Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately

I don’t usually write about my actual job. I write this blog as a relief-valve from work. I’ve also had delusions of trying to turn it into a side project that might be an escape hatch if everything at my day job goes to shit.[1] This post is going to be an exception to my general policy of separation.

A few years ago, I wrote about Japanese working conditions. I deliberately avoided details about my job because I wanted it to be more general to the working situations of both foreigners and Japanese in Japan than my particular circumstances.

I was originally hired to work at this private high school as a non-Japanese teacher who could function at a high level in Japanese, and who could be trusted with enough responsibility to be effectively autonomous — unlike typical ALTs who don’t speak much Japanese and have little to no education-specific training or experience. As such, I expected to be given more responsibility and a bit more work over time.

When I wrote that, I had a combined total of 12 classes at middle school and high school, spanning 3 types of lessons. A solidly busy schedule, but not a horrible one. Last year, my course load had been increased to 17 class hours, with 7 different types of lessons.

I had so much to do during busy periods that I often wouldn’t leave for home until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, and I occasionally had to bring work home with me. There were nights where I actually finished for the night at 10:00 or 11:00 PM. Even compared to the Japanese teachers, my workload was exceptionally heavy.

I didn’t have time or energy for doing anything outside of work. No matter how efficient I tried to make my workflows, or how many extraneous tasks I tried to shed, I barely had time or energy for my family. My stress levels were so bad that my last physical had me at an E when my normal grade is a B.[2]

First, Establish a Baseline

It takes me an average of 2 hours to prepare plans and materials for a class of each type, in addition to the actual class time. It usually takes 1 hour to correct and enter a basic assignment for each class. This could be much longer if the assignment requires thought or detailed correction, like checking paragraph-length or longer writing.

Writing class notes so I can keep track of what happened in the last class, making copies, and doing other administration might take 20–30 minutes per class. Independent of other school duties, I have a solid workload of roughly 34–36 hours if I have 10–12 regular classes like I did when I wrote that piece.

Second term (September to December) is the busiest. I’ve been tasked with inputting the surveys we distribute to prospective students and parents at recruitment events for the last several years. The single Open School event usually nets 1,000–1,500 forms, and each intake explanation meeting between 400 and 700. Entering data and generating charts and reports adds between 5 and 10 hours of total work for each event. I’m usually also required to work a full day for the events, which are always held on national holidays or Sundays.

Tests add roughly 5 hours per class type for preparation: planning; creating the paper test; scripting, recording, and editing audio; creating an answer and explanation sheet to be passed back with the corrected test. Grading tests usually takes 2 hours per class. That extra 15 hours for test prep would need to be shoehorned in whenever I wasn’t doing regular class prep, teaching, grading assignments, or entering surveys.

For the math-impaired, a minimum week during second term, with just base duties for about 10 classes — no time-wasting bullshit or extra days of work — is 47–50 hours, and I’m required to be at school 6 days a week. We get the second Saturday each month off, in theory. Sometimes, those end up being required work days too.

Also note that this is work time — time I need to be actually doing something and making progress on it, or teaching class — it is not simply desk time or time at work. This does not include meal times, bathroom breaks, or anything extraneous. Actual time-at-work is therefore at least 1.5–2 hours per day longer than logged work time. Just transit class-to-class takes up a total of more than 30 minutes during a typical day.

Next, Add Work Until Subject Shows Signs of Distress

At the beginning of the school year in 2013, we got a new principal (this happens every 3–5 years at most Japanese schools) and my classes changed radically. I had to create a new curriculum for all of my high school classes. I went from teaching 3 class types to 8. The number of classes at high school went down from 12 to 6, but my actual workload more than doubled because every single class required new material or planning.

I went from teaching all first-year students to teaching the “sports” classes exclusively, which are made up of students who normally wouldn’t have passed the entrance requirements. Their motivation is truly abysmal since they are not academically inclined to start with, and know that they are there essentially to fill a desk during school hours and participate in whatever sport they were recruited for after school. As far as I am aware, there is no academic requirement for eligibility to participate in sports in Japan, as there is in the US. These students don’t care, and don’t care about letting you know that they don’t care.

Not only did that murder my motivation over time, but it didn’t benefit the school one iota. In my not-very-humble opinion, the main reasons to have a native English speaker teaching are to provide students with exposure to real English, and to catch problems or common errors in English that even competent non-native speakers won’t. Neither of these roles are of any benefit for low-level students. I would have been vastly more useful teaching intermediate to advanced students.

I also went from teaching by myself to having to teach with Japanese teachers again. This resulted in both a loss of autonomy, and even more time spent in planning and meeting with several different teachers. I often had to adjust plans or create completely new material based on what each teacher wanted to focus on. Instead of three bosses (principal, head teacher, English dept. head) I effectively had nine bosses (6 Japanese teachers, plus admin officers).

