Competence should be encouraged and rewarded. While we're not quite at a place where we can honestly say that everybody will be treated the same or compensated in the same way as a colleague, we're much closer to the ideal today than ever before. As for the equality of outcome movement, I can understand some of the reasoning and even agree on a couple of points5, but history has shown time and again just how untenable such a system is.

  1. Heck, I don't even make as much as the median wage without putting in more than 60 hours per week.

  2. I couldn't find anything similar for occupations in Canada, but the data must surely exist.

  3. Assuming, of course, that everyone treated money the same way.

  4. There are a whole lot of consequences that I've decided to not include here, because the post isn't to completely deride the idea, but posit the most logical means of making an equality of outcome possible … though I would never want to live in such a society.

  5. The massive gap between the crazy wealthy and the dirt poor is absurd. Wealth redistribution is not a viable solution, though.

Context and Footnotes Mon, 13 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 2f801917-e838-3f9b-5951-e21bcca28c27 There is no denying that footnotes play a prominent role on this site1. Rarely does a day go by where there isn't at least one sitting underneath the main body of a blog post, providing context or additional information to explain an idea in a fashion that is less obtrusive than an in-line aside or bracketed segue2. Footnotes have become so much a part of my writing that they even make an appearance in social posts, which may make this publishing platform the only place where a person can include these annotations in a "micro-blogging"3 format. One of the questions I've long had is why these useful notes are so rarely seen on other websites. It's not as through footnotes are a foreign concept and the quick-reference context they can provide might actually make reading about complex or contextual subjects a little easier for people who do not have a complete working knowledge of the subject4.

Footnotes on a Recent Post

The Problem with Footnotes on Websites

As with anything, footnotes are not a panacea5. On the printed page, a footnote is (generally) found only on the bottom of the page that carries the superscript hint. This makes it relatively easy for a reader to read more about something if they so choose. On a website there may be a little more work involved if a person needs to first scroll to the bottom, not losing their place, then go back. The moving screen would be a distraction that can break the flow of the article. There are a couple of solutions to this, of course, and I've used two on this very site in the past. Unfortunately they are not necessarily the best solutions6.

The first method I used was to have the super-script number act as an anchor link7. By clicking or tapping the number, a reader would be brought to the bottom of the page where the footnote existed. At the end of the footnote would be a "return" icon which, as one would expect, returns a person to the point where they left off. This is certainly better than requiring a person scroll down to the bottom of a post themselves, but the jumping content can be visually distracting. The abrupt changes, sliding past images or a wall of text, is not at all a good experience. What's worse is that a person still has to re-read segments to determine where exactly they left off and get back into the article8.

This is a sub-optimal solution to the problem.

A couple of years ago Chris Sauve released "Bigfoot" to the world9, which is a JavaScript library that mimics the footnote popovers that were first seen — to the best of my knowledge — in Instapaper. I liked this idea so much that I implemented it on 10Centuries almost immediately. This worked great on desktop machines and tablets, but proved to be a problem on phones when dealing with some of the more verbose asides on this site and others. In the end, I had to remove the feature and go back to the first implementation so that people could read articles without an unfortunate source of friction.

Neither of these features are found on the current version of the 10Centuries platform10. Instead I've opted for the least helpful method, which is expecting the reader to scroll to the bottom if they want to read more. The reasoning came down to ensuring feature parity with the RSS reader that is built into the 10C platform11, but this is a lazy answer. There must be a better solution.

Fortunately, as with so many things in life, there are a couple of options that might prove worth exploring.

Option One: Tangible Footnotes

A footnote is expected to be at the bottom of a page. With this in mind, if the screen is considered a page, then footnotes should always appear at the bottom of the screen and update as the visible content scrolls. Because some footnotes can be incredibly long on a small screen, it would be better to show just a compressed view with the option to expand and read everything. I see this working a little bit like Vivaldi when the browser tabs are set to appear at the bottom of the window, only less tabular.

Option Two: Anchor Links with Highlighting

The idea here is that a person would click a superscript number and be scrolled to the appropriate footnote, which would then be highlighted in a manner to make it easier to quickly identify and read. Clicking the return link would bring a person back to the part of the page where they were, with the superscript number highlighted so that there's no mistake where a person can pick up reading again.

Option Three: Ditch the Footnotes

This isn't really a valid option as it would mean providing less context to a point or learning how to weave longer, more complex stories that bring a reader along for the ride. While this would be nice from a literary practice point of view, it's not something I'm particularly keen on doing at this time. While I would love to write with such an artistic flurry that people cannot help but read and share my articles with the world because they evoke such vivid mental pictures, this would require me to invest more time into the craft than I have available at the moment. This may be an option at some point in the future, but not today. Of course, this option does nothing to help people using 10C who want to use footnotes12.

Of the first two options, which one is better? The first would require more complex code to be written while the second could probably be hammered out and deployed in a single morning. Are there other workable solutions?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just overthinking every decision that goes into this platform in an effort to avoid trying something different and failing miserably. Not being able to code the right solution isn't something I worry about, as a lot of my code gets thrown away as ideas evolve and get refined. What worries me is releasing a feature that people detest, resulting in an ever-shrinking community as the tools I provide do not offer sufficient benefits to weather the rough spots. Maybe I'm overthinking this, too. I probably am.

That said, which option will prove to be more correct?

  1. Over the last 24 months there have been 1,218 footnotes written for blog posts on this site alone. To say that footnotes play a prominent role is a bit of an understatement.

  2. Many years ago, when I was just starting to take blogging as a serious creative outlet, posts were written in a fashion similar to what I would see in the opinion section of various newspapers. Footnotes and references are generally handled quite a bit differently when columns are limited in length and width, so writers would often use an inline aside — such as this, which is marked by a double-width dash — or brackets (which is what I generally see in newspapers that were at one time owned by Conrad Black, "the millionaire who went to jail").

  3. When people started to think of posts consisting of a handful of words as a "micro blog", there was a bit of experimentation to see how additional context could be included in a post. The solution on microbloggling platforms such as Twitter was to reply to yourself to build a "Tweet storm", or a series of sentences that would hopefully form a cohesive paragraph if read chronologically and not taken out of context. As one would expect from someone as creative as a brick, I tended to write a longer blog post and just post a link to that on Twitter — or somewhere else — in the hopes that a less abridged explanation of an idea or opinion would foster a more nuanced dialog. Boy was I wrong.

  4. People are not stupid. We might call each other various synonyms of this word from time to time but, at the end of the day, I strongly believe that most of us want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the universe and the IDIC within. The Internet has often been referred to as the id of humanity, but I tend to see it as IDIC on display; Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Roughly half of the people on the planet are using the Internet to communicate and share ideas. Billions of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, ideologies, degrees of education, levels of cognitive understanding, and states of mind. With a little context behind an idea, it becomes that much easier to understand where a writer is coming from, even if we don't agree.

  5. No solution is going to magically solve all problems. That said, some solutions can gain wider traction and foster greater innovation from a community of thinkers.

  6. This is one of the reasons I dislike how people will market a product as "the best X for Y". There is no possible way any single solution is going to work for everyone. How many text editors are there available for download? How many different flavours of Linux? How many different laundry detergents? Best is, at best, a subjective term that can only apply to a handful of individuals. This won't stop people from trying, though.

  7. Anchor links are certainly a valid option to the problem of quick footnote seeking, but I'm reminded of the hassles from the early days of digital books. In the late 90s, there were a couple of competing file formats that tried to force a book to feel like a website. What this meant was that a textbook or published thesis might have anywhere between two and five dozen references at the back of the book. Clicking a link would trigger the jump to the page which, on a Palm handheld or very early Kindle meant waiting for the device to read to the end of the book, find the reference, then render the page on the screen. A process that would require five seconds on a good day. Clicking back would require just as much time and, if you changed the size of the font, then the page numbers were all wrong and you'd end up where you didn't want to be.

  8. It was a mess!

  9. When bigfoot.js was released, a lot of websites in the Apple blogger sphere snapped it up right away. This was a great solution for people who wrote short footnotes, but there was a problem for people who were unaccustomed to using the literary tool in that a number of CMSes did not natively support them. Now, almost six years after the JavaScript helper's release, it seems that there are just a handful of sites — that I visit — that use an occasional footnote in any capacity.

  10. Like a lot of current CMSes that abstain from WYSIWYG editors, 10C relies heavily on Markdown for its text formatting. When the text is rendered into HTML, tags are added to make posts IndieWeb friendly, but little is done to make the various post types really stand out.

  11. One of the core concepts behind 10Cv5, which I have eluded to at times, is that this current version of the platform is really more of an RSS reader with the ability to publish content to a domain you own. Comments can be made right from the reader, which will then result in a Quotation or Bookmark post on your own site. Webmentions are then sent out so that Indieweb-ready websites can visit the source post, read in the comment, and display it to future readers. This makes it possible for an author to have long-term control over the words they publish online and, if a commented-on post disappears at some point in the future, the comment continues to exist in a local database. That said, this feature is not yet fully released.

  12. This is the crux of the problem I face with personal projects, such as 10C. People are using the software. I really want the features to be things that people can use easily and rely on. The move to v5, however, was painfully messy. There are still records that have not yet been properly attached to the accounts of the authors, and some core site pages are still non-existent. The RSS feature is something that is being used transparently on a daily basis in the form of Nice.Social, but it's not quite ready to deal with the wild-west of RSS feeds that exist across the web. Every couple of days I'm spotting issues with malformed feeds that need analysis and better handling. Once the core features of v5 are in place and people have all of their data in an easily accessible fashion, I'll open up the RSS reader — and its API — to anyone who wishes to read and comment on content using the Google Reader-inspired web application.

Five Things (My Mother Gave Me) Sun, 12 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 4b321dde-7069-cfd8-cfa2-8446b8869039 Mothers — even the really bad ones — give their kids a lot of things that are often taken for granted. Aside from the obvious gift of life itself, we're usually bestowed with a plethora of memories that fossilize early and go on to have a noticeable impact on the rest of our lives. I've not seen my mother in almost 20 years1, but there's a lot of her that is visible in me. I look far more like her than I do my father. I think more like her, too. Heck, my lack of receding hairline is also thanks to her more dominant genetics2. More than all of this, though, there are five things that she gave me, intentionally or otherwise, that play a role in my life even today.

She Taught Me How to Cook

Before I moved to life with my mother from the age of 13, the only thing I ever "cooked" was toast. This was primarily because I was living the life of an only child between the ages of 8 and 123. My father would cook the meals and I would set the table. When living with my mother, though, I had to very quickly go from being a "distant brother" to "the eldest child", which meant taking on a lot of responsibility very quickly.

Mum being Mum, she enjoyed having long conversations while doing things around the house. Her reasoning was that a good discussion fostered closer relationships and made the time pass faster. By the time I was 13 my mother had 5 children, plus the occasional responsibility of my step-father's daughter. Four girls and two boys, with me being the oldest. Add in two adults and there are a minimum of 7 people to cook for come dinner time, and being in a large family in rural Canada meant that there would often be guests at the house in the evening, so dinner could easily have 10 people in attendance4. Cooking "enough food to feed an army" would take time, and I was drafted into the kitchen to help make this happen.

Washing vegetables, peeling potatoes, preparing broths and soups, boiling, frying, baking, and just about every other gerund associated with kitchens was done as a team for almost two years. She taught me how to identify the best vegetables by touch and smell, how to make tomato sauce and ketchup my hand, how to turn fruits into jam, and how to bake delicious treats. When I think about the times we used to make peanut butter cookies together, I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. This is a core memory, so to speak.

From the age of 15, she started working full time and I had to take on the role of primary caretaker at home. On school days I would prepare everyone's breakfast and lunch. After school I would cook dinner then, when my siblings were done, I'd wash the dishes. My parents would often come home late and either eat the plate of food that was set aside, or make something for themselves. It was, for me, a necessary responsibility of being born first. My youngest sister was 5, so she couldn't fend for herself. My other sisters were 10 and 12, so could help, but weren't strong enough to lift the heavy pots and pans from the stove5. I cooked a lot of meals, and I eventually learned to enjoy it when I started cooking for people who were not family.

To this day I continue to cook and prepare food the same way as Mum taught me. This morning I made Reiko and the boy some French Toast the same way my mother liked to have it. A recipe that has been passed down at least three generations.

She Taught Me to Observe My Body Language

During one of our "weekends in the kitchen" conversations, Mum told me flat out that she didn't like my body language that day, then went on to list all the things I was doing to send her various signals. The way I slouched showed a lack of interest, the way I crossed my arms showed I was being defensive, the way I sat showed I wanted to leave, and so on. So precise were her criticisms that I thought a lot about them in the weeks, months, and years that followed. As a result, the way I hold my body when speaking to people is still something I pay very close attention to today, and I watch the body language of others to get more clues about how they feel. Doing this has undoubtedly reduced a lot of misunderstandings and made it much easier to identify when someone is being less-than-accurate with their statements.

It's a good thing my mother didn't put up with very much teenage sass. A very good thing.

