Matigo dot See, eh? The Semi-Coherent Ramblings of a Canadian in Asia Wed, 16 Oct 2019 13:29:40 +0000 EN Matigo dot See, eh? Clean The Semi-Coherent Ramblings of a Canadian in Asia hourly 1 Streams (19J160) Endowments Tue, 15 Oct 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason bf733b00-9a1f-f8b8-8ca9-c0b590f5e0e3 This morning Reiko and I made the short trip to the nearby municipal hospital where I was scheduled to undergo an ultrasound on my liver and kidneys to search for a possible cause for the occasional bit of blood in my urine. This was identified as a possible issue two years ago after an annual physical and it was brought up again this year, albeit with additional asterisks next to the result and a more tersely worded recommendation from the physician. I was to see my family doctor about the blood. Period. Two weeks ago I had the first set of follow-up tests and today's was the more thorough exploration to check for internal issues, such as kidney stones.

Long story short, my kidneys are in perfect health. My liver, while surrounded by perhaps a bit too much fat, is also in perfect health. The final diagnosis put my organs at "better than average" for the time being. The cause of any internal bleeding was likely the result of my horrible sleeping patterns over the last four years. Dr. Yamada, using verbal asterisks of his own, told me that I should get a lot more sleep than is currently afforded.

My first thought was "This will seriously impact the amount of work I can accomplish in a given day."

This is a preposterous notion given what I witnessed at the hospital while waiting to be seen, then again while waiting to pay the bill1. Nested in with all the healthy, able-bodied people at the hospital were others missing limbs, or confined to a wheelchair, or carrying their own oxygen, or in so much pain all they could do was weep silently while waiting their turn. Hundreds of people, each with their own distinct set of strengths and limitations. Each with their own unique, day-to-day challenges that make the asterisks on my most recent physical diagnoses seem moot by comparison.

Fortune favours the foolish, and few are more senseless than I. While a large number of people of all ages and backgrounds invest hours, days, weeks, or months of their lives in search of health, I balk at seeing a doctor and instead busy myself with asinine deadlines for the sake of a fairly good income. "I'm fine," I tell myself, which is true for the most part. I am fine. My physical health today is superior to what it was 15 years ago. But it is not an endowment to be taken lightly. A combination of chance and dumb luck has resulted in a clean bill of health despite all the stupid things I've done over the last four decades. A simple twist of fate could have resulted in signs of impending kidney failure, or a hardening layer of fat surrounding the liver, which can prove fatal. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks, strokes, and other life-altering conditions in the blink of an eye. The near daily headaches — a result of not moving enough — can be precursors to other problems as well.

We all have challenges in life. Some far more than others. While the frustrations and inconveniences of the day sometimes seem beyond belief, there's no denying that there are always people who would trade anything to live as we do. With this perspective it's obvious that we should set aside half a day to see a doctor when early warning signs appear. It's also incontrovertible that whatever minor nuisances we must contend with need to be viewed in a greater context. Yes, the problems of the day are nothing to ignore, but they could be worse. They could always be worse.

  1. Japan's health care system is not 100% funded by the government. Depending on what is checked and what category the conditions are in, we will pay more. Today's total bill for three doctors visits, a urine test, a blood test, an X-Ray, and an ultrasound worked out to less than $50, which I can claim back through the day job's health insurance system.

Out of Time Mon, 14 Oct 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 66ed1731-4b08-1711-53e6-35f5fc39e446 Bouts of anxiety are nothing new, nor is the sense that I'm perpetually behind schedule on a number of projects. This generally gets worse during weeks when I try to take time off work for holiday or health-related reasons. In the back of my head there's a voice saying "I could be working on X, Y, or Z right now. Why am I using time here?" For a long time this was explained away as workaholism, but the description is incomplete. My anxiety does not stem from workaholism, but something that is buried even deeper than that; the feeling that I'm running on — and nearing the end of — borrowed time.

The question I've yet to answer, though, is what it is I've borrowed time to accomplish. A little more specificity would go a long way to helping me understand the root causes of my anxiety and how to better control it.

A Day Trip to Kyoto Sun, 13 Oct 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason c50c3c73-6296-748e-ec2d-71d97758f81d Last week the family an I were expecting to spend a couple of days at Tokyo Disney, enjoying all of the high-priced sights and sounds of the theme park. This was going to be our first trip to "a faraway place" as a family and a great opportunity to relax and unwind after a year of go-go-go. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and decided to send a rather devastating typhoon. We cancelled our trip last week and spent the planned time off no different than we would have if I were working1. The typhoon hit us yesterday, but just hard enough to keep us home2, which was quite rough on the boy who wanted to go outside and play despite the 30 hours of non-stop precipitation.

Blue Skies and Green Grass

Generally the day after a typhoon hits, we can expect clear skies and cool temperatures. Today was no exception. While Nozomi and I were out walking this morning, I thought it would be a nice idea to head south to Kyoto and enjoy the sights and sounds of a different place. The boy had yet to ride the Shinkansen, so a little bit of exposure to the train might help him relax a bit when we're en route to Tokyo at some point later this year.

Reiko asked me to plan a couple of things to do in Kyoto and that's just what I did. The loose itinerary was simple:

  • take the Shinkansen to Kyoto station
  • walk to Umekoji Park (about 750m from Kyoto Station)
  • have lunch at a restaurant or cafe
  • visit the Kyoto Train Museum
  • if everyone's energetic enough, take the train to Arashiyama; a popular tourist destination

Unlike most trips, there were no rigid times associated with any of these items. We'd get to Kyoto when we got there. We'd get to the park when we got there. We'd aim to have lunch around 12:30 so that the boy didn't get too cranky. Then we'd do the rest at a leisurely pace.

Oddly enough, this worked out perfectly.

A Day in Kyoto

There were a couple of things that we couldn't do simply because there wasn't enough time or because some of the more touristy activities were priced beyond reason3, but the trip was very much the relaxing getaway that we were all looking forward to having last week. Hopefully our next trip as a family will be just as enjoyable.

  1. As it happens, I did work every day that I was supposed to be off. There were server problems at the day job, and I pitched in to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.

  2. The wind and rain were quite destructive just north of here. Lots of flooding. A couple of tornadoes. Two dozen people are still missing, too.

  3. 4,000 Yen ($37USD) for a 12-minute ride on a rickshaw? Get out of here!

Dark Mode Sat, 12 Oct 2019 15:30:00 +0000 Jason 4e1e6c2b-0091-4690-03fb-0e81a854d1f2 A few days back I was using Reader View on the tablet and adjusting some font settings when a question crossed my mind: what would my site look like in dark mode? Not being one to let a question linger for too long, I used a darker Reader View theme and looked at some recent posts. I liked what I saw and decided to shamelessly copy the colour scheme here and write a quick bit of JavaScript to check whether a person has their device set to dark mode or not. So long as the feature is enabled, the site will set its colours accordingly.

This is what the site looks like on the tablet:

Dark Mode with Reader

This is the new dark mode colour scheme in the Anri theme:

Dark Mode with Anri

Future updates will allow a reader to toggle the colour scheme as well as set font preferences, but only when a few more bugs are ironed out of the existing theme. In the meantime, I hope that this quick bit of evening coding will help people who generally prefer to see darker colours on their screens.

Unrecognisable as Me Fri, 11 Oct 2019 15:00:00 +0000 Jason 7e1eb04a-4b4d-d3ea-f80a-544719e51f36 When the beta versions of Apple's iOS 13 were released, I put the test operating system on a work tablet in order to begin testing various corporate sites and software. In addition to the updated core applications, though, iOS 13 brought Apple's "Animoji" to the older devices that I use on a daily basis. This is something that I've seen on occasion from friends and family who have sent messages, but was new to me. One of the first things that a person needs to do before using these animated emotional icons is to customise the look of the face "to reflect our own unique style". I did so, paying careful attention to detail, and saw a face that I thought looked like me right up until I saw two dozen of them waiting to be used.

Despite looking similar to me, all but one of these faces are completely unrecognisable as me.

My Face as an Animoji

The problem is that these avatars are far too expressive. Very, very rarely will people see this much emotion on my face … even when I'm really happy. While it's probably unlikely to happen with older devices, it would be nice to see an option to tone the feelings down a bit. Ideally there would be a toggle that reads "Look like a Vulcan" as that would be much closer to how I generally look from day to day.

All this said, there is one face that looks like me. Unfortunately it's not one that I would consider using with the people I send messages to.

Oblivious Fri, 11 Oct 2019 13:11:00 +0000 Jason 65420f41-f598-00c9-ce86-0e5031cb8032 When people talk about responsibility there is often a comment or two about the weight associated with the burden as though the duty were tangible and made of lead. When asked, the most common "heavy responsibilities" are generally children, the mortgage, bills, and possibly the care of an elderly or sick family member. There is no denying that these can require a phenomenal amount of personal time and resources and, should any be neglected for a sufficient period of time, the consequences could be absolutely dire. Ignore the bills, and modern luxuries like cell phones and working plumbing are disabled. Forget the mortgage for a while and you can wind up homeless. Disregard a child or ill family member and … well … it's really not good. Many of us take on more responsibility as we progress through adulthood before enjoying a reduction in obligations as we near retirement. None of this is news to anyone who is a contributing member of society.

Yet despite the long list of responsibilities and expectations placed on me, I no longer feel a weight. Two or three years ago the rapid assumption of duties seemed a bit excessive. For so much of my time in Japan my core responsibilities were rather simple:

  • look after Nozomi's needs
  • pay the bills
  • pay the rent
  • ensure the government ID and supporting documentation is always valid
  • be productive at work and meet every deadline

After moving out of the classroom and into my current role at the day job, I then became responsible for servers, services, software, and systems. When the boy was born, I then became a father and quickly assumed the role. When we bought a house I became an immigrant home-owner and had to first manage the myriad of legal hurdles before taking on the day-to-day maintenance of a building and plot of land. The role at the day job has since expanded again, meaning I'm responsible for many of the same things as before, but for many, many more people across the face of the planet. Never in my life have I had so many expectations nor have the consequences of failure ever been higher.

Yet, despite all of this, I don't feel these responsibilities are "heavy". At one time I did, but the feeling has long since passed.

Mind you, I'll be the first to admit that I'm fortunate to have a great deal of support with every one of the obligations and duties. Reiko helps out a lot with the domestic items, and a handful of dedicated colleagues make the expectations from the day job easier to meet. Stressful days continue to exist. Impossible deadlines keep me awake some nights. Concerns about the health of some close family are constantly on my mind. But this is all taken in stride now. I can manage it. I can overcome the little issues that are sometimes irritants and sometimes roadblocks. Despite the sheer number of responsibilities on my plate, the vast majority of which are not listed, there is no weight on my shoulders.

Why not? Am I completely oblivious to the very real threats that could turn my current lot in life into something far worse than anything I've experienced thus far? This is certainly a possibility as we can't always know what we don't know, but this might not be the case.

There's always the possibility that I might lose my job, which would immediately impact the family's ability to afford anything. Reiko does work, but her hard-earned salary is not enough to cover our monthly operating costs. There's a chance someone in this house might become incredibly ill and require constant attention, possibly hospitalisation. A stupid mistake with a database at the day job could cost the company as little as 15 minutes of downtime1, which is measured in the thousands of dollars, or maybe tens of millions of dollars if student data was exposed to risk and the press caught wind of the situation. Any one of these could make like much more difficult, particularly if a family member is really sick.

Despite the serious ramifications from failure or fate, these situations do not even enter my equations for how much a responsibility weighs. Why worry about all the possible negative things all the time? It's enough to know that the possibility is there and have some basic plans in place to ensure at least some short term survival.

The more I think about how I perceive the burdens of responsibility, the more I think I'm feeling comfortable with these challenges because it's time to assume a bigger one. What it is exactly I haven't a clue but, from past experience, when I've become too comfortable with the day-to-day the mind will begin looking for something new. This could be joining a neighbourhood program. It could be taking on another role at the day job. Heck, it could even be trying to raise another child2. The hard part isn't finding some other challenge to take on; it's finding the right challenge to properly embrace.

  1. If we need to switch a hot-secondary system to a primary, this can be done in the space of a couple of minutes. That said, there is always some time spent on the first system to get it operational again. Fortunately this has never had to be done as a result of something I did.

  2. Given how much energy the boy demands from me, I don't know how I'd get by with another young child in the house. How did my parents manage to stay sane and get things done with five kids in the house?

Idle Hands Thu, 10 Oct 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 50ac793c-49ca-d68a-680e-22af60c7f465 If it weren't for the storm barrelling down on Japan this week, the family and I would be resting at a hotel just outside of Tokyo DisneyLand right now. This was to be our first "real" vacation away from home since Reiko and I went to Kobe back in 20131. However, considering the intensity of this 19th typhoon of the year, it did not seem wise to risk getting stuck 400km from home with a toddler in tow. We still plan to make time and travel to the theme park this month to enjoy the sights and sounds of a Disney Hallowe'en, but only if the weather is a little more agreeable. Hopefully I can book the time off work without falling too far behind the myriad of tasks that need to be completed for the start of November.


My grandmother used to say that idle hands were the Devil's playthings and often insisted that people be doing something rather than nothing2. She passed away when I was quite young, but this phrase has stuck with me as it has made very little sense over the years. Being bored does not necessitate an act of malevolence. Heck, my experience has generally been the opposite; when I'm bored, I get to work.

So it probably surprises exactly zero people that I've two of my three paid vacation days this week to solve some technical problems for the day job.

Was it the devil that made me fire up the necessary tools to diagnose the database performance issues? Nope. Was it the devil that compelled me to remain on "silent mode" with all but one colleague to ensure a minimum of distractions? Nope. Was it the devil that provided enough time in the afternoon and evening so that I could focus on the difficult task of sifting through millions of SQL operations to find the worst offending queries and clean them up like a man possessed?


There's no denying that I am not good at being bored. There is always more to do in a day than can be reasonably accomplished, which means there is generally a reason to get out of bed the next morning3. When the trip to Disney was cancelled, I had planned to use the time for some 10Centuries features, such as Sign in With Apple, restoring the landing and sign up pages, and optimising some of the syndication elements that have become sluggish as the database has grown. Some time was spent on the first item, but not a heck of a lot. When the emails started coming in from work from people saying the system was interfering with their ability to get work done, the focus had to shift.

This isn't a good thing, though. Time away from work should mean spending time away from work, no matter how much I might want to jump in to solve problems.

Tomorrow, after spending some time with the family and ensuring everything outside is ready for the impending weather, I'll get back to doing what I should be doing with 10Centuries, which is building the platform. There are a number of concepts that have been worked on since the start of summer and it would be nice to see them deployed before winter arrives. There's also a bunch of work I need to do on the iOS application in order to get it ready for submission to the AppStore in the next couple of months.

There is always a lot to do. Sometimes I wonder if my hands can ever be idle at all.

  1. We've had shorter holidays, but we haven't stayed anywhere overnight. Visiting the in-laws for New Year doesn't count as a holiday, either.

  2. The one exception to this rule was always invoked when her favourite soap opera was on. Every afternoon at 4:00pm, she would watch The Young and the Restless and everything would come to a standstill, including her hands, for the entire hour.

  3. The boy is pretty good at making just the right noises in the early morning to pierce the calm … and any eardrums in the vicinity. This isn't a great reason to get out of bed, but a natural alarm clock does make it a little bit easier.

Chaos on a Blank Page Wed, 09 Oct 2019 06:00:00 +0000 Jason 9e5fa93f-b32e-3786-75f7-8fae627869fd When people are presented with a blank page and asked to write whatever they'd like to share there will be a small percentage capable of doing so almost instantly while the vast majority will struggle to get started. Our ability to be creative on demand is limited and people's general ability to face a blank page and turn it into something with structure and purpose is even more finite.

One of the ideas that I've tried to put to words is an evolving concept of chaos and order. A blank page is chaos. A page with content, no matter how trivial, has a degree of order. The way I approach a blank page for blogging is almost the same way I approach software development. We are presented with an unformed canvas that can be transformed in a near-infinite number of ways. How do we start? How do we structure? How do we know we've finished? The chaos that we see in the form of a blank page, be it physical or digital, can be seen as untapped potential.

This is how I look at it, anyway. Chaos is potential, while order is what we derived from that potential. A chaotic blog post might not ever see the light of day in its current form, but there's still the potential to refine the idea further, imbibing order on the work so that others might read and understand. A chaotic application might never compile, but there is still the potential to work out the issues and impose a minimal amount of order to see the code in action. This balance can be seen with just about everything and it's often up to us to create something good from the potential before us.

Putting this in a blog post, however, has proven to be quite difficult. The concepts can run quite deep, which would make for a rather long essay that could very well need a bit of research and references. I have no qualms with writing an article that hits five or six thousand words in length, but the piece has to be cohesive and coherent.

Perhaps it would be better to just keep it simple, then.

Chaos = Potential.Order = Realisation1.

These four words do not do the concept justice, though. At some point I'll sketch out a mind map, draw from reference material, and compose an article that better articulates the notion in a manner befitting its meaning.

  1. The achievement of something desired or anticipated.

A For Better or For Worse Retrospective Tue, 08 Oct 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason a52615ce-05c5-23f0-d833-f156413b1c5e Last month I went mostly cold turkey on reading websites that sell the news and instead decided to embark upon a re-reading of the entire 29-year run of For Better or For Worse, a comic strip that I've previously written about. Aside from a single week-long gap in the 80s where the source comics were lost in transit from Lynn Johnston's home studio to the publishing syndicate, people could look forward to a new strip every day. Because I was no longer dedicating any time to reading world or tech news, it was possible to read roughly a full year of comics every day. Oddly enough, after a full month of reading about the highs and lows of the characters in this very Canadian story, I feel older.

For Better or For Worse

Feeling older is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. When the characters in a story age almost 30 years, it's hard not to get carried away in the story. Michael, the eldest son, went from kindergarten all the way through university to barely making ends meet in journalism to marriage to parenthood to buying the family house from his parents. Elizabeth, too, went from being the same age as my son to going through school to working as a teacher in northern Ontario to finally getting married to her first crush1 April's entire life from the moment Elly finds out she's pregnant up until the final year of high school is played out. We see when Farley the dog jumps into a raging river to save April from drowning at the expense of his own life. We see how the family adapts as family members pass away or move to distant places. We witness some of the challenges that come when supporting an elderly person who has suffered multiple strokes and heart attacks. While the characters never once had to deal with poverty, their lives were about as human as one can get in a daily comic strip. Life is what it is because of the challenges we're forced to confront. For Better or For Worse never shied away from this truth.

When I read these stories as a child, I could relate to Michael and Elizabeth because we were roughly the same age. The angst, frustration, and joys of being a Canadian teen in the 90s seemed universal because what I felt at home might very well appear in the paper in comic form. This time I related more to Elly and John, the parents, as they expressed many of the same concerns I've dealt with while adjusting to the responsibilities that come with parenthood and owning a house, not to mention the adjustments we need to make as we transition from our 30s to 40s and beyond. It's interesting how reading fictional characters struggling with various aspects of ageing or the challenges of effective discipline can be cathartic. Not only am I not alone in being fine with going grey but disappointed in the flab around my gut, but it's normal to feel this way.

As silly as it may seem, the comic helped me feel better about growing old.

Over the last month I've been fortunate enough to enjoy just over 10,000 of these wonderful bite-sized stories. They've reminded me of my youth. They've reminded me of my own family stories that involve sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and parents. They've reminded me of life before the rapid adoption of powerful, portable, always-connected mobile devices. And while it's highly unlikely we'll see any new comics from Lynn Johnston anytime soon, this classic series will have a place in my heart right next to Calvin & Hobbes.

  1. The comic ends with Elizabeth's wedding. It was a good place to finish, as April was a bit too young to wait for. If Lynn Johnston had waited until April was in university so that John and Elly had an empty nest, then it might have been "too long".

A Series of Tiny Problems Mon, 07 Oct 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 3f128a72-63ce-17cd-8cfb-b7979511be14 The first computer program I ever shared with friends at high school was a rudimentary file tester called "HashDash". This was back in the mid-90s when home computers were insanely expensive, beige, ran DOS version 5 or 6, and often had their autoexec.bat file automatically launch Windows 3.1 after completing the boot cycle. The Internet was just starting out and companies like Prodigy and America Online mailed out millions upon millions of floppy disks or CDs in an effort to get people to sign up to their portal services. A number of viruses had gone around the school, wiping out homework and generally causing a panic, and both McAfee and Norton AntiVirus had been around for a couple of years, but the products were generally priced higher than most people were willing to pay. Being an egotistical geek, I figured that I could make something that might not classify as an anti-virus but would let people know when an application or system file had been modified.

The program was written in Turbo Pascal and was incredibly simple. A person would copy the file to their computer, add a line to autoexec.bat, and forget about it. Every time the computer was booted, which was generally every day in the 90s, the system would spend a couple of minutes verifying files.

The first time HashDash would run, it would scan every file on the computer, work out a hash1, and record the 32-character string to a file. Every subsequent boot would load the database of hashes and compare the files on the hard drive against those strings. Anything that appeared different would appear on the screen in a list and people could choose what to do next; ignore, update the hash, or delete the file and overwrite it with zeroes.

The program proved quite popular at school and it wound up being shared from floppy-to-floppy as software generally was at the time. I don't know if it caught any changed files or not, but this didn't stop people from coming up to me and asking how I could learn to build a piece of software that could do "something so amazing".

The fact of the matter is simple: HashDash wasn't amazing. It was just a simple piece of code that did math on computers that were so resource constrained that a mis-typed while statement could crash the whole system.

As a 15 year old, these comments were like music to my ears. Time went on, though, and I eventually grew tired of being "the computer guy" that everyone ran to when they had a question. I figured that the best way to have people leave me alone would be to follow the advice of an old proverb: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. I needed to encourage people to learn about their computers, think things through, and try to solve their own technology problems before calling for help.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a lot harder than anticipated.

For a long time I've tried to tell people that "Computers are just calculators. If you like math, you can figure out anything with a computer." While this is certainly true to a degree, the explanation puts up a rather high barrier right from the beginning. For me, math is as important a part of my life as music and writing. I love numbers and creating the equations that form algorithms that solve complex problems. Many people, however, do not. By saying "If you like math …" I am putting a pretty large barrier in front of people who just want their piece of technology to perform a given activity. What I should be telling people is that "A computer — and software in particular — is just like a game of sudoku."

Sudoku is a series of small problems that, when solved one by one, untangle a grand solution. The work that many of us do on a computer is much the same. We have a thousand little problems to work out and, when everything is done, we can sit back and appreciate for a moment that something intrinsically complex now exists. We have extracted from the chaos a tiny glimmer of order.

Perhaps by saying something like this, more people will be encouraged to better understand the technologies that so many of us have started to take for granted.

  1. A hash is a verification mechanism. It's determined with an algorithm that creates a digest of characters that — ideally — uniquely identifies a file. This hash can then be compared to see if the contents of the file have changed in any way.

Queues Sun, 06 Oct 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 07eb7927-3c59-5809-3a25-cde9731fc6fc We spend an incredible amount of our life waiting in queues. Earlier today an hour of my morning was invested warming a bench at a nearby barber shop while a dozen people ahead of me had their hair cut. Given my propensity to people watch, it's probably no surprise that this was another opportunity to compare and contrast queues today to those from a decade ago. Ten years ago I was generally the only person in the shop looking at a palm-sized screen of text1. Before the rise of the smart phone people generally used their flip phones for entertainment or, depending on their age, carried a paperback novel for just such an occasion. Today it was no surprise at all that everyone in the queue was looking at their phones, coming up for air every so often as we shuffled along the queuing bench that ran along the perimeter of the shop.

This is an interesting time as we are clearly transitioning from being good at being bored to being incredibly bad at it. Many people no longer find it necessary to keep themselves company while waiting their turn. Instead the default action has become to reach for the phone (or tablet) for that next hit of serotonin. I'm not going to argue that this change is positive or negative, as I'm not a scientist who has studied the phenomenon. What I can argue, though, is that this is going to be an interesting decade up ahead as we entrench ourselves online even more.

What technologies will we take for granted in 2029? How will we pass the time? Will we forget how to be bored? I don't know, but I do like thinking about it.

  1. This would mean either the HP iPaq 2210 I brought over from Canada or the HP iPaq 210 Enterprise that replaced it.

The Quiet Organs Sat, 05 Oct 2019 07:00:00 +0000 Jason 9df4f0a1-1074-6457-5751-0db92f34fd38 This morning I had an appointment with the family doctor to discuss the results from my most recent health check and perform some follow-up tests. The health check is done at what can only be described as a medical processing factory in Nagoya. People go in, change into the issued garb, then consign themselves to being poked and prodded by as many as 18 different doctors over the next hour or two. When I first took one of these examinations back in 2008 I was impressed by the efficiency while also struggling to keep up with all the directions1. Now it's just "one of those things" that takes up half a day in the summertime. This year's health check summary outlined some potential issues with my kidneys and highlighted a lower than average white blood cell count.

At the family clinic, the nurses had me to all of the expected tests. Blood was extracted, urine was deposited into a cup, weight and blood pressure were measured. I won't hear the results from the first two tests, but the blood pressure result was apparently low enough to warrant the nurse checking not once, not twice, but thrice. Generally it hovers around 100/60. Today the reading was 87/44. I wonder if this explains the occasional bouts of light-headedness when standing up.

After all of this, I had the opportunity to speak to the doctor and answer a bunch of questions related to my recent health and diet. Once satisfied, he pulled out a booklet and showed me what the F grade on the medical checkup means. He pointed to a chart that consisted of ages along the top and scores along the left. "Perfectly healthy" results had a background of white, while early warning results were in blue. As the scores and ages progressed the backgrounds became yellow and red, which is generally the point where the kidneys have completely failed and regular dialysis treatments are required. The score from my annual health check put me in the first blue square for people 40 years of age. If I were 39 then the result would have had a white background.

Perhaps I scoff a bit too much at all the alarmist messages that bombard us on a daily basis, but having a test result of F for something that just barely measures as something to pay attention to is a bit absurd.

Either way, I've asked to have a bit more testing done on the kidneys just to make sure there is no sign of stones or other issues. I'll head to the nearby regional hospital on the 15th to undergo an ultrasound to check the overall condition of both kidneys as well as my liver; the three organs that are generally pretty quiet until they're not, and then it's too late.

From what the doctor said today, the test results will probably show things we already know:

  • I'm getting older
  • there are some small stones that are being passed, which is resulting in some blood
  • the low white blood cell count is due to exhaustion more than anything else
  1. My Japanese was painfully insufficient back then. It's not great now, either, but I can generally communicate to get things done. Just don't ask me to read a news article with a deadline, because I'll often need some extra time to extract meaning from what's written.

Slog Fri, 04 Oct 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 8e2af7f9-adf8-708d-af3f-05435d844076

Another workday.

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G3 Thu, 03 Oct 2019 11:00:00 +0000 Jason a6f66627-2560-9fa5-c95b-f8871d52b207 One of the few "perks" of being employed full-time in Japan is the legal requirement for an annual health check. People get to visit a designated medical clinic to get poked, proded, and quantified in as short a period of time as possible. This year was my 11th exam and there were a number of positive results that show I've been able to lose a bunch of weight and keep it off, which has helped in other areas. Despite the relative good health, though, there were two areas that were highlighted for follow-up, with one being marked "urgent": a low white-blood cell count, and a possible renal condition.

The white blood cell count has consistently deteriorated by about 15% every year since I left the classroom and the most recent test shows the numbers to be about half of what they were in 2014. Fortunately there are a number of foods that a person can consume in an effort to raise the number, such as yogurt, ginger, spinach, garlic, and broccoli — all the things that I could enjoy as a meal in an of itself. Despite the low number, I'm still within the thin band defined as "marginally safe", meaning there is time to do something in a natural manner. The renal condition, however, is a bit different.

Last year's medical checkup showed some problems with my urine and there was a recommendation to have it checked again within six months. Between 2012 and 2015 the uricological tests all came back with scores of A+ or A, meaning there was nothing to worry about. In 2016 it was a C. Last year it was a D. This year the result is classified as an F. Being someone who consistently puts other things ahead of personal medical matters, I ignored the suggestion to get a second opinion. This year's F is forcing my hand to go and get checked out. What's interesting is that the medical summary for this year contains more specific information explaining why I scored an F with the urine test: CKD Stage G3.

