Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Diving And Drowning

We've back from the Netherlands and Amsterdam — and I haven't posted about Okinawa yet, to say nothing about the summer festival at the local temple, my birthday and other things… I'm drowning in unedited pictures and unfinished posts and I don't see a way to really catch up. I'm hereby declaring Blog Bankruptcy.

What will that mean? I will no longer even try to write long, single posts about things like travel. At this pace I'd be posting about our summer holiday in December and New Year in July. And I won't try to keep things in chronological order. Instead I'll post bits and fragments when they're ready, in whatever order they come.

And with the drowning bit out of the way, here a few pictures from underwater Okinawa. As you may remember I went to Okinawa this summer to tutor at OCNC, a computational science summer school. I won't say too much about the school; it was fun and very educational for me as well as (hopefully) for the students, but it was work, not play, and the details aren't really interesting to others.

But we did have some free time during the course, and Ritsuko came to Okinawa towards the end so we could spend a weekend together. And we spent much of that time snorkeling.

Cape Maeda is a famous and popular diving spot. It's easy to get to, easy to get in the water, and fairly shallow so it's good for snorkelers as well as beginning divers. The only drawback is its popularity; during weekends you hardly see the fish or coral for all the divers, snorkeling tours, boats, and swimmers.

Cape Maeda
The stairs down to the water at Cape Maeda.

The wildlife here is very used to humans. Many tour guides feed the fish to get them close, so some species really crowd around you hoping for something to eat. These batfish aren't quite that familiar with people, but if you wait a while you have a good shot at getting a picture.

Blue Cave
The Blue Cave is a famous spot at Maeda. It's a seaside cave going back a few tens of meters into the cliff, ending with a small opening to land. Below the surface the world turns a brilliant clear blue colour — when the view isn't obstructed by people, that is.

Fish (surgeonfish, perhaps) crowd around a float off the Maeda coast. The waters here really are this lively.

A fellow tutor finds a few moments to relax in the warm water.

Manzamo is another spot. north of Maeda. Unlike Maeda, though, it's not that easy to get to. The divers' entry point is a fairly rugged cliff at the end of some slippery rock formations. Nothing for beginners. There's a small sandy beach to one side, but you can only enter during high tide and to get there you have to use a narrow path through the rocks and dense brush; that makes me nervous what with the Habu snakes and all.

But the effort is worth it — wonderful, wide fields of coral sloping down to the sea shelf where it suddenly drops to several tens of meters of more. Divers can even see sea turtles here. And there's rarely any other snorkelers around so you can explore in peace and quiet. I didn't have much luck with photography this time, with the memory card full of near-misses. But it was a memorable experience, with lionfish, a stone fish and many other sights.

Crown of Thorns
A Crown of Thorns starfish is eating a coral.

Crown of Thorns
Some mixed corals along the sea bed.

A bright-blue starfish.

After the end of the three-week course I met up with Ritsuko at the nearby Rizzan Resort, a family-oriented resort hotel just down the coast from OIST.

Rizzan Hotel
Rizzan Resort hotel. Yes, it's big; and yes, it's a bit loud and in-your-face. But the atmosphere is relaxed and easygoing, and the young families crowding the place seemed to have just as much fun here as we did.

The wedding "chapel" at the Rizzan — it's not consecrated or anything. Wedding events is a major part of business for resorts. All wedding guests stay at the hotel for the ceremony, the couple get married and can spend their honeymoon right here. Many guests would need to travel wherever they got married anyway, so this may even end up less expensive than a regular wedding overall.

To our surprise, even the beach just outside our hotel had a fair amount of marine life. We took a quick snorkeling tour as well. It was fun, but unfortunately we had to wear vests so no diving down for pictures.

Close, but not quite
A clown fish almost manages to avoid detection in his anemone.

Small seascape literally a couple of meters from the hotel beach. People were swimming right above, never realizing this kind of scenery exists below.

Titan Triggerfish
A Titan Triggerfish.

Living Under a Rock
A busy ecosystem literally living under a rock at the hotel beach.

Picasso Triggerfish
A Picasso Triggerfish.