She Got Me My First Real Gig (as an Artist)

Before computers, I was very much into creative arts. I would spend almost every spare minute up in my room, sitting at my home-made desk6, drawing anime-style characters, two-point perspective cityscapes, views from nation-sized parks, futuristic cars, X-Men, scenes from Star Trek, and just about anything else that could be expressed with Staedtler 3H pencils and a 24-pack of Laurentien pencil crayons. One day my mother came home from work and asked if I'd like to earn a little money by painting a map of Canada on a wall at her office. I jumped at the chance and, for the next two weeks, I would spend a number of hours every day at her work first drawing the provinces and time zones on the wall, marking the major cities, and outlining the major northern islands, then later painting them different shades of teal7. When everything was said and done, I was paid $800 for my efforts and I was incredibly happy8.

She Expected Better From Me

Raising kids is not at all easy and what works with one child will not necessarily work with another. My mother has known me longer than I've known myself, and she has always been very aware that I am self-driven and determined to accomplish something I've set my mind to. She also knows that I've operated within a very defined, yet ever evolving, set of ethics and morals since before I could even express the ideas coherently9. My sisters are not at all like me in this regard, nor are either of my brothers. Perhaps it's because of this that my Mum would pull me aside when I was being stupid and tell me point blank that I was wrong. She'd say why something needed to be corrected and not put up with repeat offences. She would occasionally do this with my siblings, but rarely with the same intensity. Later on, after she left my step-father, she explained why she was more strict with me than anyone else. While it's most certainly unfair to my siblings, I can look back and appreciate the additional scolding.

She Always Answered the Phone

After finishing my post secondary education, I worked at an appliance repair company in town. Every day people would call to complain about their broken washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, air conditioners, and just about anything else that might have been classified as an appliance in the late 90s. I very quickly learned to hate the sound of a ringing telephone and, to this day, I will generally not answer a call if it is not from a very select group of people or otherwise planned in advance via a text-based means of communication. That said, when someone wants to talk, regardless of how busy I might be at that moment, I am always available. Some things are more important than whatever priorities or deadlines we might be tackling. Of the many things my mother taught me, this might be the most important.

There's no denying that I'm not very good at maintaining relationships. I can often go weeks, months, or years without talking to a person, then send an email (or hand-written letter) as though we had just spoken the weekend before. This happens without me even realizing the passage of time10, which has resulted in some lost friendships and misunderstandings with family. That said, I've never — to the best of my knowledge — pushed a person away who needed to chat. We are all on this world so briefly that it's important to make time when it seems that none exists. Very rarely is the thing we're working on right now a matter of life and death. The tasks can wait for a bit while we "answer the phone".

  1. Living on the other side of the planet from the nearest family member means there are a lot of people that I haven't seen in well over a decade. While I've never been subject to missing people, there are times I think about bringing the whole family to Canada for a month just to see what's going on and how people have grown.

  2. My father started going bald in his late 20s. By the time he was my age, half his head was bare and he never went anywhere without a hat on. While my hair has certainly thinned over the years, there is no sign of balding just yet.

  3. My two "full" sisters lived with my mother. For five years it was just my father and I living together in a 2-bedroom apartment.

  4. How my parents managed to afford this lifestyle on a single income where 40% was dedicated to the mortgage is beyond me. That said, we did eat a lot of Kraft Dinner when guests were not expected. In the 90s a box of this pseudo-pasta meal could be had for as little as 29¢. My mother would often stock up on "KD" — as it was called — by the case when the sale price dipped below 35¢ per box. Suffice it to say that after moving into my own apartment, I vowed to never eat the stuff ever again. So far so good, and given that a box of Kraft Dinner is about $3.25 USD here in Japan, there's absolutely no chance of me breaking this vow.

  5. Also, I was 15. If there are no adults at the house and someone injures themselves, an ambulance would have to drive 30 minutes to the house, then 45 minutes to the nearest hospital. A 15 year old cannot legally drive in Ontario, though exceptions can be made in dire circumstances. My parents would have still killed me had I taken a vehicle to drive an injured sibling to a hospital, no matter how well-intentioned the act would have been.

  6. Funny fact about that desk; I made it. Originally it was a 4'x8' sheet of particle board for a train set but, due to a lack of funds when you're 14, I decided to turn it into a really big desk. I cut the board into 4'x6' and 2'x4' pieces, then used the large piece as the desk, and the smaller piece as a shelf underneath. The legs were from a dismantled bunk bed. A lot of creativity was explored at that desk, and it's where I put the first computer I received, an IBM 8088.

  7. This was the one stipulation. Every province and territory had to be in the company colours, which were teal and dark teal. I did manage to suggest having four shades and one hue of teal so that there would be enough contrast on the wall that people wouldn't be overwhelmed with a two-storey, monochromatic map of the country.

  8. My parents thought I was being ripped off given the amount of effort that was put into the artwork, but I was too young and foolish to see it that way. $800 was a lot of money back then, and it's still more than I get paid for a lot of the freelance jobs I take on.

  9. One might argue that I still can't express some of my ethical or moral stances coherently.

  10. This is, in my mind, absolutely bizarre given how preoccupied I am with the whole concept of time and mortality. Is everyone a walking and talking self-contradiction, or is it just me?

Sitting On a Hill Sat, 11 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 3eb3ff0c-ba38-52bd-faf9-ec0b3d1962b0 When the opportunity arises, I like to head out for a walk to a nearby park that has one of my favourite places to sit. The park is one of the larger public green areas nearby and has an immense grassy area where a thousand kids can run around like the little maniacs they are and never come into contact with another person. In the northwestern corner of this park is a rather tall hill that rises 53 metres above the neighbourhood, where two massive cylindrical tanks exist to supply the surrounding buildings with fresh drinking water. On the top of this hill, less than 10 metres from one of the half-million litre reservoirs, is where I like to sit and watch the clouds go by.

Looking North

Despite the stereotype, there are actually quite a few parks and green spaces in Japan. So long as a person isn't living in the very centre of a bustling city, there will be a decent-sized park no more than half a kilometre away from their home. In my case there are four, all of which have decent hills to sit on, but none are quite as secluded as the one I tend to frequent. When I climb the hill, often with two cans of vodka and some sort of snack, there is never any disappointment from finding that someone else is sitting there.

Looking Up

I've invested a lot of time learning while at the top of this hill. No subject is off limits, but I generally stick to the standard topics of philosophy, religion, history, and — when I'm feeling particularly isolated — Linux1. The lack of distractions and human interaction makes it possible to completely lose oneself in a podcast, book, or YouTube video2. Why this spot isn't one of the most popular places to sit, I simply do not understand.

Looking Down

The one downside to this location is the lack of protection from rain and bright sun. Despite being surrounded by trees, there are none immediately south of the sitting spot, which means that part of the hill is forever drenched in sunlight during the daylight hours. This can make it rather hot during the summer, limiting the amount of time I can spend there. Of course, because it's open to the sun, it's also wide open to the rain. I've been caught on a couple of occasions sitting on the hill when a rainstorm begins3, and it's no picnic. A little pavilion at the top of the hill would be ideal, but would probably attract more people. One must take the bad with the good.

If I'm lucky, this secluded area will remain "my spot" for the foreseeable future. Working from home means it's more important than ever to escape the house and just relax somewhere different from time to time. There are certainly other places and other parks where I can loiter while losing myself in a podcast, but none quite so peaceful.

  1. Listening to some of the Linux podcasts is like being in a room with friends. Sometimes it's important to just sit around and geek out about tech, debating the pros and cons of systemd, the fate of the Linux desktop, and just about anything else that most people using a computer would not care one lick about.

  2. I "cheat" not having a phone with data by using a corporate-supplied iPad with 4G.

  3. Not all rainstorms in Japan announce themselves. Sometimes a sky can be dark for half the day, then rain like a typhoon for 5 minutes before clearing up completely.

Getting Better Fri, 10 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 61bcd971-c085-2b01-3a9b-d55c9855ad35 Over the last couple of days there have been some pretty decent updates to 10Centuries that have resolved a number of bugs that people have — and sometimes haven't — reported, as well as a couple of features that made sense to bring back from v4 with some logical updates. There are still a number of areas that need to see some attention, but the platform is inching towards being a better system for anyone who might want to use it. Hopefully by this time next week we'll see the return of the main landing page, which will include such necessary features as the ability to create an account.

Clearly I was a lot less prepared for the migration to v5 than I had originally thought.

That said, with the weekend here, a lot of the core development will need to come to a stop. Coding on the weekends is incredibly difficult given the people vying for attention, and family time is something I generally look forward to, so unless something is broken or a really quick job, there won't be any new features until Monday at the very earliest … and I'm okay with the delay. Although it's strange to say, I might be getting better at being offline for much of the weekend.

Last August, when Reiko shattered her phone and she had to use mine for a while, I made the conscious decision to be offline a little more often. While having a mini-tablet with an always on network connection was nice, it didn't make sense to pay $50 a month for the phone and data plan. I work from home, which means that my devices are either connected directly to the network via CAT6 or connected to the WiFi. When I go out for a walk, I'm out for less than an hour. If I can't be offline for 1 out of 24 hours a day, then there's a problem.

As one would expect, there was an adjustment period where I had to remember that random trivia questions that popped into my head couldn't be quickly researched while walking Nozomi. Not having the ability to check the global timeline on 10C or post an update was a little annoying. But all of these things were relatively easy to overcome1. Right now I have no plan on picking up a SIM card for the phone, nor do I see why I should pay crazy rates for data and the very occasional phone call. For my current use case, a phone plan is just bad value.

Without the digital tether, I find that when I'm with the boy or Nozomi, I am more present. The phone is now just a camera that plays podcasts when I'm not at home. Inside the house the unit is also good for messaging, reading RSS feeds, and using the browser. This is ultimately a good thing as it means that I have the opportunity to focus a lot more on what I'm doing rather than what's going on elsewhere. Being present is important, particularly given how rare it seems to be in this part of the country.

Not everyone can go without a phone, nor should anyone ditch their digital devices just because there has been some positive results from this change in my life. Being able to spend more time with the family is great, and not being distracted means that when I sit down at the notebook I can focus more on writing code or working with databases, but I'm just an edge case.

  1. I'll admit that I sometimes "cheat" and bring the corporate iPad out, which has a data connection. This is generally only done when I'll be away from the house for more than an hour so that I can deal with some limited problems at the day job should there be any server trouble.

Perspective and Optimism Thu, 09 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 4cbde737-4d0e-8a89-be2b-86da62c239c4 Earlier today I decided to dig into the movie collection and watch something that I haven't seen in years, The Search for Spock. This movie was not one that a lot of people found as exciting as Wrath of Khan or as funny as The Voyage Home1, but is one that falls right in the middle of my favourite time period in Star Trek lore. As I was prepping the download, I looked at the artwork and remarked at how young everyone looked. Considering the movie hit theatres in 1984, this ought to be expected, but the crew of the Enterprise, NCC-17012 have always been much older than me. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were both 53 when this movie hit theatres. Deforest Kelley was 64. I'm not that much younger now than they were back then.

McCoy, Kirk, and Spock on the Set of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

The endless march of time means that we will all one day, hopefully, meet or exceed the age of our heroes at certain points in their careers. It's an odd feeling … as though the potential I thought I had in my youth never fully materialised due to laziness or naïveté3. At the same time I'm optimistic that there is still time to accomplish some more good, leaving the world a slightly more interesting place than it was when I arrived. Star Trek III was in theatres 35 years ago and people around the world can still enjoy it today. What things will I create that can stand the same test of time?

  1. Yes, yes … "the one with the whales". Thankfully it was given a proper title.

  2. "No bloody A, B, C, or D" … but I really, really liked the Constitution Class Refit. To this day, the "Enterprise-A" remains my favourite of all the fictional vessels to carry that name.

  3. Knowing me, it's a combination of the two; an optimistic procrastinator.

7.7db Wed, 08 May 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 4ff2e9e5-45d1-e20b-c98f-eb7dc746004b When I stay up late to complete "just one more thing" before bed, I tend to find myself sitting at the work desk until half past one in the morning. This time of the day is unique in that I am, for all intents and purposes, the only person in a neighbourhood with 144 houses who isn't asleep. I like to go outside at this time of night, gazing up at the sky and seeing more stars than I thought was possible from this part of the country. Constellations are clearly visible, as are any planets that might be bright enough for the naked eye. Occasionally a thin, bright light will streak across the sky. The neighbourhood is absolutely lovely when all of the street lights go dark after midnight.

Inside the house is just as peaceful. Reiko, the boy, and Nozomi are sleeping soundly by this time, making it possible for me to really focus on a complex problem as much as an exhausted brain is capable of. The solitude is nice … but I wish it were more quiet.

In my home at any given time there are three fans that I can perceive as running while sitting at the work desk, which is in a walled-off corner at the southwestern corner of the house. There's the refrigerator fan, which seems to run even when the compressor does not. There's the shower room fan, which runs 24/7 to reduce the risk of mold building up, and then there's the wall fan next to the stairs that lead to the second floor, which is located at the northeastern corner of the house. The living room door, which separates the southwestern and northeastern corners, is very much closed.