Finally, Try Not to Kill Subject

Several years ago, the trustees invested in building a middle school that feeds students into the high school. Every year beginning in 2012 I’ve had those classes added to my high school workload.

My curriculum was entirely outside the regular classes and I had to create or adapt all plans and materials myself, essentially writing my own textbook. This is not a completely new thing; I’ve been compelled to work without a textbook for most of the time I’ve been at this school. Initially, I was teaching the same class every year to all first-year high school students, so after that first year all I had to do was polish and adjust things that didn’t work well the first time around.

With middle school added to my plate, I have had to spend a huge amount of time planning and making materials every single year. I was creating the curriculum for each class as I taught it, which meant that I’ve been chronically short of time for years now.

I’ve never had more than a couple of months warning about these massive changes before they happen. Getting actual details about anything in Japan is like pulling proverbial teeth. Direct questions are a waste of breath.

I’ve learned that it takes an average of 4–5 hours per class to prepare everything from scratch, and I have to spend at least a little time revising previously-created material and changing plans for the next year based on class notes about what did and didn’t work.

Last year, the first class of middle-schoolers entered high school. The appeal of the middle school is that the curriculum is “advanced”; the pace is faster and the material is more ambitious. This theme continues with the high school courses for these integrated students. Again, I was in charge of creating a new curriculum for my classes, and again I had no textbook.

Last academic year, I also asked to not teach the sports classes exclusively anymore. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake. I went from teaching 6 classes of 6 types to 11 classes of 3 types for the high school classes. On paper, that looks like a win, but in reality that meant: Oh, look, new curriculum!

And again, I had to schedule time for meeting (or even worse not meeting) with several teachers to try and plan classes. This was in addition to the middle school classes and the very high-pressure time-intensive planning needed for the new class of integrated first-year students.

Seventeen class hours, plus planning 3 sets of new curriculum with 6 different teachers, plus creating a whole new curriculum for academically advanced students on my own, equaled unbelievable work and stress. My base work ratcheted up to over 50 hours.

Surveys easily added another 10 hours per week. Tests still took roughly 5 hours per class type, with 8 classes to plan for, so basically an entire work-week on top of regular duties. To make things even more complicated, the schedules for middle school and high school are different, so test prep and grading at one school overlaps with regular classes at the other school, extending a busy week or two into a busy month or two. I routinely worked 60–70 hour weeks from September to December. That doesn’t count the several holidays I am usually required to work during this period, which meant that I had no days off for up to 2 weeks at a time.

That also doesn’t count the club activities that teachers are assigned to supervise. I ended up having to cancel more than half of the practices for the fitness club[3] from the second term on, since I was informed that the students weren’t allowed to use the weights without my direct supervision.[4] When it came down to a conflict between class preparation and club, class had to win every time. I had to reorganize the English club so that the students were mostly running things themselves when one of the other teachers who were nominally co-chair with me couldn’t cover the meetings.

Subject Realizes Experimenters Are All @$$Holes, and What’s With All the Electrified #&¢*ing Floors?!

I haven’t been able to blog at all since around October last year because of being overworked so heavily.[5] It was so bad that I spent over a week preparing for the end-of-year interview with the principal that all teachers have to do as part of their evaluations.

I explained the situation in detail and negotiated aggressively for some changes to my class load and other duties, and — what the hell — I even threw in a request for a raise since I haven’t had one in 8 years, as well as a longer contract period. I’m still on a yearly contract like a temporary employee or ALT, despite promises that I would eventually be brought in as a regular full-time teacher. I saw no real downside to getting fired at that point.

No joy on the raise, with the excuse given that I make more money than the standard ALT (but I do twice the work) and am not a fully qualified teacher in Japan (because the promised training and support for doing so never materialized). The contract period is “under consideration”, but my class load has become slightly more reasonable.[6]

I may not be able to make blogging a paying consideration, but you bet your ass I’m going to be working on side projects that might be a lifeline because, even with the slight concessions I’ve won, this situation is looking increasingly untenable.

My outlook on working in education in Japan has been dim for a while. The lot of any non-Japanese working in any field is always a bit precarious, but particularly in education where declining enrollment due to demographics continue to make the situation worse. There’s also next to no chance of professional development or continuing education to allow you to transfer to a different field since you work all the time and there’s absolutely no tradition of continuing education for teachers in Japan, for either Japanese or foreign teachers.