Not knowing what G3 means in plain English, I went and looked it up:

Patients with CKD stage G3 have impaired kidney function. Only a minority of patients with CKD stage G3 go on to develop more serious kidney disease. Cardiovascular disease, the umbrella term for diseases of the heart and circulation (e.g. heart attacks and strokes), is more common in patients with CKD. It is important to try and identify which patients may go on to develop more serious kidney damage and to try and reduce the chances of patients developing cardiovascular disease.

So I have impaired kidney function and a very slim chance that it'll continue to develop into something that might result in an earlier death. Considering how quickly the tests went from A to C to D to F, though, I wonder if this is a sign of something a little more serious than the medical website outlines. Some additional documentation — supplied only in Japanese — explains that the tests showed my kidneys operating at about 50% of what they should be given my age and general health.

Tomorrow I'll be setting up an appointment with the family doctor to have some more tests done on my blood and urine. If he agrees with the assessment that something needs to be examined more closely, then he'll provide the necessary referral to the regional hospital down the road that can diagnose the issues with greater accuracy. This F grade will likely amount to some pills and maybe a slight adjustment in the diet, which will be fine so long as I'm not asked to reduce my coffee intake.

Standards Wed, 02 Oct 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason c5d85ed5-3453-200b-0024-8150dd9a66fc XKCD — Standards

Randall Munroe has a comic for every situation, and this is certainly the case when it comes to the creation of standards. For the better part of a week I've been looking at the structure of digital textbooks and how they can be made a little more flexible, a little more portable, and a whole heck of a lot more accessible. At the moment the most common formats to find a digital textbook are straight HTML, PDF, or one of the common ePub formats. These have their own lists of pros and cons but one common thread that I've found over the years is that none of these solutions are particularly good when you're trying to make something to be used in a classroom. Solutions are often created in an attempt to appease the students with very little consideration made for the teachers. This is something that I would really like to change in the near future.

One of the more complex problems that I've been trying to address over the years is how to create decent teacher's books that incorporate all of the resources and metadata that might be required in a classroom. I've developed APIs that return this data in a consistent format for textbooks developed within the company, but third-party resources, such as those put out by Pearson or National Geographic, have long been a problem due to the lack of flexibility in the data formats they employ. Every resource is either locked away in a proprietary format, or provided as a PDF that then needs to be restructured in order to make it useful within a modern digital textbook system. What I would really like to do is devise a decent data format that could be published as an open resource that addresses the fundamental problems of working with teacher's books and see it adopted and built-upon within educational circles.

Scribbled in some notebooks next to me are a number of notes that, when combined, form a semi-rational structure that can be presented as a template for how a teacher's book might work. It takes into account things like sequencing, alternate lesson plans, audio resource metadata, video embedding, resource attributions, and more. When I apply this format to some of the textbooks used at the day job, I can generate a portable file that sits at between 18 and 65 megabytes in size, which contains the entire text and structure of the book, plus any additional resources required such as audio files, video files, images, and printable homework activities. All in all, the specification looks good. It hasn't yet been properly tested, though.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be transforming some learning resources from their source PDF files to "proper" Markdown-formatted teachers books using the JSON data structure I'm hoping to propose as a standard. There will be a couple of books from Pearson and I'll probably grab something from a Canadian publisher as well just to see how complete the idea is. If I am able to fit just about any kind of textbook into the definition structure without trying to find workarounds to an incomplete design, then I'll know the idea has merit and can be shared. If the structure creates friction between the content and the smooth operation of a classroom lesson, then I'll know there is still much work to be done. That said, I would love to see this structure become an official standard and get used by schools and educational resource publishers around the world.

Buried Ledes Tue, 01 Oct 2019 03:00:00 +0000 Jason 197324a1-f0b1-6dae-a1fc-cdc0d55bcf2e For the vast majority of September I managed to go without once reading a news site. Not just world news, but tech news, too. The goal was to see if I could do it after so many failed attempts to scale back my compulsion to know about seemingly important events. Aside from a handful of articles on Engadget and one on The Verge, the objective was met and I'm using the additional hour every day to read long-form books from authors that I've generally found very difficult to understand without a high degree of focus. What I like about the longer-form of writing is that the author(s) clearly had to understand a topic very well in order to pen several hundred pages on the topic and, becasue the books are generally well-edited and well-researched, it's possible to better understand the subject matter and come away more informed than is ever possible when reading an article that is designed to be consumed in less than 10 minutes.

Another benefit of staying away from the current forms of news consumption is the general calm that comes from not being bombarded with negative story after negative story. News organizations and virtue-signalling bloggers are often quick to jump on a person's transgressions, often removed from any sense of context, and conflate the issues with hearsay and suppositions. The inundation of gloom casts a pall over even the brightest of moods, and I'm tired of feeling like shit about problems that I am not empowered to solve. We do, however, have control over how we feel, hence the decision to abstain from the pessimistic echo chamber that constitutes modern news media.

This does make me worry, though. An uninformed citizen is unable to make informed decisions. By refraining from reading the news, am I putting myself at a disadvantage to others?

Over the years I've tried various angles of "quitting the news" to no avail. The English media is far angrier and less objective than the Japanese newspapers, so I tried for a while to stick primarily to local sources. This didn't pan out though because I started to see the subtle biases and agendas being pushed by different organizations across the country. Later I would read some English sources of news first by saying "Okay, {organization}. Lie to me.", knowing full well that anything I read in my native language could be so full of barely-masked motives and hyperbole that I'd strain my eyes for all the rolling. Eventually I trimmed the sources down to just those who I felt were the least aggrandising of opinions that harken back to a darker time in human history. But this wasn't enough, becuase the incoherent goals from ideologies I fundamentally disagree with come from many angles.

What I seek is simple: a verifiable, centerist view of world events without the inline opinions.

Unforunately, I do not believe this is something that people can do anymore. A news site without manufactured drama would be more dead in the water than those bloated with advertisements, tracking, and paywalls.

Perhaps it's just better to stick to books. Many of the same problems will still exist, but the ideas and concepts within are generally better explained.

Modern Walkie Talkies Mon, 30 Sep 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason d48c4154-dbb3-104d-06a8-c7b68b5250d7 Watching the way people interact with technology can lead to some interesting observations. One of the more interesting trends that I've witnessed over the last couple of years is the number of people who use their phones as walkie-talkies and the number of people in the park sharing their conversations seems to be on the increase. This is something of a surprise to me as there were a number of unspoken rules around using speaker phone first in the office, then with our flip phones. This practice was tolerated with some one-to-one conversations and frowned upon when there were "secret listeners" on one end of the line1. As smart phones grew in popularity it seemed that speaker phone usage dropped significantly, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention, because the practice seems to be everywhere recently … and I don't understand why.

Captain Kirk Using a Communicator

When I watched science fiction shows as a child, it was always surprising to see people answering calls publicly. The captain of a starship might receive a call while attending a diplomatic function. Members of a scout party would be hailed from their ship for a status update. A person hiding behind a box could have their location and identity revealed by a communications device blaring out their name and affiliation. If the recipient of the call could answer, they would generally move one or two steps away and take the call publicly, allowing all those in earshot to hear the exchange. Why would anybody want this? Would it not be better to speak in private? It's bad enough eavesdroppers would hear one side of the converstaion, so did they need to hear the whole exchange?

Most people will quickly understand that this is simply for the sake of the medium. In order for the viewer to have the same understanding of a situation as the characters in a story, it simply makes sense to have communications devices all use some form of speaker phone unless the viewer must be kept in the dark. In the real world, though, there is no need for nearby witnesses of a verbal exchange to hear either side of a conversation. Phone calls, in many cases, are private affairs between two people.

Or so I have been led to believe with years of conditioning from my mother to not listen to other people's conversations.

This morning, while walking Nozomi in the nearby park, I saw a man walking his dog and having a conversation on his phone with the speaker phone. He held the device upside down so the microphone and speakers were facing the sky and didn't seem to mind that the volume was loud enough that I could hear the other person from clear across a 15-metre stretch of lawn. As Nozomi and I got closer, his call came to a natural conclusion and our dogs started to sniff each other. This was a prime opportunity to find out why this person uses a speaker phone in a public space despite the audience.

すみませんですけど、携帯電話のスピーカー機能を使用していることに気づかずにはいられませんでした。なぜこれをやっているのですか?2, I asked.

"The normal speaker is too quiet. I can't hear the other person even at full volume."

Ah. That would explain it. More than this, I agree that the normal speaker is too quiet. This has been one of my long-standing complaints about answering calls on modern phones3. The slightest amount of background noise can completely drown out the person on the other end of the call. When I'm expecting a phone call, I'll usually have some noise-cancelling headphones paired and ready in advance if I'm not at home and alone. Why I never bothered to ask someone before today is bizarre, given the number of people Nozomi and I have met and conversed with over the last couple of years4.

While I doubt the earpiece speakers will get much better in the mini-tablets that we call phones5, I do wonder whether more people will start to carry Bluetooth headsets. Using a phone like a walkie-talkie is certainly feasible when walking the dog in the park, but it's completely untenable in environments like shopping mall food courts, sports events, or — thinking about opposites — libraries.

  1. Back when I worked at a printing company in Canada, I had a boss that would regularly use speaker phone so that "listeners" who were in the room but silent could hear the responses first hand. He did this to me exactly once before I stopped communicating any sort of news that could be perceived as negative over the phone.

  2. Excuse me for asking but, I noticed you using the speaker phone function. Why do you do this?

  3. The SonyEricsson T616 that I briefly owned in the mid-2000s until it was "lost" on a bus was the worst phone I've ever had to listen to. Unless you were in a anechoic chamber with the volume at max, you couldn't hear the other person. Period. I was happy to "lose" that $750 piece of crap and go back to a used Nokia 8081 I'd picked up off eBay. Not only could you hear the other person, but the T9 keyboard rocked.

  4. This is one of the positive outcomes from podcasting, I think. I've learned how to ask better questions.

  5. As more phones go with an all-glass front, how will the sound reach the ear? If the glass itself is going to double as a speaker, then it may as well be a larger one.

In No Mood Sun, 29 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason a954dec8-55c6-c0b7-1d10-96528e146e43 The boy was particularly frustrated today and, as toddlers do, he decided to release that frustration with as many decibels as his lungs could manage. For most of the morning, half the afternoon, and much of the evening, if he wasn't whining or demanding things, he was crying loudly between unintelligible demands. By 8:30pm, after going back upstairs to put him back in bed, I snapped. Never in the boy's short existence have I considered violence nor did I consider it today. Discipline and whatnot is important, but violent actions tend to be delivered disproportionate to the actual problem when a parent is at their limit. Instead, I put him back into bed, pointed a finger at him and, in no uncertain terms, demanded he "Sit down. Shut up. Go to sleep."

This just made things worse.

One of the many things I've wondered is whether I'm dealing with some sort of cabin fever. I can rarely get out of the house and, when I do, it's even rarer that I'm on my own. There's no time to decompress or meet with friends or even get a haircut. All these outside activities need to be carefully coordinated to take place around the same time otherwise I can expect a series of phone calls and messages demanding I return home immediately because the only other adult to look after the kid is being driven up the wall. Most days he's fine and I can deal with the occasional tantrum while also juggling day job responsibilities, parenthood responsibilities, and — in one case — a performance review meeting with a boss all at the same time. When I'm at my wits end, though, it's very hard to tolerate any dissension whatsoever. As selfish as it sounds, I'd really like to work from the office a day or two a week, as this would get me out of the house long enough to have some distance.

When I go out for my solitary walks to the hill, I generally go to listen to intelligent podcasts and maybe learn a thing or two. It's almost impossible to listen to podcasts at home due to the endless interruptions, even if I'm listening after 9:00pm. As a result, I listen to music podcasts at home, generally while working, and save the spoken-word shows for my walks. There was a time when it was possible to get out for an hour every day, but this is all but impossible now and I'm lucky to get 2 hours a week spread across three days. The inability to unwind or relax with any sort of regularity is nothing short of exacerbating. Bringing the topic up in order to find a solution, however, just makes it worse.

How do single parents manage when they have young children? Is it a network of friends that can help out when things get rough? Is it proximity to family? Is it something else? There must be a way to balance a little bit of sanity time with the unrelenting demands of everyday life.

Thinking About Gary Sat, 28 Sep 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason e1d1fd24-70ca-765d-a724-2f5c3416b6a7 There are very few people in my life that I've known and communicated with for 20 years or more. Two of my five sisters fall into this category. Neither of my brothers do. And only half of my parents. I met Reiko in January 2006, which would put us at less than 15 years, which is interesting given that I've lived with her far longer than any family member1. Outside of immediate family, however, there are very few people who I have known for more than a decade and still communicate with. The fault clearly lies with me, as I'm not particularly perceptive to other people's needs or expectations, but there are a few souls who I have long-standing friendships with. While I do not show it very often, I care about these people quite a bit. I worry about them. I feel happy for them. I regularly think about them. Gary is one of these people.

Gary2 and I have known each other since the turn of the century. We met on EFNet, an IRC network, in a channel called #AngelicLayer shortly after I was dumped by a woman I'd been living with for some time in 2000. We lived in different parts of Canada at the time. He was in Vancouver, and I was in Hamilton. We were also quite different in age. When I first joined the channel, I was 21, living on my own, working a full-time job, and an alcoholic in denial. He was a 15 year old high school student with a rather interesting group of friends online. As unlikely — or predatory — as it sounds, we built a pretty good friendship over the next few years. So much so, that I even rented an apartment in Vancouver from his father between 2005 and 20073.

Gary and I both had an affinity for Japan. At the time we were both quite into anime and enjoyed many of the same shows. The culture was something we both found fascinating and we'd even learned some of the language together. He studied history in university and his long-standing wish was to become a teacher. When I moved to Japan in 2007 we kept in touch on IRC and our friendship carried on despite the ocean between us. A year later, he attended my wedding and enjoyed some of the sights and attractions around this part of the country as well as Kyoto, which is just an hour away by bullet train. When my employer was in need of some new recruits in early 2010 I got in touch with Gary and asked if he might want to come over. I had put in a good word for him and much of the legal paperwork required for a Canadian to work in Japan would be taken care of by the day job, as there was an entire department dedicated to the task of helping people with visas, taxes, and other aspects of living so far away from home. Later that year, Gary moved from the relative comfort of his parent's home in Vancouver to Nagoya, where he would learn the necessary skills to do the same job I had done up until that point4.


Gary5 has lived and worked in Japan ever since. Just as it is with me, this country is his home now. He's found love, moved in with a lovely woman, and is thinking about starting a family. I'm actually quite happy for him … but I'm also a bit concerned.

While I like the man a lot, he's not exactly a go-getter. He likes to take things easy and allow events to unfold rather than forge his own future. He's worked part time at the day job since the very beginning, and would often rely on his parents to cover various bills. Despite being in a committed relationship with a woman who is very serious about having children, he's unwilling to take on the requisite responsibilities that come with "being a man". He could switch over to a full-time contract at the day job and have a steady income with a five minute conversation, but doesn't want to. He says that the workload would be too exhausting. He's not particularly keen on using any additional skills or knowledge to earn money, as it would take time away from whatever it is he does when not at work. He's not even particularly interested in seeking out a better-paying job — of which there are many — as that would eliminate any seniority he might currently enjoy … which means almost squat at the day job unless you're a full-time or unionised employee. How in the world is he going to afford to support a family?

When I think about how much the boy has cost in terms of time, money, and energy, I'm worried about Gary. My son has required far more of everything than I ever imagined. Not just time, money, and energy, as two of these are renewable resources, but in terms of patience and understanding and empathy and all the things that are required to make a good father. How people with multiple children manage I'll never know, but it's not at all easy to raise a family. The boy is outgrowing his clothes between the time they come off the rack and the time we pay for them. He goes through food faster than any garden can grow it. He wants to be picked up a lot. He wants to be read to even more often. He is the centre of his universe and for his entire life Reiko and I have revolved around him. Any parent can attest to how utterly exhausting this can be at times.

The fact that Gary has never had a full-time job worries me. Can he keep up with a child? Will he hand the young person off to his wife and abstain from his responsibilities? How will he afford the never-ending list of things to buy? Diapers, wet sheets, clothing, toys, books, community activities, school …. The list is almost endless and there is no avoiding them. Heck, what kind of example will he set for his child if he doesn't accept a heavier burden of responsibility?

At the moment he and his girlfriend both work. When a child is added to the matrix, one person will need to stay home for at least six months to a year, and I highly doubt any mother would let someone like Gary be a stay-at-home dad. The risks are just too great.

The man is 35 years old. He's not a child, yet continues to shirk responsibility as though he's still in high school. I care about his future just as much as I care about his present, but any conversation where it's suggested he work harder is shut down much faster than it starts. There's no denying that life is undoubtedly more enjoyable when moving at a relaxed pace and the most pressing responsibility is paying this month's cell phone bills, but this is no environment to start a family. I want him, his wife, and any future children to succeed in life. How can I communicate this to him in a way that he'll accept?

Maybe I'm just misguided but, as his friend, I feel it's my responsibility to make sure that he understands the burdens he needs to take on. He's not married because he claims he doesn't have the money. He doesn't want to work full time because he claims he doesn't have the energy. He says he's ready for a child, yet acts like one himself. This is no environment to bring a new human into. I've seen situations like this while growing up in Canada, and it never worked out for anybody. By the time the child was in high school, everyone was relying on a drug, alcohol, or gambling just to ignore reality.

A thought that has crossed my mind from time to time is to call his father and formulate a plan to help get Gary on the right path. Gary's father is a walking stereotype of an immigrant in Canada. He arrived from Vietnam in the early 80s with almost nothing, worked hard for 30+ years, now owns multiple houses and a bakery in Vancouver, and continues to get his hands dirty every day of the week. There's no stopping the guy. When I rented an apartment from him, we would occasionally have long conversations about Gary and how he needed to learn responsibility. Nothing ever stuck, but the stakes were much lower back then. What Gary is doing right now is playing house with no understanding of the consequences or expectations.

Part of me says that I should just keep my nose out of Gary's affairs. He's technically an adult, which means he's technically capable of making his own decisions and solving his own problems. The rest of me says that I need to leverage our almost 20 years of friendship to lay down the hard truths of life: play time is over and it's time to grow up.

  1. I've lived with my father for 13 years, my mother for 10. The first five years of my life, give or take, was spent with both. I find this interesting given people's propensity to become bored with me, which is something I've heard time and time again over the years. Apparently I am incredibly predictable, which makes me boring. Perhaps this is true, but I'm boring for a reason and it's taken a lot of effort to be less boring over time.

  2. Yes, this is the name he goes by. No need to switch things up.

  3. I moved to the Vancouver area in 2002, living in Richmond, which is just south of the main city. The period between 2005 and 2007 was — in my mind — the best time of my single life. Sure, there was heartbreak with a woman I had fallen far too hard for, but the two years in Vancouver were the most stable and the most financially secure years of my life in Canada. Aside from my student loan, every other past debt had been paid off and I was no longer living paycheque-to-paycheque … which is not something many people in their 20s can say.

  4. I did the job from November 2007 until June 2015, which is when I officially left the classroom to be a full-time developer for the company.

  5. Gary is in the picture above. In the background you can see Reiko and I. This photo was taken on May 1, 2008.

O.P.P. Fri, 27 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 4186656e-921d-4c71-fe82-051c931b1e98 Today saw the completion of a 5-day training course for the day job, a crash course on the fundamentals of Mulesoft development delivered over the span of 32 hours. With this knowledge, I'll be able to begin helping out some of the core development team next year with a number of projects that might just solve a number of complicated problems that generally arise any time an organisation spreads its data across too many disparate systems. All in all, this is a good thing.

In order to make time for this training, I started to let people at the day job know weeks in advance that I'd be unavailable this week. First it was just casual mentions. Then it was statements during meetings. Then it was reminders at the end of emails. By the end of last week anyone who needed to know about my lack of availability knew and understood. Imagine my surprise when the inbox in Outlook remained quiet for most of Monday, followed by Tuesday, and finally Wednesday. Four emails in three days1. On Thursday a couple of schools reached out to ask for assistance, but nothing of extreme urgency. Despite the full days of sitting in a training session, this week has felt more like a holiday than most actual holidays. One evening, while out for a walk in the park, I even said as much to Nozomi.

The lack of anxiety and urgency felt really, really nice.

In yesterday's blog post, I made a bit of an admission:

The older I get, the less interested I become in spending my days in front of a computer to solve other people's problems.

Solving other people's problems is what many of us do to earn a living and there is something to be said for being capable of understanding a situation and providing a solution. It does get a little repetitive after a while, though, which is where I think some of my frustration and anxiety comes from. Being able to step back for a little while has given me the opportunity to reflect on what it is I do and how the work generally affects me. It's odd to think that I can feel stress despite all the good that has come about in the last couple of years as a direct result of the work I do. It's as though I'm so intently focused on the one or two negatives encountered each day that the 99 positive things are completely ignored. This is stupid. I know it. You know it. The whole world knows it. So why focus on it?

Earlier this week I decided — once again — to slow down and relax a bit more at home and with the day job. There will always be more to accomplish. There will always be unrealistic deadlines to meet. There will always be snarky messages from perpetually pessimistic people. What won't always be present is good health, family, personal time. I've grown tired of forfeiting the good to deal with other people's problems. Yes, I will continue to work towards all of my professional goals, but I'll be darned if I choose to deal with negativity outside of scheduled working time when I could be off the clock and teaching the boy how to properly throw a ball.

It's long past time I recognise that other people's problems need not become mine and that some issues are outside my purview. I want to enjoy this momentary calm in the storm that is everyday life.

  1. This is four emails out of hundreds that were received and heavily filtered. The number of inbox rules I keep in Outlook is absurd, but it ensures that the stuff that hits the inbox is genuinely of value.

Places to Go Thu, 26 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason c655da98-5ae2-e641-6c54-0c1813f84565 One of the many things that I enjoy doing when I have a little bit of free time is fire up the Photos application on the notebook and look at the Places view. This plots the photos containing geographic data on a map and groups them in such a way that a person can see where they spend most of their time. Of course there's little surprise that most pictures are captured in and around the home, but there are occasionally some interesting memories that can arise by looking at some of the smaller collections. Today, while having lunch, I decided to do just this.

Footprints Across Japan

Geo-tagging is something that I've generally avoided for a number of years due to some extreme bouts of paranoia1, but this doesn't mean it's impossible to see where I've been over the last dozen years. Heck, I'll even occasionally invest some time into adding a semi-accurate set of coordinates on a picture if it's an important one just so that the photo can appear as part of a pin on the map view. This accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. I get to see where I've been
  2. I get to see were I've brought family
  3. I get to see where we might want to explore in the future

The family and I will be making the trek to Tokyo Disney in a couple of weeks, a place that both Reiko and I have been to2. Along the way we might just stop by at some interesting places inside Tokyo Station or another train station. Depending on how the boy is feeling, we might even visit a zoo one day rather than Disney. As odd as it may seem, I'm looking forward to seeing the places outside the pricey resort just as much as the places within the hallowed gates. New locations offer new opportunities.

As the boy gets older, one of my goals will be to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan as well as some of the nearby countries that are generally friendly to tourists3. However, looking at the places I've been in the last 12 years, it's clear to see that there's a whole lot of the world left to explore. This does raise a question: what would be the most effective way for two middle-aged parents to see more of the world with a young child in tow?

Footprints Across the Northern Hemisphere

The boy needs to see first hand that the planet is large, full of interesting people, and with lots of fascinating places. When I was young, my parents would take the family on a road trip to the east coast of Canada or to some other far flung destination several hundred kilometres from home. These trips instilled in me an appreciation for the vastness of Canada. Japan is nowhere near as large as the province I grew up in, let alone the rest of the North American country, but it's a fascinating place with an unimaginable number of things to experience. Extend this out to the entire world, and a person can spend their whole life travelling, from birth to death, and never see everything.

What I hope to do over the coming years is bring the family to a number of prefectures that we've not yet visited as well as spend some time in South Korea. So long as these trips work out, one of the crazy goals I'd like to plan for is a two-month4 road trip across the US and Canada with stops in a number of the big cities as well as a number of small ones along the way. We'd start on the west coast and drive right over to the east coast, exploring the sights, smells, sounds, and culture of each region along the way. After North America, maybe something can be set up to explore parts of Africa or South America.

The older I get, the less interested I become in spending my days in front of a computer to solve other people's problems … even though it pays well.

  1. My paranoia is something I'm attempting to control to a certain extent. I still don't trust a lot of software or corporate entities, but I'm not quite as careful as Richard Stallman when it comes to staying outside the reach of white-collar spies.

  2. The first time we went to Disney was a couple of months after marriage. That trip didn't turn out. We went again in 2010 the day before Nozomi joined the family. We haven't been back since.

  3. No visits to North Korea or China, it seems. Canadians are particularly unwelcome in the larger of those two nations.

  4. Minimum. Two months at a minimum.

Circadian Rhythms Wed, 25 Sep 2019 08:30:00 +0000 Jason d6256ac7-8fde-09c8-5088-d1535cd39a13 This week is a bit of an anomaly at the day job as I'm technically not doing any work. Instead I'm participating in an online course to bring my knowledge of a couple tools up to code so that work can be assigned to me going forward. These courses are conducted by an Australian company and we meet daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm which, for me, would be 8:00am to 4:00pm. After the course finishes I stay at my desk for two hours to tend to any of the issues reported by colleagues and then put the computers away for the night. What this means is that from 6:00pm until the following morning, I am not using any of my notebooks. I'm in bed by 11 o'clock and asleep within a minute of putting my head down.

This is quite the nice change of pace after a year and a half of being available for people on three continents for 16 hours a day1.

According to SleepCycle, my sleep-tracking application, my rest isn't any better but I would beg to differ. The typical morning grog is gone as is the slight anxiety that I generally feel shortly before opening Outlook to check the mail. One could really get used to the idea of stopping work for the night if such a thing could be consistently done.

The global project that I'm currently involved in should be "done" at some point in the next 12 months2, at which point it should be possible to re-arrange the working day again. No longer will I need to work 8 hours during the day and 2~4 hours after the boy has gone to bed. Instead I'll be working mostly with the Australian team, so that's an early start and an early finish. Hopefully this will free up the evenings completely, because a person can only be focused on work for so long before they are ineffective.

By this time next year, I'd really like to have the old Circadian rhythm back from when I used to work in the classroom: in bed by 11:30 and awake at 6:30. This wasn't always possible, of course, but doing this 90% of the week is a heck of a lot better than the once a week I currently manage.

  1. Just because I was available does not mean I was working. Mind you, I typically do between 10 and 12 hours per day.

  2. It's expected to be done for January or Februrary, so I'll just slap an extra half year onto that estimate becuase "corporations".

Down the Rabbit Hole Tue, 24 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 96eea337-6934-96ca-1a1d-2cffd23cfebd As hard as it is for me to believe, I rarely ever used a camera before Reiko and I met. I had a digital camera as early as 2001, but the device was generally more frustration than it was worth. When "camera phones" started to become popular, I had a SonyEricsson T616 that took awful photos and was even worse at phone calls. The Motorola Razr that replaced it was superior on both fronts, but the 2.1MP photos were still fuzzy on a good day. It wasn't until I borrowed a friend's digital point-and-shoot1 for my first trip to Japan that I started to see digital photos as being viable. I soon picked up a Canon A540 point-and-shoot and started collecting images from that point on.

That was 13 years and 28,818 photos ago.

The family and I will be heading to Tokyo Disney for a couple of days next month and, as we're all looking forward to the event, Reiko asked to see the photos from the last time we went there in 2010. These were kept on the NAS, but were in directories and grouped in directories categorized by year and location. This system generally worked for me before the boy was born but, since then, the explosion in photo counts has shown just how poorly this system scales. So, as most of the photos we've taken in the last few years have been on our iDevices or imported into Photos to be shared with iDevice-carrying family members, I decided to begin pulling in the tens of thousands of older photos that we've collected over the years.

As one would expect, importing the photos is an incredibly simple process. I can still keep specific events grouped together in the form of an album — or a shared album — and drop uncategorized photos of the puppy and whatnot into the general library. Photos will read the metadata as best it can and organize things in terms of age just the way I expect to see it. There's just one little problem: there's no geo data on these imported photos. Until the iPhone 5 in 2012, none of my photos had geographic information on them. The trips to Nagasaki, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, Kamakura, Sasebo, and other places are labelled, but they don't appear in the Places view … which is mildly frustrating. I want them to appear there.