Being an audio geek, I took out my good microphone and measured the number of decibels produced by these fans and found that when all three are on, the workspace is subjected to 13 decibels. If Nozomi, who sleeps under my desk, is snoring, then the number shoots up to 27. When the fridge is not running, the other two fans register just 9 decibels; which works out to about 1.5 decibels quieter than my breathing1. The sound is forever present, like the sound of processor fans and hard drives in a server room, only far less soothing2. Circulating fans have their purpose, but the hum they produce is little more than a preventable byproduct of their ultimate purpose.

How quiet is the house when those fans are off, though?

The question is certainly worth answering. After flipping the switches and returning to my work desk, I held my breath and measured the number of decibels. The meter read between 7.4 and 7.7db; the same volume as very light breathing from a sleeping puppy three metres from the microphone.

For most of my life I have lived in loud places. If it wasn't the neighbourhood that produced the noise, then it was family members. After moving to Vancouver the volume dropped a bit, but it was still possible to hear planes and distant highway traffic regardless the time of day. When I arrived in Japan the volume of everything was overwhelming — even in the rural countryside. Cars, trains, distant pachinko parlours, and the like would generate an endless background hum that a person just learned to ignore. This house in this neighbourhood, though, is different.

At 1:30 in the morning, when the fans are shut off and I'm just listening to the sound of a breathing dog, I can stop for a couple of minutes to just embrace the absence of noise.

  1. I would love to find an objective way to measure the volume of the high-pitched sound that the mind "hears" when the environment is quite enough. Silence can sometimes be quite deafening.

  2. Yes, I find the sound of servers and workstations very comforting to listen to. I like to listen for certain repeating patterns in the hardware, then try to match the sounds to what sort of computational task is being performed.

18,767 Tue, 07 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 3b2eb091-5fdd-46fc-3196-b5c193724537 Randolph recently wrote a post about being a writer as a direct response to yesterday's post where I outlined my desire to write essays in order to be better able to discuss and think through complex problems. My lack of confidence in being able to adequately articulate my thoughts were cast aside as absurd and the constant juggling of priorities to make time for writing was identified as a common problem. Randolph strikes me as a person who spends a great deal of time in their head, just as I do, which means that making time to write cuts not only into thinking time, but into the myriad of tasks and responsibilities we've taken on. In an effort to encourage my self-improvement attempts, they suggested using Drafts for iOS and macOS as a jotting tool where ideas could be quickly noted and saved.

They go on to say:

I have an app on my phone (Drafts for iOS, which has a macOS version as well), in which I write a little bit about a certain topic on a regular basis. Each thought is in its own document, with some context. You always want to add context because you'll forget what you were thinking otherwise. […] Eventually there will be enough content to write an essay, complete with references.

Very true. By writing a little bit on a topic and saving it in a file, ideally tagging it with keywords to better support search later on, it becomes feasible to amass a large collection of ideas surrounding a topic or group of topics. This is something I've been doing since discovering Evernote in 2009, and continue to do with Byword on iOS and Typora on Ubuntu Linux. In fact, this has been going on long enough that I've amassed 18,767 partially-written blog posts, many of which are written or edited on the same day and subsequently abandoned for a "simpler" topic. Not a day goes by where I don't discard two or three blog posts, often right near the end of the writing process, simply because they don't "feel" right.

It's annoying.

Random Blog Posts

Randolph is 100% correct, though. In order to become a better writer — or better at any skill — a person must continually grind through the process with the understanding that most of what they produce will not be up to their own expectations. We are our own worst critic, after all. I've been writing software for a quarter century and still learn new things on a near-daily basis. I've been cooking meals for even longer and am often surprised to learn a new way to prepare eggs or something seemingly just as basic. Cognitive writing is something that I've been doing longest of all, at 34 years … yet I still see the words in front of me as a semi-coherent rambling.

My first memories of "serious writing" were in September of 1985, when I was just six years old. I was in the first grade and my teacher, Mrs. Stamphler, assigned us the task of writing a diary about our summer holidays. I had just spent six months in a foster home while my parents went through a divorce and my father worked desperate hours to pay down the bills and gain custody of a sister and myself. I was still adjusting to all of the changes that had occurred in such a short period of time and decided to write about that. My foster family's name was Nevan, so I would often refer to them as "The Nevans". They were incredibly religious and we would often attend church during the week. Occasionally I would spend time with my sister in the Sunday School class but, more often than not, I would be up in the pews with all of the adults, listening to the minister deliver his sermon. The topics were always way more complicated than I could follow, but I do remember what he said about the trials of Noah, the trials of Job, and how Judas may have betrayed Christ, but he was not as evil as modern teachings would have us believe. I was six years old and writing about this stuff — poorly — in an effort to make sense of the changes I had witnessed, and I remember a lot of the details to this day probably because I wrote them down.

The diaries and journals never stopped. I would write them year after year, much like I do this blog. Occasionally there would be gaps where I would not write, often because of boredom or a feeling that I had nothing to say. As I entered puberty there was the embarrassment of recording semi-coherent thoughts that basically translated into "my parents aren't fair" or a popular Skeelo song. Regardless of the absence, though, I would feel the need to grab a pen, sit down, and write. Just as I do now, decades later, as evidenced by the almost 19,000 incomplete blog posts sitting idle and awaiting bit rot on my computers.

The reasoning is simple: writing helps us think.

For most of my life people have praised what they perceive as my intelligence, but I've never bought into it. I've taken IQ tests and received triple-digit scores, but this isn't really a sign of being "smart". IQ tests measure a person's ability to solve problems … or so I perceive. "Smart" people make dumb decisions all the time, and "stupid" people have often been some of the most honest, down-to-earth humans I have ever met. Solving problems is a crucial skill that everybody needs, but there's more to the human experience than overcoming challenges. Writing is generally where I get to explore this other side; where I get to examine multiple aspects of the same situation in order to come to a better understanding of the whole.

This isn't always the case, as evidenced by many of the posts on this blog. Most people in the world will never visit the places I've written about, and fewer still will ever get to meet my dog, yet these are things that I record on this site in order to preserve the memories and etch them more concretely into the mind. These personal posts are important to me, but they're not quite what I'm hoping to accomplish with my writing. Not by a long shot. Hence yesterday's posts on essays.

I said this in a social post earlier today, but I'll repeat it here:

When I look in the mirror I see a nameless Pakled who wishes so much to be a Jean Luc Picard.

The Star Trek references are important, not only because the stories shaped a lot of who I am and how I see the universe, but because it very succinctly encapsulates where I feel I am intellectually from where I want to be. The Pakled were portrayed as a cognitively stunted species that (somehow) existed with a very surface understanding of everything around them. They were not particularly good engineers, explorers, manufacturers, warriors, or … anything. In the TV series they were shown as being incapable of higher-level reason. In the books they were a little more methodical, but no more than a six year old trying to scam extra cookies from their parents. Jean Luc Picard, however, is the ideal.

Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. Well read. Well travelled. Well educated. Eloquent and respectable. Jean Luc Picard was the ultimate role model for the teenage version of me. To this day, this fictional character is someone I look at with awe and respect. He could go into any situation, see past the chaos, and bring about order in a just fashion. He made mistakes. He learned from those mistakes. He grew as a person. What's not to respect about this?

When I look at my writings, be they unfinished essays or published personal posts, I see the gulf that separates where I am from where I want to be. The ideas are scattershot. The paragraphs don't flow. The sentences run on or contain imprecise grammar. The words — adjectives in particular — are clumsy and unsophisticated.

To be a better writer, I need to find mentors or, barring that, educators to emulate until my own style matures enough to convey ideas coherently. I need to seek out criticism, then learn from the actionable critiques that can lead to better, more specific writing. More than this, though, to become better, I must think better. This requires more learning, more reading, more listening, and more discussion. The first three I can do on my own thanks to the power of the Internet. The fourth I can also do online, but only if I publish ideas to be discussed.

Randolph says I'm a writer. 18,767 incomplete posts suggests otherwise.

Nine Tue, 07 May 2019 00:00:00 +0000 Jason 8320eb15-03a7-213e-1748-464361441a8c Nozomi on the Bench

My puppy dog turns nine today and doesn't look a day over five. Silly as it may seem, I want her to receive a present with every birthday. She was given a new sleeping cushion when she turned three. Two years ago, because she was feeling a little left out after the boy arrived, I brought her for a walk to her favourite park, surprised her with some nice treats, and didn't bother her too much with photo requests. This year … she'll likely be bored as I'm in Tokyo for the day. All is not lost, though. Nozomi always gets her walks so long as there isn't any rain and I'll see that she gets some cucumber with dinner as it seems to be her favourite vegetable by a wide margin.

This weekend she goes to the groomers for a bit of a trim and I'll see to it that she gets a nice treat afterwards.

Essays Mon, 06 May 2019 14:45:00 +0000 Jason 90884f5e-1de3-7400-8b0e-3b38e391a47b Despite not being particularly good at the skill, writing is something that has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember. There is always something that needs to be written down, be it something as trivial as a note or as complex as an argument. Over this past week I've had the opportunity to get a lot more reading done than usual and, as a result, there are a number of topics that I would really like to write about. The problem is that these are complex situations that will require a good amount of research before I can even think about penning an essay on the subject. Where in the world do prolific writers find the time?

Writing With Style

Essay writing is not something that I've done too often on this site given the lack of focus on any set of topics, and I'm not about to start. That said, I have been kicking around the idea of writing essays on current events with a different site, as this would allow a clear separation of content.

One of the things that I like about writing longer pieces, particularly those that require a bit of research, is the opportunity to better formulate thoughts around a subject. Sometimes I'll begin writing a piece with one idea then discover halfway through that the original position or understanding was incomplete or incorrect. The act of slowing down and really thinking about the subject made it possible to better examine the situation and draw a different set of conclusions. Being able to come away from a piece of writing a little more more informed than before is a wonderful thing, after all. So it's with this in mind that I've created a new folder in the notebook and have started making notes and planning arguments on various topics from reneging on historical treaties to imposing belief systems on others.

What I plan on doing is writing three or four essays to start with, working out the tone and style of the pieces, then aiming for a post a week. My goal with this additional writing project is to develop a more complete understanding of the complex decisions that need to be made to address current social and cultural situations. If anyone else finds value in reading the words that wind up getting published, then I'll consider that a nice bonus.

Five Things Sun, 05 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 10dec901-133f-01c7-007d-aefd60ec4031 Nineteen years ago the Nuwaubian Nation expected that the planetary lineup in our solar system would cause a "star holocaust", pulling all of the planets toward the Sun, incinerating everything, and ruining an otherwise lovely day. I remember hearing about this on a nighttime documentary discussing Nostradamus and other "doomsday" predictions some time around '93 or '941. This memory has persisted a little more stubbornly than others from that time period, probably as a reminder that the end of the world will not be foreseen by fringe religious groups.

That said, it's time for another list …

Irregular Heartbeats

Reiko and I both suffer from occasional palpitations and, while these do not happen with enough regularity to make wearing a medical heart monitor worthwhile2, their frequency does seem to be increasing. I've done a little bit of digging around online to see what sort of options are available for us to monitor ourselves and it seems the most recent Apple Watch3 has the simplest, most comprehensive heart monitoring software for the price. While I've not seriously considered an Apple Watch before, being able to show a doctor a series of ECG charts to aid in a diagnosis could very well mitigate future problems.

More research is required.

Green Fingers

Earlier today I was out in the yard, pulling weeds from the ground, and thinking about what sorts of plants I'd like to see added this year. Both Reiko and I agree that we'd like to have a tree, though it's location is still a topic of debate, and we'd like to have a small vegetable garden. What struck me today was how much I enjoyed being down at ground level to make the small plot of land around our house a little more presentable. While I don't know anything about taking care of flowers, bushes, and trees4, I would be interested in learning. Heck, this might be a good excuse to learn a new set of Japanese words. My speaking ability has seriously degraded over the last year or so as a result of working from home.

Pulled Strings

Last week the Mazda broke down and we were told to go rent a car5 for the month or so that the vehicle would be in the shop, awaiting a new transmission and ECU from Hiroshima. The best deal I could find for a month-long rental was about $32006, which is simply out of the question given that most non-commercial vehicles sit parked for the vast majority of every day. As a result, the family and I have resorted to using the bus when travelling more than 3km. This isn't impossible, though it does increase complexity when trying to plan around bus schedules and walking speeds.

Imagine my surprise when we received an email on Friday saying that a courtesy vehicle has been found and that we can use it for a couple of weeks. Last night around 9:00pm we received a "Plain Jane" Mazda Flair. This is very much appreciated, as it gives Reiko something to drive to work.