I have been working on annual contracts for the whole time I’ve been here, which is (unfortunately) standard for teaching jobs in Japan, whether you’re working for an eikaiwa company or have a serious full-time position at a college or university. Since I’ve become somewhat troublesome by actually pushing back a bit, who knows if I’ll be offered a new longer contract next year, or if they’ll just decide I’m not worth it any more.

I have no choice but to act as if I’ll be unemployed at the end of next March. This has always been true, and has been a perennial source of stress, but it is marginally more likely due to recent circumstances. That is, after all, one of the reasons I started writing this blog way back in 2009.

  1. Since I’m currently making approximately -$100 on this blog (hosting costs) that’s going really well.  ↩

  2. You’d think that since I work out seriously enough that I have an opinion on form, wrote an iOS workflow to log my workouts, and am moderately careful with my diet I’d be an A, but I have gotten routinely dinged for three things that are outside the norm for Japan:

    BMI. When I have time to have a life, I normally do serious CrossFit-style workouts at least 4 days a week and have body fat levels in the low teens to single digits, if I’m watching my intake well enough. My “ideal” weight by Japanese standards is supposed to be 67.0kg (148 lbs). I haven’t weighed that little since I was a scrawny 14-year-old, about 2 inches shorter than I am now.

    Creatinine. This is a waste product linked to muscle metabolism; if you have more muscle, your levels will tend to be higher. Acceptable levels in Japan are up to 1.0. My results are usually 1.2 mg/dL. In the US an acceptable range is up to 1.5.

    Hematocrit. Athletes tend to have a higher baseline than the norm, and testosterone levels affect this also. My readings are higher than the top end acceptable in Japan, but within limits in the US.

    I also got a note on my file once about bradycardia when my resting heart rate was under 50 bpm. I’d love to get that note annually 😝. ↩

  3. I started a fitness club after my first couple of years here, partially out of a selfish desire to do something that I controlled if I was going to have to put in time after school, partially so I could carve out time to exercise so I didn’t get fat and out of shape again, and partially so I could get some experience coaching. Yeah, that side-line hasn’t gone anywhere either.  ↩

  4. Even though the students for most of the other clubs like baseball, judo, and American football were routinely in the weight room with no teacher in sight virtually every day I was there with my club kids.  ↩

  5. It’s slightly improved this year, but not much better. For example, the first draft of this post took about 2 weeks to bang out when I had time and motivation, and has been awaiting a final proofing pass before publishing for over 6 weeks 2 months.  ↩

  6. Sort of. I still had a new curriculum to plan, and 10 classes worth of student papers to correct. For added “fun”, 6 of the 10 tests were scheduled on the last day, giving me a very conservatively estimated 18 hours of work to get finished in 24 hours. While still teaching 2 classes at the middle school in that time period. Doable? Only if you don’t need to take care of human needs like sleep, rest, food, or bathroom breaks.

    One of the teachers took over writing the paper portion and correcting the test for our class for the second year integrated students. If she hadn’t, there’s no way I would have been able to complete correcting all of the tests in time.

    Yes, I had a nice couple of conversations with the people involved in scheduling, but I have no doubt I will be hammered with unreasonable expectations again despite that. ↩

Dickbars and Other Readability Excrement

John Gruber in Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars:

Medium seems to continue to grow in popularity as a publishing platform, and as it does, I’m growing more and more frustrated by their on-screen “engagement” turds. Every Medium site displays an on-screen “sharing” bar that covers the actual content I want to read. This is particularly annoying on the phone, where screen real estate is most precious. Now on iOS they’ve added an “Open in App” button that literally makes the last 1–2 lines of content on screen unreadable. To me these things are as distracting as having someone wave their hand in front of my face while I try to read…

This is now a very common design pattern for mobile web layouts. Medium is far from alone. It’s getting hard to find a news site that doesn’t put a persistent sharing dickbar down there.

I had quite forgotten about the elegantly evocative appellation Mr. Gruber coined lo these many moons ago: the dickbar.

I’ve periodically collected screenshots of especially egregious examples of readability excrement over the last couple of years. For this post, I’ve cropped out OS or app interface cruft to show only content. Or should that be “content”?

While Gruber’s recent rant about the dickbar was triggered by Medium’s mobile site, which is supposedly mobile-friendly and well-designed — and which should presumably strive to do better than the norm — a similar set of problems has been at least as bad on desktop versions of sites for a long time.

Wall Street Journal, Mobile Site

Wall Street Journal, Mobile Site

On mobile, or on desktop websites, financial news usually seems to be among the worst offenders.

The Wall Street Journal wants me to whitelist their site and not use a blocker, and in return they generously give me about 3/4 of my screen with which to read their articles. It’s like trying to read through the slit in the top of a Kleenex box.

