Change is in the air

When you’ve kept your head down for a long time you might be surprised at where you are when you finally look up again. That’s what it feels like right now.

It’s been an odd day. My life in general is pretty normal lately. As a fairly boring middle-aged person I sometimes have month after month where nothing of significance happens. Those days just fly by. But then, suddenly, something happens that jolts me from normality, and I realize fully where and when I am. Today was such a day.

First, my wife finally received her British passport. It has been a long wait for her since she first applied for citizenship, but today the last remaining worry was finally dispelled and she can travel freely again. This is amazing. One less thing to worry about.

Second, I met an old friend for dinner in London. It might be the last time I see him in a while because he’s leaving the UK, as a lot of my (software developer) friends have done in the last couple of years. Increasing costs of living in the UK make London an increasingly hard sell for a lot of people I know, so inevitably many of them are returning to their home country. The general concensus among people in my circle seems to be that London is fine for a couple of years – you earn some decent money, live the life, meet the people – but then it’s time to move on and go somewhere else so that you can have a better quality of life.

Most of my friends have left London now, either to move to places just outside of London, or further away. I’m not quite the last holdout but on days like today it certainly feels like it. It reminds me of the time when I left Japan and I was the last foreigner in my group of friends to leave. Being the last to leave is an interesting feeling. I certainly felt that same melancholy today, and it made me remember my past self.

Third, this happened:

The queen died. As I was walking to the tube station I passed by Piccadilly Circus, which was full of tourists and other random people, just standing there in a daze, staring at and taking photos of the giant billboard that was showing the queen. They all seemed a bit bewildered, wondering about what was going to happen next.

So I look up at the billboard and I realize that the world has changed so much recently. Ukraine happened. Covid happened. My life in the UK happened. And the queen is dead. Who knows what will happen next.

This is the new world
This is your time
Down in the basement
Dancing again
Everybody get ready to sing
When the lights go out
When the lights go out

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts , UK

This is a test post

More info soon. I am working on a better way to publish blog posts. This post was published on a Raspberry Pi! Woohoo!

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged ,

The Netherlands

It's been four years since I was last back in the Netherlands. This might be the longest time that I've not been back. But covid is nearing it's end (hopefully), and circumstances allowed for it, so here I am. I didn't realise how much I missed it. A brief break from my daily life.

On a sunny spring day like this, going out for a cycle in the countryside is absolutely amazing.

Everything is green, sunny and positive. New life takes the place of old life.

Posted in Dutch , Thoughts , Travel

Twenty twenty one

Time goes by very quickly lately. I suspect it's a combination of growing older and the pandemic lifestyle of hardly ever going out. New things are less and less new, and there are less and less new things. At the beginning of last week I wanted to do a little 'end of year review' kind of post, but found it difficult to get into the mindset of writing again, so I ended up putting it off over and over again, and now it's 2022. That said, I've not felt this write-y for years, and I'd like to write a little bit about why.

Let's start with a question: why even bother writing on a public blog at all? I've been wondering this for about five years now. This blog doesn't get a lot of hits. I googled for 'colorfulwolf' the other day and found that my site had been removed from the search results entirely. Couldn't even find it on page 10. It seems to be back now though. Side note: DuckDuckGo is a lot better, I started using this more and more lately. Google search results have been terrible for a long time, but I digress.

Writing on the internet is a risk. More so than ever. Opinions are saturated and extreme, and even if you write something that you think is perfectly nuanced the internet mob could still come after you and 'cancel' you. I consider myself a pretty 'uncancellable' personality since I'm not in politics and I'm not showing my face on Youtube, but what I write here does reflect on companies that employ me or might potentially employ me, and that has kept me from writing here in the stream-of-consciousness style I used to write in back when I was living in Japan. I consider myself very moderate in everything, but you never know what could be misinterpreted in the future, "so why take the risk". The pros of writing in public need to outweigh the cons.

Though I don't write in public much any more, I do write in a private 'log book' of sorts. The same thoughts I used to shout out publicly I still write for myself, so I don't censor myself internally, though as you can see from this blog it does mean there's less content here. I don't feel particularly bad about that because that is in line with my life goals. It is not my life goal to be a contraversial opinion on anything on the internet. I just want to write about my life. But as a result I think my writing quality has gone down. It's the difference between programming something quick and dirty for internal use versus publishing something for all the world to see. It's just different quality standards. I would like to come back to all those private writings at some point and publish them here. That's definitely not going to happen any time soon though.