Excessive Footnotes

Sometimes when I see the number of footnotes at the end of my blog posts7, I wonder why I don't just write "mini-posts" that say the same thing as the footnote (with more detail and perhaps some pictures), and link to that. Occasionally these annotations are little more than digressions, but sometimes these could be expanded out into a post of their own. By going the route of having a series of detailed mini-posts, it becomes possible to have multiple blog posts pointing to the same reference point without there being a need for copy/paste. More than this, any update to the mini-post would benefit any future reader who might follow the link.

But then a blog might become a …

Personal Wiki

There are almost 100,000 items on going back to 20068, when I actually thought that a Synology box sitting on top of my fridge would be sufficient to run a website. A lot of blog posts have links to previous articles. Some social posts link to blog posts. Many social posts link to other posts across the system. The more I think about it, the more I wonder when a personal website tips the scale from being a traditional blog, to a non-collaborative — or semi-collaborative — wiki. Properly structured, a wiki would be an interesting way to catalogue a life.

This concept will need just a little more thought to organize.

  1. Not sure why, but documentaries on Nostradamus and future predictions always fascinated me as a kid.

  2. These are generally worn for 24~36 hours and not much longer. Hospitals can't just hand heart monitors out like they do prescriptions.

  3. The Series 4 Apple Watch is the most recent model as of the time of this post.

  4. I grew up on a vegetable farm, so know how to work with all the standard veggies one might find in a North American house. We had pine, maple, and willow trees across the property, but these were either for decoration or have been growing since before Canada was a country. My mum did try to have flowers a couple of times, but they tended to get lost in the weeds pretty quick.

  5. Generally people get discounted rates through their auto insurance provider if they signed up for this benefit, which increases the cost of insurance by about $60 a year. We chose to not get the coverage given that the car was essentially new and that car problems generally don't result in being without a vehicle for 30+ days. Oops.

  6. The estimate was 363,500円 for the smallest car with zero features.

  7. I say this knowing full well that this blog post has an arguably excessive number of footnotes as well.

  8. I don't count the very first chronological post as a start date for anything but my life outside the womb.

Hekinan's "Private" Akashi Park Sat, 04 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 76d2f925-0d8d-e4c7-35b6-e2fb675e5892 Today was the last Saturday of Golden Week, which meant a lot of people are wrapping up their vacation and making the return trip home. Monday is still classified as a national holiday to mark Children's Day, but this will not stop many large organizations from resuming normal office hours to recover from a full week of downtime. So with a lot of travel-weary people on the roads and trains, it seemed natural to wake up early and take the family 90 minutes south to the tiny city of Hekinan to enjoy playing around in a "private" amusement park.

The Park Train

明石公園 (Akashi Park) calls itself a "private" amusement park because the only way people learn about it is through word of mouth. It will not be found in any travel magazines, nor are there any advertisements at train stations or other places where people might congregate. The park's website is even comically bereft of information. Reiko learned about the place completely by accident by reading a blog post on page 4 or 5 of a Google search while looking for some activities that the boy might enjoy. The pictures looked nice, the weather forecast seemed almost too good to be true, and we were all up to visit a new place to have a little more fun before the crushing summer humidity blankets the country in an inhospitable sweltering heat for a third of the year. Armed with the boy's stroller, some bottles of water and tea, a handful of onigiri, and our cameras, we hopped from train to train in the morning to get down to Hekinan City with enough time to enjoy the activities before "nap time".

The trip was oddly uneventful in a relaxing sort of way.

Once we got to the park we were struck by the lack of people. Typically there would be thousands of people crammed into an amusement park like Akashi. We saw maybe a few hundred. Lines for the various rides were all under 10 minutes in waiting time, and most were letting people on almost as quickly as they walked up to the gates. This isn't to say the park was empty or that rides were half-full, because they weren't. The park staff were just really efficient at ensuring people didn't wait very long.

The Ferris Wheel

The first trip of the day was on the park's mini steam engine, which followed a loop around the east side of the park. The boy generally enjoys trains, so jumping in line to ride yet another train after 90 minutes of full-sized trains made perfect sense. Afterwards we made our way to the Ferris Wheel, some mini-bumper cars, the carousel, and the pedal-powered monorail. Our favourite ride, though, was the airport tower.

The Airport Tower

For this one we had to wait about 15 minutes as the line was rather long, but it was worth the idle time. After getting strapped into the planes, the boy was more than happy to push the buttons that would raise and lower the faux aircraft via hydraulics.

Between rides we stopped for lunch, had some ice cream, and even changed a diaper. All in all, this was the most enjoyable excursion the family has had this past week and it didn't cost us an arm and a leg. Public transit for Reiko and I came out to about $30. Lunch consisted mostly of food we brought from home plus some onigiri and drinks that came out to $8. The ice cream cones worked out to $6 together. The rides cost a grand total of $12.

An entire day of fun for about $561. And to think that before we learned aboutt his place we had considered going to LegoLand where three people just entering the park would have cost about $100!

Hekinan is not a place that most people would think of when looking for a place to bring a 2 year old child, but Akashi Park is worth the look. When the boy is a couple of years older, we'll likely go back to enjoy some go-carting; the one thing we did not do today.

  1. The total cost was close to 6,000円, which works out to about $56 USD

At the Zoo Thu, 02 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 906925b0-e363-d1e1-7a21-deaa229f6db1 Before today, the last time I was at a zoo would have been at some point before 1991. The exact date is long forgotten, as school trips tend to be about experiences more than anything else, but I do remember the smell of the school bus and the ceaseless noise of classmates who were way too happy to be on a field trip. This changed today when Reiko and I decided to bring the boy to the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya, where he would get to see a bunch of animals up close for the very first time.

Nagoya's Higashiyama Zoo - East Gate

This spring has seen the boy get quite a bit of exposure to crowded places, which he's long been uncomfortable with. At first it was weekly trips to the mall, where he would get to eat in a busy place with an endless number of distractions. Later we brought him to busy park grounds where he'd get to share space and toys with others. Last weekend we brought him to the アンパンマンミュージアム1 in the next prefecture over, where he seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly. Today's visit to the zoo was going to be a continuation of the boy's introduction to life in Japan, and it couldn't have gone better.

A lot of young kids can be quite quiet and shy when out and about. This has certainly been true with the boy, who is unrestrained and loud at home or in the car but silent and reserved when in public. However, over the last couple of day trips, he's been able to loosen up and enjoy himself while visiting new places. He loves to dance and sing, so seeing him do this outside is a good sign.

One of the other benefits of having him explore a crowd is seeing just how different he is from other kids. I sometimes get frustrated with his desire to touch darn near everything he sees, but the fact that he doesn't throw objects, (intentionally) spill food on the floor, or cause trouble is a great thing. He sees other kids jumping off chairs and fighting over some small object and tells them — to no effect — to stop. At some point he'll likely start testing the boundaries of what he can get away with while outside, just as he does at home. Until then, I'll enjoy his good behaviour and look forward to bringing him to more places.

  1. The Anpanman Kid's Museum, which is more a place for parents to spend money than for kids to learn anything.

Right to Repair Wed, 01 May 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 270fdeee-6f5b-3679-96f6-7800af317879 Early this morning Joe shared a link to a Motherboard article describing how Apple has effectively killed another attempt to pass "right to repair" legislation by suggesting people will injure themselves when working with the intricate components that are part of the phones, tablets, and other devices we buy. As someone who could never build a computer from scratch in the 90s without cutting my hands at least once inside the case, I can certainly see the logic of the argument. While the Motherboard article clearly calls out the dangers of puncturing a modern battery, the number of phones with shattered screens that one can observe being used on public transit in this country is nothing short of amazing and it's bound to be the same elsewhere. For an inexperienced person to replace the shattered glass on an iPhone or iPad, there will almost certainly be a price to pay in blood.

A few hours after Joe's initial post, Robert followed up with this:

But if one makes the assumption that regular people either can or want to repair their devices, we are nothing short of delusional. Most people only what something that works, they don't want to fuck around with it. Modern electronics are painfully integrated, components are few and specialized on a tiny PCB. Does the average person even know what they are looking at if they were to open the case of any contemporary device? […] Those of us who so loudly demand the right to repair, which is a broken term in and of itself, need to understand that we are the edge case and not the standard.

Indeed. Edge cases are consistently hard to please. I consider myself to be firmly in this category, hence the preference for certain types of less popular hardware and software. However, Robert goes on to make a recommendation on how a "Right to Repair" mechanism might work to the benefit of manufacturers and customers:

If one were so concerned about regular people cracking open their wares and potentially injuring themselves, there are better solutions. Perhaps a course that people could take, educating on the ways of the electronics and giving spare part access to those who pass a test or something along those lines. […] Think; certification for individuals to perform repairs.

This is an interesting idea. While it will not please everyone, it will please some of the more technically inclined who might want to run a small business fixing people's devices. A high school student with certification and access to fairly-priced replacement parts could earn a pretty respectable living and reduce the number of cracked screens in their school, thereby saving fingers from being sliced open before a screen protector can be applied. The same can be said for people in poorer neighbourhoods who might want to help their community get more value from their technology investments. Offering a certification program is no panacea, and it would undoubtedly ruffle a bunch of feathers like Robert said in his original post, but it would make an interesting solution for companies who claim they care about the health and well-being of their customers, as well as the environment. Repairing is better for the planet than replacing.

Personally, I doubt there will be much people-friendly movement from companies on giving people the ability to repair (or easily upgrade) their products. Systems have become so incredibly complex in both hardware and software that only a small segment of the population could actually stand a chance in repairing a broken device. Take apart a "smart speaker" and see just how easy it is to replace a burned out capacitor. Most people just want things to work and don't really care to invest the time in understanding the how or why, which is fine. That said, there will generally always be options available to people who want a greater degree of control and freedom over their technology. It may not always look as pretty or be as popular, but options will exist.

Sore Tue, 30 Apr 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 1e76a48b-4ed4-d861-98f3-d97915b52f6d The last few days have been pretty rough for the body. Not only is there a lack of recovery time when playing with the boy1, but the effort put into pushing the Mazda a few days ago has resulted in a rather sore lower back. This isn't quite at hernia levels of pain, but the discomfort is letting me know that I'll need to be a little careful over the coming days. As one would expect, the boy has no concept of long-lasting pain and believes I'm ready for another round of abuse after just a couple of minutes on the sofa.

A common theme in many of my posts involves my current state of health, be it a lack of sleep, a spate of anxiety, allergies, or simply the process of ageing. While I understand that this body is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago, it's hard to let go of the idea that if I need to do a thing, then I will do that thing. Pushing the car to the nearby gas station was a necessity, so I did it. Lifting and carrying the boy when we're in crowded places or areas where food is in the open is a necessity, so I do it. Cleaning the house is a necessity — and therapeutic —, so I will regularly do so. The question I often ponder is when this sort of reckless decision-making will not be possible. At what point will I need to weigh the benefits of doing something myself because "it must be done" with asking someone for help?

There is grey in my hair. There are lines on my face. There are aches in my joints2. The time for reality to set in is not that far away … so I'm told.

Both of my grandfathers were fiercely independent to their last breath. They would work in their sheds, taking pieces of lumber or a fallen branch, and creating something that did not exist earlier that day. It might be an intricately carved relief. Perhaps it would be a music box for a granddaughter. Sometimes it would be just something they needed in the kitchen to solve a problem3 When they asked someone to "come help them in the shed", it wasn't because they needed help4. Interestingly, none of my uncles were like this. Most seemed to complain about some sort of pain, then delegate physical tasks to their kids as soon as it was feasible. From the standard "Go fetch me a beer" to "Go shovel the snow from the driveway" to "Grab that sledge hammer and break up the old concrete foundation"5. The contrast between the generations was night and day, and it was primarily this reason that I made the decision before leaving high school that I would rather emulate my grandfathers than parents, uncles, or aunts6.

The boy is still two years old, so cannot do much in terms of physical labour. As he gets older, I'll certainly include him in the myriad of tasks that are generally handed down from father to son. He'll learn how to wash the car and trim the lawn. He'll get to experience the joys of cleaning drainage, unclogging toilets, and replacing plumbing. He might even get to help with some emergency repairs in the middle of bad weather7. One of the things that I hope to impress upon him, though, is the importance of getting things done. We can all recognize that something is important and should be done sooner rather than later, but it can be genuinely hard to avoid procrastinating or giving up altogether. So while my body might be showing signs of its age and reminding me with greater alacrity8 that it might be time to slow down just a little bit, I plan on being an active and independent problem solver for as long as possible. There's no shame in asking for help, just as there's also no shame in doing something unaided.

  1. I generally view sitting at the work desk and doing day-job tasks as "rest" now ….

  2. Not many, mind you. My ankles and knees do protest more than any other part of the body, though.

  3. My mother's father once created a wooden spoon with a notch that could be used to guide cooking oil into a collection tin. To this day I've never seen any kitchen tool like it.

  4. My grandfather could soliloquy like a tenured professor. His idea of help was saying something like "Hand me that mitre saw back there" while deftly measuring where a piece of wood needed to be cut and talking about why the Canadian government at the time was "ruining the country". It's probably a good thing he can't see what the current clowns in Ottawa have gotten up to.