How about the generositiousness[1] of of Fortune, who use a vastly larger desktop display to spray ad bukkake in your face while serving up a content column that’s basically the same width as my ancient iPhone 5s. Actually, it’s more readable on an iPhone since more than 3–4 words a line fit on the screen in mobile view.

Fortune’s Ad Bukkake.

Fortune’s Ad Bukkake.

Tech sites are also terrible. Cnet is basically unusable.

Cnet, y u no lt mi c?

Cnet, y u no lt mi c?

Where the #^¢* is the actual content? You can’t even read the full headline covering the absurdly large “hero” image without a host of popups, pop-ins, and other “look at meeee!!11!eleven!” elements partially covering it. Add a “bonus” autoplay video for flavor. Fun!

Here’s a slideshow on Cnet.

Ultimate(?) iPhone Quiz

Ultimate(?) iPhone Quiz

Quick, how do you advance the slideshow? The forward arrow didn’t appear for several seconds, then worked intermittently, failing about one time every five clicks, and the thumbnail images were unresponsive for several more seconds when I accessed the site.

And how about that sidebar? Wait, sidebar? You thought that was an ad section? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. It’s supposed to be the caption. Oh, you can’t read the caption? Let’s just scroll that a bit… Except, scrolling within that bar is so broken as to be completely useless.

Don’t believe me, try it yourself. Shitshow doesn’t begin to cover it. I took those screenshots about two years ago and have avoided ever going back to Cnet for any reason since.

Surprisingly, one of the really bad websites I found was the Cambridge Dictionary.

Cambridge, Just a Hint: Dictionaries Contain Words.

Cambridge, Just a Hint: Dictionaries Contain Words.

Dickbar + persistent navigation toolbar + share button turds + ads + ads + ads + provide your email for spam[2] + a topper of the “required” EU cookies notice = a shitty user experience.

Even on an “unlimited” data plan, I’ve run into rate limits before the end of a month when I’m doing nothing more data intensive than using my iPhone normally and occasionally tethering for data access for work when I don’t have wi-fi access. Rate limits for my plan on DoCoMo kick in at 7GB, and I don’t watch goddamn YouTube tethered through my phone.

When tethered, besides web access, I sync primarily text files and occasional images through Dropbox, and Numbers or Pages documents through iCloud. I’m pretty damn sure it’s not syncing my actual work that’s eating up data.

Publishers, if you want me to stop running an ad blocker, stop doing shit like this:

Wait, How Many #^¢*ing Scripts Is That‽

Wait, How Many #^¢*ing Scripts Is That‽

  1. Don’t tell me this isn’t a real word. It’s a perfectly cromulent word. In fact I made it up just now to explain the truthiness of my argument. So there.  ↩

  2. Oh please, oh please!  ↩

"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.

MacBook One Enters

My venerable MacBook Pro has been retired, involuntarily. At first, I thought the intermittent crashes over the period of a couple of weeks were due to a memory module failure, but a thorough memory test and a consistent failure to be able to boot into the hardware test suite in OS X, both at home and at the Genius Bar at my closest Apple Store, led me to believe it was a motherboard problem. If I could isolate the problem and repair it, I might be able to keep the old reliable workhorse[1] for stud duty as a server at home, or a desktop stand-in at one of my work locations.

In the meantime, I needed a computer for work. With only two days left before the beginning of the fall term, I didn’t have the option of waiting until the expected refresh of the Mac lineup, which some people hoped would be announced at the event in September. Unfortunately, it’s generally unwise to bet against Jim Dalrymple, and he was right in being very doubtful about the prospect of a new lineup being released so soon. If I could have held out until around mid- to late-October (my best guess as to when a new MacBook Pro will be announced) I would have just bought a new version of the class of notebook I’ve been using for forever.[2]

The Mac Buyer’s Guide is a simple and usually reliable resource for buying advice. Right now, the whole lineup is marked with a solid row of red DON’T BUY banners … except for the new MacBook, dubbed the MacBook One by Marco Arment. While I wasn’t really looking for a small-and-light machine, I decided to give it a try and see how I like it.

A couple of weeks in, here are my impressions.

She’s Got the Look

Upgrading from a lower resolution to Retina is … wow.[3] While I miss the anti-glare glass a bit, I don’t miss the slight blurriness that even the relatively good built-to-order option “high definition” display (1680x1050) my MacBook Pro had. I’m running this MacBook in “More Space” mode (looks like 1140x900) and even though text and graphics are physically smaller than my old screen, I have less eyestrain. Text is especially clear and easy to read.

Look, Ma, Both Hands!