Which means I'm adding geographic data by hand to key photos or groups of photos. The exact location is imprecise, so photos that were taken at Osaka Aquarium will all show the same coordinates and the same goes for all the other locations. Unfortunately, this still requires me to find the latitude and longitude, enter it into groups of photos2. It's taken a couple of hours, but the main photo albums are done. But what about tags? How about descriptions? How about grouping new photos into collections with friends?

A lot of our software tools can help us with the mundane stuff. For those who insist on completeness, though, the rabbit hole goes very, very deep. At some point I'll need to cut my losses and be content with the metadata assigned for the first decade of photos, knowing that future photos will have far more information associated with them.

  1. An Olympus X200, according to the metadata.

  2. Fortunately this can be done by selecting multiple photos and then entering the location description. If I had to do this photo by photo ….

The Disconnect Mon, 23 Sep 2019 08:00:00 +0000 Jason a05b605d-600b-9ba6-9845-594c00afa4b4 One of the first things that I noticed on my first visit to Japan in 2006 was how loud everything was. Regardless of where you went, speakers would shout information at you with 100 decibels or more in order to drown out some of the other speakers that would shout information at you. The trains are loud. The traffic is loud. The advertisements are loud. It's no wonder that people generally try to ignore every sound when outside of their home with headphones becuase so much of what is projected at us is not information, per se, but raw, unfiltered, semi-coherent noise.

In North America and Europe, when people want to point fingers at who's to blame for incessant noise, it's generally males in their 20s who receive the bulk of the blame. It's no wonder, either, given the non-zero percentage of young adults who listen to music as loudly as possible and drive cars that scream for attention. There's plenty of young noise-makers in Japan, too. That said, the worst offenders of noise pollution are not only old enough to know better, but generally wealthy enough to have a decent education. I speak, of course, of politicians and political hopefuls.

Every time an election is around the corner, vehicles outfitted with megaphones start making their way around neighbourhoods. The script is largely the same regardless of which person is running for office. It generally goes something like this:


Kato Yuuji Driving Around in a Megaphone Van

If the political hopeful is actually in the vehicle — which is not always the case becuase any group of minions could drive a whole fleet of megaphone cars, leaving the politician the opportunity to just focus on appearing in high-traffic areas — then they'll usually be seen waving out the window, their white-gloved hand going back and forth in a manner that clearly shows they're tired and suffering from RSI. Others will try to shake up the standard repeating message by pausing the tape and ad libbing something or other, usually saying which local elementary school they went to or why we should vote for them over the other carbon-copy hopefuls1.

Should I ever run for office in this country, the first order of business will be to outlaw megaphone trucks. These things were introduced in the 20th century as an easy way to broadcast information throughout a community disconnected from the rest of the country by radio-absorbing mountains and have been bastardized ever since.

Of course, should I ever run for office in this country, the second order of business will be to enact strict volume limitations on everything2. There is no excuse for the number of decibels that assault our ears on a daily basis.

What's frustrating is that I am not the only resident of Japan to think this way. None of the neighbours I've spoken to like the megaphone trucks. None of them see the need given that our mailboxes are generally overflowing with political pamphlets and post cards with the exact same message that is broadcasted by the invasive vehicles. Rarely will a person ever go out to meet with a political hopeful as they're driving around and rarely will a megaphone truck stop even if people did want to chat or ask questions. The whole effort is a waste of time and money.

As an immigrant, I've tried to be patient and accepting of the general standards and traditions of this country. That said, there are some things that are simply inexcusable. Noise pollution for asinine bullshit is one of them.

  1. Every person may be a unique individual, but every politician is exactly the same as the next one. Every. Single. One. The same slogans. The same lies. The same track records. The same "scandals". The only difference between a newly elected official and an experienced one is their age.

  2. After these two things are enacted, I could coast for the rest of my term and retire in comfort with a full pension and all medical expenses covered.

Too Dumb to Write Sun, 22 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason f0f19501-024a-cf56-61c4-1c9725e3002e Whenever the opportunity arises, I like to tune the world out and put on a podcast where people far more intelligent than I will ever be discuss topics that I've considered but never deeply thought about. Over the last few years it seems as though just about anyone with an IQ high enough to put most members of Mensa to shame has started a podcast or YouTube channel where they discuss the topics that deeply resonate with them in an effort to help others who are not as cognitively gifted learn the value of thought. So while I listen to these people explain a concept or rationalise an opinion, I take their viewpoints and compare it to mine. Do we agree? Do we differ? What information do I need to acquire before deriving an informed opinion on a topic? This is how I spend my scraps of free time … and it makes me feel downright stupid.

Every few years I take a couple of intelligence tests to see how I fare. The first time was when I was 22 and the most recent was at the age of 39. Over the years the numbers have consistently put me between the likes of Homer Simpson and Stephen Hawking1. When I listen to the likes of Steven Pinker, Malcom Gladwell, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, and Joe Rogan, I feel cognitively inept. It's as though these people, despite their incredibly busy schedules and lives, have been able to dedicate so much time and effort to exploratory thought while I have used my thoughts to think about … nothing. I think about work. I think about how to solve problems. I think about the role modern technology can play in the classroom. But does any of this matter?

Listening to smart people gives me the opportunity to learn new things and explore unfamiliar ideas. Listening to smart people also gives me the opportunity to understand problems from a different perspective. However, listening to smart people also gives me the feeling that I have ultimately wasted a lot of my mind thinking about problems that probably didn't need me. A different way to present textbooks? A different way to manage online learning? A different way to construct a publication platform? Who cares? My work does not engage people but instead sits in the background as invisible as possible to enable what amounts to a micro-goal. I feel as though I've wasted the mind that I've been given by not using it to think about the more complex problems that plague the human condition.

Maybe Reiko is right. She's long said that I would find more value in academia than working within a corporation. By not pushing ideas to their limits and by not exploring concepts to their logical evolution, I feel as though I'm vacuous and too dumb to write. Thought without risk is not thought at all.

  1. Homer Simpson apparently has an IQ of 55 and Stephen Hawking has never revealed his — or whether he's even taken the test. That said, the guy was clearly a genius. Albert Einstein earned a score of 160. Most people are somewhere between 90 and 110.

Seven Days Sat, 21 Sep 2019 11:00:00 +0000 Jason c2d6a23f-4d0c-e953-ac75-a297e1cfe958 The first time I remember shaving, new episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation were still being broadcast weekly. This was how I remembered when to shave because, as a 17 year old, there would be about a millimetre of growth on my face after an entire week. Several of the men in my family would laugh at the peach fuzz that I'd insist on shaving off, saying that I could never claim to shave until it became a part of my daily routine. By this metric, I have never shaved a day in my life. Regardless of what I eat and regardless of how often I remove the fur from my face, there will never be more than 3mm of soft hair around my mouth and neck if its left alone for seven consecutive days.

It is thanks to this consistent growth pattern that I've generally shaved my face just once a week for most of my adult life. The one exception was the years when I worked in a classroom and five o'clock shadows were deemed against dress code1. In order to project the image I was expected to present, I would shave pretty much every other day of the week. After leaving the classroom, however, I started shaving less frequently. First it was a Sunday-Wednesday schedule. Then Sunday-Friday, meaning I'd always be clean-shaven for the weekend and the start of the working week. Then Sundays only. And now … I shave only when family members complain about how "lazy" I look.

Seven Days of Growth

The picture above was taken earlier this evening and shows a full seven days of growth. I really see no reason to take out the razor blade2. At some point in the last couple of years I've actually come to enjoy having this bit of scruff on my face. It gives me something to stroke while thinking. It adds an extra bit of sensory perception for those times when mosquitoes are stupid enough to land on my face. It keeps people's expectations of me low when I'm out and about in the community3. The one question that I've yet to work out, though, is why I can't grow a decent beard or moustache.

A good deal of my genetics clearly comes from my mother's side of the DNA. I have a full head of hair despite my age, which none of the men on my father's side could say at the age of 30, let alone 40. The brown is lightly peppered with grey, just as it was for my mother and her brothers at this age. It has even managed to maintain some semblance of being smooth and soft to the touch, something that everyone who has cut my hair since the age of 25 has commented on. So when I look at my mother's two brothers and their full-grown, forest-thick beards, I wonder what it is that is missing from my genetic code to allow for the same. For the vast majority of my life I've enjoyed being clean-shaven and having to take the razor out only occasionally. Over the last few years, for reasons I don't really understand, this has started to change. I'd like to give a beard a try, but only if it can grow consistently in a reasonable amount of time.

Given how a week's growth on my face looks like something the average guy can conjure in 24 hours, the definition of reasonable will likely need to be defined as "less than a year".

  1. Some of my colleagues did decide to grow a beard after starting their teaching careers, but would not have the rough look for more than a day or two. Their hair would grow at a rate of a millimetre per day or more. Mine, however ….

  2. I generally shave with a simple Gillette Sensor that my mother bought for me when I was 17 years old. It's the last physical object I have from her, too. Because my facial hair is pretty soft a blade can generally last about six months before it needs to be replaced. Blades come in packs of 5 for about $8 at the nearby grocery store. This works out to me buying new blades every 30 months or so, which is just crazy. My father, on the other hand, goes through a full pack of blades every two weeks and pays way more than $8 for replacements.

  3. Not being clean-shaven in Japan is generally a sign of laziness and/or untrustworthiness. So, by having a bit of a bad beard, I can generally afford some distance when sitting at the park or reading in a book store. When there's nothing on my face, people are much more likely to approach me and start a conversation … which I've actually started to shy away from.

Ever the Cynic Fri, 20 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 14f7951a-1339-2bdf-413c-096541028599

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress.You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church.You could say I lost my sense of direction.You could say all of this and worse, butIf I ever lose my faith in you,There'd be nothing left for me to do 🎶🎤🎶

Sting opens his famous song If I Ever Lose My Faith In You with these lines and, like so many of his lyrics, it has stuck with me for years. This describes very clearly how I have felt about the reported world lately. I've lost my faith not in science itself, but in the articles that receive the most coverage as they're funded by organisations with an agenda and presented as "news" to serve another agenda. For 20 years I've had little faith in the Catholic Church — and still do — due to the organisation's inability to honestly face itself. But these are not the things that keep me awake at night. These are not the losses of faith that bother me the most. What has preoccupied my mind for the last few years is the constant loss of liberty on the Internet and the lack of pushback from the people who made the network what it is today.

In the 90s and early 2000s it seemed that the Internet was going to play a hand in solving all of our problems. Information that was once hidden away in obscure books found in only the most discerning of libraries would become freely available to anyone who needed it. Debates could be had on any topic with any number of participants, allowing the free exchange of ideas and — ideally — the ability to learn something new about something worthy of passion. Anybody who wanted to publish something could, regardless of their background.

But a lot of this is gone.

Books — and any other form of publication — that contain less-popular ideas are locked up behind paywalls, scrubbed from existence, or hidden from search results. Open conversation is all but impossible, as armies of one-dimensional characters march across the web in search of offence. Voices that do not convey messages in support of specific agendas are shamed and/or silenced while no reasonable discussion or debate is permitted. And liberty on the web is even more of an illusion than the liberty that we might experience in real life.

You could say I've lost my faith in tech companies.You could say I've lost my faith in the western education system.You could say I've lost my faith in what's sold as "traditional journalism".You could say all of this and worse.

Despite my cynicism and overarching pessimism regarding the established institutions, though, there are always alternatives and solutions. The hard part is discovering the substitutes and keeping them honest.

Over the last few years I've reduced the number of websites that I visit down to just a handful. I've disabled JavaScript for all but five domains, three of which are run from a server in my house. Applications are only installed on my systems if I trust the developers. Should there be a requirement to use something that may be suspect for the day job, it's spun up in an isolated virtual machine that is completely segregated from everything as much as possible1.

The modern web and most of the larger institutions that depend on it have become terribly deceitful and disrespectful. What we need is not just a viable alternative for the various services that we've come to rely on, but a plethora of options. With a multitude of viable and respectful options to choose from, perhaps we'll start to see a little more sanity return to the web … and maybe then I can re-enable JavaScript in my browsers.

  1. This is what I've done for a lot of the Java-based development tools I'm expected to use at the day job, as they all try to send far too much data to a server "in the cloud". This is despite me explicitly choosing during installation to not share metrics.

A New MacBook Thu, 19 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason dc8ac78f-466e-52d2-0c3a-b4401602bde5 This morning, right before my second cup of coffee for the day, a package arrived containing a new tool that would help me accomplish new things for the day job. It was the culmination of several years of careful requests, strategic software acquisitions, and scores of "impossible task" completions. For inside the nondescript cardboard box was a very descriptive white box that contained the most powerful computer that I've had the luxury of using: a 2019-era 15" MacBook Pro.

The New MacBook Pro

This machine will replace the personal MacBook Pro that I've been using for the last few years for everything work-related, which will free up the older device for personal work. What I like about this is that there's a clear separation between where work files exist and personal files exist. If I'm developing for 10Centuries or any of my other personal efforts, then I can grab the older device and get work done without worrying about whether there might be some sort of career-ending argument in the future with regards to using work devices for personal projects or vice versa.

Of course, there won't be a total separation between work and personal use of the new machine. The image above clearly shows Nice.Social on the 15" screen. However, this limited use should not set off any alarm bells.

The primary reason for this new MacBook is to overcome the RAM problem that I've lamented for the better part of a year. Next week I'll be participating in a 40-hour online course for some enterprise tools where the suggested amount of RAM for a machine is 16GB. However, even when a machine has 16GB, the development software is still sluggish and outright painful to use. On top of this, I do a great deal of work with databases, both local and overseas, that often requires some rather complex transformations and seemingly endless datasets. My previous Mac could do these things, but just barely. In order to keep up with the demands of the job, I needed something more flexible. I needed1 32GB of RAM under the hood … and that's just what this machine has.

About this Mac

For the stuff I do most of the time, I am rarely constrained by the CPU. The personal machine has just a 5th generation Core i5, which is still plenty capable for the vast majority of what I do. The new machine has a decent 9th generation Core i7, which is noticeably faster in every way. In addition to this, there is a dedicated video card to help power the 4K external monitor and even one of the crazy-expensive USB-C to USB/HDMI/USB-C adapters. All in all, the day job invested quite a bit of money into this machine and I'm quite happy with the look and feel of the unit. The 15" display is quite a bit larger than the 13" screen on the older unit and the clarity of the picture is just a treat to look at. My eyes have yet to get tired from using the machine, which makes it substantially better than any of the Lenovo and Dell machines that I've been assigned over the years2.

But what about the keyboard?

Over the last couple of years I've read a lot of articles online where people have lamented in 10,000 words or more the keyboards on the MacBooks made between 2016 and now. There are the obvious mechanical reasons to detest the keyboard, such as not being able to type certain characters after getting a little bit of dirt under the keys, but there has also been a rather vocal contingent of people who have been sorely disappointed by the feel of the keyboard, saying that there's an insufficient amount of key travel and the clackity-clack when typing is just too loud. My personal MacBook is one of the last models to use the older style keyboard that everyone seems to love, so I was concerned that I might not like typing on the newer keyboard if it feels like typing on an iPad, which is how people have compared it. I've been typing up a storm on the notebook and am using it right now for this post, but I've yet to find anything bad to say about the keyboard. In fact, I like it much more than the keyboard on the previous device and possibly on every Lenovo ThinkPad from before 20173. The feedback feels completely natural. The clackity-clack as I type makes it sound as though I'm typing twice as fast4. The palm rejection on the massive touchpad is almost perfect.

What's there to rage against? I don't understand why so many people are demanding blood for releasing a keyboard like the ones on modern MacBooks. Am I "doing it wrong"?

Despite having the new MacBook for less than 12 hours, I have a very good feeling that it will compliment my work more than hinder it.

  1. Need is a strong term, but I'll stick with it. Technically I wanted … but it's hard to make a case for something we want. It's easier to justify a purchase with a need.

  2. The IT department has tried several times to ween me off the personal MacBook. I really gave it a shot with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, too. Unfortunately, there's just too much friction when I'm not using macOS on a Mac.

  3. The keyboard on the 2017 Carbon X1 feels very, very nice when typing. Any time I reach for that machine to do some maintenance — as it's a test server now — I am happy to use the keyboard. The screen on the X1 Carbon is nice, but it's nothing compared to an Apple display.

  4. I understand that this is just in my head … I think.

9,530 Words Wed, 18 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 647d6eee-442c-cacb-759e-84dbae102bd2 = '2019-01-01 00:00:00' GROUP BY po.`type` ORDER BY `posts` DESC;The question of how many distinct words I've used online came up after struggling to think of a synonym for the word anachronistic in a work-related email. There was a time not so long ago when I could have easily gone through a list of possible substitutes for this as one of the few pleasures I have with corporate communications is using atypical language to encourage a readership. If I'm sending an email at work, it's because there is something that must be communicated. Sure, some of these messages may come across as a soliloquy bordering on the absurd, particularly when I'm trying to make a point about the importance of practicing what is preached, but I tend to think pretty hard about whether I should send a message as the medium has a rather high cost involved: I must dedicate the time to write something that is more formal than a sentence or two on Slack or Teams, and others must dedicate the time to read the multi-paragraph document2. Lately, however, my language skills appear to be deteriorating. Is it because I'm rarely speaking English with other adults now? One of the many features that I appreciate in Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems is the ability to quickly look up words and find their definition. This is something I generally rely on when reading Japanese websites and run into some kanji that I don't recognize. The last few months I've found myself toggling the feature to use the built-in thesaurus while composing emails. Heck, I even use it when writing blog posts now. It's as though I'm forgetting how to communicate with nuance … not that I've ever been very good at it. This disappoints me. The point of having a large vocabulary is to both understand and be understood. Using specific and accurate language allows a person to convey precisely what needs to be communicated. Simpler, less sophisticated language, while more easily digestible, can lead to miscommunications and lost time. Perhaps it would be a good idea to head into the office once or twice a week after the boy starts school so that I can interact with peers again. This unfortunately includes things that are not words, such as numbers. Most of the emails I send at work consist of at least three paragraphs … and I mean paragraphs. These generally contain 100+ words each and provide context to whatever it is I'm saying. Providing context is really important at the day job, as there are just too many people juggling too many things and forgetting details. I really dislike writing a short message and getting a response back after a day that is on a matter completely unrelated to the task at hand.]]> Earlier today I wondered how many distinct words I've used in posts on this site this year so hammered out a quick 7-line SQL query and asked the database. 57.7 milliseconds later I had my answer: 9,530 words1. Depending on who you ask, this is almost half the number of words a native English speaker has in their active vocabulary. If I include everything that I've published to this site this year, then there will be 14,139 distinct words found across 5,376 posts … and there are still more than three months remaining in the year.

SELECT po.`type`, COUNT(DISTINCT ps.`word`) as `words`, COUNT(DISTINCT po.`id`) as `posts`  FROM `PostSearch` ps INNER JOIN `Post` po ON ps.`post_id` = po.`id`                       INNER JOIN `Persona` pa ON po.`persona_id` = pa.`id` WHERE ps.`is_deleted` = 'N' and po.`is_deleted` = 'N' and pa.`name` = 'matigo'   and po.`publish_at` >= '2019-01-01 00:00:00' GROUP BY po.`type` ORDER BY `posts` DESC;

The question of how many distinct words I've used online came up after struggling to think of a synonym for the word anachronistic in a work-related email. There was a time not so long ago when I could have easily gone through a list of possible substitutes for this as one of the few pleasures I have with corporate communications is using atypical language to encourage a readership. If I'm sending an email at work, it's because there is something that must be communicated. Sure, some of these messages may come across as a soliloquy bordering on the absurd, particularly when I'm trying to make a point about the importance of practicing what is preached, but I tend to think pretty hard about whether I should send a message as the medium has a rather high cost involved: I must dedicate the time to write something that is more formal than a sentence or two on Slack or Teams, and others must dedicate the time to read the multi-paragraph document2. Lately, however, my language skills appear to be deteriorating. Is it because I'm rarely speaking English with other adults now?

One of the many features that I appreciate in Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems is the ability to quickly look up words and find their definition. This is something I generally rely on when reading Japanese websites and run into some kanji that I don't recognize. The last few months I've found myself toggling the feature to use the built-in thesaurus while composing emails. Heck, I even use it when writing blog posts now. It's as though I'm forgetting how to communicate with nuance … not that I've ever been very good at it.

Using "Look Up" in macOS

This disappoints me.

The point of having a large vocabulary is to both understand and be understood. Using specific and accurate language allows a person to convey precisely what needs to be communicated. Simpler, less sophisticated language, while more easily digestible, can lead to miscommunications and lost time.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to head into the office once or twice a week after the boy starts school so that I can interact with peers again.

  1. This unfortunately includes things that are not words, such as numbers.

  2. Most of the emails I send at work consist of at least three paragraphs … and I mean paragraphs. These generally contain 100+ words each and provide context to whatever it is I'm saying. Providing context is really important at the day job, as there are just too many people juggling too many things and forgetting details. I really dislike writing a short message and getting a response back after a day that is on a matter completely unrelated to the task at hand.

Untitled Tue, 17 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 9f567552-423d-000d-edd0-e434b4689883 Earlier today I had written a rather long article on introspection and how a two-year self-analysis in the mid-2000s helped guide me to where I am today. After some consideration, though, this isn't something I believe can be shared at this time. There wasn't anything embarrassing written, nor was there anything that would shock people. Rather, it struck me as stepping over the "Too Much Information" line. Perhaps at some point in the future, when I can write more eloquently on the topic, something can be shared with the world.

Introspection is an interesting process. It can reveal some hard truths as well as new areas of strength. Every so often I dedicate some time to just disconnect from the world, sit down, and think. The most common question is Why? and is generally followed up with a How? or two. The overarching goal of the introspection is to have a better understanding of why I do what I do and what might be improved or leveraged going forward.

Over the last six months I've come to a number of conclusions about my current self. There are things I need to learn, things I need to unlearn, and things I need to think a great deal more about. One unexpected turn of events is that I've made the decision to return to organized religion and there are other changes on the horizon as well. For most of my life I've tried to find purpose in the wrong places. It's high time I start to think more clearly.

Beta Life Mon, 16 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 93827fe1-eec1-bb06-5640-b2a5b125af98 Back around the turn of the century, when I was much younger and more foolish, I wanted to be on the bleeding edge of software updates. If there was a beta version for something I used, I wanted in. This started with Microsoft's Windows 2000 beta program and carried on right up until the second beta of Windows XP's third service pack. The reason I stopped was because I'd grown tired of the instabilities and excessive re-installations. I wanted something that I could "trust". It made sense to stick with the public releases of operating systems and core productivity software, and stick I did. When Windows Vista launched, I stayed on XP and watched. This proved to be smart. When Windows 7 came out and people loved it, I stayed on XP and watched, choosing to wait until the first service pack was released before taking the plunge. This caution even carried forward for Apple hardware, as every device has run only official versions of its operating system.

But this changed today when, for reasons that amount to impatience, I installed the most recent betas for the upcoming version macOS 10.15 and iPad OS 11.1. Did I need to put these on mission-critical hardware? Technically no, but this will make development with Swift UI far easier going forward. There are a number of little projects that I'd like to write, both personally and professionally, and this just seems like the right time to do it.

The notebook and tablet have been running their respective test versions for the last couple of hours and, while I've yet to really push the devices, they feel solid and a tad faster than when running the previous OS. Hopefully this means that some efforts are being made to make the software better for people using older devices.

Let the testing begin ….

Five Things Sun, 15 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 4fa903d2-77b7-c7e6-2937-5d7f3ff7697b We're halfway through the month of September, 70% of the way into 2019, and once again finding that Sundays happen a little too frequently. Maybe if there were more days in the week, time wouldn't feel as short. Nonsense aside, it is time for another instalment of Five Things.

Vacations are something that I generally don't do very well. Accumulated vacation days at the day job generally expire1 and, when I do take time off, it's to work on other things. This is not exactly the best way to maintain one's sanity. That said, today Reiko and I booked a hotel in Tokyo for a couple of nights next month and we'll be heading up there with the boy to enjoy a nice family outing … minus the puppy2. As this will be the first time that the boy has slept in a bed that is not his own, Reiko and I are expecting some bouts of tears and tantrums. That said, there are a handful of things that we're are hoping for with this trip. Five to be precise.

Good Weather

You can take a Canadian out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of a Canadian. The first concern that I had with the dates we chose was the weather forecast. A day in Japan in October can be incredibly hot … or very windy … or lashed by a typhoon. We're hoping that none of these outcomes interfere with our trip. If there is to be a typhoon, it will hopefully pass through the region the day before we travel. This will ensure blue skies and lovely temperatures for at least 48 hours.

No Emergencies

I will bring my work phone as well as the work tablet, but none of my notebook devices will be making the trip. The last thing I want to do at any point during our vacation is whip out a computer to solve a problem that likely shouldn't exist in the first place. The phone and tablet will allow me to do the basics if required and nothing more. These devices will also be my tether to the web while out and about, making it possible to write social posts and blog articles.

Then again, maybe I'll just disconnect completely. I haven't quite decided on that front.

Short Lines

We're going to at least one theme park in Tokyo. Tokyo's daytime population3 is the same as the entire nation of Canada all year 'round. Given that this will be the boy's first trip to Tokyo and the main park we're visiting has a $70 entrance fee, I'm hoping that the lines are minimal.

Lots of Photo Opportunities

I'm bringing four cameras with me. Two cell phones, a tablet, and a nice Canon DSLR. I plan on being present as much as possible, but I also want a bunch of great photos to share with family. More importantly, though, I want some great photos so I have an excuse to justify another picture frame or two on the wall in my home office space.

Lots of Good Memories

The boy is at an age where long-term memories should start to be encoded by his brain. If some of his earliest memories can be of this trip to Tokyo, where he'll get to ride the Shinkansen for the first time, see the nation's capital for the first time, sleep in a hotel for the first time, and see the ocean for the first time, then I'll be a happy parent. Some of my earliest memories are of happy times spent with my parents4 and I'd like the same for the boy.

All in all, this trip will be good for us all, even if the weather is sub-optimal and the boy doesn't want to go to the theme park5. We have just four weeks to wait.

  1. They've valid for a maximum of two years from the time they're allocated. Unfortunately, they are not paid out if they remain unused.

  2. Sadly, puppies are discriminated against at most places.

  3. There are about 35-million people who work in the greater Tokyo area on any given weekday. I used to be one of them.

  4. My earliest memory is from a very vivid nightmare that I can still recall with a crazy level of clarity, but most of the other ones from the ages of 3 and 4 are of happy times … except that one time I slammed the car door on my thumb at Canada's Wonderland. That was a couple of months before my parents split … I think.

  5. I've worked out a "Plan B" in the event he simply refuses to stay in the main theme park. There is a zoo and aquarium not too far from the hotel, and we know he likes these places. That said, two year old children can be quite fickle.

Where Facts Don't Matter Sat, 14 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 8bb04626-9f78-f5cb-07d7-902dbf9ba450 When a group of people get an idea in their head and refuse to accept any answer that does not align with their preconceived notions, at what point does the attempt to communicate no longer make sense? This is a question I've asked myself a couple of times over the last few years as some colleagues reach out to complain about how a certain group of statistics is unfair and biased against them personally. The idea that math is being used to unjustly punish people who earn the money that pays my salary is absurd and I have conveyed this back to the aggrieved person in as open and complete a manner as I can muster because anything less would be disrespectful. Yet it seems that not a month goes by where someone doesn't openly reject the explanations and claim bias against themselves or unnamed former colleagues.

The issue revolves around a single question on a survey that is offered to some of the customers at the day job. The answer to this question is used to determine, in aggregate, how well a colleague lived up to expectations. It's entirely subjective on the part of the customer and there are cases where someone's had a bad day and a response is later revised or removed completely. Several years of data has shown that people who come to work with a positive attitude generally score an average of 1.13 points higher1 than those who are generally less invested. Employees with a higher score are generally rewarded in some manner. Employees lower in the rankings are not. None of this is rocket science and the numbers cannot lie. Yet some feel there is bias in the single equation that is used for everyone regardless of rank, seniority, competence, or friendship.

This is the gist2 of the SQL query used to generate the number that is upsetting people:

SELECT AVG(score) as avg_score  FROM Responses WHERE is_deleted = 'N' and employee_id = {whatever}   and response_at BETWEEN DATE_FORMAT(DATESUB(Now(), INTERVAL 1 YEAR), 'YYYY-MM-01 00:00:00')                       AND DATE_FORMAT(DATESUB(Now(), INTERVAL 2 WEEK), 'YYYY-MM-DD 23:59:59')

In plain English, this is telling the database to collect the average score for all responses that:

  • are not marked as deleted
  • are for a specific employee
  • are received between the start of the current month a year ago today3 and the end of the day two weeks ago today4

Where can bias exist in this equation? It was kept brutally simple on purpose.

