Sunday, May 22, 2022

Here's Osaka

So I start a post about something. I write half of it, then life gets in the way, I focus on other things and I forget about the post. A few weeks pass by and I can't pick it up again because I no longer really remember the point of writing it. 

But it's still sitting there, silently waiting for me to finish it. The guilt I feel for not doing it stops me from writing anything else - which is ridiculous of course. I'm the only one who even knows what I was trying to write in the first place.

So forget about that. We've been to Osaka, both over New Year and Golden Week. Here's a few pictures, selected not because they mean anything, but just because I like them:

The old Osaka City Hall on Nakanoshima. Today it's a conference center, and the surrounding park is a popular place for festivals and events. The new Osaka City Hall is a grey concrete box just off to the right.

Umeda JR station in Osaka.

Vending machines — is there anything they can't sell? This one sells COVID antigene tests for 1900 yen, less than 50 meters from home.

This way.

Namba, Osaka. This is obviously a story in the making, and I really want to know what was going on and how it turned out.


Kawachi-Nagano is less than half an hour away from Namba by train, but as quiet and peaceful as you'd ever want. Feels like going 30 years back in time, in a very good way. A friend of ours works at a ryokan in the area, so we went there for a delicious lunch.

The pinball hall in Big Step, Amermura. Almost a hundred machines, from really old to the newest releases. Well worth a visit if you've ever enjoyed pinball. Even more worth it if you've never done so. Bring 100 yen coins!

Lilo Coffee Roasters is currently my favorite coffee place in Osaka. They do some excellent specialty coffee. You can get your choice of beans brewed almost any way you want, and buy a bag home.

A quiet evening sit down outside the shop. Minamisenba.

You never really see your neighborhood until you leave it for a while. Minamisenba.


Saturday, March 26, 2022

Life Pro Tip: Don't scratch your car

 Life is full of choices. If you have the choice, I do recommend that you not get too close to a fire prevention cabinet in the company parking garage and scratch the rear of your car:

It looks so small, doesn't it? The rear scratch in the plastic panel is apparently easy to fix; just a bit of paint. The front one is in a metal panel and is dented as well as scratched. That got expensive.

Now, you might feel the urge to try this, just to find out what it's like. I can assure you that you're not missing out on anything. They need to remove the rear panels (and light fixtures), beat out the dent and repaint the area. Meanwhile I'm driving a rental car to work. 

Insurance covers the rental car but our deductible is too high to cover the repair. Why is it so high? Because we didn't plan to break the car, that's why. 

This is a partial list of things we could have spent the money on instead:

All of which would have been more fun or more useful than putting a scratch on the car.

So, don't scratch your car. Get the toothpicks instead.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Valentine's Day

Like very year, Ritsuko managed to find me something a little special for Valentine's Day. As you probably know, in Japan it's split into two holidays (probably so shops can sell more stuff ^_^) : on Valentine's Day women give a present to men; and on White Day a month later men reciprocate with a gift to women. 

I've received some really cool chocolate-themed gifts from Ritsuko over the years. My all-time favourites have been the Jurassic chocolat and the chocolate tools. This is what I got this year: 

A box of chocolates. And a camera!

A box of chocolates. Specifically, a metal box in the shape of a medium-format TLR, containing chocolates packaged like 35mm film. Really cool, and the chocolate is delicious too. Now, should I keep the metal box to keep stuff in; or do I convert it to a pinhole camera? Both are tempting — the box would be perfect to store film-related stuff; but just imagine taking an actual picture with this! Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Work From Home (again)

Omicron is spreading like wildfire in Japan as elsewhere, and Okinawa is hit by far the hardest. This is in no small part due to the American military bases, and the lax-to-nonexistent procedures they have had for entering the country from the US. 


COVID cases per day in Okinawa prefecture. That vertical wall at the right edge is not reassuring...

Okinawa is also the poorest prefecture in Japan, and has the smallest number of hospital beds per capita ("hospital bed" means not just the bed, but equipment, staff and so on). Even though the number of cases have been — and remain — low by international standards, there is a real risk that the medical system will be overwhelmed by the number of cases. If that happens, people that need emergency care would start getting turned away. That would be very bad.

Among other measures, the prefecture has now requested that businesses implement work from home policies to reduce the spread. And as OIST is really good about following regulations, and is taking COVID very seriously (my bosses' boss, Mary Collins, is a professor in immunology; the person in charge at OIST for this situation; and really good at getting things done), we are back to working from home again from today and for the next two weeks at least.

Naha harbor, and typical Okinawan winter weather.

I'm not going to dwell on the larger picture here — lots of other people have a better grasp of things than I do anyway — so I just want to jot down some notes on what has been working for me in this situation. I'll also add some random pictures because why not.

The greatest thing about working from home, for me, is my commute. Or, rather, the lack of one. Normally I spend 1 hour and 10 minutes driving to work, and 1 hour and 15-45 minutes going home. Now I spend about 5 seconds walking from the living room to my desk in the backroom. That's about 2.5 hours of my life I get back every single day.

Today I woke up at 6:30 as usual. I went for an hour-long run to Omoromachi and back, had a relaxed breakfast, and I still had enough time to do a bit of cleaning up and start a load of laundry before I logged in to start my day.

It's also really convenient to be at home of course. I can make good coffee and make a real lunch, and eat together with Ritsuko when she's at home. She can use the car when she needs to. And I can do stuff that isn't really possible when working at OIST, such as playing music while I work, or noodling on my ukulele while thinking.

