Back Home

After one of the most productive weeks in recent memory, I've survived yet another flight across the Pacific and returned to the land I've called "home" for more than a decade. All in all, the trip to New Jersey was certainly worth the investment as the sheer number of positive things to come from the plethora of meetings has been nothing short of astounding. Career-wise, so long as the ego remains bottled up, I'm in for some very interesting projects and very demanding roles within the organisation.

I can hardly wait to get started.

One Last Look Back

Historically my trips to the US have been pretty rough, as they involved upset stomachs, catching a flu, buying a burned out motherboard, or — as was the case the last time — an unexpected overnight stay1. This time was completely different, with the only negative thing I can recall being the lack of energy from wait staff at the hotel bar who would often make people wait fifteen minutes for their first drink, then expect a 20% tip at the end. The hotel itself was spacious and comfortable. The atmosphere was relaxed. The air was crisp. Heck, there were even deer in the forests surrounding the place. When I wasn't working, it was incredibly easy to relax.

The lack of a rigid schedule certainly helped with the weeklong series of meetings, presentations, and seminars. I had planned to deliver three presentations, a product demo, a seminar on SQL Server, and maybe participate in a meeting or two. As fate would have it, the entire Monday to Friday stretch turned out to be a single discussion that contained all of the presentations, demos, and seminars in an interactive and interesting way. There was a good amount of team building going on, as well, which will go a long way to building the crucial relationships between teams separated by thousands of kilometres. Wins all around!

Coming home, however, was the icing on the cake. Nozomi was incredibly happy to see me, and the boy — after a few minutes of nervousness — was laughing and bouncing in my arms. Reiko and her parents really went all out to look after both of these small family members while I was away. Hopefully the next trip will be somewhere inside Japan so that we can all go together. It's not often that Reiko can get away from it all, and she deserves a break more than anyone I know. Perhaps a little persuasion can result in the next big corporate get-together taking place somewhere in Kyushu. Nagasaki was lovely the last time and, so long as it's not summertime, both work and pleasure could happen without the uncomfortable humidity that is typical between May and October.

This might be a bit much to hope for, though.

Either way, now that I'm back in the land of melon bread and adequately-priced food2, I can enjoy downtime with the people and puppies that matter most to me.


  1. This is a horrible, horrible post with poor word choices and repetitive grammar. To make matters worse, the people who did help out never got a single mention….

  2. When did food and drinks get so expensive in the US? $2 for a bottle of soda from a vending machine? That's 8x more than the price of gas in that country!

Feeling Small

On my first trip to Japan in 2006 I was struck by the scale of everything. While the trains for public transit and shopping areas were generally the same size as I'd seen in Canada, everything else was smaller. Occasionally this resulted in comical comparisons, like when I ordered a "regular coffee" and received what appeared to be a dixie cup-sized beverage. But, more often than not, everything was simply narrower and lower to the ground than I'd seen elsewhere. As a result, I felt taller and wider. Later, when I moved to the country and lost 30+ kilograms, these differences started to feel normal and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. These adjusted set of expectations for the size of objects is being called into question during this trip to the US, where everything seems larger to such an extent that — to my mind — I've shrunk in size since landing at Newark.

Doors are wide enough for two of me to comfortably walk through shoulder-to-shoulder. Regular-sized coffees are borderline too large to drink. The 12-foot ceilings in my low-cost hotel room are … excessive. Was this the scale I had grown up perceiving as "normal", or have objects on this side of North America been adjusted to accommodate generally larger people?

In a week's time, when I return to Japan, it will be interesting to see whether I consider portion sizes and the general size of everything to be bizarrely small or "practically sized".

The Sun Rose Twice Today

Today I made the trek from central Japan to the east coast of the United States. As one would expect when travelling from the far east to the west via the Pacific Ocean, the timezones jumped in such a way that a plane could depart from Tokyo at 5:55pm and land on the other side of the world an hour and a half before it left that very same day. So, in addition to the sunrise I witnessed in Japan, there was this gem taken from 10km above Alaska:

Sunrise Over Alaska

With views like this to witness, the lack of sleep during the flight was almost worth it.