But some people don't care. Given the range of concerns and grievances that make their way to my inbox, sometimes I wonder if people want to feel like a victim of a conspiracy in order to justify some aspect of their personal or professional life. Narratives like "I can't get a raise because the system is against me" rarely make for a good story for the sole reason that it's usually not "the system" that's against a person. At the end of the day, we are our own worst enemies When I worked in the classroom I would occasionally feel that "the system" was against me. However, after becoming part of the corporate machine, I quickly learned that there is no system. There are policies, practices, and habits that may not be communicated very well and there are protectionist fiefdoms that get in the way of progress, but there sure as heck isn't "a system" that intentionally hinders one group over another.

This is what I try to convey to people when they complain in my general direction about something that they find frustrating that actually has absolutely nothing to do with them personally. Yet my words are rarely taken seriously. As part of the corporate machine, "the system" has clearly gotten to me and now I must be lying in order to protect … something? My job? My position? Neither of these would exist if it were not for the employees who are spending their days interacting face-to-face with customers5.

But this logic is rarely accepted. Perhaps some people want to be angry. Perhaps some people want to feel downtrodden. Perhaps some people just cannot accept that maybe the negative attitudes they exude at the office bleeds into the classroom. Based on life experience, though, when everything seemed to be against me, it was really myself that I was battling. The rest of the world had nothing to do with it.

  1. This is on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being perfect and 1 being a cause for concern.

  2. I'm not supplying the actual code, because who cares? The purpose of the query is to show just how painfully simple it is. There is no place for bias to insert itself in something so primitive.

  3. Today is September 14th, 2019. So the start of the month a year ago today would be September 1st, 2018. This was done so that numbers could be seen rising when employees check their stats during the month. If we were consistently using "a year ago today", then people would see the total number of responses vary every day, which would make the whole purpose of the endeavour suspect.

  4. There is a two week delay between when a person provides feedback and when an employee can see it so that, if there's a problem reported, the customer can be spoken to ahead of time. A lot of the lower scores have nothing to do with the employee, so there's no reason for someone to feel penalized before the reasons can even be confirmed.

  5. What's interesting is that I've pretty much made my living the last couple of years building the tools that support the people complaining. I go out of my way to understand their problems, challenges, and concerns, then solve the issues in an open and transparent manner, often on my own time. Fortunately, the people with the longest list of troubles are few and far between. Most colleagues are consistently far more positive and creative than I could ever hope to be.

Back Into iOS Fri, 13 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 44b1fe38-196c-8245-6635-fd9857cac33d The last time I wrote an iOS application was when I was using my first MacBook Air and iOS 6 was all the rage. The tool was pretty simple, allowing customers of a shuttle company to see the current location of the next bus. If the person using the application wasn't at a designated stop, then the nearest embarking points would be shown on the map with the location of as many as two busses and their expected arrival times. When iOS 7 was announced with its very different UI language, I decided to put more energy into web and API development — which is where I've spent my energy over the last six years, learning and refining skills to make things that people might want to use. However, as the title of this post loosely suggests, I've been playing around with some of the recent Xcode betas and re-learning how to write applications for Apple's mobile platform.

So far, I like what I see.

The Profile

As part of my future goals, I had mentioned that the first iOS app I planned to create would be for blogging, because none of the apps I've tried really work for me. However, after some feedback from people using the social side of 10Centuries far more than the blogging/journaling side, it made more sense to build something that people could use for the casual posts. The web interfaces are sufficient as a proof of concept, but shouldn't be the only way people can use the service. Jeremy has adapted Macchiato for the current version of 10C and there are a couple of automated scripts giving people access to the system, but it makes sense to use a platform that I know quite well as a way to get back into iOS development. Doing this will also help me find gaps in the API that could be improved, which will also give other developers better interactions with the system. Hopefully it will be a win-win.

The current plan is to have a simple application at near feature parity with Nice.Social ready for the AppStore by the start of November. The system will have "Sign in with Apple" integration and the ability to join the service and create personas from within the app. One feature that will be held back for the moment is the ability to write blog posts. While it'll certainly be possible to write a really long item and send it to the server, the app itself will not be designed as a place for long-form authoring. Instead the goal will be to allow people to get in, publish, and get out as quickly as possible. The timeline will be slick and quickly refreshed. Notifications will let people know about mentions. Hopefully this will be enough for a "Version 1" of the tool.

One question that I'm asking myself is how quickly I should get in touch with an Android developer, because there's only so much time in the day and I'm not at all equipped to test applications for that platform.

A Year Complete Thu, 12 Sep 2019 06:00:00 +0000 Jason becbb1dd-b85e-942b-2203-792e28da858c One year ago I wrote an article about a failed extortion attempt. Little did I realize it at the time, but this would be the start of an entire year where I would write and publish an article every day. At first the challenge was just 50 days. Then 100. Then 365. This post is the 366th consecutive article and I'm wondering if I should keep going to hit some other arbitrary number or perhaps take a break, publishing things that might be of actual value to the reader. Of course, while on the subject of numbers, this article is the 2,999th; making for an average of 0.636 posts being published per day since the launch of this particular blog run1; a number I wouldn't have expected to reach when this started 13 years ago.

Have I learned anything about blogging over the last twelve months? Absolutely.

There's no denying that writing in a format like this on a daily basis is not particularly easy when there are so many competing priorities. One thing that has not helped has been the lack of a decent blogging tool on my phone. Byword is a pretty decent tool for writing, but it's not particularly effective when trying to search through articles. Markdown is still my preferred format when writing so that I can be 100% certain there aren't any empty tags or other spurious elements wasting space, but this isn't particularly useful when trying to work with images, audio, or video files. Moments where I want to quickly jot something down generally involves an investment of at least 60 seconds due to the speed of application loads, which is not always feasible. One thing that I would really, really like to do is find a dedicated blogging application for the phone that excels in all of these areas. So long as I can find a way to hook it up to 10C, then it'll be a welcome addition to the phone's limited number of applications.

There are a number of apps that might fit the bill, such as Ulysses, but I've not yet invested the time to see which tools might work best.

Writing daily is not at all easy. It takes time. A lot of time. Some of the articles I published were decent. Many were not. Some of the goals I set were met. Many were not. What this past year has reinforced more than anything else, though, is that I enjoy writing for the web quite a bit and would likely enjoy it even more with some better tools.

  1. The first involved using static HTML files written in Notepad and uploaded via FTP to a GeoCities site. The second involved using Windows Live Spaces while dating someone I met on IRC. I'll probably write more about the evolution of this third blogging run for the 3,000th post.

Pucks for Menus Wed, 11 Sep 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 444f8d93-9494-4fde-6d53-5b57934b3fc4 Way back in the spring of 2013, when was a vibrant community, there were a number of dedicated applications that were vying for people's attention. The first app I used after joining the network in March of that year was Netbot, a relatively straightforward port of Tweetbot, which was from the same group of developers. This worked for a while, but I wanted something that received updates and could use all of the new features on the rapidly-developing platform. Riposte was an alternative that saw regular updates and had a solid, clean interface that "just felt better". However, despite the strengths of Riposte, the application that I relied on the most1 was Felix; an application that introduced a form of navigation that I have since built into a number of my own software tools because it's just so darn efficient: the Puck.

Felix for

Up until Felix, social clients all had a similar navigation pattern in their applications. Buttons would run along the bottom of the screen for Home, Replies, Interactions, and other views. Most apps would have four to five of these, and the design worked well enough. Felix, when in full-screen mode, would show just a single item in a rounded button that would sit docked in a corner2. Tapping the circle, generally known as the Puck, would make it expand to show all the menu options available. This simple, elegant solution made it possible for Felix to have far more than five navigation items in their menu and I liked it so much that I reached out to Bill Kunz, the developer of the application, and asked if I could use the Puck in my own apps3. One thing that I find odd, though, is that nobody else seems to use this form of navigation in their mobile applications. Instead there are a plethora of hidden gestures that people must figure out and memorize when they first use a piece of software, which I've often found to be rather frustrating. Why would anyone want to hide functionality that took time and effort to create?

In's heyday Felix was one of those applications that I looked forward to using everyday because it just worked, it was visually attractive (for the time), and it was incredibly intuitive. This is the same bar I set for my own software and, if I do my job right, maybe a creative person will see the value in something I've made and carry it forward into their own projects, too.

  1. Well … I relied on it until spam in the Global Timeline became a bit too excessive, resulting in me building the first version of Nice.Social which sat on top of the NiceRank API. Remember when Nice.Social was a web-based App.Net client? Yeah … that was a long time ago.

  2. One of the early releases of the app would let a person swipe the puck to move it into a different corner. This was often quite finicky and would be infuriating to return to the proper location … which is why the puck menu in my tools is static in the lower-right corner. I really should look at making an option for people to choose the other corners if they so choose.

  3. He said he didn't mind, and I went to town with it.

Because of the Playlists Tue, 10 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 08f62a57-a011-b017-f871-cba890277a28 Earlier today a neighbour asked which music streaming service I preferred. My response was instant: Spotify. This caught the older man by surprise who has jokingly called me an "Apple otaku". He figured I would have said  Music but, given my history with Apple's music offerings, it's just not something I'm willing to mess around with. The reason comes down to something that is probably irrelevant to most people, but is exceedingly important to me: playlists.

Apple vs Spotify

Apple's services have lost my playlists far too often. iTunes would occasionally delete the things when I used to sync my iPod or phone via the cable. When I joined iTunes Match many years ago, the playlists were wiped out on all of my devices. When I joined  Music soon after its release for the 90-day trial my playlists were once again removed then, when I opted to leave the service, they were removed again. The number of times I've lost and rebuilt my playlists on Apple devices has been beyond stupid. As a result, the only time I use Apple's applications for music is when I'm listening to an entire album, which itself is also a playlist.

Spotify, on the other hand, has never once lost a playlist. I've joined, upgraded, downgraded, abandoned, and rejoined the service over the years and have never once observed a problem with this basic feature. Adding something on the phone sees it appear instantly on the tablet and vice versa. What's more, Spotify will actually make pretty decent suggestions for songs that might find a home on the playlist and this has helped me fill out some of the albums from my youth that I couldn't remember until after hearing an old song again.

Apple does a lot of things right but, if they want my $10 per month, they'll need to seriously take care of their playlists problem because I'm sick and tired of recreating them every so often. These collections can become quite long depending on the type of music. Ideally, I'd like to see Apple get really basic and just have a dedicated directory in iCloud that contains individual JSON files for each playlist. This would make it possible to hand-edit or migrate the lists elsewhere if desired as well as configure some sort of backup via Time Machine.

This might be too simple for Apple, though.

For Better or For Worse Mon, 09 Sep 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason f36a14e2-17dc-2640-19d0-7c74123cab6e At some point in the last year I was thinking about For Better or For Worse, a comic strip that was first published 40 years ago today. Much to my delight, I found that every strip of the comic was available online with daily updates via a handy RSS link. I subscribed at once and have looked forward to seeing the daily update ever since.

For Better or For Worse Books

The run itself was from 1979 to 2008, which is when Lynn Johnston retired and decided to have the comics start again from the beginning. This wasn't a "reboot", but a literal rerun with all of the characters and drawing styles being left intact. There would occasionally be edits to the wording but, for the most part, the comics that ran from 2008 to current are the very same ones that were printed in newspapers around North America 29 years earlier. As one would expect, some noisy people didn't like this and others have gone so far as to say the comic should be taken out of print because it's "out of date". Michael and Elizabeth aren't holding cell phones in every frame. Elly and John aren't talking about Amazon or looking things up on Google. It's like grabbing the VHS tape to watch Back to the Future.

Personally, I think this is just perfect.

The people who read For Better or For Worse today are generally not kids, but adults. The adults reading the comic now will remember the strip from their own youth. This is one of the reasons I read it. When I was growing up, Michael — the oldest child — was a few years ahead of me and I could relate to him and his struggles. Elizabeth was about the same age as one of my sisters. My mum saw a lot of herself in Elly, the mother, and I saw it, too … which is another reason for me to read the stories again.

My mother and I haven't had so much as a phone call in a dozen years for reasons I'm not too sure about. Getting in touch with her proves to be quite the challenge and will likely only happen if I'm physically in Southern Ontario and knocking at her door. Reading this comic reminds me of what my mum was like before things went sideways at home and she separated from my step father. This was a story that we shared for a number of years and, by reading it again, I feel that we're somehow sharing it again … though I know it's just a one-sided idea.

Now that I'm married with a child, mortgage, and puppy, I can better understand John and Elly; the parents. The struggles they face and the challenge of doing the right thing, day in and day out, without a word of appreciation. It makes sense now. 40 years have passed since the first strip. The everyday habits of people have changed to fit the electronics that permeate our lifestyles. But none of this matters because the problems people face with relationships, households, careers, and dreams are the same today as they were decades ago.

Five Things Sun, 08 Sep 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason bafb7b8e-9ffe-e38d-6d24-1632f74119ec Another Sunday another rewrite of the week's instalment of Five Things. The previous version of this post was written on my phone while the boy was drifting off to sleep. I generally keep him company at night so that he can relax more easily and fall asleep sooner. When he's left alone, the kid will sing every song he knows on repeat until well after 10:00pm, which usually results in a pretty cranky boy the next morning. Reading two books1 and staying with him for the next half hour is generally enough to have the intended results, and this is a prime opportunity to take out the phone and hammer out a quick post in Byword — my casual writing tool of choice.

Unfortunately, the previous post was heading in a direction that I wasn't too keen on sharing with the world. It came across as unnecessarily harsh towards someone's online project and I thought it was unfair. As my grandmother — and grandmothers the world over — used to say: If you can't say anything nice ….

These are words of wisdom.

When we're young, we often hear our elders give us these bits of knowledge. Some of them we take to heart. Others we outright ignore. A few stick with us for life. This week I thought it would be interesting to share just five of the many bits of wisdom that wiser people have tried to share with me.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

This is from the King James version of Ecclesiastes 7:5 and is sometimes seen in the New Living Translation of the bible: "Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool." The meaning is self-evident and important to remember when receiving feedback. I generally listen to a person critiquing my work so that I might learn something new. This isn't always the case but, when something actionable is offered, the end result is almost always better.

Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Another bit of wisdom from the King James version of the Bible and sometimes translated as "just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." A lot of people can talk the talk, but few are willing or able to perform actions that align with their words. Sanctimonious people are generally not worth the time of day and it's better that we identify and avoid them early on.

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Attributed to George Bernard Shaw, this is something I read a couple of decades back in a magazine article about a start-up called Google. The general consensus in the late 90s was that the Internet was already so vast that it would be impossible to index all of it. While there may not be 100% coverage of every publicly-accessible page that currently exists, Google has remained the only search engine that gets pretty darn close. Bing, DuckDuckGo, and others put on a good show, but they're far less accurate and far less current than the company that once tried very hard to not be evil.

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

A quote from Albert Einstein who has managed to summarize to much of physics with E = mc² which basically says that mass and energy are the same thing. This quote is providing us with a litmus test for explanations that people give us throughout life and I've used it religiously at work and when learning new things. This has generally resulted in me getting a small "taste" of an idea from one person, then going in for a deep dive with a book or better-spoken professional. Mind you, this goes the other way as well. In situations where I'm trying to explain something and I can't answer all the follow-up questions, I've seen exactly where my knowledge on a subject was deficient and needed improving. This has generally worked out for the better.

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

From Pablo Picasso comes this interesting idea encourages people to push their boundaries at every opportunity. The things I don't know could fill a warehouse … or probably an entire continent of warehouses. Fortunately this means that there is always some new challenge ahead. Sticking to what we know is also an incredibly rapid way to become obsolete. A spouse wouldn't be interested in a person who didn't grow. An employer has no need for a person with outdated skills. It doesn't make sense to stagnate.

These are just five of the thousands of bits of wisdom that I've been exposed to over the course of my lifetime and there are undoubtedly millions more to be found online in an inspirational image gallery. My grandparents were all well read and would say things like this all the time, though most of the ones I act out came from books. Perhaps by the time my kid has children of his own, I'll get a chance to share the ones that have worked best over the years.

  1. I've given him a cap of 2 books, otherwise he'd want to have every book in the house read to him. Fortunately he doesn't know about the hundreds of digital books that sit on the tablet nor does he know anything about the Internet and the plethora of reading material that is available day and night.

Nozomi Update Sat, 07 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason b8a263db-bb16-722d-fa37-cb191b5021a7 Last weekend Nozomi developed a bit of a problem using her hind legs and it resulted in me playing nurse for the week. Today, after what feels like an eternity, the puppy managed to actually walk a little bit outside. She's struggled quite a bit these last few days, generally walking no more than a few paces before sitting down and remaining stationary for an hour or more. Seeing her cover about 20 metres of relatively flat park all by herself was a wonderful thing.

Nozomi on Moss

Miniature Dachshunds tend to have lifespans of 12 to 16 years, which is bad news for me as I'm rather fond of Nozomi. She doesn't heal nearly as quickly as she used to, but neither do I. There are some other dogs in the neighbourhood that are just a bit older that are unable to walk to the park. They're generally brought either on a bicycle or, in one case, a Radio Flyer wagon before being set on a patch of grass and allowed to walk around. This week Nozomi's been carried on my right arm and has been given the same treatment, being set in the shade near her preferred pooping place in the morning, and set near an "interesting" patch of grass in the evenings. Both locations are her preferred places to explore and relieve herself, so being carried works to her advantage. She gets to do less work while still reaping the benefits of living so close to a park that is regularly frequented by puppies of all breeds and ages.

Should her hind legs remain too weak for the trek to the park and back then our routines will be updated so that she gets carried. The park is less than 80 metres from the front door, making a bike or wagon a little excessive. Besides, carrying the puppy is nice. She gets to feel calm and safe while I get to be strong and maternal. It's a win-win for both of us.

Hopefully she'll be back to her normal self in the next couple of days.

Burnt Out ... Again Fri, 06 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason f0c9c4ba-3800-e05a-987a-249224394fb2 All of the signs have been visible for weeks and it's just been the last two days that I've observed that the doldrums associated with burn out have returned. Despite feeling tired all day long, sleep is not something I'm interested in doing until sometime after 2 o'clock in the morning. Interesting projects appear dull and without long-term viability. A blank page remains devoid of purpose for much longer than I'm comfortable with.

Burnt Out

Why do I not learn? The symptoms of burn out tend to appear early, offering a month or two of advance warning that it might be time to slow down or disconnect for a little bit in order to re-align the mind. The reluctance to heed the signs has nothing to do with the amount of work at the day job, as I tend to control how much work I take on and output. It's also not necessarily the result of the stress of the day job, as I'm mostly removed from the politicking that creates 95% of all problems within organizations.

When the last deep bout hit a little over a year ago I did a bunch of reading on the subject and decided to follow some of the key advice that experts had to offer on ways to mitigate the cycle. One of the recommendations was to take up a new hobby so, me being me, I decided to invest in two hobbies: reading and writing. The theory goes that by consuming the mind with something that is not work, a person can generally go for longer periods of time before running on empty. This has proven true to a certain extent, but I've clearly been doing it wrong.

The problem runs deeper than distraction can counteract. Fact of the matter is that I've been thinking about work almost constantly for years. If it's not the day job, it's personal projects, or client projects, or something that I'd like to do in the future. The mind is forever in search of problems to solve and, so long as people exist, there will always be a plethora of suboptimal situations that could use some attention. While I've wound down the freelance work I do to reduce the range of projects that require attention, I've not done enough to actively distance myself from the subconscious problem solving that goes on. In the past I could do this with a few hours of video games1 or some long walks, but neither of these options are available anymore. They're unrealistic given the responsibilities that come with having young children. What's needed is a hard disconnect from the day-to-day routines.

What's needed is a vacation.

Reiko has been dropping hints that the whole family should go either to the Universal Studios theme park in Osaka or one of the two Disney parks just outside of Tokyo. Seeing as how the boy doesn't know any of the Universal Studios characters, it would make more sense to travel twice the distance and spend some time at Tokyo Disney or DisneySea … or maybe both. Going would mean staying at a hotel for two or three days, leaving the work computers at home, and actually being cognitively present while everyone has fun and spends several hundred dollars a day2 burning calories and forging memories.

The last time Reiko and I were at a Tokyo Disney theme park, we went on a whim and had a blast. This was easier back in 2010 given that we were living an hour from the park and didn't have nearly as many responsibilities. If we decide to go this season, planning will be required. Money and logistics aside, getting away from coding, databases, and the unending list of tasks to accomplish would be a welcome change. I have 39 vacation days banked and have avoided using them for the irrational fear of "falling behind". Given that the day job does not pay out unused vacation days, there's zero incentive for me to let more expire for the sake of getting things done … especially when the quality of my work during times of burn-out is so low that it's probably better for everyone if I disappeared for a little while.

  1. Age of Empires or SimCity were excellent uses of time in this regard.

  2. Disney isn't cheap. Not in the least. Three people going for three days would likely cost about a week's wages … and it would be worth it.

What Is Discovery Trying to Say? Thu, 05 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 9b233393-d3e6-7961-df08-3d887253570e This week I've set aside the books in order to catch up on Star Trek: Discovery. My hope was that the second season would be a little more focused than the first but, after just a handful of episodes, it seems that the purpose of this round of shows is to entertain teenagers with flashy lights and litres of tears rather than tell a story to adults. This is unfortunate, but not completely unexpected.


From the first episode, I thought that there would actually be some pretty interesting story telling going on. An unknown benevolent alien that appears in times of need. A mystery involving a galaxy-wide event1. Characters who appear to have career ambitions. This is the foundation of a decent story. By the third episode, however, things very quickly started going south.

There are certain things that should no longer appear in any Star Trek story, and here is a partial list:

  • Section 31
  • Captain Philippa Georgiou / The Terran Emperor
  • Time travel
  • Immortal characters
  • More than 30 seconds of tears

I can live with the endless last-minute problems with the transporters. I can even accept the occasional bending of canon. What I am not at all impressed by is situations where nobody truly dies, the chain of command is a suggestion rather than a distribution of responsibility, and the same faux cross-double-cross-surprise-reveal cycles that seem to happen more often than one would find in the most recent instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean. If nobody dies and clandestine organizations are more visible a neon light in the desert and 20% minutes of every show involves people crying … then the story is pretty weak and probably needs to be reworked.

Discovery doesn't have to be a weak show. There is a lot of universe to explore. Unfortunately, it's just treading over the same track over and over and over like a NASCAR race involving one car driving at 50kph.

  1. What struck me as odd about this is how the seven signals all appeared to happen at the same time despite the massive distances that would need to be travelled. This would mean that some of the signals were sent hundreds of thousands of years ahead of others and, by sheer happenstance, lined up to appear at the same time in this part of the galaxy. Sure, Starfleet has some pretty interesting tech, but you can't change the laws of physics.

The Lies Parents Tell Wed, 04 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 27f5feb5-4a35-1dd2-0a6a-b598b374e6be As the boy is in the throes of his "Terrible Twos", certain tactics have become necessary in order to ensure basic routines are performed. There was a time not too long ago when brushing teeth, taking the evening shower, and getting into pyjamas were easy tasks that took just a couple of sentences and a hand gesture1. Now it seems that every one of these is a battle most nights, with the boy screaming as though someone threw his favourite toy into an incinerator. Like many people his age, the boy is driven by his emotions.

This evening I wanted to get him to finish his tea. Despite talking almost non-stop every moment he's awake and despite the tears and runny noses that come with every outburst, he's not yet learned the importance of keeping hydrated. Unfortunately, he finds tea "boring" unless there's nothing else available. So, seeing as he's two, I decided to ask a slightly related question that — when examined in context of the situation — might come across as a lie. I held out his cup of tea and asked "Would you like some orange juice?" This had the intended effect, as he took a couple of sips of his drink before pushing it away. Not a day goes by where he doesn't ask for orange juice, so my question was presented as a simple Yes/No which, based on context, appears as deception of the innocent.

I'll probably do it the next time he won't finish his drink, too.

A lot of people likely start out thinking that they won't lie to their kids, but this is simply untenable. Parents must lie to their children in order to get things done. "If you're really good, maybe Santa will bring you a new bike" and "But you like spinach!" are just two that I remember my parents saying to siblings over the years. Here in Japan, there's a mobile app that people can install that'll allow a parent to pretend they're calling an oni2 to report their child to. "Kenji won't clean his room," the parent would say. Because the application already had the child's name stored, and because the app uses the main speaker rather than the ear piece, a loud, angry voice would be heard saying "Kenji won't do what! Do I have to come over there?" By this point, if the child is under the age of six, they'll likely start crying and beg their parent to hang up. Demons are scary creatures, after all.

As children grow up and learn the various lies, they learn how to make their own in order to manipulate their parents. At this point it becomes an arms race to see who can better prepare and devise fibs and half-truths in order to achieve an agenda. In a "typical" family, there is likely more honesty than fabrications but, so long as the end justifies the means, there will always be some degree of inaccurate statements from the parents. For the moment my kid is young enough that these sorts of manipulations are still effective and will be forgotten. As he gets older, though, I'm really hoping that the need to lie or misdirect becomes less necessary.

  1. Generally a "come on over" gesture.

  2. a horned demon.

Ice Cream in the Freezer Tue, 03 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 39170348-3b64-caa0-e553-171abe516640 A month ago Reiko bought some ice cream with the intentions of giving it to the boy. However, rather than offer an incredibly energetic toddler refined sugar, she decided that it would be better to stick with the regular snacks that he's already accustomed to such as a yogurt drink, certain kinds of bread, and the occasional cookie. Not wanting the frozen treat to go to waste, Reiko suggested I have the ice cream and has left me to it for the better part of this past fortnight. Today she noticed that it's not yet been touched.

A little over a year ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to consume something sweet. When I worked at the office, not a day would go by where there wasn't something on my desk that contained a large dose of white sugar or salt. There's no denying that I had an insatiable desire for foods that contained tiny white cubes. That said, this past year has been quite different. Not only am I much less interested in eating sweet or salty foods, I rarely feel hungry anymore. This isn't the result of a diet or fasting program, but just the way things have turned out.

While working at the office, I'd get in about 10,000 steps every day while also working frantically on whatever was in front of me that day. Here at home I get in about 2,500 steps a day while working slightly-less-frantically1. As I'm no longer as active as before, it seems logical that the body is less interested in processed foods. The three meals, four coffees, and five glasses of water I consume every day has proven to be sufficient regardless of how much thinking is going on2.

This does create a problem, though. There's untouched ice cream in the freezer. Who will eventually enjoy it?

  1. It's a little hard to focus intently on stuff when a young child is occasionally screaming for attention from a different person.

  2. I do generally have a snack when consuming the odd alcoholic beverage, as it's not good for me to drink on an empty stomach. That said, this is not a regular activity by any stretch of the imagination.

Playing Nurse Mon, 02 Sep 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 76d1b969-6f51-e064-e2e4-b56c1f30ecc4 As much as it pains me to admit it, Nozomi is not a young puppy anymore. Sure, I still call her a puppy and occasionally prefix it with an affectionate adjective1, but at 9 years of age her snout is starting to have more white hairs than gold and she's much less interested in long walks. This has has become even more true over the last couple of days; Nozomi is having trouble managing stairs.

Nozomi Enjoying Yesterday Morning's Walk

The problem started yesterday morning, but she certainly tried to get down the stairs for her walk to the park. On the way back, though, she just stood in front of the stairs and looked at me with a look that said she wanted to jump up the small steps2, but she just couldn't. I helped her out the last little bit of the way home and decided to bring her to the vet today to see what the problem might be. Did she develop a hernia? Is it something serious? I can't stand to see her in pain or struggling.

Based on the diagnosis, it's nothing too serious. She probably over-extended herself a couple days ago and she has a strained muscle in one of her hind legs. As a result, she'll need to take it easy the next couple of days and get plenty of rest. Both of these should not be a problem for her, but it does mean that I get to be her nurse again. She gets half a pain-killing pill with breakfast, and the other half with dinner. When we go outside, I'll need to carry her to the park, then put her down on the grass so that there's no need to jump the little curb between the walking path and the lawn. And, of course, she'll need a bit more attention during the day so that she doesn't get too restless and move around more, which would aggravate her leg muscles.

I don't mind pampering the puppy every now and again, but I do sometimes wonder if she'll learn how to fake an injury to get a little bit of extra care.