The worst thing is the lack of face to face meetings. We have a good group of people at SCDA, and working together with them is part of the fun. But my job also involves a lot of interaction with the researchers. I teach courses on using HPC systems and how to program cluster computers. I also have daily meetings to help them get started on the cluster, give advice about how to best run things, and work with them to improve their code to run faster or better on our systems. This is the best part of this job and a large reason I took this job in the first place.

But that's of course no longer happening. I do use Zoom for one-on-one meetings and classes but it's a pale imitation of the real thing. It's doable, and it sort of works, but it's nowhere near as frictionless, social and satisfying as meeting in person. I miss that.

Fishing is insanely popular here. I've never tried it myself; I worry that I'd get hooked (sic) and have to deal with fresh fish every weekend.

Technically, working from home works OK. I have an improvised  standing desk and a wooden high stool to sit on, but this setup was never intended for using all day long every day. If working from home became a regular weekly thing I would need to get a real desk and a proper chair.

I connect my work laptop to my monitor. It's a largish 32" 4K LG monitor that's perfect for my desktop. The laptop, with its pokey integrated GPU does struggle a bit with the size; it can only drive the monitor at 30Hz, and while fractional scaling (at 150%) works surprisingly well on the Gnome desktop the combined result is a slight but noticeable delay or hesitancy to everything. For work I only use an email client, a browser and a pile of terminals open to remote machines, so it's not a big issue.

The other technical problem is our network. We do have fiber at home that's technically 1GB/s, but as we live in a mixed building with lots of businesses, and in the middle of the city, the connection is horribly oversubscribed in practice. We sometimes get no more than 20-30Mb/s and even less at night. It's doable but not ideal, especially when I need to talk with people over Zoom.

My ideal for Work From Home would be to do it at my own discretion about 1-2 times a week (you know, when we're not in the midst of a raging pandemic). That would give me a break from my commute, give me some alone time to work — for all that I like people, I'm basically an introvert — and still get the frequent personal connections that makes this job so rewarding.

I'd have a proper desk, perhaps one that can be raised and lowered as needed, and a real desk chair. We'd have an internet connection that sucks a little less. That would make for a nearly optimal experience.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter pictures

This week hasn't been great. I mean, not lousy, but not great either. The tooth that broke in October was due to an old, old filling from when I was an early teen. I had a tooth break in a similar way several years ago, with a filling from the same time. 

And yesterday, perhaps because I could only chew on one side lately, another tooth with the same kind of filling broke in half. I'm looking forward to another root canal in January. I have one such filling left; I will make a point of having it replaced before it destroys another tooth for me. 

Take care of your teeth, and if you have some really old fillings, it might not be a bad idea to have a dentist take a close look at them before something happens.

Anyway, pictures. It's winter, though it's difficult to tell. It's the best season for going out and doing things, at least when the weather is nice. When it's not, I recommend a hot mug of coffee and a book at home.


Tomarin in Naha. This is where you take a ferry to other islands in Okinawa.


Some colorful graffiti on the seawall near Parco City.



A wildflower near the gas electricity plant.


Father and son out fishing on a pier in Ginowan.


A snack bar in Ginowan along road 58.


A sanshin shop behind a bus stop right between Ginowan and Chatan.

Kariyushi hotel in Naha seems to be renovating the rooms.

Archery competition in Onayama park, Naha.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

We Got Pumice

Okinawa is full of pumice. 

Pumice floating along the coastline.

When and where it shows up depends on the tide and the currents. Here a current is depositing more pumice along the Onna coast. The gray rocky streaks on the beach is more pumice deposited during earlier high tides.

Pumice is volcanic rock that's created during eruptions. Magma deep underground is under high pressure and can hold a lot of dissolved gases, like a bottle of soda. During an eruption, the rapid pressure drop forms gas bubbles in the lava, and it creates lava foam. When that foamy lava hits cold water, it solidifies rapidly with all those bubbles still trapped inside, and creates a sponge-like rock that's light enough to float on water. 


A piece of pumice, about 2cm across.


I cut through it with a hobby knife (carefully; it breaks easily), then smoothed the surface with a file. I tried using sandpaper, but the pumice removed the sandpaper, not the other way around :)


A macro shot of part of the surface. The smallest visible holes are very roughly 10┬Ám across. It's like a sponge of silica glass.

An underwater eruption near Ogasawara created a lot of pumice in August. That pumice has been drifting along the ocean currents until it started washing ashore along the Okinawan coastline two weeks or so ago. These pictures are from around Onna beach, just next to OIST (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology) where I work(*).

As you might imagine, a harbor full of floating rocks means fishermen can't take their boats out to sea, and a beach full of grey, abrasive pebbles is no fun for the tourists coming to swim and relax in the sun. Even if you clear the beach, the next high tide just brings in more of the stuff.


Pumice deposited on a beach by the waves.


Not everybody has a problem with pumice-strewn beaches.

It's not all bad, though. Pumice is light and breakable, so it will turn to sand fairly quickly. And it can be useful; large chunks are popular for skin care — they're an excellent natural file — and smaller pebbles are great for improving drainage in potted plants and the like. So many people have tried to sell this pumice online that Mercari — the most popular online marketplace here — have a temporary ban on pumice sales on its platform.

The video below is really crappy quality, but you can hear the sound of the rocks rubbing against each other as they're rocked back and forth by the waves:

* I mention OIST — Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology — because I've realized that they, like many organizations, subscribe to a service that alerts them for any mention of them or their research. Furthermore, the public relations department has to actually read anything that crops up, in case it's important. 

So, if you have a blog, Youtube channel or Twitch stream and would like a few more viewers, just gratuitously mention a few big, public organizations. Hi Micheal!