I write for myself and for those who know me in person, but not for strangers. I believe walled gardens like Facebook are fine for casual thought-sharing, but one should assume that all the information will eventually just disappear. Platforms like Wordpress or Medium are not bad, but I'd rather abstract away that layer and own my own domain. Walled gardens require maintenance and presence, which is why I prefer this content to be available to anyone. Certainly some people in my family would be annoyed if they had to log in to something in order to read this. Open data is good.

"Why bother writing anywhere at all, even in private"? For me there are two reasons. One: I obtain value from reading back things that I wrote years ago. My memory is far from perfect, and those log books help me remember what kind of person I was in years past, and how I used to think about things. It gives me a sense of continuity and identity. Two: it's therapeutic. Processing life events by writing about them has great value for me. Whenever I write something I feel like I'm offloading it from my brain so I don't have to think about it any more. The reverse also holds true: if I don't write about something it feels like it's something I have to remember, and it weighs me down.

The last thing I wanted to write about is: why have I not felt like writing in the past few years? There's an easy answer to that, but one that's difficult for me to write down here in public: I was burned out. I will not go into details here, but I consciously chose to be in a situation where I felt stressed out and miserable for a long time in order to gain in other areas of my life. It was a situation I rationally felt I should not escape from, because the pros outweighed the cons. When that situation finally came to an end this year I thought that my life would be better instantly; that I could just wake up the next day and feel good about myself again. Instead I continued to feel miserable for two weeks until I finally started to feel a little bit like myself again for the first time in years. I do not regret where I was or where it took me, and I do not blame anyone but myself for any negative feelings, but I sure am glad that's over. Issendai has a gripping article about Sick Systems that resonated very strongly with me.

I don't want to dwell on those experiences too deeply, but one thing I did find interesting was that I repeatedly thought "X is the cause of my feeling bad", and "if I do Y I will suddenly feel good again", and I repeatedly proved myself wrong. One example of this was suddenly being able to work from home when the pandemic hit. I suddenly had way more time on my hands, and I thought "life will be better now", but it quickly became the new normal again and I felt how I usually felt. It's easy to blame external causes for this, but I had made a habit out of not looking within myself for the cause. If there's one 'lesson' I learned this year, it would be to look within more. The Dokkōdō continues to be a source of inspiration for me.

This may sound weird after writing all that, but 2021 has been an amazing year for me. I am getting closer to where I want to be in life, and things are looking up for the future. My (very middle-aged) highlights of the year were:

  • We got a cat! He requires a lot of attention but he is absolutely awesome.
  • I bought a smart exercise bike. It was crazy expensive but I use it a lot.
  • Finally did a '1.0' of Legobot. It's fully functional and about the size I wanted it to be. My stretch goal was to clean up and publish all the code on GitHub, but I continue to procrastinate on that. That's probably a good thing because the code is several years old by now..
  • Built and published a UK Retirement Calculator (and unlike Legobot the code for this is on GitHub).
  • Finally had the utility room of our apartment re-tiled. For introverts like us this is a major accomplishment.
  • Enjoyed some excellent holidays: we went driving in Scotland, hiking in Wales and did scuba diving in Bonaire.
  • Bought and sold a VR headset. I previously owned the Oculus dev kit back in 2013 but was not happy with it. I thought that a higher resolution would make VR everything I ever wanted and that I would use it all the time, but instead it turned out to be just the occasional gimmick and I quickly lost interest. Beat Saber and Google Earth VR were cool though.

The new year has already begun. Let's make the most of it.

(maybe I'll finally get around to re-implementing commenting functionality on this blog... YOU NEVER KNOW)

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts , UK | Tagged ,

A little update

Hello blog, you're still here. I have lots of topics and ideas I want to write about here, but life always seems to keep getting in the way. Somewhere along the line writing on this blog has gone from one of the first things I do with my free time to somewhere near the end of my priority list. I write down short notes on thoughts in private but I don't really take the time to refine them into coherent posts any more. It's a sign of the times, I think. The generation that grew up with blogging, my generation, has gotten older. My "I'm only adulting ironically" stance on life has definitely become unironic in what seemed like an instant. Suddenly I'm old. That's what it feels like.