  1. I often call Nozomi Silly Puppy, primarily because she was very silly when she first joined the family.

  2. The concrete steps outside are just 5cm high. This is because Nozomi's legs are 6cm long and Reiko's parents are in their 70s. Big steps create problems. Little ones are manageable.

Five Things Sun, 01 Sep 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason af27e6de-52ab-815a-4692-604b29cc667a Another Sunday means it's time for another list. The last couple of days have seen a ridiculous amount of negativity projected my way, which has certainly taken its toll on my patience, but August was a pretty good month overall. The boy is starting to read more. Projects at the day job are moving forward. The summer heat and humidity has been replaced with some cooler temperatures with intermittent storms. All of these things are positive and each is worthy of a celebration … some more than others, of course. September is shaping up to have a bunch of positive events take place, too, and I'm looking forward to each one of these.

A Week Off … for Training

The last week of September will involve a solid week of Mulesoft training through an all-day intensive course. There will be a great deal of learning and a great deal of Java. Once complete, there will be a closed-book exam where I get to put the skills to use an earn certification for the technology, which will get put to use almost immediately with some upcoming projects at the day job. An added bonus of the training is that I'll need a new computer, and I've managed to convince the day job to provide a 15" MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM, as the 13" MacBook Pro I've been using for the last few years is simply not up to the task of dealing with AnyPoint Studio, the IDE used for Mulesoft development.

A New MacBook

Yes, this was mentioned in the previous point, but it's still something positive to look forward to … even if this is potentially coming a mere couple of weeks before Apple releases the fabled 16" MacBook Pro with the older-style butterfly keyboard, which is the same style that I've enjoyed since 2012. With 32GB of RAM and a dedicated video card, a number of the heat problems that I've been struggling with lately should be drastically minimized. It will also be feasible to do some of the more computationally demanding tasks that colleagues have been asking for help with. If the keyboards on the current 15" devices are as problematic as posts on the web make them out to be, then I'll attach an external keyboard and use the device that way. There's still a whole lot of positive with this hardware acquisition.

Reiko's Birthday

While she doesn't really like birthdays anymore, this annual celebration is a perfect excuse for the boy to make something nice for his mum. Last year involved a great deal of work on my part, as he was just one year old at the time. This year he'll get to help in the kitchen to make something nice. There will also be cards, flowers, and — possibly — something akin to a cake that is not a cake1

Cooler Temperatures

September is here, which means the summer heat is about to give way to a series of typhoons that will cool the country down and bring in the short, two-week autumn period where everybody wants to be outside before five months of winter hit. For me, this entire cycle is a positive as it means that the stupid mosquitoes that bother me at every opportunity will disappear for a short while. This is, of course, one of the many reasons that winter is my favourite season.

And finally …

Reading List Zero

For the vast majority of this year, the reading list has been sitting at about a dozen books to read. Some of these were the result of recommendations from authors of other books, and a couple were even picked up because I strongly disagreed with the author's stance on a subject but wanted to read a coherent argument about why they felt they were right. All in all, it's been a challenging reading year as I've managed to read just one work of fiction and 82 books that cover topics such as modern religion, historic events, sociology, education, child rearing, technology, and even a biography2. Rarely is the list shorter than a three or four books, but I've not had any new recommendations from other readers or authors for a number of months. If I do get down to zero, then I might just use the rest of the year for some science fiction, as the year of "real stuff" has been a bit much at times … particularly when reading something from someone I might slap in the face3.

September has just begun and I plan on making sure it's a positive one.

  1. Reiko doesn't like cake.

  2. Finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs a few months back. It has been sitting in the Reading List for 4 years.

  3. I read things from people I strongly disagree with, like Milo Yiannopoulos, in order to have a better understanding of their arguments. This allows me to construct better arguments for why their stance on a topic may be incorrect. Not exposing myself to ideas I detest is not exactly the best way to go through life.

The Wrong Solution Sat, 31 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 6e7146f3-b4af-d771-1a61-40fbadca42d1 Two months ago I built an alternative digital textbook system for the day job that read from existing source material, sliced and diced the data, and presented something that was the same, but different. The amount of thought and effort that went into the task was not inconsequential and the work resulted in a lot of late nights and even a couple of all-nighters to get out the door. The system has been used at a limited number of schools here in Japan for a month and has received mostly positive reviews. As a result, the software will be deployed across the rest of the country this coming Monday.

I should be proud, but I'm not. In fact, I started to feel as though this was the wrong solution earlier this week when I started to see the work that had been done by another team that was working on something very similar.

Deacon Jones Quote

The problem, as I see it, is that the digital textbook system I developed is too much about me. It was instigated, designed, coded, and refined by me. Every line of code that powers the system was written on the very same computer that is being used to write this post. While this means the tool is tiny enough to run relatively well from a Raspberry Pi, this doesn't solve a larger problem that the company is going to face in six months time when every school across the globe consolidates on a single system. A system that I did not create.

My mistake was putting expediency and pride above logic. What I should have done was build the tool into Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System that the organization already has experience with. Putting my efforts into this system would have made it possible for the alternative digital textbook system to be properly compared with the other tools that are currently in use and in development. More than this, it would make the next year or so of work much easier for me given that I'll be responsible for managing a Moodle-based system in 2020. Refining skills and improving my knowledge of that system would benefit more people.

Seeing as how it's currently Saturday night, there's little chance of getting everything converted over to Moodle and ready for Monday. Instead, a little more planning and foresight will be required.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll put some time aside every evening to work with Moodle and test the feasibility of using that platform's Books feature to display textbooks with the appropriate format and responsiveness. The current textbook tool will continue to operate as a test of the design and features list, and I'll use this to collect feedback from teachers to see what they like and dislike about each of the digital textbook systems in use at the company1.

Hopefully this next attempt to solve a business problem will be done a little better.

  1. There are three, now. Two coded by me, and one from HQ in the US.

Watching Artisans Fri, 30 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason b366cc21-3197-4814-fc33-b770fba44212 There's something "magical" about watching a skilled person perform a task. When my grandfathers were still alive, I would often watch them build things in their shed or, in the case of my father's father, I would ask him to draw a picture of Mickey Mouse slapping Donald Duck with a glove "Bugs Bunny Style" and watch as he turned a scrap sheet of paper into a work of art with nothing more than a sharp HB pencil. Today I enjoyed a bit of downtime in the park and stumbled across a video of a highly skilled goldsmith turning a pair of AirPods into "GoldPods". He didn't take the easy road and slap a bunch of gold foil on the plastic, though. He went all in and made them the way Sir Ive would expect them.

18K Gold Airpods

This is the level of detail and craftsmanship that I aim for with my work, though there's no way a video of my day would be as exciting or interesting. If we're going to do something, then it makes sense to do it well regardless of what the job is. People will notice when someone genuinely enjoys what they're doing and people will stand back and appreciate when a master is at work.

Not everyone has a job that people notice when things are being done correctly. Generally we only pay attention when something has gone wrong. That said, it's important to look around every once in a while and appreciate the excellent work that so many of us do day in and day out that seldom receives any recognition.

Stupid Mosquitoes Thu, 29 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 86cab947-56d1-178c-3eae-822e13e0505a Mosquitoes are idiots. The combined cognitive power of every mosquito on Earth would still register lower than that of a shattered ceramic coffee mug. One would think that after billions of executions at the hands of humanity, the darn things would learn to leave us alone. Unfortunately, these insects make poor students.

Stupid Mosquito

People used to laugh when I said that, if I ever found Aladdin's lamp, one of my three wishes would be the instant eradication of every mosquito on the planet. Aside from offering frogs a slightly more diverse diet, what benefit do they serve? The things spread disease and can ruin an evening outside faster than a classroom of cranky children with chicken pox.

The willful extinction of a species is not generally something to celebrate but, if we do manage to eradicate every mosquito on the planet, I'll wear short sleeves at dusk and not shed a single tear. Until such a time, though, I'll need to invest in some better repellant.

From Letters Into Words Wed, 28 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 540f2e5c-3463-bc1b-19ef-82353ea35df4 The boy knows how to read hiragana, the first Japanese character set children learn here, and can recognize most of them with a high degree of accuracy — even if it's a handwritten scrawl. Watching him absorb this information has been incredibly interesting and now he's beginning to put the skill to use by reading individual sounds and realizing they make a word. He's able to read simple road signs like とまれ1 and can get through some of the pages in borrowed library books. Judging from the frequency and energy put into his singing, the boy has also known his ABCs for several months. Reading English books has proven to be more difficult for him, but there are definite signs of improvement.

Mr Men Books

One of the many routines that both of us look forward to every day is the bedtime stories. When the evening shower is complete, the teeth are brushed, the toys put away, and Mommy is hugged, we go to the bookshelf upstairs and choose two books2 to read. Once he's in his bed and ready, he chooses which book to read first and I tell him the story; complete with different voices for all of the characters. The Mr. Men series has been among his favourite books recently, with Mr. Greedy and Mr. Nosey taking top spots followed closely by many of the first ten books3.

The boy has a pretty good memory for food and books and can name most edible foods in both English and Japanese after eating it just once. With books, he'll remember the story almost instantly and begin saying back some of the more memorable sentences verbatim. However, since he started to read Hiragana, he's been exploring words in the books. This week he's even started to do this with English despite the complexity of pronunciation4. To say that I'm happy is an understatement.

Even after the boy starts to read books on his own, there will still be a desire for bedtime stories. We both look forward to this chance to relax and there's no reason to stop until he feels he's "too old" for such activities. However, being able to read is going to open so many doors for the boy that I can't help but feel excited for him. There are a lot of stories to read. Far more than anyone could possibly hope to get through. Being young and inexperienced, he'll be able to read a story and feel surprised when there's a twist. He'll get to explore the classics and begin to visualize what the world was like before he was born. He'll have the chance to go on epic journeys with protagonists who start out as shy innocents and return home as wise adventurers. Sure, I can read these books, too, but I've read thousands of stories over my lifetime and can spot the patterns and upcoming plot twists rather early. There's much less surprise. The boy gets to experience the joy from our common stories for the first time.

If the boy does develop a taste for reading, I'll do what I can to maintain the thirst for more books. A lot of adults I talk to haven't finished reading a book in years. I generally get through two or three every week. My goal as a parent will be to ensure my son lands somewhere between these two extremes for his entire life. A person who likes to read likes to use their head. Nothing will be more valued in the future than the ability to think.

  1. This is typically seen as 止まれ, with the initial character being in kanji to more accurately let people know they should stop. However, in areas with a large number of families, the simpler form will be found painted near crosswalks.

  2. While the goal is for him to be content after two books, he generally wants to read every book in the house twice. To maintain some semblance of sanity, I've limited him to 3 books that I'll read to him, and 2 books that he can bring into bed.

  3. The first Mr. Men book I read was way back in 1985. I was six years old and wanted to read Mr. Bounce after the school librarian read it to the class. Why the brain remembers stuff like this, I'll never know.

  4. Japanese characters have just one pronunciation. English, of course, has lots of different ways to say vowels depending on what and where they are in a word.

Comfortable Rain Tue, 27 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 9b34bfbc-478c-786e-f6ab-3250f0de362d After what feels like months of insufferable heat and humidity, people in this part of the country are breathing a sigh of relief as an unexpected low pressure system brings cooler temperatures and much-needed rain to the area. The forecasted high for this week is just 31˚C with humidity low enough that the air conditioner will get to enjoy a couple of days off … which will do wonders for the electricity bill. There is one problem with the rain, though.

Handprint on the Glass

The boy can't play outside.

Over My Head? Mon, 26 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 252f1180-996d-f0ab-9bdf-0da2de028406 One of the many, many things that I would like to accomplish this year is to publish an iOS app to Apple's AppStore. Given that the company is making a large push to Swift UI, I've been investing an hour or two every day to watching some of the many videos from this year's WWDC. These have been incredibly interesting and have given me quite a bit to think about with regards to modern application design, but they're also showing me some of the things that I've not had to think about for several years and how these technologies have evolved. Tools like Augmented Reality and Machine Learning. Watching the videos I'm often scratching my head not because of the complexity of the implementation, but because I just can't see how these could possibly be useful outside of a few niche situations. However, when I compare this to the buzz around these two terms in educational software circles, AR and ML are being positioned as the greatest thing since 3-ring binders.

What am I not understanding?

In my mind, the use case for Augmented Reality involves learners heading out into the world and using the device as a window to seek clarification or confirmation. I can see this as being quite useful when people go into nature in search of specific insects or plants, and an AR-enabled bit of software confirms a person has found something. This is also true for Machine Learning, where a lot of data can be collected and processed locally while out in the field. For STEM subjects, these two tools can give people the visual confirmation or interaction necessary to firmly ingrain a concept into a person's mind. There are some mathematical concepts that I use very often now that were impossible for me to understand in high school, and it took a video on YouTube many years ago to unlock the how of an equation so that I could understand why and when we use it. A video is not the same as AR or ML, but these two technologies can be used to derive the visualizations based on input from the physical world.

However, I don't write tools for students or teachers of STEM subjects. My software is all about skills training with languages making up the bulk of the courses. The educational circles I belong to online for this area of study all rave about the buzzwords including AI … but I don't quite understand their excitement. The use cases are far too niche and still much better suited to a real person with real experience teaching a class.

Am I just not seeing far enough? Am I biased against "intelligent" software? These are certainly possibilities.

Five Things Sun, 25 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason e43186a4-f72d-975c-1a68-b1f8bc1141f1 While Nozomi and I were out for our evening walk, I did something different that would have likely appeared odd to anyone watching. When the weather is nice, the puppy and I generally walk over to the benches along the first base line of the nearest baseball diamond and just sit for a while. This gives her some time to observe the world go by while I get to rest my ears from all the noise that generally orbits an incredibly energetic young child. However, rather than sit in silence, I attached a Zoom iQ6 microphone to my phone, fired up Hindenburg Field Recorder, and spoke for 12 minutes about why I haven't made any of my own podcasts for well over two years1. The gist is that I'm boring and, until something interesting comes along, it doesn't make sense to plan, record, edit, and distribute a show.

What might make me more interesting to listen to?

Hmm …

When I used to put a podcast out several times a week one of the most common criticisms was that the topics were too varied. Aside from Discover ADN and the limited run from Dog Days of Podcasting in 2015, no show with more than 10 episodes had a consistent topic. Doubtfully Daily Matigo was by far the most egregious example of this and it was even part of the intro:

A short podcast, never longer than 24-hours, where I get to discuss whatever happens to be on my mind.

With this in mind, if I want to create a podcast for people to subscribe and listen to, it will need to meet some criteria.

A Limited-Run Series

Several years have passed since I was last heavily invested in a personal podcast project. Having a show with no specific end date in mind can allow a person to ease into a show and build a rhythm, but this can also result in a lot of aimlessness. This is what I feel killed a bunch of the shows I used to enjoy from 5by5 and back when these networks started to wane in popularity. Having a show with a planned ending point generally results in a better-focused show with new episodes building on the previous conversations.

A Niche Topic

A common topic like current events or sports can certainly appeal to a wide audience, but generally results in an over-crowded market. A good, niche topic can allow a creator to explore a subject without feeling rushed or as though they're competing with hundreds of better-funded, well-staffed productions. One of the downsides of going with a niche topic, though, is that the largest audience will likely not learn of the show while it's running. This means that the episodes will need to stay online long after the series comes to an end to allow the highest number of listens.

Hosts with Chemistry

This is a hard one to "manufacture", which is why podcasts generally work better when its friends or colleagues working together. When hosts know each other well, conversations can become incredibly interesting to listen to as there's little reason to speak in a guarded fashion. Playful teasing can also come across as more natural and add a bit of fun to a show.


The hosts need to care about the niche topic a little more than the average person. The hosts need to have opinions — ideally opinions that are at odds with each other on occasion. From here there can be a healthy debate about the subject where, hopefully, arguments can be laid out and explored. If one person can walk away having learned something, chances are someone listening to the show will do the same.

A Defined Target Audience

For the kind of podcast that I've been describing, having a clearly-defined target audience will make it possible to know the kind of language the shows should have and generally who it is that will be listening. If a person is going to create a show for beginners in a subject, then it's important to ensure buzz words and other topic-specific language is defined in a way for new people to quickly understand and learn. The inverse is also true, as professionals may not want to listen to a show that is too simplistic or shallow.

Which means …?

I'll admit that I've been thinking about starting up a limited-run podcast that looks at the use of modern technology in education and what challenges need to be overcome. This is a topic that I've been involved in through work for a number of years and is something that I am quite involved with on a daily basis. I write software that gets used in schools, after all. The target audience would be people in similar roles, perhaps not software developers themselves, but actively involved in finding new and interesting ways of implementing tools that aid in the learning process. What I'm missing, however, is a co-host. Someone to discuss the subject with. What I would like to do is find someone with a different set of opinions and expectations, as this would result in a more meaningful debate. Ideally we'd have similar objectives while arguing the implementation details.

Would there be time for such a thing, though? Podcasting has certainly become easier in the last few years, but there is still a lot of work involved.

  1. I've produced hundreds for other podcasters over the years, though. Even helping some launch careers in radio. I have not appeared on any English-language podcasts since late 2016, though.

Stuck in the Past Sat, 24 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 66b13d47-2ec4-cffe-d6fb-6de8e2bb36f8 At what point does a person begin to think more of the past than they do the present or future? This is a question I've been thinking about a bit over the last few months as it seems I've been overcome with nostalgia for a time that's lost to the sands of time. While I do very much look forward to listening to many of the music podcasts that come out weekly with new artists and tracks, what I've really enjoy listening to this year is songs from the 164GB music collection I've amassed1 over the last two decades. Looking back at some of the posts I've written on this site over the last few months I can see at least a dozen examples where I'm retelling stories from the late 80s and early 90s, and even went so far as to lament the extinction of the mix tape.

Have I become an old man, or is this just a consequence of watching a young person discover the world around them and I'm reminded of my own early years? Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Shadows — Noah Silliman

Of course, the future has always been an important part of my present and continues to be so. Between now and the spring of 2022 I have a rather detailed list of things that need to be accomplished if I am to reach some very specific, longer-term goals. In order to make these goals possible, the present is structured and scheduled to make sure that the immediate concerns of the day are addressed in addition to the items that will need to be done in the coming weeks. As these mini-goals are completed, the larger goals become ever more attainable. Examples of this would be the elimination of new freelance work and the winding down of the side business as well as the research and development of various skills and tools that will be needed going forward. Yet it seems that while I'm doing these activities, I'm thinking about the past. How things used to work. Why things (generally software-related) used to be a certain way.

This strikes me as temporally inconsistent. We cannot be in two places at once and there's no doubt in my mind that if I were given the opportunity to jump back in time, I would outright refuse because the world that was is not the world I would enjoy being a part of anymore. Sure, it would be interesting to go back 20, 25, or even 30 years in a DeLorean as part of a vacation or for historical research, but I wouldn't want to live through the 80s or 90s again … especially when I think about what sort of technology I'd be giving up for another quarter century2. The present is very much when I want to be.

So why all the nostalgia?

A friend of mine says that it's a natural part of middle age. We look back at what we've done, look at where we are, and then try to accommodate areas we feel have been ignored or left deficient. Some people go out and buy a sports car. Others join a gym. Some decide to upend everything and get a divorce. I guess for me, I'm listening to an entire back catalog of music in an attempt to better appreciate the messages contained in the lyrics and compositions. I've long enjoyed Tracy Chapman's albums, but they've taken on a new meaning over the last few years thanks to live experience. The same goes for the early works from Sting, Paul Simon, The Cranberries, Billy Joel, Seal, Faithless, Moby, The Wallflowers, and about 150 others.

There is an exception to the music, though. When I was in university I collected a lot of anime soundtracks. Aside from a single, hard-to-find remix of Fly Me To the Moon from Neon Genesis Evangelion3, I've not felt any desire to listen to these albums. Anime music has become, for the most part, utter noise. Given that I couldn't understand very much Japanese when I bought these albums, it makes me wonder whether the reason I spent so much money on this fizzled passion was the sheer exoticness of the works. This isn't to say that there wasn't some enjoyable music written for animated TV shows or movies, as there was a lot of really good work released. However, just as I no longer watch shows like The Great Space Coaster or The Flintstones, the time for me to watch anime has long passed4.

When I was a teen my parents would often listen to "oldies" radio stations that played the same 250-or-so songs from the 50s and 60s on an endless loop. Even the commercials would sound like they were from another time. As one would expect, this would drive me up the wall at times because, in my opinion at the time, there was so much great new music to enjoy. Now here I am, a little bit older than my parents were when I was a teen, listening to my own private oldies collection. Stuck in the past, while living in the present, and working towards the future.

  1. The music collection is 100% legal, too. I have the receipts or the source media for each and every track. Back when I used iTunes Match, it took about a month to upload and sync everything with Apple's servers, then I could listen to my music anywhere. It was convenient as heck … until I discovered that iTunes Match didn't like explicit lyrics. It's really hard to enjoy certain songs when the cursing is ducked out.

  2. Going back to computers with CRTs or really low-resolution LCDs? No thank you. I'll live with a 33MHz CPU if I must, because the operating systems and other bits of software are designed around it. However, I wouldn't want to spend my days staring at a pixellated display. That was fine when I was young and indestructible. 40 year old me wants 2-million or more tiny pixels on any display I look at for more than 5 minutes a day. Call it a "First World Problem" if you must, but a poor display does more damage to a person using a computer than a slow processor.

  3. There are so many mixes of this song from Eva. So, so many.

  4. This is how I feel about anime in my life. If other people my age or older enjoy the medium, that's great and they're free to do so. It's not something to pass judgement on.

Sleeping Puppy Fri, 23 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason c471c296-4bef-af36-e839-29630cdd4b9b Nozomi, the Sleeping Puppy Dog

Nozomi is an interesting dog. She has all the creature comforts a puppy could ask for and plenty of space to use, yet she confines herself to just part of my home office and sleeps with her head on the hard floor rather than on her much softer bed. Today I caught her dreaming about some sort of food and managed to catch this fuzzy photo. What you can't see is that her tongue is going in and out of her mouth while she eats … something.

The Internet has been around long enough for humanity to amass a lot of videos and anecdotes of dogs having very vivid dreams and it makes me want to learn more about sleep and why it is that mammals dream1. Given that this is a common function across multiple species, it's clear that this is an important element to our mental health, but why is it that a limited subset of motor control continues to be accessible while the mind is asleep? Nozomi can eat, bark, and sometimes appear to walk with just her front paws while unconscious. The boy can eat, throw, and laugh while unconscious. I tend to wake in the very same position I went to sleep in, which has me wondering whether I still roll around while dreaming.

Maybe this is something I can learn more about after retirement, when time avails itself a little more.

  1. I'm not sure if dreaming is limited to mammals. This would be something I'd learn if I actually studied the topic.

Nine Years of Nozomi Thu, 22 Aug 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 609dd452-2b4f-0ddd-8e94-6a4eb43b1a52 Day 0

Nine years ago today Nozomi joined the family, and things haven't been the same since. She was originally supposed to be Reiko's dog, but Nozomi and I seemed to build a pretty good friendship almost immediately. While this generally means that I get to do all the cleaning, feeding, grooming, and other tasks associated with taking care of a four-legged friend, the rewards are worth the myriad of chores. Nozomi has been part of the family for 3,287 of the 3,394 days she's been on this planet1 and I couldn't imagine her being with any other.

Day 3286

One of the many things that I find interesting about my relationship with the puppy is the level of trust between us. I grew up with dogs and cats and have spent time around domesticated farm animals, but none of them were really trustworthy. They could attack at any time, justified or not, and you always had to be watchful. With Nozomi, I can feel completely at ease. She could be sleeping on my lap, sitting next to my computer, or just walking close to my coffee, and I'll never have to worry that something might happen. She won't scratch my legs, paw the keyboard, or drink my beverage2. She's the epitome of calm … which helps me relax in almost any situation.

As a selfish person, I really hope that she stays close by — and in good health — for at least another 3,000 days. However, even if she cannot, she'll always be a cherished member of my family.

  1. 96.8474% of her life! Not including time in the womb, of course.

  2. These are all things The Boy has done in the last couple of weeks.

If You Solve Enough Problems ... Wed, 21 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 87e31154-942f-b206-a5fa-4ce8dcde77a0

At some point, everything's going to go south on you. You're going to say "This is it. This is how I end." Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work. You solve one problem, and then you solve the next problem, and the next, and if you solve enough problems, you get to go home.

— Mark Watney (The Martian)

This quote from the end of The Martian often drifts through the mind whenever I look under the covers of a "completed" task to find a mess of spaghetti and broken promises. Unlike the protagonist in this lovely work of fiction1, death does not wait for me at every turn. Instead I'm often looking at something that should have been done but isn't remotely close to being so.

This problem bit me today pretty hard when I went to access an old project of mine because a colleague wanted to see how something was done. The system was still up and running on the development server and I plugged in my credentials so that I could complete the task of creating a new account in a matter of seconds … except my password wasn't being accepted. So, because it was a SQL Server-based system, I fired up Azure Data Studio and tried to connect. No dice. The connection was made, but the pre-handshake was failing. So, being a Linux-based installation of SQL Server, I SSHed into the machine and confirmed everything was running … which it was. The credentials were still good, as I could connect through the command line, but it seemed that connections from external sources were not being accepted. Checking the firewall, I saw that there was nothing in place to prevent any other machine on my network from accessing this server.

So what was going on?

My checklist of operations for a failed SQL Server was brought up and I started going through each item line by line. The system was restarted. Any new updates were applied. A new account was created for testing purposes. The firewall was temporarily disabled. A full 30 items were run through to no avail. The machine simply refused to allow connections from outside the server. An hour on the Microsoft help forums and StackOverflow didn't result in any solutions but, after taking a short break for dinner, I remembered that I needed to do something after updating the system a few months back. SQL Server for Linux is officially supported only on Ubuntu Server 16.04 LTS, but I am using Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS which has updated versions of some required libraries. Symbolic links need to be created to the older versions of two files in order for SQL Server to work.

cd /opt/mssql/libln -s /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/ libcrypto.soln -s /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/

After creating the links I restarted SQL Server and tried to connect from the web server again to find that it worked like a charm. Azure Data Studio, too. The issue had to do with an incompatible SSL library being used. By forcing SQL Server to use the older version, everything worked as it is expected to.

There was no risk of death today. There was, however, a whole lot of problem solving.

  1. Yes, there are a lot of people who dislike Any Weir's book for some semi-valid reasons, but I enjoyed it, so leave me alone. Get off my lawn! Darn clouds ….

Six Weeks a Month Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason c509e504-3756-3f46-e6ae-7c3493ac6fd1 Today I was up in Tokyo for a series of meetings with managers and colleagues to share information and make plans on a number of projects. All in all, it was a more productive trip than usual and resulted in some positive outcomes that should help a number of people solve complex problems with less stress and frustration. While at HQ, one of my new managers took a look at my time sheet for the past month and noted that I've clocked about 6 weeks of working time in the last month, which results in using a rather large chunk of the department's monthly overtime budget. Given the tasks on my plate and the amount of output that comes from all this, he signed off on the time sheet so that payroll can do what they do and said something along the lines of "we're still saving thousands a month by not hiring vendors to do your job."

As anyone might surmise, I don't mind putting in the hours to get things done so long as the end result is worth the effort. Most of the time the ends justify the means. Occasionally I miscalculate or make a glorious mess of things. However, the amount of work that goes into every hour that I'm at my desk is nothing to sneeze at. When I'm on the clock, I work hard.

While I'm Tokyo today I had the opportunity to observe a number of my colleagues at their desk going about their regular tasks. Servers were being managed. Accounts were being set up. Systems were being tested. Everyone was moving at a very leisurely pace, as though they had to fit two hours of work into an 8-hour day. This struck me as odd, especially as I tend to consistently beat myself up for not getting enough done in a day despite the 11-to-14-hour days that I put in. There is no denying that I'm self-driven to get things done, nor is there any point denying that I bully myself to accomplish more with an increasingly critical attention to detail in order to not only solve the problems of the day but the problems that I can foresee coming down the road if "lazy" decisions are made in the present. Watching my colleagues in Tokyo go about their day with ease, however, made me wonder why it is that I insist on pushing as hard as I do. Six weeks of work means 80 hours of overtime, which is about two hours per day. Would it not make more sense to use those 120 minutes for better things, like playing with my kid or getting some sleep?

The questions are rhetorical, as there's no doubt in my mind that any reallocation of time would result in more stress at work as I perceive fewer things being accomplished, but I can't help but wonder how it is that I've wound up in this sort of situation. What is it about my upbringing or personality that drives me to do what I do? Nobody in my family acts like I do and few have any reason to. Is this just the luck of a genetic draw?