I’m still getting used to the keyboard. I’m not much of a keyboard snob, having used almost exclusively the built-in keyboards of notebook computers for over a decade. (I bought my first PowerBook just before coming to Japan in 2000, and I’ve been exclusively mobile both by necessity and choice since. I like nice clicky keyboards, but they don’t travel well.) Like some other writers I am not happy about the arrow keys. Over a week into using it daily, I still hit the left arrow sometimes when I want up or down.

I have mostly adjusted to the slight difference in key spacing from my MacBook Pro, but I still sometimes don’t move quite enough to hit the right key. The key travel is okay; not great, not bad enough to be really annoying.

I never hammered my keyboards, keeping as light a touch as possible. Unfortunately, now I have to sometimes hit a bit harder than I think I should or the key won’t register. The keyboard is a compromise for the sake of the overall design, and it shows. The butterfly switch is actually nicer in feel than the old scissor switches — there is a crisper, more solid feel and less key rock — it’s the unavoidably short travel that’s the problem.

Invisible Toucher

Unlike some people, I have used tap-to-click even from the early trackpad days. I think it has probably held off some RSI issues. The Force Touch trackpad is a good compromise for fewer moving parts with equivalent, and in some cases enhanced functionality.

Any mechanical engineer can tell you that moving parts fail. One of the only problems I had with my MacBook Pro started when it was about 4 or 5 years old. Clicks on the bottom left corner of the trackpad often didn’t register. I think some fine grit managed to infiltrate the mechanism and I was unable to get it out without disassembling it, which is not a good idea with a very delicate part like that. When I noticed some hand strain due to pushing harder in attempt to make a click register, which was especially necessary when dragging, I ended up having to activate three-finger drag in Accessibility settings.

With the Force Touch trackpad, I’ve got to retrain myself to lighten up on the trackpad so that I don’t trigger a Force Touch when I simply want to click, or click and drag. This is actually a good thing. I like being able to “click” anywhere on the pad, instead of having to scrunch my thumb up and push in a different spot. That means I have a better, more ergonomic hand position and have less of of a chance of overuse injuries since I can use any finger on either hand to click or drag. Even the higher pressure necessary to trigger a Force Touch is lower than the static pressure I used to have to use on my old trackpad to ensure I didn’t “drop” whatever I was dragging.

Force Touch, aside from being horrible branding,[4] is actually useful. It brings back easy word lookup, which I use a lot when writing in Japanese. One consequence of enabling three-finger drag is losing the trackpad gesture to bring up the dictionary. While ⌃⌘-D is ingrained almost as well in my motor patterns, it’s less convenient than a multi-finger tap, or now a Force Touch.

I disagree with Marco. The Force Touch trackpad is an overall win. I don’t care as much about the feel as the functionality, and the functionality is improved, along with probably less of a chance of part failure since it’s sealed and there are fewer moving parts.

Dongles, Adaptors, and Cables, Oh My

I have wired internet at work.[5] Not surprising since they finally upgraded from XP machines to Windows 7 this April. So, while I was at the Apple store I bought a Belkin ethernet dongle.[6] To transfer files to our lovely, lovely new high-security setup, where printing or uploading files to the server is only possible from our official work computer via the LAN, I have to use a USB drive; another dongle.

This was another problem generated by my need to have it right now. If I had had the option of waiting, I would have bought a USB-C hub or dock, but I had to have something by Monday and I was buying on a Saturday. I eventually bought a HooToo hub, which provides two USB data ports, plus one for charging, an SD card slot, and an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor or projector.

I already had an Anker 4 port charger. So far, it’s worked well for charging multiple devices, and I especially like the status light on the charger. Since it’s rated at 40W and the supplied Apple charger for the new MacBook is only 29W, I thought I could just carry the Anker, using a USB-to-mini cord with an adaptor for USB-C.

Unfortunately, the Anker charger either doesn’t negotiate power requirements properly with the HooToo hub or can’t supply enough power for everything through one port. So, I have to choose between power or connectivity, which kind of defeats the purpose of the hub. The hub does work with the standard Apple charger, probably because it doesn’t try to do any fancy power switching and pumps all of its voltage through the connection. Anker also offers a 60W charger with a USB-C port and 4 standard USB ports that might work, but I haven’t ordered one to try yet.

(Storage) Size Matters

The only in-store option I could get was more storage — any processor or other upgrades are only available via the online Apple Store as a BTO option — so I opted for a the 500 GB model given that I was migrating from a self-created Fusion drive with a total of 756 GB of storage.[7]

Leery of running out of space, I have treated the MacBook like a new iPhone, only installing things I know I will need. Because of that, I’ve been carrying around the 1 TB LaCie Rugged I originally bought for backing up my MacBook Pro. Since I haven’t even transferred over everything from Documents, I still occasionally find that I need to plug in and grab files.