In my mind I always imagined myself eventually getting back to this blog many, many years later, once I am retired, to go through the list of things I wanted to write about, and actually start writing and publishing them. I still intend to do this, but I also need to recognize that this is a dream of me-in-my-thirties, much like cycling around Japan was the dream of me-in-my-twenties. It doesn't mean that I won't get around to it, but it does mean that I keep finding other interesting things to do in life, which I might consider more important. Life never stops, and that's a great thing.

I am in the middle of a journey right now. What will happen to this blog is something I will decide at the end of my current journey. For now I'll leave it as-is. From a technical point of view it's definitely a pain to maintain in its current state - I'm aware that I've still not added back commenting functionality yet since switching from Wordpress, but given how little I write here these days, I think it can wait.

My friends, here is where I am: I have recently quit one job and am about to start another. In the meantime I've had a lucky few weeks where I am in-between jobs without the job anxiety, and the wife and I took full advantage of that by going on a holiday abroad for the first time in almost two years. I feel thoroughly refreshed and ready for a new challenge. Let's see what the next few years will bring.

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts | Tagged

The End is Near

Mortgage, marriage, pandemic. Boom, now you're old. I'll be brief, because we're not quite there yet.

In my entire life there has never been a year like this. I am no longer young, but I don't feel old yet either. Many bad things have happened to the people around me this year. Nothing is quite the same as it was before. Nevertheless, the pandemic brings perspective.

Gradually, my priorities shift. Goals get closer to fulfilment. Some things were not possible this year, but other things came along to replace them. Less travel, more at-home activities. Less human interaction, more peace of mind. Less commuting, more cycling.

There is "pre-pandemic" and "post-pandemic". Let's hope 2021 will be "post-pandemic". Getting older. Getting better.

Long ways to go yet. (Smeagol will show the way)

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged ,

The cycle of change

I've done quite a few cycling trips, but three clearly stand out as the major ones: Tokyo to the southernmost point of Kyushu, Tokyo to the northernmost point of Hokkaido, and Kyushu back to Tokyo. As far as the Japanese coast line goes, the last bit that I haven't done yet is from the northernmost point of Hokkaido back to Tokyo via the east coast.

Next year is the ten year anniversary of that first trip, the one from Tokyo to Kyushu all by myself. Inevitably, I find myself thinking about my life in terms of "before the trip" and "after the trip", about what kind of person I was before, and what kind of person I was about to become. That first trip is the marker for the biggest change in my life. I moved back from Japan to Europe. One life ended, and another one began. I was young and naive and full of a hope and a freedom that I will never ever regain. The term 'cycling trip', to me, is about that feeling of youth and freedom. But it's a feeling I've gradually lost over time.

Europe taught me some harsh lessons about what it's like to actually be an adult. I really had just been playing around in Japan, and I was not quick to change my ways after moving to the UK. I landed a job with a lot of freedoms, and I used it to become the most physically fit that I ever was. By the time I took three months off for the second cycling trip, I was in my prime. I challenged myself by cycling routes that I'd never even have consided before. The second trip to the North of Hokkaido was definitely my best physical achievement. I was never 'not fat', but I was definitely fit.

Between the second and the third trip something changed. I started becoming a different person again. It became hard to think of cycling in the same way as before. After the first trip I had never experienced life in that way before, and there was nothing better to me. The second trip continued on that feeling, but at the same time my life back in the UK was starting to come together.

My moment of 'cracking' came during a smaller trip, a few years after the big trip north. I had taken a two-week holiday from my job to do a shorter cycle from Hiroshima to Kyushu, to repeat a few of my favorite bits from past cycling trips, and to fill in a bit of coastline I hadn't cycled yet. I was cycling along the coastline with a perfect blue sky, not too warm, not too cold. It was a nice, wide, road, with a cycling area to the side and not too much traffic. Mountains on one side, and some small islands visible along the Japanese inland sea. It should have been perfect. I should have been enjoying myself beyond belief. But all I could think of was: "Why am I not enjoying this?"