Bias or Prejudice?

I've been abstaining from writing any blog posts about the recent American election because, to be completely frank, I find it hard to believe that the character model for Biff Tanner in Back to the Future II has been chosen to lead the most economically and militarily powerful nation in the history of the human race. I'm unhappy that some of the people being hired for incredibly powerful jobs have such an open disdain for people who think, act, or look different from them. I'm frustrated that a bunch of poor "winners" are running around, terrorising people who are not caucasian … or male … or of a certain religious affiliation. I'm disgusted to hear that legitimate lawsuits against the president-elect will be fluffed off because "he's too busy". I'm dismayed that the current president will need to support the new one, who openly mocks people who take the time to learn about the things they're doing. To top it all off, I'm angry that the threats against groups of people — be they Muslim or journalists — are coming from the very top of this next government, and that we've seen this sort of thing on numerous occasions in the past and bore witness to the horrific events that followed.

Yet, in the back of my mind, I'm wondering if all of these overly negative thoughts about the new leader of the American people are unfair.

Whenever I would read about Trump in the newspaper while growing up or as a young adult, the articles would focus on scandal or failures. Whenever I would see him on TV, which I'll admit was not very often, he would come across as a wannabe mafia don with his big mouth, harsh words, and the stereotypically flashy extravagance one would expect from a performer. He did not strike me as a political contender, becuase he did not strike me as someone I would ever want to make decisions that affected me or my family. If anything, four decades of press coverage has made the man out to be an opportunist who'll take advantage of any situation because "there's no such thing as bad publicity".

The same can be said about a number of people he's bringing into the Oval Office with him. People who are leading members of groups that exhalt racial supremacy, religious persecution, and other fascist ideas. People who took advantage of horrible situations to make themselves look like heroes. People who use their wealth to shut down opposing voices …

And I wonder if this is the end.

Not the end of civilization, of course. Civilization evolves. It changes and adapts to the needs of the people who forge the societies that constitute the very idea of civilization. But I wonder if this is the end of the Ameri-centric status quo that has existed for so long. Will we really see parallels between the Trump presidency and Hitler's Germany? Or will we merely see that Trump is another Silvio Berlusconi?

Is this just an overreaction due to bias? Or are my feelings seated more deeply than this? Is my bias actually prejudice that has been subconsciously moulded and formed over decades by reading The Guardian, The New York Times, and The National Post? These three papers from three different countries have very different editorial staff with different opinions, different agendas, and different backgrounds. Despite the differences, could they all have a similar bias that has fed into pre-seeded beliefs I've held, and could these biases have manifested into prejudice in such a way that I could feel physically ill just at the thought of a Trump presidency? Confirmation bias is a very real thing, and my preference for three specific news organisations likely came about as a direct result of reading articles that talked about the world through a lens that I was already familiar and comfortable with.

Regardless of who won the presidential election this year, there would be protests in the streets. Countries would align or distance themselves. Trade agreements would succeed or fail. Societal tensions would simmer or boil. CO² emissions would rise or fall. Yet I believe — and there's that word we must watch out for — that Hillary Clinton would have been a safer choice. Would she make mistakes? Absolutely. Would she do things I didn't agree with? Yes, of course. Heck, she's done lots of things in the past that I didn't agree with, but that's to be expected for a career politician who has been saddled with incredible responsibilities. Of the handful of people who ran for the most powerful office on the planet, she was perhaps the least likely to do something that would directly affect my friends and family around the world. She knew how to play the game, and she knew how to make the tough decisions. I don't believe Trump or Stein or any of the other contenders for the job have the requisite appreciation for the power one can wield as the President of the United States.

But again, is this just prejudice? I've been wrong before, and I've been wrong just about every time I've made a prediction about Trump's run for office. Maybe I'm wrong again this time, too. Maybe the man will invest heavily to rebuild the country's infrastructure, end wars, strengthen the economy, improve education, reduce the nation's prison population, and end gang-related violence in the poorest of urban communities through positive actions that vastly improve the quality of life for all Americans. Maybe Donald Trump really will make America great again … but I just can't see it. My bias — my prejudice — just won't allow it.