I've tried on several occasions to take it easy at the day job, but any slow down generally reverts back to a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality after three or four days. There is no changing this just yet.

Hopefully the desire to succeed and accomplish complicated goals will not fade anytime soon. I'll depend on it quite a bit over the next couple of years.

Lost in the Weeds Mon, 19 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 49018ea0-a533-d059-8c7f-4a1a0d3b7c61 Many years ago, when I was still attending high school, some neighbours would complain about not receiving all of their mail on time or at all. Living out in the rural corners of Ontario generally meant that if the weather was less than ideal, mail delivery would be delayed by a day or two. However, if the weather was too ideal, mail delivery could be delayed as well. It was a couple of months later when someone living a few kilometres down the road discovered that some of our undelivered mail was rotting in a ditch next to a driveway to the old Gilbert home … a place that had been abandoned since the 1970s. Within days of this being reported to the police, the area had a new mail carrier and we never again had a problem with delivery — regardless of the weather.

Discarded Mail

Every so often I take a look at the Spam and Deleted folders in my mailboxes to see if any legitimate messages were mis-reported and filed incorrectly. It happens from time to time, and I despise not getting back to real people who take the time to send me a message. It's disrespectful. Today when I dived into these waste bins I found two messages from real people who have probably given up on hearing from me and a whole host of messages from companies and groups that used to mean something to me. LinkedIn continues to send me mail about former connections and colleagues despite having deleted my account years ago. Canon continues to send me email because I foolishly registered a purchase with them to activate the warranty. Axanar, a Star Trek fan production that I was once excited about, continues to send emails about unrelated things. Head hunters, job sites, Nigerian princes, and non-branded pill distributors all wants to get in touch to sell something — anything — in a bid to appear relevant. So very little of it is, though.

There are times when I wonder if it would make sense to change how my personal mail server manages messages so that it's more like the mail carrier that decided to dump communications in a ditch to be weathered away and forgotten. So many of the emails that hit the inbox, particularly those that are immediately forwarded to the garbage bin, do little more than take up space on the server for 30 days before disappearing into oblivion. What if instead of receiving the mail, which sends an acceptance message back to the transmitting server, I sent an SMTP response of 510 or 550 back? This would tell the other server that the email address doesn't exist and, hopefully, result in less spam in the long run.

Naturally, there would be some limits to how this is done. Any message from a known spam domain or a service that I've long since left would get greeted with a "Jason's not here, man!" message, while others are treated the way they are now. Over time addresses and domains would be added or removed from the filter list with the ultimate goal of having my actual email addresses marked as "No Good" on thousands or millions of spam lists around the world. The change wouldn't be that hard to implement, either. Maybe a couple dozen lines of code and a confirmation of which SMTP response is most appropriate.

There's no reason why a bad mail carrier can't have the job of ditching the unwanted messages while a reliable one delivers the good.

In My Head Like a Riot Sun, 18 Aug 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 43c4084f-0f5c-e966-5105-f265a5d8d186 This past weekend has been pretty fruitful, as I've dedicated a good bit of time to practicing some photography and learning about Swift UI, which is used to create applications for Apple devices. That said, it hasn't been a particularly restful weekend as my patience for various sounds and the volume they're projected at has all but vanished. The TV has become more annoying than usual, the boy's high pitched tantrums are infuriating, and the echo in the house makes everything else two or three times more difficult to tolerate. It's getting bad enough that I am actively ignoring as much sound as possible, which includes people's voices as they never seem to cease. I've actually wished on several occasions this weekend to be deaf.

Is this normal, though? How often would a person willingly choose to permanently lose one of their senses for the sake of present discomfort? The question is as absurd as the wish. Podcasts, music, and conversations are really hard to enjoy without the use of our ears so being deaf would just lead to more problems. What I really seek is quiet … something that is impossible when working from home when not living alone.

Once again I'm wondering if it would make sense to give up working in my own environment and return to the office. There would be a number of immediate disadvantages to this, such as the hour of wasted time commuting from home to the city where I would end up using the very same computer. This lost time would cut into how much overtime I can do which, though it sounds like a good thing, really just means I'd be falling behind on projects faster. Heading to work during a typhoon or 40°C temperatures isn't great, and I wouldn't have the luxury of wearing little more than shorts and a t-shirt as professional attire is understandably expected from employees working at the schools. Then there's the added issue of not being around the boy as much while he's young and still very dependent on his parents. Most fathers do not have the same opportunity to watch their kids grow.

The advantage, however, would be the hard cut-off for when I need to put the work away and unwind. As it stands, my typical working hours are 10:00am to 6:30pm — with the occasional gap for lunch and tending to the boy — then from 9:30pm until 11:00pm. The evenings are generally dedicated to meetings with overseas colleagues and working on the really complex things that cannot be done while the boy is awake and running around the house. Unfortunately, this "quiet time" generally means that I continue working until after midnight, which is clearly not cool. The degree of exhaustion I feel is beyond absurd, yet I generally feel compelled to complete "just one more thing" again and again until I look at the clock and say "What the? It's 2:30 in the morning!"1 Despite the gaps, or perhaps because of them, it feels as though I'm working all day long. From the time Nozomi's morning walk is finished until I climb into bed 18 hours later, I'm thinking about work. Sure, the pay is decent, but this isn't at all what I want to do for a company that is not my own. A hard cut-off might be the friction I need to properly "shut off" when not at the office, and the hour-long commute each way would be the buffer between work-mode and dad-mode.

Would this solve my listening problems, though? It would drastically increase the burden on Reiko, and I would still need to work from home two or three days a week when she goes to work. This would lead to more friction and possible resentment at home, which is the whole reason I made the enormous efforts to work from home in the first place2.

Ultimately what I am looking for is a quieter house where I don't need to keep my ears open just in case someone is talking in my direction. I'd like to be able to block out the world when it's feasible so that the only thing I hear is the ceaseless chatter in my head while solving problems. The boy starts kindergarten in February where he'll be gone for a couple of hours every morning. Perhaps when he's busy at school I can use some quiet time to work on complex things during the day rather than only at night. My goal is still to be in bed before midnight every day, and I would love to go back to not using and glowing screens an hour before sleeping. Right now neither of these goals are even remotely realistic, and it's causing a lot of undue stress.

  1. This happened twice last week, and it's not at all uncommon.

  2. It's very uncommon for a male to be allowed to work from home in Japan. Very, very uncommon.

The Wrong Culprits Sat, 17 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason f1dea949-19ec-c710-bdf6-5c915150cece

Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, said an equivalent of the doctor's oath was crucial given that mathematicians and computer engineers were building the tech that would shape society's future.

Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic — The Guardian

Ms. Fry seems to have left one bubble only to get stuck in another. It's not just the mathematicians and software developers who should be thinking about the ethical and long-term concerns with any given technology, but the people who lead organizations that build the digital tools. How often do we hear someone say something along the lines of "I don't like this, but it's my job and I have bills to pay, so I'll do it anyway?" It's all well and good to lay the blame for the adverse effects of social networks, facial recognition, and machine learning at the feet of the early pioneers of the fields, but it's a little too convenient as well.

Mark Zuckerberg didn't write every line of code that powers all of Facebook's tools. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn't write every line of code that powers all of Google's tools. The same can be said for for Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and every other person who has led a group of people that has created something that the world once considered to be impossible outside the realm of fiction. It is not just the people who make the tools that should consider the ramifications of their labor.

Looking at this a little more broadly, everybody should pledge an oath equivalent to the Hippocratic oath for every job they do. We rely on so many people from so many industries to do things we're either unwilling or unable to do. We must trust that the labours of others will not harm us or the people we care about. Should meat processors pledge to not mix stale bread or rodents into their beef in an effort to reduce costs while conning the consumer out of money?1 Yes. Should a person who develops medicines do their darnedest to ensure that the pills they make are not addictive? Yes. Should a taxi driver strive to take the most direct route between point A and B to save the passenger a little bit of money?2 Yes.

And so should the managers of these professionals. And so should the middle-managers of the organization. And so should the C-level executives. Every person has a responsibility to "do no evil", including the people using the products and services (willingly or otherwise).

I'm not at all happy with the fact that every time I go to a JR train station in Japan my face is recorded and that data is instantly sent to a Fujitsu-run data centre in Tokyo, where it's processed, analyzed, and stored for who knows how long. There is no GDPR in Japan, and there is no way to even know how much data Fujitsu has on me. I wrote to JR about it and I wrote to the federal politician who represents this area. Neither even took the time to respond because there aren't enough people raising their voice over this issue.

I despise the fact that my non-smart TV and even stupider DVR want to send viewing habits back to Sharp and Panasonic respectively. It's not their bloody business what TV shows the family is watching and when. I've blocked these devices from accessing the Internet while maintaining a connection to the media server, but people shouldn't have to do this. I've written to both companies. Sharp responded with a generic "please read our revised privacy policy on our website"3, and Panasonic — having already taken my money — didn't care enough to even receive the message. Their web contact form gave an error.

Every couple of weeks my microwave wants to be paired to an Android phone despite the "cookbook sync" feature being disabled for 5+ years. My Canon printer recently asked if I wanted to order more ink because the PGBK4 cartridge was low. My work-supplied phone received an SMS a couple of months back when I walked into a mall in Nagoya offering a 50 Yen coupon for a restaurant in the food court5. Were all of these the fault of developers or mathematicians? No. They were the fault of management.

"We need a Hippocratic oath in the same way it exists for medicine," Fry said. "In medicine, you learn about ethics from day one. In mathematics, it's a bolt-on at best. It has to be there from day one and at the forefront of your mind in every step you take."

People should be learning about ethics from day one on Earth, regardless of what career choices they make in life. Placing the blame for these technologies at the feet of the people charged with creating and implementing them is just a lazy cop out. There is nothing inherently bad about a lot of the technologies and tools we create until an ill-defined line is crossed. It's the job of management to ask "Is this too much?" before directing their people to make it happen.

  1. This was a real problem in Japan with a company a few years back, until a whistleblower had enough and ratted them out to the press … after three years of keeping quiet.

  2. This was another problem that was rampant in Japan for a little while.

  3. My eyes rolled twice when I saw that it was specifically referred to as a revised privacy policy.

  4. Photo-grade Black. Why do printers have two black cartridges, and why can't it use them more intelligently?

  5. This was freaky and very undesired. I've since learned that the mall has "ended their limited trial" and won't be sending SMS messages to phone numbers tied to faces anymore.

Night Flights Fri, 16 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 2a294c51-6d64-7716-8b81-c2ece8aac6de When the weather isn't too hot or humid, Nozomi and I like to sit on a bench next to a nearby ball diamond after the sun has set, listening as the world goes by. Cars drive past at a little over the speed limit. Cicadas chirp loudly at each other. Mosquitoes search enthusiastically for blood. Every couple of minutes, though, a plane can be seen crossing the sky en route to a destination that is likely no more exotic than the neighbourhood that Nozomi and I call home.

Planes Fly Over London

There will likely be another flight to the US coming up in the next 12 months as the global project begins to roll out and various teams wind down. Meetings will be held in New Jersey to decide the next steps, create organizational structures, and assemble small teams that will take ownership of various elements. I don't mind flying to the other side of the planet to attend 50-hours of meetings crammed into a 5-day working week, but I do wish I could bring the family — minus the puppy, unfortunately1 — somewhere beforehand.

Until this most recent annual row2 with our neighbouring country, Reiko and I were talking about visiting South Korea for a couple of days. The flight wouldn't be too long for the boy and it would give us an opportunity to get him accustomed to more complicated forms of travel. When the time comes to bring him to visit family in Canada, he'll need to be much more patient than he is today. This can only happen with experience and practice, so South Korea seemed like a logical choice. However, with this not being a viable option for the moment, it makes sense to look elsewhere.

Another option would be to head to Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture, as the weather there is much cooler. There are daily direct flights from Nagoya to Sapporo for about $80 a seat. The flight itself is just under two hours and the trip to the airport would likely be just as long; an excellent way to get the boy accustomed to travel without the hassles of spending an entire day in airports and planes.

I wonder if everyone would be up for a trip up north ….

  1. I would ask the in-laws to look after Nozomi, as they seem to get along quite well. This would be less stressful for the puppy than a pet hotel.

  2. Every year around August it seems that South Korea demands another round of reparations from Japan, deeming all the previous apologies, cash payouts, and infrastructure investments null and void.

Jettisoned Thu, 15 Aug 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason dd47cb98-c3e6-0439-c7c9-5d4e9e0b23d9 Over the last couple of months I've found myself writing a lot of posts that will likely never be published. The topics are varied as is the general vibe of the article, but one thread that can be found in each of them is a type of cynicism that rarely results in anything positive. Negativity towards an idea is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Constructive criticism is still criticism, which is often viewed negatively by the receiver, but when it's actionable then something good can come from the critique. Every so often I'll look at these abandoned posts and find the pessimism to be little more than frustrated venting about Facebook, hype around an unproven technology in its infancy, or the state of the Internet. Stuff that's not even worthy of a Digg.

The writing process that I've tried to follow for the last 11 months has been pretty simple:

  1. Jot down one or two sentences on a possible topic during the day
  2. Choose one topic during "writing hour"
  3. See where it goes
  4. If it's not horrible, press publish

For the most part this does work. On an average day there will be five or six topics that I have quickly put into Evernote or Byword. The one that seems the most complete is selected and the others left aside. Over 330 of the most recent posts on this site have been written in this manner … which certainly explains the "stream of consciousness" style of writing that permeates the blog. However, with less than a month to go before completing my goal of writing a post a day for 365 days, I'm seeing some patterns in how I've managed to accomplish this streak. Just over 70% of the posts I write that contain more than a single paragraph are cast away, most of which are written on Thursday and Friday. At the start of this challenge, the percentage was much smaller.

Does this level of waste exist in other places, too? I wonder. Looking at my commit history on GitHub, there does not seem to be a disproportionate amount of deletions from one day to the next, nor is there a pattern that shows more commits taking place at the start or middle of the week. If anything, my coding has remained frighteningly consistent for this past year.

How about body weight? I've recently started measuring myself twice a day just to see how a mostly-sedentary life is treating me. Interestingly enough, I've lost 5kg in the last year and generally gain weight on Sunday and Monday before losing it again Tuesday through Saturday.

Sleep? Thursday and Friday are the two worst-quality nights according to SleepCycle, so there's a good chance that my general state of mind near the end of the work week is more negative than positive. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, though. More data is needed.

One thing I would like to do over the coming month, however, is spend less time writing posts that will only be disposed of. If the vibe early on is too negative, it will be best to just cut the idea loose and move on to something else.

BASF Tapes and FM Radio Wed, 14 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 0a07162e-556f-a98f-000f-9fba432eac78 Since it seems I'm perpetually stuck in the 90s, it seems apt to share a thought that crossed my mind while listening to an iconic 90s techno track from Sash!. While growing up in Canada during the early 90s, there were just a limited number of ways a young person could get their hands on music. If the opportunity availed itself, a person could get a part-time job and buy albums for anywhere between $16 and $22 a piece1 or they could buy a bunch of blank cassettes and engage in an intricate dance involving pause buttons, radio DJs, and dumb luck.

As one would expect from a teenager, I generally went with the second option.

BASF Cassette Tape

My cassette of choice was BASF's 90-minute Ferro Extra I line, which could typically be found for about $2.50 from the discount shops in town. These had pretty decent sound reproduction and would allow just under 45 minutes of audio on each side of the tape. There were better options available but, given that the source for much of my music was the radio up until 19962, the BASF tapes proved to have the best ROI.

The early 90s were the age of the mix-tape, where people would put music on cassettes for friends, family, and loved ones. I enjoyed doing this as much as anyone else, using my evenings to listen to Burlington-based "Energy 108" to record the tunes of the day. Friends would often give me tapes what were just straight copies off the radio, which included DJ banter, ads, and the random play of Celine Dion between Tupac and Dr. Dre "because Canada"3. As one might expect, I didn't like this lazy approach to mixing. You cannot call a 44-minute straight recording of a radio station a mix. It just doesn't work. If a person was going to mix a tape using the radio, it had to be done with a little more finesse.

My process when assembling a mix tape would be simple, though time consuming. I'd choose the person who would get the tape, often a friend from school, then select a single genre to record. From there I'd put the radio on and fiddle with the dial until the reception was just right, then put a blank cassette in the loader, press pause, then press record+play4 simultaneously. From there it was a matter of waiting for the radio station to play something of the right genre without a DJ speaking through the entire intro. When a song was being recorded, I'd time the length of the track and record the information to a folded-over sheet of 8.5"x11" paper. Times were in red ink. Song titles in blue. Artists in black. This allowed me to verify a song wasn't already on the tape and to calculate how much time remained on each side without going through the hassle of pressing play and listening to how much dead air there was before the tape ran out, then determining how much space at the end of the reel couldn't be recorded on. A single mix-tape might take two or three days to assemble. Once done, I'd fill out the track listing using the cover that came with the cassette case, including a quick message to go along with the tape. If I was feeling particularly creative, I'd go all out with the cover-art and draw things that interested the recipient5 such as cars, stacks of money, cigarettes, or — for one special person — cute frogs.

There were some mix tapes that I kept for myself, of course. Some of these were listened to so often that I can still remember the track sequences and — much to my chagrin — the songs that bled into the music I wanted because the radio station cross-faded between two tracks. When I listen to the songs today my mind still expects to hear 2 seconds of TLC's Waterfalls after Sash! belts out Ecuador. I expect to hear a little more than 1 second of a beer commercial after Pearl Jam's Alive. On my most-played cassette, Eiffel 65's Blue cuts out half-way through because I'd run out of recordable tape.

Most people don't have the same degree of friction today when assembling a mix tape for friends or family. Heck, to the best of my knowledge, I don't know of anyone who puts together a play list for someone else. This is despite the relative ease of making a list and the much higher sound quality people can enjoy from streaming services. Nobody needs to be bound by a hard limit of 60, 90, or 120 minutes, either. The whole process is much more elegant.

There are a lot of activities that look better when using rose-coloured glasses, but this isn't one of them. I enjoyed putting the tapes together this way at the time because there was no other realistic option. I enjoyed the thought and care that went into the mixing. I enjoyed doing the artwork, too. Would I do it again today with a cassette, CD, MD, or some other physical media? Sure. But only for someone really special, and only with better-quality audio.

  1. Beware those Columbia House offers of 6 CDs for 1 cent!

  2. In 1996 I started working at the farm across the street from where I lived. I'd go over to help where possible and often earned $20 more than they offered with every visit. One day I'll have to write about the time their pack of insane dogs — yes, plural — got off the leash and took a bite out of my leg. Fun fact: I've been employed almost every day of my life since 1996. There was just a 7-week period in 2002 and again in 2007 where I was not being paid for doing something for 40+ hours a week.

  3. Canadian broadcast stations are required to play a certain percentage of content created by Canadians as per the law, otherwise they can lose their broadcast license. For this reason, there would often be music of a different genre thrown into the mix just so radio stations could meet their quota without playing the same songs more than once every 2 hours. Mind you, if you did listen to the radio for more than 2 hours, there was a very high probability that you'd hear the same song twice at some point.

  4. Remember doing this? Pressing record only would include the play button, but always felt like something might break. It was better to press both at the same time.

  5. Before computers, I planned on being an artist. A pad of fresh unruled paper and my trusty 3H pencils would keep me busy for an entire day … if the family was out somewhere.

A Content Purchase? Tue, 13 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 7c8d9980-6cfa-2a7c-82ac-ce44f70b0b8d Earlier today I read that Automattic, the company behind WordPress, will buy Tumblr, a platform that was at one time the company's primary blogging competitor. The first thought that went through my head was Why? and then, more specifically, What benefit would Matt (Mullenweg)1 get from buying Tumblr? The only real reason I can think of is that this is a content purchase more than anything else.

By all accounts, WordPress is superior to Tumblr in every measurable way. The underlying technology that powers WordPress is better. The mobile applications are better. The communities around the platform — for both open and paid — are better. The level of customization and attention to detail in WordPress is better. And, to top it all off, people actually use WordPress.

When Yahoo! bought Tumblr in 2013, the product started to stagnate. New features were few and far between, and updates to the mobile applications were always in response to what other blogging tools were doing. Four years later, when Verizon bought the platform, they quickly implemented a "no porn" rule that effectively killed off their most ardent fans. This affected not only the people who were posting pornographic content, but also artists who might have photos that reveal just a bit too much skin for the automated content filters. People quickly picked up and moved on to different sites where they could share their work without fear of censorship. What will Automattic do with the service?

Tumblr Traffic

According to some metrics on SimilarWeb, Tumblr sees about 380-million visitors a month. This is about 150-million fewer visits than, which doesn't include all the premium and VIP-level sites that run off with their own domain addresses. Given Automattic's past record, I doubt this would be an attempt to increase revenues through ad impressions. It's not the company's style.

This train of thought is what led me to the idea that this acquisition likely has nothing to do with the technology, or the talent2, or even the name recognition. It can only be the content that is of value.

The Wall Street Journal talked to Matt Mullenweg about the acquisition and wrote this:

He said he has long been a Tumblr user and sees the site as complementary to "It's just fun. […] We're not going to change any of that."

Tumblr certainly comes across as less structured than WordPress, but I'm not sure "fun" is the word to describe the site anymore. If there is going to be an attempt to build a social network with Tumblr as its base, then this strikes me as an odd decision given the knowledge and problem-solving ability of Automattic's legion of developers. The company could release a "fun" and light social platform called Wordy McWordface and still get more traffic and interest than something with the Tumblr branding on it.

However, if you take the content and make that part of the WordPress ecosystem, you start to get some interesting numbers that make the competition look insignificant. There's no evidence of this yet, but I would not be surprised if this is the start of a push within Automattic to make the place people go to publish on the web. Medium, Facebook, and Twitter all have their pros and cons. If WordPress can regain the mindshare it once had when blogging was at its peak a decade ago, it might once again become synonymous with the idea of unmoderated, unfiltered, unrestricted publishing on the web3

  1. Matt Mullenweg created WordPress by forking the B2 blogging system and then building a very successful business around it. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

  2. Most of the best developers have long since left the company.

  3. … so long as the content isn't sexual in nature. Matt doesn't like that.

自分で解決した Mon, 12 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason b7410b1e-27b2-638d-01ca-f2395b213302 Hello. My name is Jason, and I'm a pain in the ass to work with. I don't always intend to be, but this is often the case when I'm asked to be patient when patience hinders an outcome. There are some colleagues that I can work with for long stretches of time, of course. A lot of people — managers in particular — tend to get upset when I first ask for information or resources or support then, before any of these things can be granted, provided, or refused, I follow up by saying "X is not needed anymore. I solved the problem myself." 自分で解決した。

This has been done where it's been easier to reverse engineer systems than wait for documentation to be provided. This has been done where it's been easier to buy a $15 software package to get a job done rather than go through regular channels, fill out reams of Excel sheets, and get sign off from multiple managers. This has even been done when it's been easier to simply buy my own computer hardware than request the equipment I need to do the job I'm expected to do.

Which is where I find myself again.

As a result of being classified a risk by a manager at the day job, my request for a more modern Mac has pretty much stalled. If the request does eventually go through, the system is expected to have some pretty limiting management software installed that will actively get in the way of me doing my job, which means I won't use the hardware, which means the computer that costs a lot of money will sit idle on a shelf in my house wasting space while I continue to use my own hardware to reach the goals I've set out to accomplish. None of the previous hardware the company provided needed to have management installed1 and none of my peers in the IT department here in Japan or around the world have management software installed. Heck, I've been using my personal Mac for years without any legitimate complaints being issued. This is just a senseless roadblock that is in the way because "reasons". And not even good ones.

So, being the kind of person who tends to be a pain in the ass, I'll once again ask that any effort to acquire a company-financed device be halted. I'll buy my own. Again. Because it's not only easier, but it will ensure that I don't skimp on the hardware in an effort to keep costs down for the organization. Being my own hardware means I'll be free to manage it how I see fit. Being my own hardware means that I won't have to ship it back when the company and I eventually part ways. Being my own hardware means the "manager" who is so concerned about "security" and "risks" can conjure up new reasons I should be dismissed or have my access to the critical systems I'm in charge of severely restricted while simultaneously explaining why these same risks do not apply to them or any member of their team, who tend to have even more access to critical systems than I do.

自分で解決します。I'll solve this myself.

  1. The Lenovo I received back in January had just a default installation of Windows 10 when I received it. The thing hadn't even been connected to the corporate network nor its domain. This made it rather easy to image the SSD, put Ubuntu on the thing, and use it quite a bit … until the friction of using lots of Microsoft services through Ubuntu Linux started to take its toll.

Five Things Sun, 11 Aug 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 5e8a4cf0-3838-2861-7e14-2495086b80c2 Another Sunday, another five things to quickly run through. Over the last couple of weeks I've been looking at a number of textbook publishing products that are sold to schools around the world in an effort to understand what sort of features schools are using, and which ones are seeing successes with teachers and students. Interestingly, there are three rather large companies doing this based on South Korea, and a handful spread out across the rest of the planet. One vendor recently wrote a blog post about the academic book experience and had this to say:

The academic world is facing a problem but not everyone acknowledges that, including ourselves. Not until we were invited to participate in a workshop for university institutions (Columbia, NYU, MIT, University of Michigan) with press and library representatives attending as well. […] During the workshop, the large issue that was discussed is the lack of a simple yet effective user experience (UX) for users that are not only students, but alumni and faculty members.

This is certainly true. There are some companies who are trying to use HTML and PDFs with mixed results, but many are relying on proprietary formats that simply do not translate well. While this is convenient for the software vendor, it's rather frustrating for everyone else. Not only do educational institutions need to accept vendor lock-in, but there's a very real possibility that teachers and students will need to have multiple accounts with multiple textbook suppliers requiring multiple applications with different design language just to get through a regular school day.

This isn't at all cool.

In order to make something that works for the institutions charged with educating people, we need to ensure that the software works for people. Fortunately, there are a few things that would go a long way to improving the situation with our digital textbooks … and learning materials in general.

A Common Format

Every format will be an exercise in compromise, but the most logical format for a textbook is HTML. This is a standard that people have been using for decades and will continue to persist in the foreseeable future. Just about everything a person might want to do can be done in HTML though, admittedly, it is not the best format for every situation.

A Core Set of Features for Students

Every digital textbook publisher seems to have a different way of presenting materials to students. Some do little more than present a PDF in a wrapper that prevents text selection, printing, writing comments, and just about anything that would aid a person's learning. Others, like National Geographic, over-engineer their textbooks in an effort to make them "immersive" for the handful of people who have the latest and greatest hardware. Between these two extremes are all the other vendors who try to offer schools enough shine and pizazz to justify the expensive support contracts and vendor lock in.

Ultimately the needs of the students must come before those of the school. This includes basics like being able to print pages without "page credits" or other asinine forms of friction1, writing notes "in the margins", links to additional resources to expand on or reinforce a topic, and — depending on the topic — a way to ask questions or for further help should be part of every delivery platform.

A Core Set of Features for Teachers

This is a problem near and dear to me despite the lack of formal teaching in my day-to-day work now. Having been in the classroom for nine years I've seen systems that work well and systems that do not. This is true for both analog and digital content targeted at teachers. The one pattern that I've seen with systems that do not work is that they're all based on rigid, theoretical models of teaching that generally work only with a certain kind of student. Rarely will any class go completely by-the-book. Teachers support tools need to be flexible, while also being consistent.

This is where a core set of features that are standard across all platforms, even if the implementation is different, can help teachers get the most from their learning tools. Built-in glossaries, alternative lesson plans, and additional presentation materials are just a couple of items that would generate interest from teachers, even if only a subset regularly uses them.

The Option to Self-Host the Textbooks

A valid concern that schools have is what to do if the publisher goes out of business or upgrades their infrastructure without supporting older versions of their software. One of the benefits of paper books is that once you have it, it's yours. Digital materials have long been touted as being superior to their analog counterparts but, as we've seen with book distribution systems like eReader2, there are serious questions about the long-term viability of systems hosted by external entities. For this reason, it should be possible for organizations — or even individuals — to host their own content server that interacts with the application(s) used to read the materials.

A Browser-Based Option

The problem with platform-specific applications is that they typically focus on the main operating systems being used in wealthier nations. While there is some utility in having a textbook in a dedicated or platform-specific app, there should always be the option to view a personal copy of a textbook in any browser. This will also help some people get around the problem of "not having their book" because a battery died. Of course, if the textbooks are offered in HTML format, this will be easily accomplished. If there's a custom format, some loss of functionality might take place during the conversion.

