Mario's Castle

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.

7.7db

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.

Different

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 ….

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".

Land and Mortgage Approval Looking Good

The last few months have been an absolute whirlwind of activity with the boy at home growing by leaps and bounds, house shopping with every spare minute, and an endless parade of deadlines at the day job. Thinking back to the last few years, it's interesting just how much free time there was! That said, the year of non-stop action has resulted in some pretty interesting developments with regards to one of the most expensive elements of the modern lifestyle dream: home ownership.

Reiko and I have spent the better part of six months scouring property and housing company websites in an attempt to find a place that would be great for our son to grow up. All in all, we weren't asking for much. Any plot of land that we bought had to meet these conditions:

  • be more than 220m² in total
  • be close to good schools1
  • be in a safe area
  • be close to Reiko's parents' house
  • be relatively close to work
  • cost no more than 1500万円 (about $168,840 CAD as of today)
  • face south (important in Japan)

You'd be surprised how many thousands of properties we looked through to find something that meets most of these criteria. The plot of land we finally settled on is slightly larger than 220m² and it's a bit over our budget, but Reiko was able to talk the sellers down a bit so that we could get it for about $5,000 under the asking price. This coming Sunday we'll go and sign the papers that signal we're serious about buying the property, which will then give us a little under 60 days to confirm which housing company we'll hire to build the house and also obtain the mortgage that we'll need to pay for this incredible purchase.

More on that later.

Buying a house in Japan is a little different from how I've seen it done elsewhere. While people can buy pre-built homes that housing companies put up in tight packs, Reiko and I wanted something different. The pre-built homes are certainly cheaper than the route we've chosen, but they lack the personality and space that we would like our home to have. So many of the buildings today are essentially boxes with tiny windows and a door up front. There's rarely any grass on the property unless it's accidental, which makes it a weed, and the neighboring homes are simply too close for comfort. When I look out a window in my home, I don't want to see another wall less than a meter beyond the glass.

Instead, we've opted to buy the land and hire a housing company to build us a home with many of the little customizations that we've looked forward to since before marriage. A nice staircase. An open-concept kitchen. A dedicated workspace for two next to a large window. A yard with grass intentionally growing. These are not impossible requests when buying pre-built, but they are a lot harder to find.

Reiko, being the investigative person she is, has put in a massive amount of effort to find both the perfect piece of land as well as collect information on house makers. I've helped whenever possible, but it really pales in comparison. So after a great deal of legwork, the land is just about ours and we've narrowed our home builder down to one of two — possibly three — companies that can build us something that isn't a two-tone, bland box with slits of glass cut into the walls like an afterthought. Of course, money is something that's an important equation here as well.

Again, Reiko has done a bunch of research to find some banks that would be willing to lend us the money to buy our home. Many personal mortgages in Japan are for 35 years, but neither of us want to be paying for our house until we're 75. It's just bad financial planning. I'd like to "retire" no later than 65, and I'm sure Reiko would like to have the freedom in her 60s to work only if she wants to without the obligations that come with staggering amounts of debt. At the moment we're planning to pay down the mortgage in 25 years at the most, with the ambitious goal to have it completely paid off in 14 so long as we can maintain our current savings pattern. We've saved up about 20% the cost of the home over the last decade, and a good deal of this will be spent in the coming months.

Typically, the home purchase process in Japan works like this:

  1. find a piece of land / find a home builder (sometimes this can be done together)
  2. sign a document saying you intend to buy the land and pay $100 to show you're serious
  3. go to the bank to seek preliminary approval to apply for a mortgage by showing the document for the land you've signed to buy
  4. sign a contract with the housing company to build your home
  5. apply for the mortgage
  6. once approved, pay the down payment to the bank (usually between 5~10%)
  7. pay at least 5% the land price to the land owners
  8. pay at least 5% the house price to the builders
  9. pay taxes and fees to the city
  10. pay the fees to connect the home to the water, power, and sewage lines
  11. once the house is complete, pay inspectors to perform a safety analysis
  12. buy insurance on the house
  13. receive the mortgage amount from the bank
  14. pay the remaining amount to the former land owners
  15. pay the remaining amount to the home builders
  16. pay the previous city any outstanding residential taxes
  17. pay the moving company to move that heavy piano that nearly destroyed your spine two years back
  18. move into the new home
  19. breathe a sigh of relief and take a bloody vacation at the library, because that's really the only thing you can afford

Notice that the mortgage is not actually received until point 13. This is because the bank will not release the money until the house is fit to be lived in, as per Japanese law. What this means is that we're technically asking a company to construct a building on another person's property on our behalf in the hopes that all of the financial stuff will pan out. Despite this, we need to pay the land owners, the home builders, the moving company, the city, and various utility companies out of our own pocket in order to get things done. A lot of people can't afford this and take out additional loans in order to make this happen, but more debt isn't something Reiko or I want to do. Instead, we've saved like mad, choosing to not take long vacations2 or buy that really nice Mazda Axela despite the age and size of our little car.