A whole school of …something rushes right past us.

Sunset at Tancha bay.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Poster Pro-tip

We're packing for a trip to the INCF conference in Leiden in the Netherlands. I'm presenting a poster, and I thought I'd give people a quick tip or two, in case you didn't already know about this.

There's many great sites out there to help you make a good poster(1) and teach you how to present it. I haven't seen a lot of practical tips on actually bringing the poster to the venue.

1) Use a real poster carrier. Preferably buy your own. Really, they're lighter and thinner than a cardboard tube, there's no end caps to lose, and the strap makes them much easier to carry. And with your own tube you can mark it so it's easy to find in a sea of similar ones. To my surprise, they're also really cheap. I got a new one for this trip at Daiso for just 200 yen. I don't think a cardboard tube that size is any cheaper.

2) Don't just shove the poster into the carrier. It can scuff the edges and it makes the poster hard to get out again. Roll it up, wrap a sheet of copy paper around the middle and secure it with tape. It'll lie loose in the carrier and drop right out into your hand when you open the tube.

Poster packing
My poster is ready to go, snug in its own carrier. I printed a second copy cut it in two and rolled it up into packing paper to go in my carry-on. If I forget the real poster in some airport bathroom I'll still be able to do the presentation.

3) Make a backup. Always. You don't want to be the poor sod that's rushing about in a panic trying to find a place to print out an A0 poster the morning of the conference. The world is a big, scary place for a poor, helpless poster, and anything can happen on the way. You may lose your luggage (not all airlines allow you to bring it into the cabin), and you can so easily forget the poster in the airplane, in a cab, or in a bathroom. Never mind that it can get stolen, run over or destroyed in any number of ways.

The best way I know to backup is to print a second copy. Design your poster so you can cut it either lengthwise down the middle or sidewise into three pieces. Roll these pieces together into a short tube that will fit into your carry-on. Sure, a visible seam is a little annoying, but it's much, much better than having no poster if something bad happens to your uncut copy.

Here's the poster I'm presenting. Notice how I can easily cut it down the middle without
destroying anything. With a bit of tweaking I could have cut it lengthwise instead.

4) Don't bother bringing tacks, tape or anything like that. I've never been to a conference where such things weren't abundant. A couple of thin ink pens in different colors is a good idea, though; you may find a mistake or something on your poster and they'll let you do last-minute corrections or clarifications.

All done, ready to go. See you in a week!

#1 I actually favour dense posters with plenty of information. I want to be able to read and understand the work without having to ask the presenter anything. They may be absent of busy talking to somebody else, after all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another month, another vote

Time to vote again, this time in our national elections. I'm happy that Sweden makes it easy to vote as a foreign resident. The first time as a foreign resident voter I had to get myself a voting packet; I got one from our embassy in Tokyo during a business trip. From then on, I get one sent to me automagically before every election. I don't need to register or do anything as long as they have my current address.

My postal vote for our national elections. It's a simple and straightforward process.

As a foreign resident, I can only cast a ballot for the national election; I can't vote in the regional or local elections as I don't actually live in Sweden. On the other hand, long-term foreign residents in Sweden are allowed to vote in the local elections but not in the regional or national polls. It seems reasonable to reserve local elections for the people actually living there.

Japanese foreign residents only won the right to vote in the 1990's, and they have to register with their local embassy to vote. On the other hand, nowadays they're apparently allowed to vote in local elections as well as nationally; I guess at the last place they lived in Japan. I'm not allowed to vote even in local elections, as the right of suffrage is limited to Japanese citizens. This, too, is a reasonable standpoint, I think.

The process is simple. I get a blank ticket and voting envelope, a cover envelope, and a third envelope to put in the post. I write my preferred party on the ticket and put into the envelope. On the cover envelope I write my name and personal ID number, and I ask two people to verify that I am who I am, and that I put my vote into the cover envelope myself. I seal the outer envelope and the witnesses sign the back(1). This goes into the outer envelope that I drop off at the post office.