  5. I did all of these things. There's nothing like four solid days of working a sledge hammer to seriously rough-up a person's hands.

  6. The criteria that went into the decision were much more complex than this, of course, and (most of) the adults around me were not lazy slave drivers. They had a work ethic as well. I just very much preferred how my grandfathers approached a problem.

  7. I remember climbing onto the roof of a house in the middle of a rainstorm to help cover a hole just enough so that the rain wouldn't get in the house. Afterwards I was called on to climb onto the roof again and learn how to strip shingles, replace water-damaged panelling, then re-shingle … all in a 12-hour period between storms.

  8. I understand that alacrity is generally used to describe positive and cheerful verbs. I just wanted to use the word.

Why Use Linux? Mon, 29 Apr 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 4e1875e3-4c5b-f3f5-37da-06d700f4338c Joey Sneddon over at OMG! Ubuntu! asked and answered the question of why someone would use LInux over Windows or macOS. His three-word answer leans a little close to zealotry, but is completely understandable. In my case, I've been 100% Linux on all of my computers for quite some time1 and rarely see the need to go back to either. While I can readily admit there are some applications that I miss from when I used to use macOS on a daily basis, going back to Apple's operating system is not something i'm prepared to do. Microsoft has made a lot of efforts to integrate Linux with Windows 10 but, even with the Linux subsystem functionality and Redmond's insistence that they love Linux, I cannot bring myself to allow any version of Windows to run bare metal on any of my machines. Like Joey, my reason can be boiled down to a three word answer: I trust Linux.

There are a lot of benefits of using Windows or macOS on a day to day basis. There's generally more commercial software available, faster driver updates, and better support for battery-related features. That said, I don't trust these systems. Same goes for Android. I simply do not feel it's in my best interest to put any data of value on a system that seems forever tethered to its creator, sending and receiving data as unobtrusively as possible in the background2. Linux distributions, as a rule, do not do this3.

Given the sort of data that I work with on a day to day basis and the trust people have put in me to not leak, lose, or share their data with anyone else, I need to completely trust my computers. Linux makes it easier for me to ensure that my systems are secure and non-communicative with unauthorized external resources.

There are undoubtedly a number of people who will disagree with me, and that's fine. While there are thousands of different distributions available to meet just about any need or criteria, the vast majority of people will be happiest on one of the two main commercial operating systems. This, too, is fine. It's not my job nor intention to convert anyone to Linux or provide the days or weeks of support that would be required while a person acclimated to the different system. Linux works for me. Specifically Ubuntu Linux. If someone reading this prefers something else, then it's better to continue using that software. At the end of the day, how we use our computers is a personal choice.

  1. This is despite the unenforceable expectation that everyone at the day job is using Windows 10 with the various tracking and "security" tools installed … including all the Apple devices.

  2. iOS also shares information back to Apple, albeit to a lesser degree. While I'm not keen on data leaving my possession without explicit permission, I generally know precisely what information is being sent to iCloud and can modify my behaviour enough to maintain some semblance of verifiable control.

  3. The online "outrage" that surrounded Canonical's attempt to collect system information after a successful installation was seriously disingenuous. While there is the option to send anonymous system data to Canonical, it was an opt in function that would show you the entire message so that you could determine whether it could be shared or not. After a little more than a year, it turns out that the majority of people installing Ubuntu Desktop send the data to Canonical

Five Things: Mazda Edition Sun, 28 Apr 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason a3c48c3e-c599-994c-eec8-948fe12d40e8 The day started with little fingers dropping a 22 year old glass trinket, sending shards of skin-penetrating hazards across the floor … and it only got more expensive from there.

Being the second day of the family's 10-day Golden Week holiday, we wanted to head out to a nearby play centre called "Fantasy Kids Resort". There the boy would be able to run around and do what toddler's do best. If we were lucky, he might even remember some of what happened while playing around with the balls, or the blocks, or the slides, or the myriad of other things designed to give parents a bit of a break from saying "Don't do that!" and "Inside voice!". Unfortunately, we never made it the 16.3km because our relatively new car lost all forward momentum along the way. Reiko would step on the gas, the engine would rev up to 4,000rpm, but we would go nowhere. Interestingly, reverse worked just fine.

Fortunately, there was a gas station about 200 metres up the road where we could park the car in order to deal with all the hassles that come with a broken down vehicle. There was just one problem, though: the gas station was 200 metres up the road.

Being the optimistic dolt, I told Reiko to put the car in neutral and I would push the vehicle the rest of the way. This is apparently something that "nobody does" in Japan, given the way passing drivers gawked and slowed down as they overtook the newish Mazda Premacy that was limited to my sluggish jogging speed. However, after a bit of huffing and puffing, I managed to get the car to the nearby Eneos. The crew there was quick to help out, and they even performed a free diagnostic of the car to see what might be causing the problem.

Diagnosis: a loss of power.

No duh.

Then it was time to call the dealer where we bought the car, call the roadside assistance company we have a contract with to tow the vehicle to the dealer, and try to get things back on track.

Despite the stress and hassle, several things went quite well. The boy was relatively patient despite the obvious boredom that comes from being stuck at a gas station for 90 minutes. The service crew were incredibly helpful the whole time, even though the only thing we bought was a bottle of water. The tow truck arrived 20 minutes before we were told to expect it. The tow truck driver called us a taxi1, which then arrived two or three minutes later. And, fortunately, the first car rental place we went to had a car that we could hire for a couple of days.

We left the house at 10:30am and returned just before 2:00pm absolutely exhausted for all the wrong reasons.

But, as this is a Five Things post, there should be a list. So I'd like to list out all the things that bugged Reiko and I today when we were dealing with the Mazda dealership where we bought the car.

Our Warranty is Only Valid at the Selling Dealership

There are seven Mazda dealerships closer to us than the place we bought the vehicle. The reason we bought the car at the dealer we did was because of how hard it was to find a good, used Premacy2. We wanted to have the car shipped to the nearest dealer as we are already familiar with some of the people there and it would be much easier to pick up the car after it's fixed. Unfortunately, this option wasn't available to us as the manufacturer warranty that we received when we bought the vehicle is apparently best serviced from the selling dealership.

This expectation is stupid.

No Courtesy Car for a Month

Generally when a person needs to leave their car with a dealer or auto repair shop for any length of time, they're given a courtesy car. These loaner vehicles are usually the most basic sort of car money can buy, lacking any creature comforts. We don't need a glamourous vehicle while our car is in the shop, but it would be nice to have a vehicle. While we have been promised a car, we will not see it until May 22nd. As the calendar clearly states, today is April 28th.

A car company does not have a spare car lying around. I wonder if they still have our old Daihatsu Move.

ETA: June 6th

If waiting four weeks for a loaner wasn't bad enough, we won't have our own vehicle back until the first week of June. After a battery of tests, the mechanics at the dealership discovered that our transmission is shot. How a transmission dies on a car that's been driven for 30 months at most is beyond me. It's a family vehicle, not a sports car. We go to the mall to buy clothes and maybe have some lunch at the food court, not perform donuts and practice drifting in the parking lot. Regardless, a new transmission must be ordered from the Mazda plant in Hiroshima. The dealer has said that the average shipping time is four weeks, and this week the factory is shut down for Golden Week. There's nothing we can do but wait.

Hassles and happenstance aside, there were some good things, too.

Free Delivery of the Courtesy Car and Our Fixed Car

The dealership we bought our vehicle from is located a couple of cities over, and we're not going to rent a car at 7.200 Yen (about $70 USD, +/- 10%) per day for four weeks3. Getting there via public transit would also be quite the excursion, requiring about 90 minutes on the bus and 25 minutes on the train. Shipping a car from there to here would cost somewhere in the ballpark of 20,000 Yen (about $200 USD, +/- 10%). The salesperson who took our money for the Premacy offered to have both the courtesy car and our Premacy delivered to us at no cost, saving us the time, hassle, and money.

Very appreciated.

They Called Back

According to the website, the dealer closes its doors every day at 6:20pm. We were promised a phone call today to know what the problem was with the car and when it would be fixed. At 6:30 we'd heard nothing. The same silence was observed at 7:00 and 7:30. By 8:00pm we had given up expecting a call but, at 8:02, the phone rang. It was the dealer explaining what was wrong with the car and how they needed to perform a full battery of tests to confirm it was just the transmission rather than something else. Despite being the Sunday night before a national holiday, the sales person and two mechanics worked overtime to keep their promise.

This, too, was very appreciated.

Today has been a long day, and a bit of rest is in order. Fortunately, the problems that we faced today are comically light in the grand scheme of things.

  1. Our phone batteries were pretty much dead. The wife's phone was running on fumes, as she never charges the darn thing, and my work's flip phone's battery is 10+ years old and hasn't been used for an hour of phone calls since it belonged to the area sales manager who left the company in 2013.

  2. The car is no longer manufactured, which is a shame as it is a perfect fit for the family. The Atenza is too low to the ground for the boy's car seat. The Axela is too small. The CX series is shaped in such a way that Reiko wouldn't be able to put the boy in his chair.

  3. While it's true that I do earn a little more now than I did when teaching, this doesn't mean that money can be blown willy nilly on things like having a rental car parked somewhere within walking distance for 23 or more hours each day.

In My Head Sat, 27 Apr 2019 13:20:00 +0000 Jason fa2d6425-062c-c67b-42fe-ffa49811517b Since I started working from home full time a year ago, I've become much more "in my head" than before. When I go outside it's generally with the same two people or Nozomi. When I'm on my own I tend to walk to the same park to sit in isolation in a semi-secluded spot on a hill. When I'm at the computer, the words people use to communicate are given voices as the text is being read. A surprising lack of communication with people in the real world means that I spend a great deal of time in my head, and I wonder if this is contributing to my hearing problems.

The other day I wrote about "noise" and how it generally affects me. As is likely true with most people1, I generally cannot be in a noisy place for more than a couple of hours. A ceaseless acoustic assault will make me feel trapped and claustrophobic, which results in rising stress levels. Depending on the volume, this might result in some temporary deafness as the mind begins to shut out the world in order to better manage the overload of information. When I've tried to explain this to people, the assumption is always that deafness is quiet. For me, it's anything but.

When one or both of my ears begins to deafen, I generally hear what is best described as 100 or more people talking simultaneously at the same, loud level. When this happens in one ear, I can generally deal with it by keeping my head turned towards the people I want or need to listen to. When both ears have given up, the world is essentially shut out and I'm walled in a garden of incoherence for most of the rest of the day. But why?

This hearing problem has been with me for years, but it does seem to be getting worse as I continue the march towards 50. For years I've wondered what it's like to be deaf. From most accounts, it's quiet. If my ears ever do completely give out it will be interesting to see if this is true. The one thing I do worry about, though, is spending too much time in my head while the rest of the world goes by.

Should I find myself in this predicament, it would likely make sense to buy a bunch of decent pens so that I can continue to communicate with the world in a more controlled environment.

  1. I'm assuming most people have certain tolerances for noise.

Let Golden Week Begin Fri, 26 Apr 2019 13:30:00 +0000 Jason f197f1b3-4283-0273-9689-0448385bad2d As of this moment, I am on vacation. There will be no need to check the work email, Slack, Teams, or other communications platforms until the morning of May 7th when I make my way to Tokyo for an afternoon of back-to-back meetings. Ten consecutive days off. What the heck will I do with all that time?

Believe it or not, there will not be very much coding taking place.

Out of Office

As much as I would like to invest a couple of days to iron out some rough spots with 10Cv5, the family will make sure that I don't spend more than a handful of hours each day looking at a screen. So while I might be able to tackle some of the lower-hanging fruit, there will be some challenges tackling the bigger things, such as getting the new account administration screens prepped and the signup pages activated.

Lack of coding aside, one thing that I will be working on over the coming days is a more clearly defined plan for 2019 that will ensure I'm in a better place to be self-employed by 2022. There are a few ideas that I've been kicking around in my head the last few weeks, but there just hasn't been a proper amount of time dedicated to thinking through the ideas. Transitioning from a "safe" job to something that is 100% dependent on consistent success is not an easy thing when there are mortgages that need to be paid and family members who need to be fed.

What I have been planning on doing is creating a pair of useful applications that can be offered to the world for a fair price. Hopefully this will provide a bit of recurring income in a manner similar to what is seen with applications like Sublime Text and other tools put out by independent developers. I have no expectation that these applications would have an audience large enough to warrant a full-time commitment. The first of these applications will be made available for purchase this year, with the second appearing relatively early 2020. Both of these tools can expect updates at least once a month.

However, the main idea that I've been thinking about involves leveraging a lot of the knowledge I've amassed over the years to help smaller educational institutions. I've built two LMSes already and have spoken to a number of small school owners about possibly creating a third. In these conversations, I really listened to what sorts of problems the schools faced on a regular basis. By better understanding a problem, a potential solution has a better chance of becoming an actual solution. What I heard time and again wasn't that the schools were having problems organizing their data. The number one concern that small school operators had, aside from maintaining enrolment rates, involved communication with the students or parents. Despite the plethora of platforms available, this is the problem to solve.