Thanks to all of this, we might actually have a shot at getting a decent home.

As of this moment, we've made it up to point 3 despite not knowing who will build our home. This weekend we'll reach point 4 and next week will hopefully be the completion of point 1 and 5. This purchase is coming in about 75% higher than I ever thought I'd pay for a home, and the good fortune I've had at the day job has made it possible. After years and years of struggle, life is looking up. I just need to make sure it stays this way for a while.


  1. Ideally these schools would also have kids who had at least one parent from outside the country so that our son wouldn't be "the only foreign kid"

  2. I landed in Japan in August of 2007 and I haven't left the country yet … though I did come close to doing so a few years back.

"Half"

Earlier today the family and I paid a visit to Reiko's grandmother, who currently lives in a retirement home. Her mental state has deteriorated as a result of Alzheimer's over the last decade, and it was decided a few years ago that she should be in a place with round-the-clock medical support. Most of the time she believes it's some time around 1930 or 1940. She's forgotten that her father passed away some fifty years ago. And she can no longer recall the names or faces of her children. Her grandchildren are another story. This post isn't really about her, though. Instead it's about a word that I often hear associated with my kid that I have grown to detest: "half".

In Japan, and perhaps other countries where a population is mostly homogenous, children who have one foreign parent are called ハーフ (ha-fu), meaning "half Japanese". Growing up in Canada, people were also classified as "half", such as half-latino or half-black. This wasn't seen as a derogatory term as far as I know, but something about hearing people say this about my kid grates on my nerves. I want to say "He isn't half anything. He's 100% just like you." … but maybe this is an over-reaction.

Despite being an immigrant, I'm fortunate enough to rarely face a situation where I do not feel welcome as a result of my genetic background. I don't want my kid to ever feel he's unwelcome because he's "half". Growing up is hard enough. He shouldn't have to deal with prejudice (or preference) as a result of his whiter-than-normal skin or lighter-than-normal hair.

Perhaps I'm just over-sensitive ….

We Shouldn't Be a Fan of Our Work

Last year, after almost a decade of circumventing rules at the day job to help people serve students better, I was moved out of the classroom and into a full-time development role to continue doing what I was doing as an instructor, but without all the cloak and dagger to make it happen. A lot of people were happy with the news, including myself. It meant that I could play a role in making something that colleagues all over the country might find value in, rather than something that just a handful of schools would use without really saying much to upper management about it. Over the last 15 months, though, I've come to dread going to work. I despise checking email. I want to be invisible on Skype all the time or, better yet, just shut the distraction down so that I can make it through the day without wanting to hurl a computer five stories to the pavement below1.

The problem is not with my colleagues. The problem is not with the endless complaints from people who storm into the little space where I do my work. Believe it or not, the problem is not even with the sound of silence from human silos within the organization who refuse to share their knowledge of the home-grown CMS my project must interface with. The problem boils down to a very fundamental issue that will never be resolved so long as I am working for someone else.

The issue is the result of an unsharable vision.

Steve Jobs and the First iPad

Way back in 2010, soon after Steve Jobs walked on stage and showed the world the iPad, I started thinking about how such a device could be used in education. By that time I had been teaching for almost three years and had the hubris to think that I could write software for a tablet that would make education easier for teachers, students, and all the support staff that are required to make a school function. Looking back at the early design sketches, I almost cringe at the naivety on display. The concepts I was dabbling with were far too similar to the way Microsoft approached tablet software in 1999.

Suffice it to say, the sketches went nowhere and I shelved the idea for a few years, revisiting the idea whenever I'd read an article about how tablets were being used in education.

Fast forward to 2013, I was asked to create a special kind of report for a new type of class that was being trialled in the area. Excel was a mainstay at the day job, and every report we gave to students or their sponsor came from this spreadsheet software. Me being me, I was one of the few people responsible for writing all of the reports in the region to ensure that every student and every sponsor would see a consistent message with consistent formatting and consistent quality. This new kind of report, though, needed something that Excel was not particularly good at without a complex series of macros. Instead, I used this opportunity to push through an idea that had been bouncing around in my head since the year before: build a data-collection website that is designed to be finger-friendly so that teachers simply tap-tap-tap their feedback and let the database do the heavy lifting.

Selling the idea was not easy, as people "just wanted an Excel report", but I used a long weekend to prototype the site and build some dummy reports. I presented it to the managers the following week, and they loved it.