I didn't understand the feeling, or where it came from. I stopped by a convenience store, bought some food and sat on a seawall for quite some time, feeling unhappy and trying to make sense of my emotions. Whenever I think about my trips nowadays, it is that moment that stands out for me as the turning point, the point where I realized I was becoming someone else. I didn't understand or accept it at the time, and it vexed me for years. It kind of still does. I still want to be the person I was back when I undertook that first cycling trip, but I can't. I can never go back to that. My life experience won't let me.

That trip was in Autumn. The next spring, I quit my job and went cycling again, to do it properly this time. I figured that the previous trip left a bad feeling because I had a job to get back to. It's hard to reproduce the feeling of freedom if you're only on a two-week break, so so I thought at the time. The third 'I quit my job and I'm going cycling' trip went from Kyushu back to Tokyo. It started at the point where I left with a bad feeling the previous autumn, and I felt vindicated when I made it back to Tokyo along the northern coast. I still had it.

But my exit from my job was a soft exit, with the opportunity to come back, which I did. Soon I was living the same life as before the cycling trip, which is why in the long term I think about this third trip differently than the previous two. Every cycling trip I see my options in life decreasing. Every trip I get older, more settled down. And that's not a bad thing at all. I'm quite happy with the direction my life is going. I'm creating options in one area, but as a consequence, options in another area are disappearing. Cycling trips remind me of a freedom I can't ever have back, and that's why I started feeling bad when I think about cycling trips. More and more it feels like escaping from life rather than creating opportunities in life.

There's one more trip left before I can finally say that I've cycled all of the coast of Japan, and I'm dreading it more and more every year. I've chosen my life in the UK, so I won't get the sense of freedom I got from the first trip. I'm getting older every year, and I'm definitely past my physical prime, though I reckon I'll have no real trouble as long as I don't injure myself. I'm pretty good at not injuring myself. Lastly, the bit of the coast I didn't do yet is the coldest, longest, most desolate, un-Japanese part of all of Japan: the east and north coasts of Hokkaido. Long stretches of nothingness with cold temperatures and strong winds. None of it is what I like about Japan, and it feels like a chore to do it at this point.

2020 seemed like the perfect 'I quit my job and I'm going cycling' year. Exactly ten years after the first trip. A perfect opportunity to evaluate what I was then and what I am now. But the truth is: I do that all the time. It's not like I turn my brain off for ten years and then wake up and wonder where I am. I chose to come here and I was conscious for all of it, no excuses. I'm no longer the same person I was ten years ago, and the person I am now has different priorities. I wouldn't have grown as a person if that statement turned out not to be true.

The legendary fourth trip will have to wait a little longer. I've not given up, but I need to create the right opportunity for it. Life goals allowing, I intend to make this happen in the next five years.

Let's see what will happen in the next decade. 2020, bring it on.

Posted in Cycling , Thoughts

Grown-up life and blogs don't mix

In the recent years I've begun to think very differently about the 'free' time I have available to me. Back in my mid-twenties my free time was truly free. My commute was short, my responsibilities were little, my social life was not very active, so I ended up having more than enough time to spend on all the things that interested me at the time. Now, ten years later, my social life is still not very active, but everything else has gotten a lot more busy. I lose two to three hours every day in my commute. I am fortunate enough to be able to worry about what the most efficient way is to mortgage our apartment, how to invest our savings, and so on. Once those things enter your life you have to prioritize them accordingly. Just keeping up with this took some adjusting for me. And I don't even have kids! I can only imagine how busy people are when they have kids to take care of. The free time in my life has gone from 'mostly unplanned' to 'fully planned', with almost no exception. I probably first had this thought years ago. I just didn't have time to blog about it.

What does "I don't have time" even mean? In this context it doesn't mean that I am so busy 24/7 with things that utterly vital to my life that I don't have time for anything else. I still spend lots of time playing games, watching movies, cycling, editing photos, and so on. What it means is that, after I'm done with the things that are vital to my life (social obligations, researching decisions that will affect me for the next decades, daily-life churn like laundry, dishes, commutes) I end up with very little time and 'active brain time' left, that I choose to spend it on other (less creative) activities.