There's a lot of really interesting ideas in the various textbook systems, but many seem focused on making things easier for the publisher at the expense of everyone else. Given the publishers are not supposed to be the "customers" of the software, this seems backwards. Fortunately, there are a lot of smart people working on making these tools better for everyone.

  1. Yeah, yeah. Intellectual property, blah blah blah. Get out of here. The students who can't or won't afford a textbook will get their hands on it one way or another. Stop penalizing the 99% of people who are just trying to study.

  2. This used to be called Peanut Press and was a great way to buy and read books back when the Palm PDA ruled mobile computing. Now the DRMed files will never "legally" unlock again because the entire DRM system disappeared with the company many years ago.

Sitting With Nozomi Sat, 10 Aug 2019 13:00:00 +0000 Jason 92afb325-3ea2-ef11-afd5-112b3ba785a0 Moments of quiet are few and far between as of late but, when Nozomi and I are out for an evening walk in the park, we do make time to enjoy a few minutes on a bench next to a ball diamond. This used to be something that we could enjoy several times a week at the old apartment. There was a circular bench surrounding a tree where we would often sit for fifteen minutes or so before heading home. What I liked about this routine was the private time with Nozomi, where I could just chat with her about whatever happened to be on my mind. Unlike a human, she could listen and just enjoy the time together no matter how serious or trivial the topic. These moments were incredibly therapeutic.

The summer heat tends to make sitting outside rather difficult for any length of time, so Nozomi has generally wanted to return home immediately after relieving herself in the tall grass alongside the hedges that circle the neglected baseball diamond in the park. When a typhoon is on the way, however, the air is less humid and a near constant breeze keeps everyone comfortably cool, even when they're covered in fur. This is the situation we find ourselves in today, with 台風15号1 on the way. Cool air and less humidity ensured the evening walk was enjoyable. When Nozomi saw some benches after relieving herself, she walked straight for them understanding that I'd be sitting down and she'd be right beside me getting a head scratch or tummy rub.

Every evening walk has a conversation topic, which is more for my sake than hers for obvious reasons. Tonight I was thinking about what kinds of software I couldn't build personally without risking a concern from the day job. Blogging and social clients are non-issues for the day job, but how about multi-lingual dictionaries aimed at adults leaning a foreign language? Would a note-taking application where notes can be shared between teachers and students be seen as questionable. My employer offers neither of these, but I'm seriously considering building one of them for too long.

Nozomi sat next to me in silence the entire time we had this one-sided conversation. At the end of our small rest she list looked at me as if to say "Are you done? I'm hungry." From there we trekked home.

  1. Typhoon 15 (of 2019)

Rose-Tinted Fri, 09 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason fdab1084-9199-f6a8-7da5-408f9c49d966 At some point in the last few years it seems that I put on a pair of rose-coloured glasses and, as one would expect, it has coloured my perception of the digital tools people used 20-odd years ago. This isn't true for every piece of technology, though, as I was not particularly enamoured with the Pentium II/266 that I used for a while nor the finicky graphics drivers for the Voodoo card. CRT monitors weren't all that great to stare at for more than a couple of hours, and bandwidth at the turn of the century hovered around 300kbps on a good day if you lived next to the phone company and had a $100/mo. ADSL connection1. "Fast" hard drives rarely moved data faster than a couple dozen megabytes per second. WiFi was awful if anyone around you was using a cordless phone. Perhaps worst of all was the reliability and pervasiveness of Windows Me, an operating environment so bad that only grandparents and public schools dared to use it.

When I think about all the devices I've owned over the years and what they meant to me, there are a few that stand out. There's the first Mac I owned, which allowed me to learn a better way to design UIs and write software. Before this there was the SoundBlaster AWE64 that saw heavy usage until 2007 and allowed me to easily connect musical instruments to the computer to compose music. Back in 2001 I built a dual-processor PIII/1.0GHz workstation with 512MB RAM that allowed me to really explore software development and, more importantly, the power of relational databases.

But when I think about the device that had the biggest impact on me — before switching away from Windows2 — the machine that instantly springs to mind is the Palm PDA.

A Palm V PDA — Image from Wikipedia

Between 1999 and 2006, I owned twelve PalmOS-powered handhelds, only one of which was made by Sony. Every six to eight months the screen would be scratched up beyond repair, and I'd head to the nearby computer shop to pick up a new model. In 1999 it was the Palm IIIe that allowed me to streamline processes at the day job. The next model up, the IIIxe, made it possible to use applications with simple video graphics. It was around this time that I started reading books on the Palm, eliminating the need to carry paper novels with me everywhere. The Palm V, pictured above, was an incredibly capable device that earned me a better job.

In 2003, a few months after moving to the Vancouver area, I was working in the warehouse of a printing company. I ran the afternoon shift, ensuring warehouse hands had enough work, keeping the printing and binding machines properly stocked, and removing waste products as soon as the bins were about 80% full. Within a matter of weeks I had worked out the patterns for all the machines and the crews so that I could keep everything operating with almost zero machine downtime as a result of my lack of preparedness. Because I knew the pattern, I could write a piece of software for my Palm V to help run the warehouse. People saw me come to work 15 minutes early, walk around the floor while taking notes on a little PDA3, then hop on the forklift to get things organized for the start of the shift. Eventually management learned about the tool and asked for a demo. A few weeks later I was moved to a different department, given a raise, and put to work solving more complicated problems for the company.

Writing software for the Palm handhelds was not at all easy. The tools at the time were sluggish, cumbersome, and one little error could take a whole weekend to track down. Still, it was the software and tools that I wrote for the Palm that opened interesting doors, such as the submarine project in 2004 that used a Palm Tungsten T.

The tools we use today are far more powerful and capable than anything a decade ago, let alone 2004, but it's always the Palm that I remember fondly. If I had to use one today then there would undoubtedly be a string of complaints on this site, from the lack of support for modern encryption algorithms to the lack of a decent WiFi radio. However, if I had to use one today, the first couple of days with it would have me feeling incredibly nostalgic for a time when it seemed that anything was possible … so long as you didn't mind waiting a bit.

  1. Internet speeds in Canada 20 years ago were generally 1/5th of what was advertised … if you were lucky.

  2. I know it seems I bash on Windows a lot. For a long time I was a huge proponent of Microsoft and their tools. Around 2008, though, it just started to be too much hassle. There were too many problems when switching between languages. Visual Studio, the primary development tool for Windows applications, would often "forget" how to display Japanese and Korean characters, making my software builds look worse. My computer at the time was deteriorating with every use … which isn't Microsoft's fault, but still. When I made the switch to the Mac, I started to learn a lot more about how people interact with computers and how to better design efficient systems that people want to use.

  3. People used to laugh at me for staring at a little screen all the time. Today everybody is staring at a little screen.

No JS Thu, 08 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 3005dbef-5350-978c-b3d0-7e2892d62388 Yesterday I decided to try something crazy and disabled JavaScript on my phone. The reason for this had more to do with how hot the device would get every time I'd try to visit popular websites than privacy or any other concern that would justify disabling the scripting language. As one would expect, a number of sites stopped working, such as Nice.Social and certain elements on this blog. What was not expected, however, were the number of heavily-trafficked websites that just would not show a single character on the screen without JavaScript. Engadget and The Verge both presented blank pages, which probably shouldn't be that surprising given their parent companies, and so did some of the local news sites that I read, such as The Hamilton Spectator. Other news sites loaded just fine, but were devoid of advertisements, custom fonts and, most interesting of all, warnings about how many articles I've read in the last 30 calendar days.

The experiment ran for just over 30 hours before being put to an end so that I could go back to using Nice on my phone, but there was one other interesting benefit to having JavaScript disabled on the device: the battery life was amazing.

My phone is a 4 year old iPhone 6S that sees a good amount of use every day. Safari is the most commonly used application followed by PocketCasts, Byword, Evernote, and Galaxy on Fire 2. In an average day, I'll see the battery drop from 100% at breakfast time to 80% by lunch, then 70% by dinner, and end up somewhere around 40% by the time I crawl into bed. When JavaScript was disabled, the battery never dropped below 80%. Mind you, I wasn't really "incentivized" to use the device for much beyond listening to podcasts, but it's still interesting to see that the battery is barely touched when JavaScript is disabled in Safari.

Of course, with some of the things I've learned by using the web without JavaScript, there will be new issues recorded into GitHub for me to tackle when time permits. The Anri blogging theme on 10C really should be able to work without any JavaScript, as that was one of my targets. Nice should also have some basic support for people who choose to use the web differently. Given the current workload, I'm not sure when I'll get to these updates, but they will be tended to.

Coffee and Rain Wed, 07 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 40accdc0-472d-544f-f820-756c66a7f289 Coffee and Rain

In what feels like a lifetime ago, when I had plenty of time to spare, one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day was to walk to the nearby coffee shop with a book, order a hot cappuccino with a Nanaimo bar on the side, and sit at an uncrowded table next to a window to watch water fall from the sky in relative comfort. Soft music would be in the background, generally Nora Jones or someone playing an alto sax. Everyone who entered the cafe would do it the same way, bursting in as though wearing a wardrobe made of sugar, loudly commenting on how wet they were, then walking with squeaky shoes up to the counter to order a drink. After an hour or two of this, I'd grab my umbrella and head back home in the rain, choosing to walk for the simple pleasure of it.

The last time I remember doing this would have been some time around 2004 when I still lived in Richmond, BC and would frequent the nearby Blenz Coffee at the corner of Blundell and Garden City Road. I was friends with the owner and would often head there after work just to chat, read, and spend some time around people. It was the rainy days, though, that I enjoyed the most.

Every so often when a typhoon hits the area and the house is quiet, I like to pour a cup of coffee and sit in my little workspace with Nozomi while everything is off. The only sounds to be heard, aside from the random noises from the puppy, is of the storm. An unfathomable number of rain drops falling against the side of the house and the insulated windows. The distant rumble of thunder. The low howl of the wind interspersed with short gusts that test the rigidity of the house's frame. It's a pleasant sound, though one I generally enjoy in isolation now.

Closing Up Shop Tue, 06 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason c8daf2a5-58c6-2a67-830a-31cd10a70b7e One of the first freelance jobs I did after moving to Japan involved creating some management software for a bed and breakfast in Hakuba, a popular ski town in Nagano prefecture. The system was incredibly simple and, to the best of my knowledge, is still being used today. Since then, I've helped restaurants, taxi companies, shuttle companies, two banks, a music shop, five language schools, a confectionary store, one kindergarten, and a church with their digital needs. The work has allowed me to learn how other companies go about solving problems and it's directly funded quite a number of my personal projects. However, I've made the decision to stop accepting new work as of this month and will not renew any of the support contracts that I have with companies. After almost a decade, it's time to put this sort of work aside.

Closed for Business

The decision is one that I've been struggling with for a while now, as I've generally enjoyed most of the projects and have developed a good relationship with some of the people who have trusted me to help solve problems and keep their data safe. However, the burdens of business management have become a bit too much lately with all the other responsibilities and projects that I try to juggle. In the last six months I've done work for three customers, who of which have yet to pay their invoice and won't respond to email or Skype messages. My phone calls are generally directed to voice mail and, when I call the business directly, I get a minion who takes a message and nothing more. The outstanding amounts are just a few hundred dollars, but this seems to be the standard process with a lot of people I work with. With 50% of my clients, I tend to spend just as much time chasing them down for payment as I did writing the software in the first place.

This is a poor use of time and energy.

More than this, the accounting rules and regulations in Japan are incredibly complex and designed to confuse the heck out of people. The amount of non-development work I do for the small amount of money earned every year just isn't worth it anymore.

This doesn't mean I'm giving up on being self-employed by 2022, though. Freelance work was never going to allow me to be properly independent as I do not market my services nor do I actively seek out new customers. The plan for 2022 involves a very different business model. This is also true for 10Centuries. The project is a little more than seven years into it's 1,000-year mission and there's no plan nor desire to ever shut it down.

Looking back, freelancing has allowed me to accomplish a lot of very interesting things and learn skills that I continue to use to this day. That said, it's time to use my time a little more wisely to ensure future goals are met on time.

A New Collar Mon, 05 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 55babf05-7cb0-f914-643d-462b1abc1e2a Thanks to the excessive rain over the last couple of months, Nozomi's walking vest started to carry a rather peculiar odour that wouldn't go away no matter how much it was washed. So, given that this particular vest was a couple of years old, it seemed like a good time to replace it. However, as with anything that is actually decent, the model that fits her best is no longer available. Even Rakuten, the abominable website where you can find everything from a Wayne Gretzky rookie card to BitCoin on a USB stick, couldn't find a single seller in the nation. It was time for something new.

Nozomi was a lot more energetic when she first joined the family and would often pull at her leash every time we went outside. Back then she wore a collar, so pulling against the leash meant she'd be choking herself in an effort to explore the world. I really didn't like seeing this, so picked up a vest that would fit nicely around her front torso. Pulling against the leash would result in putting the resistance against her breastplate instead of her neck, and this was much better for both of us. Given our past success with this type of harness, it made sense to look for something similar. Unfortunately, it seems that people with miniature dachshund's like having their pets wear gaudy colours, horrendous patterns, or just plain uncomfortable plastic. Nozomi is by no means a princess, but I won't have her looking like a court jester every time we head to the park. With time counting down before her next walk, though, she needed something that didn't smell foul.

Perhaps she's ready to wear a collar again?

Nozomi in the Grass

Photographing the puppy is still quite difficult, as she loves to look away from the camera, but her pink leather leash has worked out quite well so far. She doesn't pull nearly as much as she used to and the free mobility around her front legs seems to have encouraged her to enjoy slightly longer walks in the evening, so long as there's a breeze to help her stay cool.

Nozomi by the Path

We both needed a couple of days to get used to the new collar — Nozomi had to learn that pulling would not feel very nice, and I had to pay close attention to make sure that I wasn't accidentally pulling on her1 — and now we've got our patterns down. The only time I'm nervous about the collar is when we're crossing the road between our home and the park. Cars tend to cruise at around 60kph, which gives us very little time to maneuver if they catch us off guard. I don't want to pull on her neck to get her out of harm's way, so it's become necessary to carry her across the road … just to be safe.

Sometimes I wonder if I worry too much about this furry friend ….

  1. This can sometimes happen when the leash gets slightly tangled around a bush or thick weeds.

Five Things Sun, 04 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 9924c5ce-c8d6-b82d-bbc5-171d91721c6d A number of recent posts on here have been about a work-related project involving digital textbooks and today's post will be along the same vein, albeit with a different angle. Last month five schools in Japan were selected to trial a digital textbook system that I had developed as an alternative resource for teachers to use in the classroom. The system they were expected to use was quite a bit different from the tools everyone has gotten accustomed to over the last few years and, as one would expect, there was quite a bit of friction as a result. My alternative was released while still very much an alpha build1 and the response was rather muted, in that there was quite literally almost no feedback unless someone was specifically asked for an opinion. The silence was incredibly atypical, given that teachers are generally very vocal about their needs and expectations to deliver quality lessons2. So, not wanting to release the software nationwide without a good bit of feedback from the people using the tool, a survey with five questions and a free-comment box was put out to collect feedback from the 5 schools. Of the 90-odd teachers at those locations, 38 responded.

This is what I learned:

People Think It's Ready

84% of respondents said that the software should be released nationwide with the expectation that there will continue to be updates and refinements every couple of days. Given what's in the development pipeline, I can certainly live up to this expectation for the next couple of months.

People Love a Feature that was Created on a Whim

Audio scripts are incredibly important for teachers, and these were built right into the textbooks of the system my software was supplanting. However, one of the concerns that people had raised was that the textbook pages were just too long. So, because the audio scripts were built into the HTML pages, I simply rolled them up to ensure they'd be invisible unless explicitly requested. Despite some of the more complicated features built into the new system that I thought people would like3, this was not one I expected anyone to comment on.

People are Not Tied to the Web

The new textbook system from HQ had one specific feature that should have made it superior to the textbook systems I've developed locally over the last few years: everything was HTML. In the LMS I had developed a few years back, the digital textbook system used a combination of Markdown-formatted text — which was rendered as HTML — for the teacher's book, and high-resolution images for the student's book. This was because the source material came in PDF, and I'll be darned before I ask teachers to load a 90MB PDF and scroll to the page they need before teaching a lesson. To get around the PDF limitation, the student book was converted to a series of 2,300-pixel-wide JPG images and called only when required. This mean that when a person opened a page, they only had to load a subset of the textbook. This resulted in an average download of about 3MB in 5 seconds when opening a textbook on a school wifi network. The system from the US, because it uses HTML, can theoretically serve the same information in a fraction of the bandwidth and, because it's mostly text-based, the data transfer could be measured in the kilobytes.

Unfortunately, this never seemed to matter to teachers. While some said they very much prefer the HTML rendering, which would make font-resizing and whatnot possible, two-thirds of respondents said they wanted the high-resolution images instead. This surprised me.

People Prefer My New System Over My Legacy System

Despite being just an alpha, respondents clearly preferred the new system over the textbooks that are built into the LMS that I invested so much time and energy into. This intrigues me, as I've heard very little feedback from the schools about the textbooks in the LMS. There were issues with pinch-to-zoom and swiping between pages reported from time to time, but that was about it. Nobody asked for new features to be added. Nobody seemed to complain. It was just something everyone quietly used. However, after seeing two newer ways to deliver digital classroom materials, the feedback is pretty clear: people weren't all that interested in the first thing I created for them, either. They just weren't particularly vocal about its shortcomings.

Which leads me to the main thing that I'm seeing across the educational industry.

Most Teacher Resources Aren't That Great

There are a couple of developers I know who work at competing schools. We generally don't share the details of our work with each other for obvious reasons, but we do tend to identify patterns and trends across the industry. Ever since the iPad was released, textbook companies like National Geographic and Pearson have worked pretty hard to put out digital versions of their books. Some companies have been toying with implementing augmented reality into their titles4 and just about everyone is talking about using some form of Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning without actually providing a sound use case for the technology. The pattern is pretty clear, though: the focus is on the students and the sale of textbooks. Everything else is secondary, including the support for teachers.

Looking at my LMS a little more critically, I can see now where the digital textbook system falls down and could be improved5. While the textbook tools that I wrote for use in the classroom back in 2014 scratched the itches of the time, they are an incomplete solution for today.

In addition to the five questions on the survey there was a free comments field where people could write whatever feedback they wanted. In order to encourage honest feedback, all responses were kept anonymous. Some people were straightforward about what they disliked about my software. Others offered suggestions on how to improve it for their specific use cases. This feedback will be absolutely invaluable in the coming weeks as new features and fixes are written to address the issues raised. More than this, though, it shows the importance of reaching out to the people who use the software more often. I've always encouraged teachers to get in touch when they find a bug or want to see a new feature added, but people will rarely do so due to the very real time constraints they face during their days in the classroom. If I really want to build better tools for schools, I need to actively reach out and make the feedback systems as painless as possible. This sounds like common sense, but how often does anyone get an invitation from a software vendor to provide meaningful feedback beyond a request for ratings in an App Store somewhere?

A lot of software targeted at teachers really isn't that great. By reaching out and including them in the process, it might be possible to change this … for my employer at the very least.

  1. An "alpha-build" is generally considered a very early version of a piece of software. So early that it's not even a beta, as beta comes after alpha in the Greek alphabet.

  2. And thank goodness for this. If my colleagues in the classrooms weren't passionate about teaching, then it would lead to the demise of the entire organisation.

  3. The feature I thought most people would like was full-library search. However, looking at the API, this feature has been used exactly 6 times in three weeks.

  4. There's an interesting history book I've seen that will show army movements through a phone or tablet when the accompanying software is installed.

  5. The system is due to be shutdown and scrapped at the end of this year, so I doubt any time or effort will be expended on improving the textbooks in the old system. The newer system, however, is a playground that can see experimental features rolled out and tested.

The Wrong Risk Sat, 03 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason dbd483e7-612a-55bb-590d-5c2176f4e465 Last week I put in a formal request at the day job for a new Mac, as the one I'm using is a personal device and does not have the necessary internals required to keep up with 20% of my tasks this year, and roughly 50% of my tasks next year. I was torn between requesting an iMac and a 15" MacBook Pro, given that I tend to do all of my work from home. Portability is unimportant and, for those rare days when I'm called up to Tokyo or sent overseas for meetings, I could bring my 13" notebook. In the end it was decided for me that a MacBook Pro would be the way to go, outfitted with 32GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. Before the request could be submitted, I needed to provide a list of software that I use on a regular basis in order to show why I was requesting an Apple device rather than a company-standard Dell. Xcode was the star of the show on that document, along with Pixelmator, Automator, and Sequel Pro1 Paperwork completed, I sat back to let management do what management does.

This is when things became interesting.

Apparently one of the managers who I have regularly and openly argued with over the years took offence to my request for a $3,400 computer when a "perfectly good" $3,800 Dell could be ordered, pending approval from the company president2. The argument was that, because the company's system management software didn't run on macOS, the company couldn't adequately manage the device remotely. This was quickly shot down as a justification thanks to the hundreds of unmanaged Windows-powered Dells that continue to circulate throughout the organization. Not willing to give up, the next argument was that the support staff in IT didn't have the requisite knowledge to configure and maintain a Mac, so one couldn't be ordered. This, too, was shot down quickly by pointing to an order for a replacement iMac that would be used by someone at HQ. But then came the argument that would apparently solidify the attempted veto of my hardware request: I have too much access to the corporate databases, making me a risk to the company. Therefore, I should not get a Mac but, instead, a very locked down Windows 10 machine that would monitor everything I did and send a detailed summary of my activities every hour.

I had to laugh.

Yes, I do have a great deal of access to company data. I have access to a lot of databases for schools around the globe3, all of which contain information that is none of my business. A leak from any of these systems would be cause for serious concern and would result in a lot of bad publicity and, potentially, lawsuits. A lot of my colleagues would find themselves out of a job, and I would likely be unemployable for the rest of my life. All of this is true. But it's also the wrong risk that any manager should prioritize for employees who have proven themselves time and again to be very aware of the responsibilities they've assumed.

A Greater Concern

Many companies succeed not because of what's in a database but because of the people who invest time and skill in the pursuit of something better. The greatest risk that I pose to my organization is not as an information thief. Selling student lists or employee passport numbers is neither interesting nor worthwhile. If people are going to worry about what damage I might cause, they need to think a little grander. They need to consider what would happen if I left to start my own business4 and took some people with me. This is the risk that I pose my employer, and it's a risk that a lot of companies have to deal with when ambitious people think "Hey, why am I playing the corporate game when four of my hard-working, intelligent colleagues and I all really want to do something else?"

Many of the successful entrepreneurs I've met over the years have the same story. They were unhappy working for someone else for whatever reason, so they left to do their own thing. Some were able to hire former co-workers after a year or two. One that I know of founded their business with two colleagues5. Given my track record, this is what people should be looking out for. Not low-brow theft6.

The manager in question, clearly having nothing better to do with their time this week, has invested quite a few of her hours — and those of her staff — by trying to find all the reasons I should not receive the hardware I requested. She's even gone so far as to investigate ways of either limiting my access to systems I am 100% responsible for or tracking everything I do that is related to the day job. The last bit I can kind of understand, despite the horse leaving the barn years ago, but the rest is just pettiness. Our history of disagreements have been documented on this site and at the day job to some detail but, at the end of the day, the risks identified are nothing even remotely close to reality.

  1. These are the core Mac-only applications that I use. The others I can find decent alternatives for if running Windows or Ubuntu.

  2. All hardware purchases over 300,000円 (about $2,800USD) must be approved by two mangers and the president. Fortunately, he and I have a pretty good relationship, so there shouldn't be any concerns in that regard.

  3. This access is all done through secured, monitored, remote desktop sessions where copy/paste has been disabled. It's a right pain in the ass, but this means the data never physically resides on my computer. Moving data from the servers to my machine would be spotted pretty easily unless I'm siphoning off a couple of kilobytes of data per hour.

  4. I've openly stated on this site that one of my goals for the near future is to be self-employed.

  5. Their managers must have been quite upset to lose not one, but three competent people at the same time.

  6. I've often said that if I do turn to a life of crime, it's going to be worthy of a Hollywood movie featuring Jason Stratham. If my line of work runs the risk of spending years in prison, it better be worth it. Have you ever wondered what might happen if a country's largest bank suddenly lost all of its money in a well-executed digital heist? I have.

Just One More Thing ... Fri, 02 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 7746630d-9dd5-8e7c-c9b4-7bf194b39cb6 How do people manage to put things away when they're in the middle of the creative process? I've met some pretty interesting people over the years who are able to do a bunch of creative work, get in "the zone", start to make headway … then glance at the clock and head home, leaving the current efforts in a half-complete state. The next day they come back in, look over what they were doing, then pick right up again.

This has always amazed me, primarily because I despise putting things away just because the clock says it's time to do something else. In my mind there's always just one more thing that I'd like to finish before calling it a day. However, as one would expect, there's just one more thing after that. Then another. And another. Eventually the sun comes up on another day ….

Being 40 generally means I'm supposed to be smart enough to know the importance of having a good balance in life. Unfortunately this is something I haven't quite mastered yet.

Rolling Thunder Thu, 01 Aug 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason db031eb0-8cf3-1420-b433-2cd04bc3172e The weather this summer has certainly been different from the last couple of years. The area had a record rainfall for the month of June, receiving twice as much water from the sky as had ever been recorded1 for the 30-day period. Our winter was much warmer than average and we even had a weak typhoon hit rather late into the rainy season. It's been said before, but something is different.

Looking Westward

Late into the afternoon today we had some rolling thunder. The clouds coming from over the nearby mountains stretched across the sky to the east, leaving the west a nice summertime blue. Every few minutes there would be a rumble that would start low and slow, like a bowling ball gingerly making its way down the lane. Thirty seconds into the buildup the sound would either disappear or sound like a wave crashing into the side of a rocky pier. For two hours we were treated to this odd performance while the sky turned pink from the sunset.

Looking Eastward

Nozomi didn't seem to mind the noise, as the unstable weather made for a pretty decent breeze while we were out in the park. Generally the heat and humidity of the season tends to reach unbearable levels by 9 o'clock in the morning, with air so still that walking through it feels like pushing into a closet full of pillow fluff. Any amount of breeze is better than none, and the puppy certainly enjoyed having her fur cooled a little better while we made the daily trek along the evening course2.

Weather certainly changes over time and anomalies can make for some irregular patterns. What I wonder more than anything is how the farmers are being affected. Vegetables and fruit at the markets have almost doubled in price in the last three years, with apples and peaches selling for about $2 individually. Broccoli is generally sold for $3 while a pack of four tomatoes is $5. Bananas from the Philippines, however, have been stable at $2.50 a bunch for the better part of three years. Higher food prices will drive people to consume more of the processed foods, which is just a poor substitute for farm-fresh products. This isn't a good cycle.

Today's unusual atmospheric show took place at a safe distance, but the changing weather patterns are hitting very close to home.

  1. According to the city, temperature and weather records started in the mid 1800s, though the first 75 years of data is not at all accurate. Temperatures are +/- 5˚C, and rainfall was measured in boolean Yes/No terms.

  2. Nozomi and I have five "courses" that we can take in the park depending on the weather and how energetic she's feeling. Generally in the evening we walk around the baseball diamond as there's plenty to keep her nose busy without tiring her out too much before dinner.

Building Tables from Temp Wed, 31 Jul 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason dffec2fc-6b50-9930-d41e-935404c2bb91 This week I've been handed an almost impossible task at the day job: build a database containing a subset of information from our current SQL Server-based CMS using the table structures required by the new cloud service. On the surface, this doesn't sound too complicated. So long as a person knows the data structure of both systems, SQL scripts can be written once and used multiple times. The difficult part comes down to time as there are just three working days to get this done for 100+ data tables containing as many as 300 columns of data each, and the documentation for the Cloud objects is … incomplete1.

In an effort to build as much as possible in the least amount of time, I've decided it would be best to "cheat". The first set of SQL scripts that I am writing will collect as complete a dataset as possible for each object and write to a temporary table. As this can sometimes be an iterative process to refine the output, pre-defining the data tables does not seem like a good use of time. Instead, I'd like to simply write a query in an INTO #tmpWhatever command to generate a temporary table. When I'm happy with the output, the data is then written to the new table where it will sit until exported.