This was shortly after my employer had rolled out iPads to all of the schools in a bid to make us seem more efficient and professional. Both counts failed and the project was bleeding money but, again, I had enough hubris to think that I could push through my own agenda while using company resources to solve company problems. Within six months the project had expanded to include several different types of reports, and people were generally happy with the system. A few times the project came close to being shut down when certain members of IT learned of the project2, but there was always just enough pushback from the local schools to keep the project alive.

In 2015, after a redesign of the iPad software teachers were supposed to use in class, a number of people gave up trying to use the tablets in the classroom. We still had to use them to record attendance, lesson goals, homework, and other details, but a large portion of the teaching staff gave up trying to use the tablets beyond the bare minimum. The problem was that the software was poorly designed for the job it was hired to do. The textbook application was nothing more than a frustrating PDF reader that stuttered and crashed every 15 minutes. The pedagogical tool was sluggish, hard to look at, and buried all of the student profile information, making it very difficult to learn more about students — or record updates — before walking into a classroom. Despite transitioning from paper to digital two years beforehand, people were pining for the day when we'd drop the iPads and go back to paper records. The older textbooks that made use of cassette tapes were easier to use and less embarrassing than the iPad software.

So I decided to do something about it.

Again, over a long weekend, I mocked up a new pedagogical system that would work on the tablets while making the system easier to use for teachers and staff. Information would be easier to find and filter. Textbooks would be searchable and come with custom lesson plans to help inexperienced or fatigued teachers. Reports — my specialty — would be built in to the pedagogical system meaning that teachers would spend less time writing them while students and sponsors received more data from them. In the space of four days the demo was ready and I started to show it around to people at the day job.

People loved it. Managers loved it. Even some of the students commented and said that it looked simpler. HQ, however, wouldn't hear of it. There were processes and procedures and hierarchies to obey, and I was bucking the system. They demanded it be shut down, even though there was zero student information in the system. I "conveniently forgot" to do so.

Then, in the fall of 2015, an interesting thing happened. The president of the company caught wind of these projects I was working on and asked to see them. He then asked why I "was being wasted". A week later I was approached with the opportunity to transfer to do software development in the IT department and, in March 2016, it became official. That 4-day design of the pedagogical replacement system is still being worked on and refined today, and people are generally happy with it … except when they aren't.

Back to the Problem

Earlier I said that my problem boils down to a very fundamental issue that will never be resolved so long as I am working for someone else, and this is completely accurate. I have been working quite hard on the problem of creating effective software for use in education for almost five years, the first four years of which was in near isolation where I was able to design and implement features and functions as I saw fit. When I would watch people interact with my software, I would find problems. These were often actions they would do that I never once considered, and I would go back and find a better way to support their goals while also ensuring mine were met. People would come at me with ideas or complaints, and I'd listen and find ways to make the system better for them, again ensuring that my goals for the system were not lost along the way. The way I looked at the tool was very simple: the UI is for the teachers, the printed reports are for the students, the database is for me.

By doing this I was able to create something that teachers actually liked to use. Students were happy. I had a nice database full of numbers from which to quickly answer questions from managers.

Since moving into a role with IT this has changed. People at HQ are accustomed to working with software that fights you every step of the way. Want to record someone's attendance? You'd best have 3 minutes to spare, because what used to be a circle or an X on a piece of paper needs to be infinitely more complex in the name of "security". Want to know what textbook your student will be using after they finish their current book? Go ask one of the school's support staff, because the teaching software will not let you know that information without a fight. This is the state of corporate software in the world, and the previous solutions for the iPad and schools all came from this group of people. My software with it's opposite approach to the same problems is completely alien to the way they think about the job. This isn't a criticism or a disparagement. It's a fact. They're looking at problems as A⇢B⇢C⇢…⇢Z, and I'm looking at problems as A⇢F⇢Z.

It's no wonder there is a great deal more confusion at head office than at the schools. It's no wonder that when members of the various departments in Tokyo report "bugs" in my software, it's because they're not accustomed to software understanding a person's job and performing a bunch of steps transparently on their behalf. From a big picture point of view, I completely understand this. In the heat of the moment when I'm reading that email or new issue on GitHub that has nothing to do with an actual bug and everything to do with making the software harder to use, however …

Flip that Table!

I'm too close to the project. I've invested a great deal of time and effort into making something that is designed to be used by people who really couldn't care less what the corporate interests are. That's why I invested so much time into making the UI for the people who would actually use the software rather than the people making snap decisions months after the initial decisions had already been made. This is why I call people people instead of using the same language as other people in the corporate structure. The whole thing has been designed to serve the people at the bottom of the totem pole. HQ wants things changed to serve their interests3, and I am growing tired of pushing back.