Today is an exception, though. Today is the first day in months in which my to-do list has finally shrunk enough for me to feel like devoting some time to blogging. In retrospect I think it was probably a mistake to switch away from Wordpress those few years ago. Yes, my blog is now statically hosted, way faster, and fully managed by me, but the scope creep in getting the little features that I need in means it ends up taking literally years before I have something that even does the bare-minimum that Wordpress does. If I had to make this decision again, I probably would've stayed with Wordpress and moved to more expensive hosting. It's a wonderfully hands-off ecosystem. The reason I wrote my own static blog system and did not use an off-the-shelf solution is because I believe I would be locked in to someone else's solution if I used an off-the-shelf library or framework. My own system minimizes dependencies and lines of code. The actual meat of the system (template rendering, page generation, publishing) is less than 600 lines of code. Sadly, the Django app that I'm writing this in is proof that I still have dependencies and need to write hundreds more lines of code before I actually have something I can use from any random device or location. I think this solution is the right solution for someone who has the time to work on it. What I should have done is just buy more expensive Wordpress hosting, which would've gotten me a lot more happiness, time-savings and features.

One thought keeps popping back into my head over the past few months: "Efficiency/Productivity is the enemy of Creativity". That's one way to phrase it. Another way would be "Efficiency and Creativity are two sides of the same coin". The more efficient I work, the less creative I am. The most efficient people I know are people I would not rank very highly on creativity, and the opposite seems to hold true as well. I find the consequences of this interesting for someone (like me) whose professional role is "web developer". The 'developer' part is something you can improve by being more efficient/productive, but the 'web' part has a very strong element of creativity in it that is sometimes overlooked. Trying to satisfy both elements is an interesting challenge. Building my own blog is something I thought would be helpful for creativity, but in my attempts to keep the amount of work to a minimum I think it ended up being an exercise in productivity rather than creativity. Building things is not fun if you don't enjoy doing it. And (at least in the case of hobbies) if you don't have joy in what you do, why are you doing it?

Use it or lose it.

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts | Tagged

A modern-day Dokkōdō

Prioritize mental, physical and financial health.

Use all of the day. Don't spend all your time in virtual worlds.

Accept inconvenience. Don't complain.

Think about what, ten years from now, you will wish you had gotten out of life now.

Spend some time in the sun every day.

Eat in moderation. Don't eat bad things.

Throw away things you don't need.

Meditate every day.

(Inspired by the original Dokkōdō).

Posted in Daily Life , Thoughts | Tagged

Moving the goalposts

This blog is finally on https! It's been a while in the making. I first tried this over a year ago but couldn't get AWS from generating an infinite redirect loop. In the end I think it was a combination of the Cloudfront distribution doing redirects and the S3 bucket that this blog is now served from also doing redirects. I think I may have actually solved it at the time, because I did the same thing again this week and it worked, but it turns out the changes take quite a while (over a day from what I've seen) to propagate, so I never knew that my fix worked the last time I tried it.

So, 2019 now. Middle age has definitely struck. I've found myself very busy last year. Busy enough to not have enough mental energy for side projects or hobbies. My major peave of the year is definitely my commute. My commute to work is, by my own standards, way too long. It's one of the things I'd like to improve on this year, if at all possible. Currently I've got perhaps 3-4 hours of free time after work, which, after dealing with all the adulting (house chores, mortgages, that sort of thing) leaves me with no time during the week where my brain is actually functioning. While I'm unhappy about that, it's also a path I've chosen for myself, and the benefits (which I won't go into here) outweigh the costs. And there's things I can do to optimize that.

One thing I definitely should reflect on when thinking about last year is the concept of moving the goalposts. I keep perceiving my life in a way that makes it seem that I haven't accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, but I forget that I had very different goals a few years ago. While I was kind-of-sort-of aware that I had been doing this over the past year, lack of free time and preoccupation with other things left me until the December holidays to really realize how much my life has changed in the past few years. Whilst all of the world around me was going to shit in 2018, for me things have improved massively in terms of knowledge, financials, living quality, and all kinds of other things. When I'm busy living the daily life it's easy to overlook that and just focus on optimizing the next thing that's not quite perfect yet, without realizing that I've already dealt with 99.9% of the biggest worries I could be having. I think it's ridiculous to value the remaining .1% of quality of life as high as the 99.9%, but that's naturally what my brain does, and it needs conscious effort for me to stop thinking that way. My goal is to try and be more aware of that in 2019.

Here's to a good 2019. May your goalposts be moved ever further.

Posted in Daily Life , Tech , Thoughts