Any potential solution cannot be "create another platform", as this generally does not work. There are better options, but can they pay the bills?

This is what I'll be working on during the holiday when not out and about with the family or blogging in the park.

Noise Thu, 25 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 85f8ca8f-b909-ff15-3d7a-1b13396f3d25 Many years ago, when I was in high school and knew everything, there would be days when my parents would be quite sensitive to certain kinds of noise. Sometimes they would complain about the Backstreet Boys cassette my sisters played on repeat a dozen times a day. Sometimes they would complain about the noise from my younger brother as he would complain ceaselessly about how something or other "wasn't fair". This would often strike me as odd given that when seven people live in the same house, a certain tolerance to noise was required.

At some point in my 30s, my ears started giving me problems. Well … I thought it was my ears. There were the signs of tinnitus by mid-afternoon six days a week. There was the desire to wear noise-isolating headphones everywhere, even if they weren't plugged into anything (aside from my ears, of course). Occasionally an ear would even stop working, rendering me deaf on one side for a number of hours. A lot of this was taken in stride, though. The tinnitus was likely the result of working at a printing company for many years without wearing ear protection1. The headphones were the desire to block out human interaction as well as the audio assault one contends with when working in the city. The temporary deafness in one ear was caused from stress.

Or so I thought.

Over the last couple of years one of the things I've noticed about sound is that most of it is fine so long as there is a purpose. Sounds that have no immediate value or — worse — obstruct other sounds appear to cause a physical reaction in me. This is especially prevalent when the TV is on. Japanese TV is not quite as weird as YouTube videos would have a person think, but it can be incredibly annoying in the name of "fun". There might be multiple layers of background music playing while one or more people are talking about a subject. There might be sound effects placed in random spots just to give the sound effects person a reason to get out of bed that day. There might be as many as six people talking all at once resulting in two or three overlapping conversations while background music is playing and a laugh track chimes in every couple of seconds.

I just can't stand it for more than a couple of minutes, yet I'm in the minority here as both Reiko and the boy enjoy having the TV on for several hours a day. When they're talking while the TV is on, my ears start to tighten up, I feel my chest tighten as well, and I just want to leave the room or shut the TV off. Muting does help, but not always.

Which strikes me as odd. If the problem was with my ears and how they process sound, then muting the TV should resolve the issue. Instead it just puts my rising tensions on pause. The problem likely isn't my ears, but in my head … like so many of my other problems.

After a number of conversations, there's a better understanding in the house that sometimes I need to insist the TV gets shut off for a few hours. This doesn't always happen, but the number of times that I've been able to ask that the TV be shut off and see it stay off is nice. One day I might see a doctor about this. Given my past experiences with Japanese doctors looking at my ears, though, it might be a while before that day comes.

  1. The company did provide free ear plugs, but that made it really hard for me to hear people above the thrum of the presses. After a couple of hours, I opted to just deal with the noise.

Asleep at the Keyboard Wed, 24 Apr 2019 07:30:00 +0000 Jason 1c8fd94c-9f6e-775e-7640-219ecabeff10 Today an interesting thing happened in that I fell asleep at the keyboard while in the middle of writing a SQL query. This is the first time in recent memory that I've lost consciousness mid-thought, and it's clearly a sign that I'm not getting enough sleep. While I no longer have the accuracy of a sleep tracker like SleepCycle to tell me just how poorly I'm resting, I can count on one hand the number of hours of sleep I've achieved since Sunday. Last time I checked, today is Wednesday. Meetings are taking place at all hours of the day. The boy needs attention for the 12 hours he's not sleeping. Nozomi and Reiko also need a bit of time. Then there's the time I dedicate to 10C and freelance jobs. Clearly the body is a lot more tired than I'm admitting, which means falling asleep at the keyboard1.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Keyboard

To make up for the lack of rest over the last couple of nights, I've blocked the schedule from 10:00pm until the start of the following day. Hopefully this will mean getting to bed by 11:00pm at the latest and falling asleep somewhere between 30~60 seconds later2.

There are just two more working days to go this week before the start of Golden Week, which will work out to 10 consecutive days off work with six of those days being fully paid holidays. The lack of OT will hurt the pay cheque a little bit, but the ability to get some sound sleep will more than make up for a few hundred dollars less in income.

  1. Would this be short-keyed as AAK?

  2. I generally fall asleep within 15~30 seconds after lying down in bed but, when overtired, a little more time is needed.

If Software Were Music ... Tue, 23 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 2dfb9639-4206-cac2-5b0b-841d972c7aa4 An odd thought crossed my mind the other day1. While listening to some of the better music to come out of the 80s and 90s, I wondered if there was any software from this time period that I'm still actively using. Given the speed at which technologies change and get rewritten, very little of what we see today is more than a couple of years old. Sure, some of the core components of Windows or Oracle might be a decade or two old, but these would be small components of larger projects, like a modern piece of music with a forever-repeating sample from James Brown.

Will any of the software tools that we use today continue to exist and be useful in 30 years?

Blurry Code

Being useful is important. Unless the planet is plunged into some sort of crisis that has wiped out all digitally-stored information everywhere, there are bound to be backups of software that is in use today sitting on an optical disc at the back of someone's closet. Crazy hypotheticals aside, I considered a semi-realistic one: of the software I use today, which ones could realistically continue to be useful until 2050 without any further updates?

Before continuing, I should state that I am fully entrenched in the world of Linux. While I do have a couple of iOS and Android-powered devices in the house, these sealed appliances with known operational lifespans do not count. I'm simply looking at the tools that I use on Linux.

Thinking through the question, I can think of just a handful of applications that are not part of the default installation of Ubuntu Linux that would still be useful in their current form in 2050:

  • Sublime Text, a pretty decent text editor
  • Typora, my favourite Markdown-friendly text editor
  • Gimp, the Gnu IMage Processing application
  • Glances, a command-line tool to see resource usage

Using the base installation of Ubuntu would mean that I could use the file manager, terminal, and a bunch of other built-in applications that make using the system easier. None of today's browsers would work very well with the web in 30 years, though. Grab a copy of Netscape Navigator 3.5 and try to open a site. Most of them will be an absolute mess. A lot of the other tools that I use would likely not work as expected, such as source control programs, API testing utilities, and database clients. A lot of these things would break because of new security protocols in place. Others might break for different reasons. Thinking back on all the support software I would use when deveoping over the years, none of the applications would work today … except maybe SQL Server Management Studio from around 2000, so long as it's connecting to a database that is also 20 years old2.

Given that we've been writing software for well over half a century, at what point will we start seeing applications — that are not on spacecraft — have operational lives stretching into decades? Will people use and enjoy older applications like a person might enjoy older music? I wonder ….

  1. Well, "odd thoughts" cross the mind all the time. This particular one seemed interesting, though.

  2. SQL Server Management Studio that shipped with SQL Server 2000 on a shiny silver CD — like I still have upstairs — would not connect to a SQL Server 2005 instance until later service packs were released. Even then, it's rare for an older SQL Server client to connect to too new a database engine.

Different Mon, 22 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 28ec0ffb-86c7-f3c6-af6e-d234683024fa A nearby kindergarten held a little bit of an open house today as part of their regular efforts to recruit students for the next school year. Working from home means that instead of relying solely on Reiko's judgement for which school the boy should attend1, I can visit the schools and act as a second set of eyes. More than this, I attended a French-Immersion kindergarten in Ontario. There's no way I can pretend to know what goes on in a Japanese school unless I see for myself.

And see, I did.

The basics of kindergarten are all the same as I remember from 37 years ago. The playground is large and well-trodden. There are toys strewn all over the place until the teachers come along to pick them up. Teachers work in teams of two for classes larger than 25 kids2. The facilities are generally locked down to prevent weirdos from coming in. A rabbit is sitting in a cage outside, generally enjoying not being bothered by children. There's nothing sharp anywhere.

The differences stood out like a sore thumb. There was nudity.

At first I thought this was that sort of "silly nudity" where a young child will take their pants off for a joke or just to get a reaction out of a teacher. But then I saw a second child without pants. Then a third. Then a fourth. In a classroom of at least 25, a good number of kids — both boys and girls — were running around half-clothed. Some kids chanted "がんばれ!" while others went into a small room. Some were watching the group of 10 parents who were walking through the school.

"Before classes go out for a walk, children are encouraged to go to the bathroom. For children who are not completely potty trained, this is a reassuring way for them to learn."— the lead teacher guiding the group

Maybe this is something I just don't remember but, to the best of my knowledge, there was never a "potty activity" when I was in school. Kids would sometimes have accidents and that would cause a bit of a problem, of course, but this was completely new to me. Reiko was also a little surprised to see it as it wasn't done at her kindergarten, either. My reticence to having teachers encourage my kid to take his pants off in front of a group may be due to a Christian upbringing in Canada, where nudity is "shameful" and must never be done ever, ever … but I'd really much rather the boy not get into a state of undress in front of his classmates or teachers.

A moment later we moved on to the next part of the tour where we went up to the roof of the school3, where another class was putting their hands or feet into shallow buckets of paint before stepping on large sheets of paper. The kids were having a lot of fun on the roof, but I had to question why they weren't in a classroom with air conditioning. The roof was at least 30 degrees in direct sunlight, which was certainly a bit warm for me.

It's different.

All in all, the school looked like a decent place for the students that we saw and most of the parents seemed happy with everything they heard. Would I be comfortable sending the boy there? Not completely. While the rooftop activities would be fine on a cooler day, I'm not at all keen on dealing with heat stroke. I've had that twice before, and it's no picnic4. As for nudity? I'm really not comfortable with this.

There are three other schools that Reiko, the boy, and I will be checking out over the coming months. One of the three will likely not even warrant a visit as the reviews online are all negative, with most mothers complaining about the lack of learning their kids are doing. The other two, however, show some promise.

  1. I would be completely fine with this, as Reiko has been a teacher for her entire professional life. She knows what to look for in educators and institutions. That said, what's the point of working from home if I cannot actively participate in the boy's development?

  2. I can barely manage to stay sane with just one kid. How do kindergarten teachers manage to do what they do?

  3. School roofs are generally evacuation areas for neighbourhoods in times of flood, so there are strong fences and safeties in place to ensure nobody falls off. This is quite different from the schools I attended in Canada, where the roof was pretty much "off limits" and impossible to get to.

  4. Funny story about heat stroke. When I was 17 I was out playing baseball for about 11 hours on a sunny Saturday. That night I went to bed and woke up Monday afternoon. Apparently my sisters couldn't wake me no matter what they tried. Wait … that wasn't funny ….

Five Things Sun, 21 Apr 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 04a12ca3-82af-a8fc-8c33-2d4e7dc1d186 The weather this weekend was so nice that men over sixty were wearing winter jackets, people under 40 were wearing jeans and a light jacket, and kids were wearing as little as their parents allowed. As one would expect, the family and I managed to spend a good bit of the daylight hours outside. While the boy was not always happy with what was going on at any particular moment, he did greatly enjoy playing in the 7-Eleven-sized sandbox at a park not too far away. Lots of pictures were taken, and I even managed to get some great shots thanks to the fast shutter speed of the Canon DSLR. The summer humidity is not far off, so we're trying to enjoy as much time outside as we can beforehand.

Weather report aside, it's time for another list of things that don't necessarily warrant a blog post. First up …

The $300 CD

There used to be a popular music store in Ontario called Sam the Record Man that would often import albums from around the world. In the fall of 2000, Hamasaki Ayumi's 3rd studio album Duty was released to much fanfare, and I wanted a real copy, not just the decent-quality MP3s from Napster. So on the week of the release I called ahead to confirm the store had stock of the CD and asked that one be set aside for me, and I would be up on Saturday morning. On Friday I rented a car from the nearby Budget and invited a friend to join me on the 2-hour drive from Hamilton to Toronto to pick up a CD from Japan.

Young people have so much time on their hands.

The drive up was probably uneventful as I don't remember much about it. When we arrived at the music shop I went up to the counter and asked if they had my CD on hand. The clerk checked and, as one would expect when a young person calls a store asking that something be set aside, the CD was not waiting for me. Fortunately there were still two discs in stock and I picked up the coveted album for the insane price of $44.95 CAD, which was before the 15% tax was applied. Of course, as I had rented a car and drove for two hours just to get this CD, I didn't stop at just one Japanese import disc. I bought three: the aforementioned Duty album, a TM Revolution album, and a compilation from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Not only was I young, foolish, and employed, I was stupid, too. All in all, the three discs came out to a little over $100, making the trip to Toronto come in at around $300 in total. Did I enjoy the drive? Absolutely. Did I enjoy the CD? Very much so, as I still listen to it today … on Spotify. Would I do something like this again? Probably not for music or some sort of collector's item.

Not the Target Audience

April is considered the start of the year in Japan for schools, TV shows, and a number of businesses that prefer fiscal years not follow calendar years. This year a number of shows that the boy likes to watch have seen regular cast members go and new people join. Animated shows such as Thomas and Friends has also started another season, with the voice actors the boy and I have come to know reprising their roles. There's just one problem: I strongly dislike the changes. Especially when it comes to Thomas and Friends.