It's quite quick and painless; very similar to how absentee ballots work inside the country. And unlike most Swedes, I don't have to suffer through months of political campaigning, junk mail, advertisements and all the rest. I can find out everything I need quickly and easily through the net and decide on my vote without a 24/7 bombardment of hyperbole and vote-getting initiatives. In fact, as I've now already cast my vote I can sit back and enjoy the frantic final month of campaigning with amused detachment.

What's going to happen, by the way? Well, the sitting center-right coalition will lose. A don't-call-us-a-coalition between the Social democrats, the Greens and the Communists will win. That seems pretty much clear already. The interesting questions are:

  • Will the we're-not-a-coalition-really reach majority or will they need the support of other parties?
  • Will the Social Democrats cross a line and give the Communists a minister post?
  • Will the racist Sweden Democrats get the deciding balance of votes in the parliament, and if so, will the Social Democrats breach their promise to never rule with their support? And in that case, will the we-were-never-a-coalition-anyway fall apart?
  • Will the Feminists manage to get seats in the parliament, and if so, how will that change the power balance?
  • Will the arch-conservative religious Christian Democrats lose their seats or not? What about the other small parties?

If the Social Democrats accepts support from SD to form a government, it's likely the Greens and the Communists would refuse to join. A minority Social democrat-Green-Communist not-a-coalition would probably fail to get support from elsewhere due to the Communists. A Social Democrat-Green coalition might get support from center right parties, but that would kill their own internal support base.

We could get into a situation where no viable combination of parties could form a majority government. And you need a positive show of support in the parliament to form a government now, so a minority government with implicit support is not really feasible. But this all crucially depends on the small parties — who gets in and who gets tossed out. A few tenths of a percent of votes will potentially completely reshape the political landscape this time around. It's going to be entertaining to watch.

#1 the only minor issue I've had is to explain the difference between signing your name on one hand and printing your name below that on the other, for people that always use inkan for verification and don't even have a handwriting signature.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Still Alive

Just want to make a quick post to assure people that yes, I'm still alive and I do intend to start posting here again. The good news is that the summer heat has finally loosened its grip on Osaka. The bad news is that the reason is an approaching typhoon. I may have to take a rubber dinghy to my Japanese lesson today.

In a few weeks I will attend INCF in Leiden in the Netherlands, where I'll present a poster about our modelling work there. As I vaguely promised some performance data in our abstract, I'm very busy actually generating that data in time for the conference. I'll probably give up on doing proper full-size posts about this summer and just do a few picture posts later on.

Sunset over Tancha, Okinawa.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm Done

I know, I haven't written anything here all July. No post about Okinawa or about anything else. I also haven't emailed friends, or worked on my side projects, or read any books, or studied Japanese. It's summer, again, with temperatures in the 35°–40° range, and my body shuts down in this heat. Constantly tired, constant headaches, no strength and no appetite. This is one time I wish we'd live in cooler, breezier Okinawa.

The cikadas are out in force again. I think this is a "kumasemi"; perhaps the most common species here in Kansai. In parks and wooded areas they're so loud they drown out all other sounds. You can't even talk to other people without shouting.

I've long thought that I'd eventually get used to the summers here. But no, I realize that I won't. If anything it's worse this year than usual. Up until last week it was still OK, but now it's all I can do to push through at work, then quietly collapse the moment I get home. Yesterday I was falling asleep right at the dinner table.

Air conditioners are only marginally better than nothing. Belching ice-cold, clammy air into the room may make it cooler, but it sure doesn't make you comfortable. You can sit and sweat in the heat, while wearing thick, woollen socks because the floor is freezing. An effective cooling system would probably have to completely replace the air instead of just trying to mix cold and hot, but that would be like living in a wind tunnel; not sure it'd be any improvement.

I give up. Better to accept the weather than try to fight it. Sleep, rest and relax, and avoid any non-work pressures. I'll post, or keep in touch, if or when I feel up to it. If I don't, I won't. Other things can wait. Looking forward to autumn.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are replication efforts useless?

A nice little dust-up is happening in neuroscience right now:  An experimental neuroscientist claims that we should not waste our time replicating published results. Why? because:

"unsuccessful experiments have no meaningful scientific value."