The limited storage of the MacBook is a bit of a pain, but it helps to counter my digital packrat tendencies. I’ve found that because of being more conscious of storage space limits, I increasingly only save things I actually need to save.

Let Me Sum Up


The Good

It’s tiny. The whole thing is barely larger than a 9.7 inch iPad. It’s got a decent keyboard that, while not perfect, feels better than anything this low-profile normally would. Force Touch is a bit gimmicky, but it’s a useful gimmick. The screen is gorgeous. The battery lasts out a regular work day with no problem, and only needs a bit of charge time part of the way through a heavy day to make it to the end.

The Meh

It’s #^¢*ing tiny. I’ve been using a 15 inch screen for a decade. The Retina resolution helps, but it still feels cramped even after an adjustment period, which means I’m probably always going to feel that way. I never used an external monitor with any of my previous MacBooks Pro,[9] but I’ve already started using a dual-monitor setup when I can with this one.

The one port practically necessitates a dock or multi-port dongle for most uses, there are only a few decent options still, and none does everything I need without additional complications. While the MacBook is small and light enough that I sometimes double-check my bag to see if I actually packed it, I end up carrying almost as much weight in support equipment as the theoretical savings.

The Grey Havens

It’s probably not a big surprise that, like a lot of other reviewers, I consider this to be a machine of compromises and adjustments. They might be the kind of compromises you’re willing to make for the design and weight. It’s a good computer, and I’m fairly impressed overall, but I still miss my 2010 MacBook Pro.

Since my notebook is my only computer, it has to be capable of doing everything. While for my uses the MacBook “One” is technically capable of doing what I need, since I probably underutilized the processing power of my previous computers most of the time, there are some significant downsides to using it as a primary computer. If connectivity is important, you will probably not be particularly happy, especially at first. You will need to invest in the right adaptors and peripherals for your uses.

I tend to buy for the long term. I buy the best machine I can get at the time, and use the hell out of it for years. I don’t see this MacBook being a computer I want to use for that long. I’ll probably be trading this in for one of the new MacBook Pros when they are released. Considering that the MacBook is a good computer — it’s just not the best computer for me — I don’t think I’ll have a problem finding a buyer for it when I’m ready to sell.

  1. This machine not only had a longer active-duty life than any past Mac notebooks, which were themselves nearly A–10-like in their reliability, but it took on a bike accident where I was hit by a taxi and rolled over the hood. Admittedly, it was protected in a WaterField Designs sleevecase in my backpack at the time, but I rolled over it after getting hit by a car and the only damage was a small dent in the unibody case on the screen side.  ↩

  2. Because of their longevity, I’ve bought only 3 Macs in the last 15 years: Powerbook Pismo, PowerBook G4, and my late lamented Mid–2010 MacBook Pro.  ↩

  3. such resolve. much pixel. amaze clear.  ↩

  4. Force Touch sounds like something that would get you banned from a conference for creating a hostile environment. The 3D Touch branding used on the iPhone and Watch lines is much better to my ears.  ↩

  5. Wi-fi is, like lots of other “advanced” tech, not a thing in Japan. I’ve been in exactly one office in 15 years that had wireless ’net access for the employees. Out in public, not even the Starbucksen here have free wi-fi. You can get optional wi-fi access plans through your cell-phone carrier (Softbank is aggressive in pushing this to reduce the load on their less-extensive cell network) but leeching wi-fi for the cost of a meal or a cup of coffee is simply not possible in the vast majority of places. #welcometojapan!  ↩

  6. Apple doesn’t make a USB-C version, though they do make a USB-A. I guess they figure 15 years of widespread wi-fi usage is enough to make it ubiquitous. As @JonyIveParody might say, “maybe you should buy one of our revolutionary fucking wireless devices”.  ↩

  7. I used this 256 GB Samsung 840 Pro) SSD in tandem with the original 500 GB hard drive to set up my homemade Fusion drive. Apparently, I neglected to add a link to it in that article.  ↩

  8. If you don’t recognize this reference, scale the Cliffs of Insanity and fight ROUSs, do whatever it takes* to see this movie and fill the gaping maw of darkness in your life experience.

    *Like clicking this link.  ↩

  9. Blame Gruber for this one.  ↩


Eli Schiff:

It was at this point that the troubling nature of the situation became more clear. It is not simply that it is problematic for whites to use the white emoji, but so too is it racist for them to use the brown shades and the yellow default. In sum, it is racist for whites to use any emoji.

There are two choices going forward: either white users should refrain from using emoji, or an alternative default must be drawn. Perhaps green, blue or purple would be an ideal choice as they don’t have racial connotations.