Fear

A few days ago I wrote about encrypted blogs and what they might look like. The very next morning I read an article on Daily KOS stating that encrypted communications are most likely to gain a lot more attention from intelligence agencies around the world who would throw their incredible computation might behind the task of cracking the algorithm to read the message contained within. At first glance, the thought of having a completely private blog through some nice 256-bit encryption seemed like a wonderful idea. Yet, on second thought, it could be a terrible way to wind up on some unpublished "Enemy of the State" list which would come back to bite me in the ass at the most inopportune time.

Daily KOS Excerpt - We Have No Right to Privacy

Although I am not an American citizen, the US Government is not an organisation I want to upset1. What surprises me, though, is that there are a number of startups that seem to be going after the encrypted message market with gusto. It's almost like they want to be challenged by their government so the topic could be brought up in the media for some incredible publicity.

Would this also apply for people who are not American? Would the British intelligence agencies make life difficult for people who provide the tools for an encrypted blog to the masses? Does it even matter?

Adding an encryption layer to 10Centuries would be a bit of a headache at this point, but it could certainly be added to Noteworthy. That system is far less complicated than the offshoot powering this blog, and it would prove to be a good testing bed for true encryption. That said, a truly encrypted blog could not rely on Evernote, Dropbox, or some other 3rd-party service for data entry, it would need to be done either through a web form or a tool like Mars Edit. The encryption would also happen on the writers' end, ideally. This would maximise the absolute security of the message within.

Perhaps this is something I should leave to the pros.

Guilty Until Proven Dead

America is very good at creating their own problems. First they armed, funded, and trained militant groups to keep various governments around the world busy, then they get called in a few decades later to eradicate the militants. Along the way an innumerable number of civilians are caught in the crossfire who lose the only things that matter to them to American munitions and, having nothing left to lose, join the militant groups in a bid to try and exact some sort of revenge on the blood-thirsty Americans who invaded their land in the first place.

Four suspected al Qaeda militants. Suspected. So … these four people were killed because somebody literally half a world away had the feeling these four were up to no good? No arrest. No collection of evidence. No judge. No jury. Just a missile from a pilotless machine flying in the Middle East, controlled by a flesh-and-blood drone somewhere in God's Land; the United States of America.

This has got to stop. Humans are smarter than this. Humans should be better than this.

Sending the Wrong Message

In a move that's being actively condemned by nations around the globe, the United States has moved to veto the UN condemnation of Israel's continued settlement of Palestinian land. Acting alone among the 15-nation security council, they've further isolated themselves from the world by standing next to a corrupt government that is responsible for unimaginable suffering and illegal activities.

I am all for a nation's right to house its people, but I am 100% against what the state of Israel has done to their neighbors for over 50 years. It's almost as if the people running the nation have learned nothing from their own embattled history.

So, on that note …

Dear President Obama,

Allowing Israel to continue building settlements on land illegally seized from Palestine is like China permitting Mexico to annex land in Texas, build houses, and re-draw all their maps to include the "new land".

While an adult and mutually beneficial discussion with Israel on the subject may be one of your goals, the so-called leaders of that middle-eastern nation will never cease their activities until their closest friends intervene. Sometimes we have to stop the ones we love from making an ass of themselves. Surely you've taught this lesson to your daughters over the course of their life.

Sincerely,

Jason F. Irwin

Some illegal settlements, built on land where Palestinian homes once stood before an invading military force stormed in early one morning to forcefully evict the rightful owners of the territory.

Illegal Israeli Settlements (One)Illegal Israeli Settlements (Two)Illegal Israeli Settlements (Three)Illegal Israeli Settlements (Four)Illegal Israeli Settlements (Five)Illegal Israeli Settlements (Six)

Peace in the Middle East will become a lot more tenable if the biggest bullies were put in their place …