The boy disagrees. He loves the changes. I haven't heard him laugh this much when watching his programs ever. Clearly I'm not the target audience, and that's fine. So long as the boy is happy, then my opinions on the matter are less than inconsequential.

Power Napping

In an effort to try and regain some semblance of sanity, I've decided to invest some time in power naps throughout the day. For the moment it's just five to ten minutes in the afternoon, but may try to squeeze in ten minutes after 4:00pm as well. With a slightly more rested mind, better things will happen … like being able to stay awake during meetings.

The Sound of Processing

Sleeping in the same room as the 10C server1 means I get to hear when the system is doing some heavier lifting. What's interesting is hearing the system and the hard drives work when it comes time to do the hourly and daily backups2. There's a certain rhythm to each backup and I've already worked out the sounds of a healthy backup.

I wonder if people who work at data centres also train their ears to catch anomalies.


Tomorrow will be a big day for the boy as a nearby kindergarten opens its gates to neighbourhood children who will start attending school for half a day starting April 2020. There are three kindergartens in the area and we're not yet 100% certain which school would be best for him, so tomorrow's open house will be an interesting opportunity to see the facilities, the teachers, and how the boy reacts to everything. He's not particularly comfortable in areas with a whole lot of foot traffic, but kindergartens should be different given the size of the feet.

With just one week remaining before most of the country shuts down to celebrate the series of national holidays and the new emperor's coronation, it will be interesting to see how much work gets thrown my way. Given the amount of overtime that I've been clocking the last couple of weeks, I fully expect managers to start stepping in and asking that I do much, much less.

This is assuming, of course, that managers at the day job start to manage.

  1. My snoring is keeping people awake, so it's better if I sleep in a different room for the time being.

  2. The database is backed up hourly and the files are done daily. Spinning disks are used to store uploaded data while SSDs are used for the databases.

Topics Sat, 20 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 7b8039d8-9e3e-7fc1-e4b1-e5545cb4d228 Earlier this evening, while Nozomi and I were out for an after-dinner walk, I was thinking about some of the things I might write about today. As with most days, there were a number of topics that I could write about, but only enough time to focus on one. To make matters more complicated, the subject couldn't be too complicated, otherwise any attempt to write intelligently on the subject would be ruined by my inability to remain consistently conscious when sitting down1, which is exacerbated further if sitting on my bed. So with all of this in mind, what could I possibly choose to write about today to put the bow on another week?

One of the more interesting challenges that I've started running into when planning the day's article is writing about something different from the 2,800+ other posts on this site. With over a decade worth of writing published on this site, choosing something that is relatively untouched is by no means easy. I'll admit that there are a number of recurring themes that pop up from time to time, either involving the boy, the day job, or my mental state, but I do try to write about something different whenever possible. This isn't so much for the benefit of people reading the blog, but more for the enjoyment of writing.

Today's possible topics involved the monthly Windows Magazine that I used to collect and look forward to every month as a teen, sleeping in a room with a server, the challenges of taking good pictures of children or puppies, and the purpose of desktop backgrounds on machines where you almost always fun applications full screen. All of these are worthwhile, but only one can be chosen. As you have probably guessed, the topic I went with for today was "blogging about topics".

For the first few years of blogging, I would often make a quick text note with my HP iPaq, then write the post one stroke at a time on the train ride home. With every day involving at least 140 minutes of train time, it seemed logical to use the time to write. Being alone for over two hours of every day is now a luxury that I sorely miss, so writing is generally started on the phone with some poorly-typed notes while walking the puppy, then completed on a device with a physical keyboard.

Not a day goes by where I don't think about how to improve the way I write posts, and not a day goes by where I don't think about writing better as a whole. The latter requires practice and focus while the former is something I don't have an answer for. Having the preliminary notes written before the blog post itself generally seems like a good way to let the mind think about a subject for a while before there is time to write. Using mind maps and other writing tools would certainly lead to better posts, but these things often require a pretty large time commitment, which is something that I cannot negotiate with the family when people require attention. Speech to text doesn't seem right, either, as it would mean talking to a computer and thinking less about the words that get put on the screen.

What I would like, however, is a small application that would keep track of the blog ideas I jotted down for a given day and hide them around 3:00am so that the next day would start with a blank page. Throughout the day, I'd want to go back to the application and maybe jot a note down or add a link to a picture. When the time comes to actually write at the end of the day, I could then look at the application and all the disparate notes that were written throughout the day would be loosely attached to a topic thread and I could write from there. This would be similar to a mind map, but slightly less structured.

I would write something like this myself if I had the time. Naturally, it would also fully support publishing items directly to 10C. Unfortunately there just isn't enough time in the day, so I'll continue to think about how to improve my writing while doing the writing.

  1. This will probably be a topic for another day.

Worn Out Fri, 19 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 40d22379-7c60-44a5-d85f-56000aceb4a9 Over the last couple of years there has been a recurring theme on this site where I write about a lack of sleep either due to a persistent bout of insomnia or just a larger-than-is-manageable workload. In every post I refer to my age and how a little power nap with lunch1 isn't enough to recharge if fewer than four hours of sleep is obtained. Generally I'll make some efforts to get to bed before midnight on the Friday and hope like heck the boy doesn't wake before sunrise so that the weekend isn't a blur … but this doesn't seem to be enough anymore. The candle has been burning at both ends for months, and I'm just absolutely worn out.

Like a Lit Match

In just one week the Japanese holiday period dubbed Golden Week begins, which will mean that for ten days I will (ideally) not be doing anything related to the day job. Reiko and I have been making some general plans to bring the boy to some special events and parks, and we'll also be meeting her parents to enjoy a nice dinner at a nice restaurant to mark 12 years of marriage. If that wasn't enough to have happen in one week, the news cycle will be jumping between stories on the over-capacity bullet trains ferrying people around the country and the coronation of Japan's next emperor. During this time I'll be working on a number of items related to 10C, but I'll also be starting a new project that I hope will be seen as a positive step forward in my goal to be fully self-employed in 2022.

When I set my mind on a goal, I tend to work incredibly hard to make it happen. Unfortunately, when working for someone else, there will always be multiple goals that need to be completed, often with conflicting or near-simultaneous deadlines. This makes it easy to get stuck in one of those vicious cycles where the more you work, the more work you have to do.

Last month I worked the equivalent of 6.5 40-hour weeks for the day job, plus 10C, plus being away from the computer to spend time with the family. It's simply unsustainable. What I need to do is become more like the match above, being lit at just one end2. 2022 is not that far away, and I'm not at all keen on being with my employer for much longer3.

  1. I used to do this while in Canada. A quick, 15-minute power nap at the office after the colleagues went out for lunch but before they came back was an excellent way to recharge, especially if there were going to be meetings in the afternoon.

  2. I certainly see the possible error of working during a vacation period, but this would be more for personal development than the day job. It would be "fun" … so that makes it okay, right?

  3. I'm not interested in working for most other companies, either. The time has come to be independent … again.

Cognitive Kaizen Thu, 18 Apr 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason ab50da78-fa47-6c47-33b3-c2cab8b0e9e1 A little over ten years ago I wrote this blog post on trans-gendered people in Japan and the darn thing has remained one of the most popular posts found on any of my sites. As of this morning it has been accessed 477,218 times, which is more than triple it's nearest competitor. By all accounts, I should be happy that something from a decade ago is still being read today. Unfortunately, I'm anything but. The post is awful on a number of levels. From the grammar to the stupid "score out of 10", the article is a shining example of my ignorance on the topic back at the start of 2009.

This isn't a virtue signalling1 post.

Very few of the posts I've written since 2006 have been deleted or otherwise taken down, even when I was proven wrong or justifiably castigated for some of the stupid things that were said. A lot of this has to do with the reality that whatever is put online is there "forever", which is particularly true for websites where's Way Back Machine stops by every couple of days to see what's new. But it's not just the web crawlers that keep me from removing old posts, it's the personal context.

Regardless the subject, most people are pretty ignorant about things when they're young and slowly accumulate knowledge and life experiences that can fill the gaps in a person's understanding. I'm not particularly bright today, but I know that the person I am right now is much more aware of the world than the person I was a decade ago. The person I will become over the next 120 months will likely look back on items written today and wonder how such nonsensical drivel could have been pushed out on a daily basis. A million monkeys using a million typewriters could pound out better prose than this single fool at a keyboard. But this is the point of the exercise. If I were to go back over the thousands of blog posts published to this site over the years and revise or remove items, then I am ultimately erasing one of the better resources I have to go back and see how my thinking has evolved over time as a result of new information and new experiences. So while I may not like some posts very much, I would rather keep them online2 than lose them entirely.

Would I consider rewriting the older posts, linking back to the original so that it would be easier to show what sort of cognitive evolution has taken place? It's certainly an option. If I were to write another blog post about Haruna Ai, Ikko, or trans-gendered people in general, it would likely be a better researched, academic-style thesis on the complexities people face when trying to fit into the binary Male/Female labels that many cultures and societies enforce. Why write about something that has nothing to do with me? The reasoning is really quite simple. By writing about a topic, I need to slow down and be more deliberate with my thinking.

Quite often it's when I am writing about a topic I don't know very much about that I learn the most.

  1. Wikipedia defines virtue signalling as a pejorative for the conspicuous expression of moral values. Academically, the phrase relates to signalling theory to describe a subset of social behaviours that could be used to signal virtue—especially piety among the religious.

  2. Yes, I know that I can password protect or otherwise hide posts on my blogging platform. This still doesn't guarantee that posts can't be surfaced through Google cache queries or on The Way Back machine. It's better to keep the posts open for anyone to see what a fool I was, and how I'm (hopefully) less foolish today.

Documentation Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason e9809c8a-e0b7-6ed2-c154-14ca73e42139 In order for any bit of complex software to be better understood and effectively utilized, documentation must be made available to the people who will use the tool. Unfortunately, documentation is the least favourite task that faces every developer. I can count on one hand the number of full-time software people I know who actually enjoy putting the code editors away to instead write complete sentences. There are automation tools out there that will try to write the documentation for you, but these can only go so far. At the end of the day, the best author is going to be someone — or a collection of someones — who have a good understanding of the system … which can certainly be a problem for tools that are created by one or two people.

At the day job I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I get to make new software every couple of months. These are tools that don't exist one day, then spring into existence 20 minutes after a meeting that sanctions their creation comes to an end. A lot of the tools start out small with just three or four functions that are relatively intuitive to anyone who has worked for my employer a couple of months. However, as people begin to use the simple system and ask for "just one more thing", the software becomes more complex. The rules become more opaque. The emails from people asking how to do something becomes unworkable. By this point, documentation is not only needed, but late.

Near the end of last year I was given the opportunity to create a piece of software that would be used by colleagues all over the world and integrate with our HR systems. After a couple of discussions with the project owners it became clear that documentation was something that couldn't wait until later, it needed to be part of the development cycle1. The HR department wanted a Word file that could be updated easily and sent out as a PDF to everyone who used the system. I balked at the idea and suggested that documentation be built right into the application, complete with screenshots, videos, and links to the pages being discussed. The management wasn't keen on the solution initially, but they quickly saw the benefit once the feedback started coming in. People were actually reading the documentation that was going up, and they thanked the HR managers for making it happen so quickly.

Score one for preparedness.

In addition to this documentation, though, is the developer documentation. This is generally something that doesn't get seen by people but, because this HR project is owned by HR, some key people have access to the GitHub repository where the source is kept. These people have been reading the commit messages, Wiki pages, and Issues, and they're quite impressed with the level of detail that goes into the internal docs.

Writing a great deal on GitHub is nothing new for me, as it's sometimes necessary to have a single place where the rules and reasoning behind certain design decisions are stored. To help future me, I try to include screen shots and lists of reasons for why some functions or classes were created the way they were. If something is particularly complicated, then the messages in the commits will be a little more colourful than the dry words found in the Wiki or supporting Markdown files. This is something I try to do with all of my applications, as most of them start out small and simple, then quickly start battling scope creep as more functionality is built in. There's just one problem, though: there's almost nothing (documentation-wise) for 10Cv5 in GitHub.

The vast majority of the notes for v5 have been written to A5-sized notepads and I'm not yet 100% sure how this information will get shared with the world in a readable format? Scanning with OCR could work to a certain degree, but these notes are not always written with complete sentences (or grammar) in mind.

Documentation for v5 is slowly being released with more going out every few days. Regardless of how many people use the system, having it documented will make it easier for anyone to understand how and why it does what it does. Had I been a little more proactive with the v5 documentation like I have been with the day-job projects, then there would likely be less missing from the platform2. Fortunately there is still time to remedy this issue.

  1. Generally this is the rule for larger organisations.

  2. One interesting thing that I have noticed is that by writing documentation for the system, I get to revisit the core functionality with a semi-fresh mind. If something doesn't make sense when I'm trying to write it down, then that's a pretty good indication that something can be improved.