Richard Tomsett goes through the piece here: Are replication efforts pointless? And Neurosceptic has a good take-down too: On "On the emptiness of failed replications"

The gist of the argument is that experiments can fail for any number of reasons, and so they can't falsify the published result. Null findings should not, in his view, even be published at all. He only gives a cursory nod to the possibility that the initial positive result may be false, then proceeds to ignore it.

This sounds almost bizarre. But here is the unstated assumption that his entire argument rests on: "I already know my idea is right, and the experiment is only there to confirm what I already know." His whole chain of arguments depends on this, and would make no sense without it.

In his view, an experiment is simply there to give evidence for something we already know (or wish) to be true. If it works, that confirms what we already know. A failed replication must thus fail because of experimental error of some kind; since we already know our hypothesis must be true, that's the only inescapable conclusion. 

This attitude is the real danger here. If your base assumption is that your failures happen because of experimental error, not because your idea is wrong, then it can become ever so tempting to help an uncooperative experiment along just a bit. Add a few subjects — or remove a couple of "obviously" aberrant data points — to reach statistical significance. Clean up that blurry, messy picture a little. Don't include the failures in your analysis. Make the story clearer and neater. No need to actually run that time-consuming, expensive confirmatory experiment the reviewers wanted. We already know we're right after all.

I bet most cases of falsification and fraud in science started out from this assumption. People came in to the lab knowing they had the right idea, and simply wanted to get the confirmation that will convince everybody else. Telling people — young people just starting out — that this is the right attitude for doing science is dangerous.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Once again we've been travelling, this time to busy Saigon in south Vietnam. If you think we've been going to Vietnam a fair amount you're right; we visited Hanoi last year and Saigon some years ago. We enjoy the country and we like the food.

Vietnam Airlines
Ahh, Kansai Airport, the gateway to everything travel! We come here, check in and get through security. I see a view like this out the panorama windows, and I feel we're finally, actually, really on our way. This moment is, to me, when the journey starts.

Ho Chi Minh City at dusk.

Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, is one of the two major cities in Vietnam, along with the capital city of Hanoi in the north. When we visited Hanoi last year, the city felt exotic, almost alien at times. Saigon is more international, with many foreign companies and many more foreign visitors.

On one hand more people speak English, plenty of restaurants have English menus and more people are used to foreigners. On the other hand, we were scammed or nearly so several times in Saigon, but not a single time in Hanoi. You have to check the change you receive every time, and you really want to avoid taxis if you can. On our way to the airport at the end, the driver — hailed by the hotel and from one of the "safe" companies — tried to scam us with a furiously running meter. He probably figured that we have a flight to catch and not have time to do anything about it. Only when we repeatedly and loudly demanded that he go right back to the hotel and annul the trip did he give up and turn off the meter.

Traffic is a lot easier to navigate in Saigon than it was in Hanoi. There seems to be less of it, and most people at least regard a stop light as something relevant, not a nice, festive decoration to admire as you rush by.

Shaded Streets
A lot of Saigon is fairly old. The trees lining many of the streets are mature and fully grown. They give you excellent shade and a serene, almost sacral sense of space and air as their crowns loom high overhead. This is what a city street should feel like.

Post Office
The main post office. Well worth a visit even if you have nothing to post.

Temple manager
The manager of a hindu temple, relaxing in the shade.

Turtle Lake
View from Turtle lake monument at dusk. Many young couples seem to come here to hang out.

Hotel Continental Saigon

Continental Hotel Saigon
Hotel Continental Saigon. The blue, glowing building in the background is a shopping mall.

The Hotel Continental is famous. This is where Graham Greene lived when he wrote his novel "The quiet American". News agencies had their offices there during the Vietnam war. Surprisingly, it's quite affordable to stay there. It's very well kept, with rooms that retain the ambience of an old-style hotel. But the traffic can be noisy and the colonial style is not to everybody’s taste. Also, I suspect that they actually make much of their business from conferences, wedding parties and things like that; the hotel bit is perhaps as much to keep the atmosphere as much as anything else.