There are, of course, a lot of people that I've worked with over the last year at HQ who do understand the goals of this project and have gone to bat on my behalf more times than I can count. A lot of very smart people with very sharp insights have helped take a rough idea hammered out in 4 days through to the state it's in today. Many of them are just as frustrated with the various emails, non-issues, and Friday 5:30pm deployment cancellation calls as I am. But there's not much that can be done to change this. The vision of the project is simply too foreign at the moment for people, and the sole developer is too angry all the time to cast it in a positive light. I really need to take a step back …

… and another step …

… and one more.

Because it really doesn't make much sense to continue dreading going into work. There is a lot of good about going in, too. I like a lot of my colleagues. I like the ridiculous amount of freedom I have within the organization. I like seeing people use my software without realizing they're doing more in 30 seconds today than they did in 5 minutes last year. It's a great feeling! I just need to stop being so attached to this specific project.


  1. This would be especially bad, given that I'm using my computers at the day job.

  2. these are the same people I work with now

  3. 15 months into the project, mind you …

An Absence of Time

How we perceive time is quite interesting. Eleven years ago today I was flying back to Canada after my first visit to Japan, yet it feels much longer. A little over three months ago I became a father, yet it does not feel as though 102 days have passed since that wonderful day. Five years ago the Great Tohoku Earthquake rattled much of the country, yet it feels just as distant in the past as 9/11. Where does the time go?

Narita Airport — Security Gate 2

The passage of time is something that has been on my mind for decades. It can be seen in a number of the projects I've busied myself with over the years. It can be seen in hundreds of blog posts across this site. It is even noticeable within the podcasts I've published. Just about everything is done with a concept of time built in right from the start as it's a consistent means of measurement. And now it seems that this resource, something that has always been scarce, has almost completely evaporated as new expectations and new priorities make themselves known.

How does one manage time when there are so many ways to use it? How does one choose where to invest their time when there are so many genuinely good places to put it? Saying "yes" to one thing does not necessary require a person to say "no" to another, but this seems to be exactly what's happened over the last few months as I make time for a new member in the family. My projects are still seeing time invested in them, albeit at a much smaller rate than before. My puppy, who just turned seven yesterday, is feeling a little lonely as I spend time with Leonard James1. I do spend a great deal of time with her, but not as much as before. She's still adjusting. We're all adjusting.

Time is one of the many resources that we simply cannot buy more of. Every person has the same amount allotted to them and it's a personal choice about how to use it. I want to spend my time with the people who mean a lot to me. I also want to spend time creating good things that others will enjoy using. The two cannot happen simultaneously, though, and this creates a little stress. How do others deal with this absence of time? Do they simply accept it and do as much as they can? Do they resent the fact they can't do everything?

In my case, I'm more than happy to spend time with my son. He looks a lot like I did at his age, and he's making discoveries all the time. Not a day goes by where he doesn't experience a first something, whether it's a shopping mall visit, an immunization needle, or an observation about his home surroundings. I'm happy to spend time with my puppy. She's been an amazing spirit to spend time with and I'd probably be a very different person had she and I not met almost seven years ago. I'm happy to spend time with my wife, who has become one of the most caring and compassionate mothers I've ever seen.

I do wish there was more time in the day, though. More time for me. I tend to put my needs last, and my need to create is just as strong today as it was a decade ago. But my needs must wait, as there's only so much time. Eventually there will be more but, until then, I need to be patient and make the most with what I have. Though my personal projects may not evolve as quickly as I'd like, the people around me certainly will. Being there to witness the changes is certainly worth the price of a few arbitrary deadline misses.


  1. this is not my son's real name, but it's the only name I'll use online … for now.

Cherry Blossoms

For two weeks of the year people all across Japan get to enjoy the definitive sign that spring has sprung as parks and riverbanks transform from brown and grey to green and pink. This is often accompanied by friends and family heading out to sit under a cherry blossom tree, picnicking and enjoying the company while taking in the pleasant aroma of flowers in bloom. That said, it's always a good idea to remember that age old rhyme:

April showers bring May flowers.

No sooner had the first blossoms started appearing on the trees did the grey clouds move in, drenching the ground in much-needed rain, and otherwise rendering outdoor activities in the presence of cherry blossoms all but impossible. Luckily, Nozomi and I did manage to get in a walk between showers.

The Riverside Walk.jpg

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While Nozomi does not really look at the trees or sky very often, she did seem to enjoy sniffing the petals that had fallen to the ground. She may be "just a dog" to many people, but she's just as capable of enjoying the little things in life as the rest of us.

Cherry Blossoms and Rain.jpg

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The weather forecast for this coming week does not look good for people who want to head out and photograph these lovely blossoms, but there's no reason why we shouldn't try anyway. A little rain never hurt anyone, after all.