Now here's the fun part. Because the data is already in a temporary table and because SQL Server makes it really easy to query table definitions, one can have the database pretty much write a table creation script for you.

This is how I do it:

SELECT '[' + col.[COLUMN_NAME] + '] ' + UPPER(col.[DATA_TYPE]) +       CASE WHEN col.[DATA_TYPE] in ('numeric', 'nvarchar', 'varchar', 'nchar', 'char')            THEN '(' + CASE WHEN col.[DATA_TYPE] = 'numeric'                             THEN CAST(col.[NUMERIC_PRECISION] as VARCHAR(3)) + ', ' + CAST(numeric_scale as VARCHAR(3))                            WHEN col.[DATA_TYPE] IN ('nvarchar', 'varchar')                            THEN ISNULL(CAST(col.[CHARACTER_MAXIMUM_LENGTH] as VARCHAR(4)), 'MAX')                            WHEN col.[DATA_TYPE] IN ('nchar', 'char')                            THEN ISNULL(CAST(col.[CHARACTER_MAXIMUM_LENGTH] as VARCHAR(4)), 'MAX')                            END + ')'            ELSE '' END +       CASE WHEN col.[IS_NULLABLE] = 'NO' THEN ' NOT' ELSE '' END + ' NULL' +       CASE WHEN col.[COLUMN_DEFAULT] IS NOT NULL THEN ' DEFAULT ' + col.[COLUMN_DEFAULT] ELSE '' END + ',' AS [ColDefinition]  FROM [tempdb].[INFORMATION_SCHEMA].[COLUMNS] col WHERE col.[TABLE_NAME] LIKE '#tmpWhatever%';

This query will return as many rows as there are columns in the provided temporary table, which can then be copy/pasted into a partially-written CREATE TABLE statement. This query is going to save me hours of pain this week as I rush to complete things that should have been done weeks ago.

  1. When I use this word to describe something used in a professional setting, I mean it's untrustworthy or poorly defined. In the case of the data migration documentation, "incomplete" means both.

Why This Place? Tue, 30 Jul 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason a84fa853-ac51-33cf-bd33-10fe88101890 Of all the places people can go online, why does anyone come to this place? This question rolled around in my head today while in the shower as a follow-up to other questions regarding my efforts online. Curious about how many people visit, I checked out the stats collected by Cloudflare and found the following:

Web Traffic

Traffic the last couple of weeks has been up, and about six thousand visitors have come to this site in the last 30 days, some of which are likely digital in nature. What's interesting about this is that it's about the same number of visitors I used to see between 2007 and 2009, right before Twitter really took off and "killed" blogging. Looking at the "Recent Popular Posts" down at the bottom of every page, that blasted post from 2009 continues to receive the most traffic followed closely by a long out-of-date tutorial and an editorial that seemed to raise a number of eyebrows at the day job … which was actually the trigger for the question posited at the start of this piece.

People around the world have much more interesting places they can visit, so why come here? Despite efforts to improve my writing style over the last 11 months, there doesn't seem to be much difference in anything published here since 2013 when I gave up long-form writing. The range of vocabulary might have increased as I try to become more precise in my speech, but the excessive comma and relative clause usage that has dogged these posts for years persists. Helpful articles and tutorials have long-since disappeared. Rarely is there a joke or keen insight shared. Very little that is published on this site would look out of place in the opinion section of a small-town newspaper run by volunteers.

To be clear, I'm flattered that there are readers who come here. The chart shows that a minimum of 426 people have visited every day and a little over 6,000 in the last month. Doing this math, this means that a good percentage of visitors are return readers. Clearly something is encouraging people to afford me a couple minutes of their day; I just wish I knew what it was.

The rational side of me generally asks the irrational, inquisitive side what value this sort of knowledge would offer. Would knowing people's motivation result in better articles? More focused writing? Encouragement to carry on? Given the patterns on display over the last dozen years of blogging, it's obvious that none of these would happen. Instead there would likely be a less-diverse range of topics and a more critical eye on the perceived value of a given piece. Published content already goes through at least two rounds of vetting before going live, so a third would just sap the fun out of this ongoing project. So the rational side of me knows that there is no long-term value in understanding why people come here more than once.

The inquisitive side, however, is irrational. Maybe it's this that people come to see. By observing my irrationalities, visitors can feel that much more confident about their own sanity.

Headaches Mon, 29 Jul 2019 09:00:00 +0000 Jason 94e9aca5-b63a-bfe4-1726-2eb130f79b15 Headaches have been a part of life for as long as I can remember. These usually start as a throbbing vein just above the left temple — a Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) headache — before expanding to other parts of the head and becoming a migraine. In a typical week I'll have four or five clusters with one or two full migraines. Only when I reach the point of a debilitating migraine will I take some ibuprofen to reduce the pain. The doctors I've seen over the years have found nothing wrong. My glasses are fine, as are the muscles around the head and neck. The headaches will form regardless of whether I'm using a computer or not, and work does not seem to trigger a higher rate of problems1. This is just a fact of life for me.

One of the first serious TMJ headaches that I remember was in my third year of high school. I came home on a Friday with a throbbing skull. My parents told me it was because I wasn't wearing my glasses2 and insisted I put them on. I went upstairs to my room, climbed into bed, and woke up on Sunday3. This wasn't the first time that I'd lost an entire day while in a comatose state4, but it was enough to trigger me to pay attention to how these headaches formed, evolved, and dissipated.

It wasn't long before the three most common types were identified.

The TMJ Headache

This is the most common for me, where a throbbing or piercing pain starts around the temple and works its way inwards, sometimes feeling as though it's penetrating the ear canal and causing all sorts of confusion and sensitivity to sound. These headaches are likely one of the primary reasons I strongly dislike incoherent noise. Ibuprofen can relieve the pain within 15 minutes or so of taking the pills, while acetaminophen can require as much as 30 minutes before kicking in. Suffice it to say, there is always a supply of ibuprofen in this house.

The Neck Headache

This is one that a lot of people have become familiar with over the years thanks to cell phone usage. When the neck is bent for extended periods of time, it puts a lot of strain on the muscles in our shoulders, neck, and head. This can result in blood circulation issues or muscle strain, which can then evolve into an unpleasant headache. People who use their phones in low-light environments are hit twice as hard because, in addition to a neck headache, they often get to deal with a cluster headache around the eyes. I would often have neck headaches in my youth after playing with the GameBoy for hours on end, and after university when I'd use my Palm handhelds for hours and hours and hours. Over the last couple of years I've moved away from looking down at a device and instead have neck headaches as a result of poor sleeping posture. These are not at all fun to deal with and generally result in loud snoring and a headache the size of an elephant after waking.

The Migraine

Everyone's least-favourite headache. These have become a lot more common since the boy joined the family, as he's yet to learn the difference between an outside voice and an inside voice, and generally involve the sort of pain that makes a person want to sit in a quiet and dark closet for the rest of the day. A sensitivity to sound and light is very common, as is a loss of appetite and extreme dizziness. Being a parent means that I generally can't disappear from the world for a couple of hours but, when things become really dire, I reach for the noise-isolating headphones and drown out the world with a 9-hour audio track of falling rain. The boy can continue to scream his A-B-Cs, and I can sit at a safe distance and wait for the medicine to kick in.

  1. During holidays and vacations I'm just as likely to have headaches as when I'm sitting in front of a computer for hours on end for the day job.

  2. The same pair that I think I accidentally threw away during a locker clean-out.

  3. Given that I was the family cook, and the person who did a lot of cleaning, this didn't sit well with my sisters who had to pick up the slack while I was out of commission. I never did find out why I wasn't brought to a hospital for being completely unresponsive for 36 hours.

  4. The first time was the result of sunstroke after playing about 12 hours of baseball in the sun without adequate hydration.

Five Things Sun, 28 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 8ebe1f91-e94e-f7fc-e88f-8b3e011fb017 Yesterday I had today's post all planned out. The topic was set as the things that have changed in my life since this time last year, and seven items were identified1 with a couple of notes to guide the direction of the section. After writing the post this afternoon, however, I found the piece lacking. It just didn't sound right. When this happens, the post gets archived and is generally never seen again. Unfortunately this means that another post needs to be planned and written before midnight rolls around.

Luckily this is a Five Things post, which is generally easier to write.

Rather than look at change, which would have me write about a rather sensitive topic that would likely be misunderstood, I figure this would be a good opportunity to look at five inanimate things that make my days just a bit more enjoyable.

Coffee, with a Bit of Milk

I don't drink nearly as much of this wonderful beverage as I used to, but coffee remains one of the indulgent pleasures of the day. A cup with breakfast, a cup after lunch, and — occasionally — a cup around 11:00pm. When I started this addictive habit at the foolish age of 16, I took my coffee the same way my mother did; with cream and sugar. Around 21 this changed to cream only and at 23 I went with regular milk and haven't looked back.

Boxer Shorts

This could probably be classified under the TMI category, but four months ago I made the switch from briefs to boxer shorts. This is not the first time I've switched, but it will likely be the last as none of the inconveniences I had while wearing this style of underwear at 20 have resurfaced. Summers in this part of Asia are no fun at all when the heat and humidity kicks in by 8:30 in the morning, and briefs are notorious for trapping heat. Since going with boxers, I have found sitting at the desk for hours on end to be much easier.

A Good Work Chair

Until a month ago, I used a kitchen chair at the work desk. There were a number of reasons behind this, such as avoiding the cost of a nicer chair so soon after moving house. Now that I have a more comfortable working chair, though, my legs don't lose blood circulation and my back is supported much better. It has already paid for itself because of this.

A 24" 4K Monitor

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to receive a 24" Dell P2415Q monitor at work. Given how much of my day is spent staring at a screen, having a sharp image with no discernible pixelation is crucial. This monitor is generally used for image work, Remote Desktop sessions to Windows servers, and a whole bunch of web development. Without this monitor, my eyes would be a lot more tired by the end of every day.

A 13" MacBook Pro

I've used a number of computers over the years, but none have been quite as influential in my life as the 2015-era MacBook Pro that I use on a near-daily basis2. So much of what's been accomplished in the last four years can be attributed to that specific tool. While it's certainly struggling to keep up with my current workload, the machine is no slouch and can generally do what I need so long as I give it time to process.

There are certainly a bunch of other inanimate objects that make life more enjoyable, such as my home or the spring-loaded leash that gives Nozomi 5 metres of wiggle room when we go out for a walk. The five listed above are the smaller items that I tend to consciously appreciate on a daily basis. Sometimes it really is the little things that can help someone feel better despite whatever temporary trials life may be throwing their way.

  1. I generally try to come up with more than five, then whittle the options down to the target number based on the decency of the writing. This doesn't always happen but, when it does, a more cromulent post is written.

  2. I'm technically forbidden from using my computers on the weekend, as it's supposed to be "family time". This makes freelance projects harder to complete, but time with the family is generally a good thing.

T-47 Sat, 27 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 7263fe61-a838-d0ce-ac49-e8d121f17f7b In just 47 days I'll have reached my goal of writing and publishing a blog post every day for a year. Also, at a rate of one post per day, the anniversary post will also be the 2,999th blog post published to this site. This is a ridiculous number for a personal weblog, though not without precedent. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal sites with far more content than I've managed to put out, many of which are probably better focussed than this one.

The idea of writing a post every day seems easy to a lot of people despite the obvious challenges with time, interest, and attention. Back in the mid-2000s when blogging was booming and sites like Facebook and Twitter were bootstrapped operations, there would be regular writing challenges posted to sites like Technorati and Digg encouraging people to participate. As one would expect, the first week would see a flurry of activity. The second week saw a steady stream. The third week would result in a trickle. Eventually the excitement would wear off and people would return to their erratic posting schedules1. Maintaining enthusiasm is hard work and requires a certain level of dedication.

Personally, I've found it to be rather difficult at times to write a post on a daily basis. Today is a perfect example of this as I've yet to open any of my note-taking applications to jot down ideas for the daily article. Aside from taking Nozomi out for her walks in the morning and evening, I've not left the house in three days. Excessive heat and humidity followed by a 30-hour rain storm precluded any sort of outdoor activities. What is there to write about? The need for software to be treated as a craft rather than a job? Ignoring a hierarchy to push change onto a group of individuals? My recipe for French toast that both Reiko and the boy seem to thoroughly enjoy?

Well … that last one might be a worthwhile venture. The others, however, are starting to feel old despite the obvious passion I have for the topics.

Fact of the matter is that I've been pushing myself way too hard for way too long and, as the cycle goes, I'm sliding into a state of indifference. In the short term, I don't see the value of Activity A or B, while the long term demands that both be tended to as I've made the commitment to myself, and I'm not going to stop something when the finish line is in sight out of sheer laziness. Future me would be quite upset.

And so I write. I write about writing. I write about fragments of memories from the early web. I write about personal inadequacies. But I push onward — I write — because the alternative would be far more unpalatable than the publication of a repetitive post about fatigue and sloth.

Fortunately tomorrow is Sunday, which means there will be a 5 Things post to write. I have just the topics, too.

  1. A common trope in the early blogging communities would be prefixing a post with an apology for not writing more.

Knowing When to Stop Fri, 26 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason bca6a9d8-f938-14f3-7d76-e712d7504e67 One of the hardest things to do as a developer is to throw away a large block of code because, despite all the invested time and effort, the results just aren't good enough. This is where I am with one of my work projects despite the dozens of hours invested as it's become a massive time sink with zero appreciable benefits going forward. Yes, with time, I could work through a lot of the issues one by one … but this isn't what I'm being paid to do. My responsibilities involve getting things done, not tinkering about with browser-related edge cases to paper over past decisions. So, regardless of the effort invested, I'm going to throw the code away and approach the problem from a different angle.

Discarded Paper

Back in the mid-2000s, a year or so before this blog was started, I was working on a project at a printing company that aimed to reduce the amount of paperwork pressmen needed to do during their regular workday. As with most corporate projects, the requirements were incredibly complex and seemed to change with every phase of the moon. The codebase started to become increasingly bloated with business rules that would stand in the way of getting work done and, worst of all, the application was starting to consume far too many resources while running1. The PCs at the printing presses would occasionally crash or freeze as a result of the software, which resulted in lost data. Nobody was happy about this.

So, being young, single, and stupid, I decided to invest an entire long weekend into fixing the application. Three entire days were spent at home, in front of the computer, working on solving resource problems through various means. On the first day back I went immediately to the printing plant and updated the application to the latest build. Five minutes into testing, the system showed signs of struggle. Ten minutes in, the computer locked up and blue screened. There was just too much data coming in from the printing press and too many business rules that needed to be run with each operation. Despite working the entire weekend, stopping only for coffee, food, and the bathroom, the problem persisted.

Suffice it to say, nobody was happy about this.

Later that morning I asked a senior colleague to take a look at the code. Within 20 minutes he pointed out a number of areas that could be improved with huge swaths of code being outright deleted. I'll never forget what he said:

You've got recent code reversing out past code just for the sake of holding on to the work you did a few days ago? Don't do that!

He was right, of course. I don't remember why I did what I did, but I remember how I solved the performance problems: I rewrote the program from scratch, using two working days and two nights to get it done. Thursday morning I went straight to the printing plant, updated the application, and watched.

Everything worked as expected. There were a few bugs here and there, of course, but the core application was receiving data from the printing presses, processing it, and saving the results back to the main database. The pressmen were happy for the reduced workload. The managers were happy for the reduced workload. The sales staff were happy for the process run and colour accuracy statistics they could review. All it took was a different set of eyes, being able to step back from trying to force a preconceived notion onto a problem, and recognizing that sometimes it's best to not be too attached to past efforts.

While I don't have a second set of eyes to help with this current project, I can certainly step back and recognize when time is being used in a manner that is ultimately suboptimal. It's time to drop some code and approach the problem from a different angle.

  1. This was back in the day before web applications were a thing. The project was being written in C# with Visual Studio 2005, which had just come out. The target PCs were all 500MHz Celerons with 256MB of RAM, so resources needed to be considered. This was usually enough for most business software, but manager-mandated bloat can do some pretty awful things to code.

Why That Data Sucks Thu, 25 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason bd716036-e14e-c394-3187-5e95b5acbc12 This past week I've invested far more hours than I should have needed to clean up a database in preparation for an upcoming migration. When getting data ready to move from one system to another, there is often a little bit of work that's required to ensure information is not lost and that the most important details are as complete and correct as possible. What I've been doing over the last few days, however, is on a completely different scale. The question that keeps repeating in my head is both simple and absurd: How can a company that deals with long-term, face-to-face interactions operate without ever knowing the names of their paying customers?

A Little Background

At the day job we are migrating our systems from internally-developed solutions to a rather large cloud vendor. This is a bit more complex than spinning up virtual machines and migrating our databases to off-site servers, though, as we're taking our SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and ancient FileMaker-based systems and putting them into something that — I think — operates on top of an Oracle database. The work is generally pretty straightforward, though there is a great deal of verification and validation that is necessary to ensure the information we upload is correct.

It's the penultimate step, the verification and validation bit, where I seem to invest the bulk of my time; particularly when it comes to names and contact details.

Every company has its own little quirks about how it uses its databases. Here in Japan, one of the things that has long bugged me has been the way staff at the schools will change a person's name in the database to help with quick identification or search. So, if we have two people named "John Smith", one might be changed to "John Smith (Old)" or "John Smith (Student)". This would be shown in the search results when someone looks for names matching or resembling "John Smith". While this seems like a logical solution to a problem, what this means is that in the database we'll have a last name of "Smith (Old)" and a first name of "John". If there are any reports to print out, the comment in the parentheses is included.

The schools have come up with a whole lexicon of short codes, symbols, and words to help quickly identify customers of all kinds. The first time I ran into this on a large scale was when I started importing customer names from the big CMS into the LMS I developed a few years back. These comments would appear on a teacher's schedule, on attendance lists, and in printed reports that went to the student. This was something I adamantly refused to let happen, so wrote a little function that would strip the codes out of a name and present just the proper name. It's worked well for several years and the state of the data in the Japanese database, while not perfect, is consistent and reliable. There will not be any problem whatsoever ensuring that the names and other details that we upload to the new system will be devoid of these "meta notes".

Knock It Up a Notch

The database I've been working with this week, however, is not from any Japanese system. This means people from a whole different culture and background who have used the same software have created their own form of meta notes over the years … and it's terrifying.

One of the first things that I noticed when working with the database was that a person's entire name was written into the "First Name" column along with some extra details, such as the type of contract they have and maybe even the name of a colleague for when two people are taking Lessons on the same contract1. In the "Last Name" column there will be other details, such as a person's family name … or their full name … or their name in the native language … or the name of the employer plus their name … or the name of the employer, the type of contract, and the full name of the student. And I need to parse this out to have given names in their own column, family names in their own column, and names written in the native language written in a third.

But wait! There's more!

Some of the more interesting uses of the "Last Name" column is a school's habit to write the relationship of a student. These are some of the values that I have found in the database2:

  • Tom's sister's friend
  • The mother is taking the class
  • Afternoons at the cafe
  • John's new wife
  • The president of ABC Company

These are notes, but they're written in the "Last Name" column. In the first name will be the whole name, sometimes in the standard alphabet, sometimes in the native language, sometimes with both, and sometimes with the contract type thrown in as well. When a school is feeling particularly frugal, there might not be a name at all and instead something like "xxx" or just an empty string. As I've already said, I need to provide a proper list with family names, given names, and native language names — when they exist — in separate columns.

Most database people I've met over the years would take one look at this and send it back to the schools, telling them to "fix their crap data", otherwise nothing will be migrated. While I would love nothing more, this is not really an option. Instead I went and created a series of SQL queries that would clean the data as much as possible. After a few days of work, I'm generally confident in 95% of the data. I could go through the last 5% line by line and fix issues by hand when I find them, and I have done this with some of the most egregious issues, but it's not really the best use of my time. There are other countries and other databases that need attention as well.

Why in the … ?

Blaming the schools for their "crap data management policy" would be easy, but I really don't think the fault lies with the schools. People were compelled to do this in order to get around very real problems with the home-grown corporate software. Problems that could have been avoided had people paid attention, asked questions, and sought solutions.

The key problem is one that I've already mentioned: it's too hard to find the right person when searching by name. This is completely true, and every country has their equivalent of James Smith or Maria Garcia3. The solution is not to mess up a person's name field, though.

What are the options, though?

Having solved this problem a couple of different ways in the past, including in the soon-to-be-retired LMS, I see two relatively quick changes that could resolve the issue.

The first is to make it possible to assign tags to a person's record. The tags could be completely free-form and allow a good amount of text so that contract types, descriptions, and relationships could be easily recorded, searched, and displayed in a results list.

The second is to add a short comment field — distinct from the main comment fields — that would also be part of the search and returned for display in the results list. This option would generally require more processing power, but may be easier to implement within a database.

Either one of these options would ensure that printed reports, attendance lists, and other items showing a person's name are free of superfluous information. The company would win because printed materials would look more professional and teachers would win because they wouldn't have to try and parse the meaning behind the meta. Of course, I would win, too. With less "gunk" to filter out and process, I could more easily prepare data for migration from one system to another.

Over the years I've seen a lot of very strange things put into a database. By looking at the reasoning behind why, it becomes easier to think about how data can remain complete and valid while also solving genuine business problems. The hardest part is being vigilant and proactive when oddities in the data are discovered and reported.

  1. This is not at all required. The system can have a million people on the same contract. I have no idea why the people who used the database in question have such a fear of making new records.

  2. These are not the actual names, as that would be a giant breach of trust and would justify an immediate firing. The names have been changed, but the gist is completely accurate.

  3. These two names are among the most common in the world according to this blog post.

Ebb and Flow Wed, 24 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 0b09ffb2-fb50-4846-8944-39b133697e5a A lot of the patterns that we see with crowds seem to be universal. When I was young, I would often see a situation where a restaurant or store would be empty and quiet, then get really busy for a short period of time, then return to an empty and quiet state. This wasn't just around meal time or during a sale, but at any time of the day. It's almost as if people move in an unconscious herd, electing to do what others have already chosen and are currently engaged in. Whether this is accurate or not, I don't know. What's interesting is that this sort of thing can also be observed at the day job.

A pattern of order is emerging from the apparent chaos that is the corporate inbox. For roughly three weeks of every month, messages trickle in at a rate of five per day with people asking for or providing information. The other week, however, has several dozen messages waiting for me at the start of every day with several dozen more coming in throughout the morning and afternoon. The deluge is simply too much to stay on top of and my usual Inbox Zero state balloons out to an Inbox Twenty while tasks are being performed based on the perceived priority of the request. This is apparently the busy week for July, as there are a ridiculous number of emails in the inbox1, messages coming in via Slack2, requests on Teams3, and even a handful on Skype. Messages are coming in every which way, making it hard to stay afloat.

Both the ebb and the flow moments of the month are appreciated as one shows that people think I have something of value to share, be it knowledge, time, or skill, while the other allows me to get caught up on all the things that people have requested that were impossible to complete immediately. What I sometimes wonder is how people who receive a much higher quantity of email and messages manage to cope with the influx of communications. Some of my colleagues can receive as many as 100 emails an hour because of the role they play within the company. Do they read everything? Or do they need to declare "inbox bankruptcy" on a regular basis just to stave off information overload? Do they also have an ebb and flow in their months?

As more people across the organization start to get in touch to ask questions, request help, and provide feedback on the myriad of systems I'm partially — or completely — responsible for, I wonder if I'll be able to keep up without breaking the rule of not having work email on the phone.

  1. By "ridiculous", I mean 16. All have been read, but not all are complete. They will stay in the Inbox until complete, when they will then be archived.

  2. I don't use Slack, but some colleagues do. When I see the tablet light up with a message from that location, I fire up the browser and see what's going on.

  3. Is it just me, or has Microsoft really Skype'd Teams up to the point where you expect the hardware to crash?

Still Using Paper Tue, 23 Jul 2019 12:00:00 +0000 Jason 1edad58d-05dc-1b40-3de1-cba4e4e6e8af About two months ago I installed Evernote on the computer and picked up a trio of the branded Moleskine® notebooks designed to be used with the service. The goal was simply to remove some of the friction that I've felt with note-taking applications since giving Evernote up a few years back. No other tool does as well a job with optical character recognition in multiple languages of the images uploaded, and no other tool organizes the data in a manner as logical as Evernote without a whole bunch of backflips an heavy lifting up front. So, rather than continue to struggle with pathetic digital notes, as many as 12 active paper notebooks, plus one or two A5-sized notepads, it just made sense to blend the paper and digital together with something that I know works1.

However, despite having some pretty decent success with Evernote these last few weeks, it's clear that paper is still very much the primary way I take notes, make plans, and prioritize tasks. No other system has come remotely close to reducing my use of trees and ink.

Notes for Today's Demo

Today, while I was scanning the day's notes into Evernote, I asked myself once again why I was doing this. Why write on paper only to scan into a computer and store digitally, especially when it's just text? The image above was a quick bit of prep for a demo I gave earlier today. Does it really need to be digitized and archived? Did it need to be written on paper at all? My usage of dashes, dots, triangles, and checkboxes when formatting notes can very easily be moved over to a digital medium, as I've done it before through the use of keyboard shortcuts. Square and curly brackets that span multiple lines are less-than-easy to reproduce, but this can be worked around with some creative layouts. I like to use as many as three colours when taking notes, depending on the objective, which is easier when using Evernote or similar tools as there are more than three colours to choose from and errors can be fixed within seconds. So why the heck do I find it so hard to be a 100% digital note-taker?

This wasn't so much a problem 20 years ago.

The Palm IIIxe

The second Palm PDA I owned was a Palm IIIxe like the one in the image above. It was an amazing little unit that could go days on a pair of AAA-sized batteries. Once a person learned how to use the Graffiti writing system, they could write just about anything in less time than it took to use pen and paper2. I loved this so much that I wrote some software for use at work, where I would need to answer calls, look up information for customers, get back to them, and so on. I had an entire mini-database of customer data in the device that could be looked up in a split second and added to with the stroke of a stylus. My boss at the time picked up a Palm as well so that we could keep our notes in sync, which made the tool even more useful. No longer did we need to run around with a paper book and scribble notes in an illegible fashion.

Clearly I'm not allergic to digital notes, given that the Palm made them so easy and, dare I say it, enjoyable to work with. But I've yet to replicate the experience I had on the Palm with any technology. The closest I get is with the traditional pen and paper, which has the added bonus of being able to handle sketches and doodles. The Palm was never good as an artistic device.

There may be a stylus in the form of an Pencil arriving in the mail at some point in the future. If this does arrive, would I feel the same enjoyment when writing notes on an iPad as I did on the Palm? Would seeing my handwriting be converted into an easy-to-read font, ready for immediate indexing and searching, encourage me to give up paper? I really don't know. What I do know, however, is that having a dozen active notebooks and a pair of notepads within arms reach at all times makes for a rather cluttered working space.

  1. The one downside is that Evernote uses Google Cloud for storage and a bunch of processing. While Google Cloud's TOS clearly states that the advertising giant will not use the data from their Cloud offerings in any way, shape or form, there isn't any way for me to verify this. As with anything based "in the cloud", it's best to consider it as already public.

  2. The problem with writing on the Palm handheld devices was that the writing area would wear out incredibly quickly. This was the primary reason I had to replace my Palm devices every six months … which was unfortunate.

Purified Mon, 22 Jul 2019 14:00:00 +0000 Jason 7c2cc0cf-4f48-0306-6faf-47fd956e694a Music tames the savage beast and it also helps people calm down and get things done. Over the last year or so I've found myself carefully curating the music podcasts that I listen to, keeping just the artists who consistently put out work that sounds great and doesn't rely on endless repetition. This has meant that a lot of the more popular DJs of the world have been dropped from my subscriptions and a lot of the people who are "new to me" have risen to the top. Nora En Pure's Purified is one of the better podcasts that I've had the pleasure of listening to.

Nora En Pure at Work

When I first stumbled across Nora's podcast, I liked the way she mixed her tracks. There's never a hard break, even when the beat and intensity are wildly different between segments, and the way she samples the classics is incredibly intelligent. At first glance, someone might confuse her compositions with the ones put out by Sister Bliss, another amazing artist, but Nora's mixes tend to be designed more about movement whereas Sister Bliss is designed around raw emotion. This might have something to do with her South African background, which is quite different from the UK's sound, but I could be wrong about this.

I could go on, but this post is already sounding like a paid spot1. If you enjoy electronic music to any degree, give her podcast a listen.

  1. This is not a sponsored post or anything like that. I just really like her music and think that others will enjoy it as well.

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.