Wedding Shots
There were wedding photographers and wedding shoots almost every day in and around the hotel. It's fun; people are happy if nervous and it makes for a festive atmosphere.

The hotel is a very scenic backdrop, and wedding photographers aren't the only ones taking advantage of it.

Cooking Class!

Of course we went to a cooking class. It's a fun, simple holiday activity, and it meshes perfectly with our interest in food. And really, who's not interested in food? We took a small class — only me and Ritsuko — and we covered some classic Vietnamese street food dishes.

Pho ga
Pho is perhaps the quintessential Vietnamese noodle dish, although it's a fairly recent invention. We made Pho Ga (chicken-based Pho) pretty much from scratch, beginning by searing/roasting vegetables for the stock. It turned out very well. We've tried it once at home, but it didn't come out right. Need more practice.

Banh Cuon
Banh Cuon are steamed dumplings. You first steam a thin sheet of rice flour dough, then wrap a minced filling into it. Not something you really do at home since you need a good-sized steamer, but if you had it you could make regular rice paper too by simply drying the sheets instead of using them for these dumplings.

Making Banh Xeo
You make Banh Xeo — a pancake wrap — in a wok like this. Spread out some egg and flour mixture in a thin layer, add your filling, then fry on every side until the egg starts to crisp and turn brown. Wrap the egg over the fillings.

Banh Xeo
The finished Banh Xeo. Grab bits of it, dip in a dipping sauce and eat. Delicious, and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Beef Salad
This beef salad was also delicious, though frankly the beef would make this a pricey meal home in Japan. I'm particularly proud of the tomato rose. This was a fun dish.

Vietnamese Coffee
Vietnamese coffee is very distinctive. In part it's because of the way you make and drink it, with a steel filter brewing it right into your cup, and with a generous dollop of condensed milk. But Vietnamese coffee is mostly varietals of Robusta, not Arabica, and those beans have a very different flavour profile than you're used to. The flavour is stronger, a little harsher, with a long, lingering aftertaste that I find very pleasant. Some say it's an inferior coffee but I really don't think so. Different, not worse.

Banh Mi
Banh Mi is a sandwich, often with beef or chicken, pickles and lots of other stuff. You get them from small street-side stands like this one, and they're generally delicious. The bread is crispy and soft at the same time, and the ingredients is a taste explosion of savoury, sour and sweet all at once.

Street Life

A lot of life is lived right on the street. Restaurants and businesses spill out on to the sidewalks. Many small tradesmen set up shop on the street itself. People sit outside in the air and the light rather than in dark, hot indoor rooms.

A cobbler is repairing shoes by a busy intersection.

Bikes (not running)
Bike repair business.

Street Barber
A street barber is plying his trade in the shadow of an old building. The guy in the blue shirt seemed to be a friend hanging out with him as he worked.

Slow Day
A barbershop is having a post-lunch lie-down while waiting for customers.

Cigarrette Stand
Cigarette stand on a street corner.

Coffee Break
Many cafes and lunch restaurants use the sidewalks for their customers, and seem to reserve their limited indoor space for kitchen and storage.

Neighbourhood Sidewalk
Some kids hanging around outside in a quiet residential neighbourhood.

Non La
Stalls along a river-side street.

Ho Chi Minh City seems to be in the middle of a building boom. Lots of new, sleek high-rises are coming up, and they're even planning a whole new financial center on the other side of Saigon river. Fortunately there seems to be at least a nod toward preserving the old city atmosphere; the building across the street to the Continental hotel, for instance, is a shopping mall, but looks for all the world like a colonial-era building. And to keep the building height down, the mall is actually several floors underground. The street atmosphere is perhaps Saigons greatest asset and I'm happy to see they do try to preserve it.

The "Bitexco financial tower" is yet another futuristic glass-facade office building. But the sky deck gives you a very good view of the city in all directions.

Another high-rise coming up in the city.

Old And New
New apartment buildings and old river boats.

Drawing Water
A night guard at a construction site is getting drinking water.