Boutique Performance Tue, 16 Apr 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason d64012dc-dda7-16f0-0c96-ac641b593395 Not a week goes by where a colleague doesn't complain to me about how slow or sluggish some system or piece of software is. More often than not it's the corporate-mandated tools that are being derided for their sub-optimal use of time and resources, but various websites are also starting to get mentioned more often. Sometimes people ask me how they could make these systems faster, whether it's a problem of not enough memory or CPU power, or why managers consistently choose the slowest software while demanding the fastest employees. There's no answer for the last one. The other two, however, share the same response: it depends.

There's no simple solution to improve the performance of software and any attempt to write about possible things to look for and check would be woefully incomplete1. Instead what I tend to do is nod in agreement and ask a couple of probing questions.

What are you trying to do?

This is always the first question, as most of my colleagues are generally trying to accomplish a relatively common task. My employer isn't trying to launch objects into orbit of far-away planets, cure cancer, or model climate change. We're an education company that has for decades subsisted on a combination of Excel sheets and sheer luck2.

How are you trying to solve this problem?

A lot of times when a person has a software problem, it's because they're doing something "the hard way" and can be taught an alternative method of performing the task3. So by better understanding how a person is approaching the problem, the myriad of options that might be available to solve a problem can be whittled down until there are just one or two good options to consider.

Is this a common task?

Common tasks should be programmatically solved. The role of a person is to be the brain and/or heart of an organisation. The role of a computer is to support that person so they can be as awesome as they want to be4.

Have you considered using ________?

This is the question that I generally try to get to if it's possible because I've found that a lot of the more common software tools that people use on a day-to-day basis are big, bloated, and don't always solve the problems a person might have. Some examples of this would be colleagues who have complained about how sluggish Evernote or OneNote has become after their 10,000th note. I can remember two instances where people did not want to use Word anymore because their computers would crash if both Outlook and Word were open at the same time5. Most people have probably had conversations like this at least once in the last year and it's a great opportunity to recommend tools from small and independent software developers who make a living by providing "boutique solutions".

I enjoy recommending tools like Sublime Text, Typora, Coda 2, Sequel Pro, and Mars Edit to people who need to scratch a specific itch6. It's even better when someone tells me they've bought a license for the software, meaning that the small developer — be they a studio or an independent — earned a little bit for their efforts. This is how software should be made.

There are a lot of reasons for why software might be written by a large team of people. Yet as the world becomes ever more complex, I find it's the smaller software shops that put out the better tools that can help us navigate this complexity with relative ease. Sublime and Typora have both saved me an incredible amount of time by being able to handle large files, or crazy-long line lengths, or just running with such a tiny memory footprint that the commercial memory hogs that run alongside these tools are not at all impacted. One of the many things that I hope to see in the future is a little bit of a return to software practices of old, where the goals are not just about completing the task at hand, but doing so with the most responsible use of resources possible. Applications that make genuine use of multiple CPU cores, reasonable amounts of memory, and simple UI language will always be in demand. So long as the people who make that software can get paid for doing so, there will always be a healthy number of creative problem solvers.

  1. When it comes to tracking down performance issues, sometimes an entire day (or more) needs to be invested to determine exactly what the problem is and what options exist going forward. A person can't simply blame a single component in the hardware or the software as applications are rarely "simple".

  2. This is a slight exaggeration, of course. There are a number of mission-critical systems that use SQL Server and Oracle databases, and our online infrastructure is staggeringly complex to support online lessons across the globe.

  3. The number of lives I've changed over the years after teaching someone how to use a pivot table or VLOOKUP or just Ctrl+D in Excel is by no means inconsequential.

  4. Some people don't want to be awesome at their job, and that's fine. There is still no reason for why someone wouldn't want a computer to do a repetitive task on their behalf (so long as it does not put them out of work).

  5. This turned out to be the result of a domain policy change pushed out by the IT department without anyone's knowledge. Yay, IT!

  6. Yes, I understand that most of these are for macOS. I talk to a lot of people who use Macs. I don't know many people personally who live in the Linux world like I do. Mind you, I will suggest switching to Ubuntu from time to time if someone is complaining about Windows or macOS.

Missing Chronology Mon, 15 Apr 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason ca4ee6c8-58f5-3190-6b82-c4e545e3200c Last month when someone wanted to find a specific post on my blog they would open the archives page, type in a few keywords, and let the incomplete search mechanism try to find the item they were looking for. If that didn't work, then clearing the filters and scrolling down would show every post in reverse chronological order going all the way back to April 1979. The default blogging theme on v5 works a little differently in that the search box is available on every page and, unlike the previous mechanism, will actually result in a database search. As people had a way to find items on a site, it never crossed my mind to build a page showing a site's table of contents until Larry reminded me.


Fortunately, building a page like this isn't incredibly complicated. The fact that the archives page does not need a search box also means it's possible to change how the page displays information. But how could the information be changed to show things that people might want to see? I thought about this question a bit this weekend and came up with this:

The Anri Archives Page

There were a couple of things that I liked about the previous design:

  1. posts were numered
  2. posts were grouped by month, with the month being a title
  3. grouping was done based on the time zone of the reader, not the author

These three features needed to be brought forward with the understanding that Bookmarks and Quotations would also appear on the archives page. Social posts, called notes, are not visible in the archives as this would be noise. Should there be a need to see all social posts in reverse chronological order, there is always the Notes page.

The previous version of 10C generally cheated with the archives page by presenting a blank page, querying the API for a list of posts with supporting meta data, then building the results. This works in most situations, but can cause some headaches for search engines that do not parse JavaScript or for people using a browser with JavaScript disabled. To help resolve this, archives are now presented in plain HTML and then modified after the fact.

One item I'm not too sure about at this point is the numbering. As the screen capture will show, the numbers count differently based on the kind of object. Articles, bookmarks, and quotations are all shown with an icon unique to their type, and the counter is for that type as well. Does this make sense? Does it matter whether these are split apart at all? Could everything have the same icon, or none at all, with the understanding that clicking the title will bring you to the author's page regardless of the type? I'm not 100% sure. Fortunately, the community on 10C will let me know when something doesn't quite work or needs improvement.

The archive theme was deployed with release 19D150 which is live on the server now. Every site with at least one article, bookmark, or quotation will see the "Archives" link in their navigation menu.

Five Things Sun, 14 Apr 2019 13:30:00 +0000 Jason 636827b4-0a52-e8da-3925-8803237e97c4 After a frantic couple of days last week, I managed to carve out a two hour period this afternoon to just get out of the house, sit on a mountain, and listen to a podcast with my eyes closed. The forecasted rain was nowhere near as strong as predicted, making the isolation quite enjoyable1.

This next week is going to see me work on several important updates to four of my active projects, all of which are built on the same software powering this site. A little bit of me time was necessary, and it also gave me plenty to think about, including:

Planet Hoph

Planet Hopf

I just learned about this representation of the Hopf fibration today. I would have appreciated this 20 years ago when I studied differential topologies, as it would have saved a week or two of WTF? moments.


Far too much of my time (on a human sale) is spent thinking about time on a grand scale and it's implications. As of this moment, every living entity that we know of on the earth is equally mortal. Some may experience more seasons than others, but we will all return to the earth at some point. Earlier today when I was thinking about Nozomi's eventual passing I was reminded that I'm not at all afraid of my eventual death, but that if others. When I die, that will be the end of me. I've done what I can to ensure family will be taken care of2. It might not be easy for some members of family, but there won't be anything I can do about it. If others pass away before me, though, then they're forever in my memory but forever gone. I've lived 40 years and only been to one funeral. Silly as it sounds, I am not at all sure how I will react when a close member of my family, be they human or otherwise, passes away. It really bothers me.

Not Appropriation

We can't seem to go more than a dozen minutes without there being some group of people "voicing concerns" about cultural appropriation and how it's detrimental to the uniqueness and vibrancy of cultures and civilizations. As an immigrant to Asia, I wonder how much of Japan's culture I've appropriated and whether it's a bad thing, given that I'm from Canada with dozens of generations of ancestry that hails from England, Ireland, and France.

I have a very Japanese work ethic, often resulting in warnings from family and colleagues about 過労死, which literally means "dying from overwork". Is this cultural appropriation? Should I feel bad about myself?

I eat with chop sticks and generally stay away from silverware unless buttering toast or eating yogurt. Is this cultural appropriation? Should I feel bad about myself?

I speak, read, and write Japanese to a certain degree. Enough to buy a house and live day to day in the country, anyway. Language is very much a part of culture, so have I appropriated it from native-born Japanese people and sullied it for my own gains? Is this appropriation and should I feel bad about myself?

Or is the entire "cultural appropriation" argument just a straw man for something much deeper that people are unaware of or unable to adequately articulate?

I've lived a very Japanese life for much longer than I've lived in this country. Ever since I read about the country in the Collier's Encyclopedia set my father bought when I was young the nation, it's people, it's history, and it's culture have been absolutely fascinating to me. So much so that I boldly said to my parents at the age of 14 that I would live in Japan one day. And here I am. Have I appropriated the culture? No. I have assimilated it and, by doing so, have an appreciation for a lot of what's been learned. I emulate the parts of the culture that align with my existing beliefs, and I avoid the things I have no interest in.

People have been doing this since before we left the trees. Cultures evolve and borrow from one another. Most of the appropriation arguments that I've read, admittedly on left-leaning websites, seem to believe that cultures should operate in complete isolation and be practised only by those with a genetic link to its history, which is pretty much impossible and a recipe for disaster3.

Rain on the Window

Last Friday marked one year since the family moved into our new house, and it's been quite a step up from our previous living arrangements. One of the more interesting things that I've enjoyed about living in this house is the sound of the weather as it hits the exterior walls and windows. Regardless of how windy the day is, it sounds as though a gentle breeze is caressing the siding. Heavy rains sound like the gentle refilling of a modern toilet: water that's running, but in no hurry.

It's lovely to just sit back and listen to the house … when the boy is sleeping and background noise is eliminated.


This seems to be the new time for the boy to wake up and instantly start talking. If I wasn't consistently working until 1-to-2 o'clock in the morning, then this wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately running on just four hours of sleep a day catches up to a person. How do parents of multiple children manage to work and sleep? Is it a myth that parents get any sleep at all?

  1. The mountain I enjoy sitting on is in the middle of a park. When it rains, the whole area is pretty much deserted aside from a few stragglers like me who just want to enjoy the quiet. There are covered gazebos at various points as well, which makes sitting in the rain possible, so long as it's not a "Vancouver drizzle", as the only protection from that is not going outside at all.

  2. In the event of a natural death the mortgage will be paid off, Reiko will receive $150K in cash plus the cost of any funeral, and the boy will get $75K. In the event of an accidental death, the insurance payouts are tripled.

  3. Cultures (and languages) that don't evolve tend to disappear.

Gaps Sat, 13 Apr 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason e845651b-f03b-bf49-c49e-1e2ad1e328ce For the better part of six months, I would keep two browser tabs open on my phone and notebooks for and The first site ran v4 of the platform while the beta ran v5. This was sub-optimal, but allowed for a good deal of testing to take place with the newer software in a realistic setting. Earlier this week when a server update took down the v4 service, the decision was made to move everyone and everything over to the new platform because I felt that it was ready despite a handful of incomplete items. As was to be expected, there were a whole lot more gaps in the tool than I had anticipated.

A good amount of time has been dedicated to migrating data and resolving reported bugs over the last three days and it has brought back memories of many other migrations I've done over the years for personal projects, client projects, and with several employers. When things go smoothly, it means that something is most probably wrong. When things are hectic, it means that something's wrong but the people reporting the issues give a darn. Crazy as it might sound, I generally prefer any sort of migration that is going to involve people who give a darn.

Some of the problems reported include missing posts, broken avatars, missing functions, and site routing issues. When something is reported, I write it to an ever-growing list of tasks, making sure to set aside the time to resolve the matter. If the missing or broken item is actively affecting people, then it gets pushed up closer near the top. As of this writing the critical items have been resolved1, and a half-dozen other issues remain. The ones that will be tackled next include:

  • change the font on the Anri blogging theme to a better sans serif font
  • resolve some of the reported CSS issues on the Anri theme
  • enable messages via the OpsBar[2. The OpsBar is the name of the bar that runs along the top of a 10C site when signed in.
  • return a JSON response for an object with a canonical URL when the HTTP header requests a JSON response
  • enable follow/block lists on the social site
  • complete password-protection handling in the Anri theme

There are also close to 1800 blog posts that still need to be brought over, and the podcasts need additional work to ensure all of the meta data is imported and sent properly in the syndication feeds. If all goes according to plan, all of the core items will be resolved on Monday or early Tuesday and then the focus can shift from "Identify and Repair" to "Converse and Extend".

If there's one thing I can take away from this experience, it's that I should really look at having data migrated daily in an automated fashion during the development phase. This would ensure that migration scripts were complete, meaning the actual migration would be done at the full speed of he server.

  1. If they weren't resolved, I wouldn't be blogging.