The problem with using inhuman colors is that unexpected and unwanted correlations might be drawn[1] that are almost as bad as the racial connotations invoked by more natural colors.

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

Yellow has the benefit of following prior art, which is probably why it remained the default color up to now. Among the earliest implementations of specific graphics rather than repurposed ASCII glyphs, AIM face smilies, also called emoticons[2] were bright yellow.

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

DoCoMo’s original emoji were bitmapped glyphs, later featuring an expanded set, and didn’t extend to inline images until Deco-mail emoji (デコメ絵文字) specified i-mode compatible image formats. The bitmapped “faces” variously used different shades of blue, purple, red, and green pixels on early mobile color screens to help convey different moods. Negative emotions were generally blue, for example (see: “Disappointed face” or “Dizzy” in the basic set; “Crying”, “Enduring face”, “Tear” in the expanded set) but some had an orange “skin” color (“Ear”, the “Hand” glyphs, and “Foot” in the basic set; “Yumm!”, “He he he”, “Thumbs up” in the expanded set). Deco-mail emoji mostly followed suit.

The people who did the most to promote graphical communication on mobile platforms, the Japanese themselves (aka: “yellow” people) tend not to think of race very much. There are two default settings in Japanese race relations:

  1. Japanese.

  2. Everybody else.

While some individual Japanese do take ethnicity into account, most Japanese treat culture and ethnicity as a package deal, especially in relation to Japan. It’s mostly in the hyper-self-aware West that anyone pays attention to any fine gradations in color.

(See: actual Japanese reactions to Hollywood casting. Many Japanese featured in that video didn’t even consider race to be an issue in casting until it was directly addressed, and the term “whitewashing” even had to be explained.)

While I think it’s generally a good idea to think about making things more inclusive and less discriminatory — I’ve written before about how weird it has been for me to live in a place that is almost entirely mono-ethnic[3] — making the blanket statement that it’s racist to use emoji at all is, frankly, bullshit. It’s like saying that if you are using a language that has grammatical gender you’re being unavoidably sexist.[4]

What happens in reality is that the way people use language has very little to do with its structure. You could take a complete nonsense word or phrase with no antecedent and make it racist or sexist, or create whatever meaning or nuance you desired, depending on context, usage, or the social group using it. We shape language much more than it shapes us; the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is very weakly supported by empiricism. Some of the most sexist and racist cultures on the planet use languages that do not have linguistic gender.[5]

While I obviously disagree with most of what Schiff said, I actually do think that “skin” color in emoji should probably be addressed. I have two proposed solutions:

  1. Make it a non-human color (other than yellow, since that is considered “tainted” now) by default.

  2. Randomly assign a realistic tint.

And then don’t give the user any control whatsoever over it.

I like option 2 because skin color shouldn’t even be an issue any more. “White” people shouldn’t be obsesses about being seen as insensitive, exclusionary, or oooh, being mistaken for the “R” word because they don’t change the default inhuman bright yellow to an anemic rather than jaundiced tint. More understandable, but nearly as petty are the Melanin-Enhanced North-American Residents of Various Ethnic Extractions (MENARoVEE) who might agonize over just the right shade to add to their representative visage.[6]

One of the ways to make the world color-blind is to destroy the distinctions, not ignore them, nor reinforce them.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in a place where everyone looks different from me. I get daily questions about my language, my customs, my clothing, my food, my hair, my skin, my facial features, my size … you get the idea. Racism based on skin color is completely irrelevant when you have actual cultural differences to deal with.

People who are ultra-sensitive about racial and social issues would greatly benefit from living overseas, where agonizing about the color of emoji would be put into perspective as an amazingly petty concern compared to the daily experience of being perpetually different from everyone around them, and being completely powerless to affect changes in society about how people who are “othered” like them are treated.

  1. Unsurprisingly, South Park parodied the hell out of the blue-skinned Na’vi = big-assed Smurf association in their Dances with Smurfs episode.  ↩

  2. Amazingly, the best source of original artwork and the overall history of emoticons I can find is at Know Your Meme, of all sites. Odd source, but it does square with what I remember from actually having used these things from back before the internet was A Thing, back when I was dialing into message boards on a hand-me-down 2400 baud modem … Jesus Christ, I’m old. ↩

  3. Yes, you read that right, that is not a misplaced decimal point. Japan has an estimated native non-ethnic Japanese population of 0.2%, and a (very well) documented foreign resident population of just over 1.2 percent, of which more than half are of East Asian descent, or as some long-term residents — including Asians themselves — call them, “stealth gaijin”.  ↩

  4. Which actually has been asserted unironically.  ↩

  5. Note that there is also a difference between grammatical gender and a sociolect, in which men and women might use language in different ways and may diverge significantly, to the point of becoming a sub-dialect. The linguistic differences reflect the culture, and are almost certainly not the driver of the linguistic separation.  ↩

  6. I have some Native American mixed into my Anglo-American mutt genetic history. The only time it shows is in an odd tint to my skin when I’m actually out in the sun enough to tan significantly. When I was a country kid and ran around nearly naked from when it got warm enough in the spring until early fall when it started to get cold, I used to mix raw sienna and burnt umber with “flesh” crayons to approximate the color.  ↩

Japan and the Next US President

Nakayama Toshihiro for Nippon.com. The title pretty much says it all: Japan and the Next US President: Thinking the Unthinkable

My two thoughts on a Trump presidency:

  1. I wouldn’t be able to move back to the US anytime soon, because apparently all y’all is #^¢*ing nuts.

  2. Staying in Japan might not be a good idea either because, given some of the insane crap Trump has said he would do as President, life could get very uncomfortable for an American.

I guess the best defense in this situation might be humor, but the laughter is feeling pretty shaky already.

It has happened before. It will happen again. And it can happen here

Theodore Gray:

Once the tool exists, it will be abused. I really wish I could say otherwise. I wish I lived in a country where law enforcement acted with the square-jawed nobility of a comic book FBI agent. I used to think I did live in such a country, but in recent years I have been forced to realize that I don’t. I think that, in your heart, you know it too.

And if you happen to like the party in power today, just remember, every tool you give them is inherited by the next guy. Think of the worst possible outcome of the next election, the worst new president, the worst new congress you can imagine (whichever one that might be for you). Do you want those people to have the power to look and listen to anyone they please, anytime, anywhere? To search at will through recordings of our most personal moments? To use a rubber stamp warrant to gather dirt on someone who insulted them? To review the browsing history of anyone who annoys them publicly enough?

An invocation of what I call the “Worst Enemy Test” spotted in the wild.

Cartography Comparison

Justin O’Beirne did a great in-depth comparison of the different ways Google and Apple approach mapping.

From the summary of Part 1:

We looked at 54 pairs of maps across three cities (New York, San Francisco, and London) and found several significant differences:

  • Apple Maps, on average, labels more cities than Google at every zoom.

  • Google Maps, on average, labels more roads than Apple on nearly every zoom.

  • For two-thirds of zooms, both maps generally show the same number of roads. For the remaining third, Apple almost always shows more roads.

  • Both maps, on average, label a similar number of POIs [Points Of Interest] —but have only 10% of their POIs in common on an average zoom.

  • Both maps also prioritize different kinds of POIs: Google Maps heavily prioritizes transit, while Apple prioritizes landmarks. Apple also generally shows a greater number of POI categories on a given zoom—and shows twice as many restaurants and shops as Google.

When Apple Maps launched in iOS 6, I wrote a short post comparing it to Google Maps in Japan. I found that — for my location at least — Apple’s implementation was actually better in some ways at launch than Google’s was after several years.

The main reason I don’t use Apple Maps preferentially is the continuing lack of support for transit. Train scheduling and transfer information is hugely useful in Japan, so I end up using Google Maps much more often for station to station directions, while I usually default to Apple Maps for local guidance when I reach a location. It’s interesting to see that my purely intuition-based switching between them for different roles apparently has some empirical support as well.

Taking a Walk in Someone Else's Skin

This Game Is Forcing Some Players to Be Women, And They’re Freaking Out

From Motherboard:

It’s been several months since we wrote about how Steam survival hit Rust would soon be implementing a feature that randomly (and permanently) makes your character a man or a woman, and now that feature is here. Players have generally loved the way the game randomizes features for your permanent character like skin color, limb length, and (yes) penis size, but that was all back when every player avatar in the game was a male. With the latest update, though, everyone got a new model, and for some players, the possibility of playing as a woman is a little too much to bear…

Honestly, this is brilliant. I can’t think of a more fitting fate for some of the horribly sociopathic and misogynistic males, that unfortunately infest large areas of the gaming landscape, than to have to see things from a woman’s point of view.

Twitter’s Missing Manual

One of Twitter’s problems is that it’s tilted a little too far towards the vim end of the scale. It looks like a dead-simple service, but those humble 140 characters have been crammed full of features over the years, and the ways they interact aren’t always obvious. There are rules, and the rules generally make sense once you know them, but it’s also really easy to overlook them.

I’ve known about Twitter since around 2006, but I’ve only been using it — haphazardly at first — from maybe 2011. Even though I’m pretty good about figuring out unwritten rules (see: living in Japan), as a semi-newb to the service there are a lot of things about how it works that I really didn’t know. This is a fantastic resource.