Sunday, January 15, 2017


Winter has arrived. On the mainland half the country has ground to a halt in a snowstorm. Here on Okinawa we have 14-17 degrees, windy with grey skies and rain showers. It honestly feels more like autumn than winter to me; sad and lonely, but also peaceful.

We've had a string of bad news in the family lately, and that doesn't improve the mood of course. But brooding about things doesn't help. We had to get out of the house for a while so we drove down to the seaside in Itoman south of Naha. There's a couple of good farmers' markets there, and a large beach area with a fairly good lunch restaurant.

Sun beach in Itoman.

It's not that cold, so quite a lot of people visit the seaside even now. They're walking their dogs, playing, doing sports or just taking in some fresh air and scenery.

A visitor came by as we were having lunch.

A different kind of bird. Naha airport and a Japanese air force base are both just north of here and the landing flight path goes right along the coast. Have to come here for airplane pictures one day with better weather.

A hotpot is great comfort food when you're feeling cold and miserable. A good hotpot will warm your heart and your stomach alike.

We're still worried, but the fresh air and change of scenery did wonders to improve our mood. Just like this winter weather, things will eventually pass.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Banana Desk

We had a great time over the New Year holiday in Osaka! Lots of eating and drinking of course — I gained 3kg over those ten days — but we also did a lot of errands, now that we were back in a big city again.

One of those errands was to get an extra Gerton desk leg from IKEA. I got a desk from IKEA before we moved. A cheap one, where you get legs and a surface separately and just assemble them. Mostly this desk has worked fine, except for one thing:

Banana desk.

Yes, the surface is bending, and bending quite a lot. It's in no danger of breaking or anything, but it's a bit annoying. The real solution would have been to get a solid wood surface from somewhere, but that's expensive and heavy. Instead, I opted to add a fifth leg to the desk.

It would have been easy, but IKEA is a very clever company and knows how to make things cheaper more than anybody. These desks aren't solid at all. It's a wooden frame with leg supports in the corners, then rigid sheets of laminate on the top and bottom. The box construction should make the desk fairly strong, but it means the interior is mostly filled with nothing as far as I can tell. And "nothing" is not a great material for wood screws to get a grip in.

I glued a piece of plywood to the underside of the desk, then screwed the screws through the plywood and into the desk.

The solution is to glue a wooden support piece to the bottom, then fix the leg onto that instead. I got a scrap piece of 15mm plywood at the Makeman shop in Urasoe, and cut off a 17×17cm square. Wood glue is very strong and the force from the leg is almost all directed inwards, but I figured that if the screws went in through the desk bottom it would help keep the piece steady until the glue set. With a 15mm thick board the screws stick out almost another centimeter, giving me a solid joint.

The desk with its extra leg. It still needs to bend back just a little more, but that will take some time.

It will take a few weeks for the surface to bend back fully; I've adjusted the length of the middle leg twice already and I'll probably adjust it once or twice more before it's completely level. Once it is level, though, it should be completely stable.  A fun little post-holiday project.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

A happy new year from Janne and Ritsuko!

2017, The Year of the Rooster

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let's Self-Santa!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I just learned a useful new Japanese word this week: セルフサンタ or "self-Santa". That's the act of buying a Christmas present for yourself. What to self-Santa this year?

Fishing berth in central Naha.

We're going back to Osaka for the New Year holiday. And Osaka is chock-full of good used-camera stores. Camera phones suck, and I happen to have a very nice Minolta AF Macro 50mm lens from a "camera rescue". So one self-Santa idea is to get myself a small but capable digital camera. A second-hand M4/3 body such as the E-P5 would be small enough to bring every day, and I can get an adapter for the Minolta lens.

But I could also use a long lens around here. Okinawa is home to most US military bases (over 75%) in Japan. There's no lack of bad effects on the island of course — but it does mean lots of military aircraft and things to photograph. To do that you do need a long lens, so a used 300mm for my Pentax might be a good idea.

Choices, choices. I guess it mostly depends on what I manage to stumble onto while we're back in Osaka. Let the self-Santa begin!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Aaa, where'd the time go?! We only just moved here, and it's mid-December already?

What happened is a new place to live. And a fun job with much lower stress and much more free time. My job is interesting and endlessly varied — so far it's included creating an introductory class on GPU programming, doing cluster software maintenance, and helping users with issues ranging from "Matlab doesn't start" to "How do I speed up a TensorFlow network with a custom reinforcement learning component?"

Okinawa city park.

And when I come home at night I'm really free. There's no extra work for me to do — no papers to read, no code to write. For the first time in forever I'm able to sit down and spend an entire evening reading a novel or doing some software project without a nagging feeling I really should try to catch up on work instead.

For a long time I used this blog as a stress-relief valve. I could distract myself from work for a few minutes at a time by writing a post on something unrelated. I never even posted most of what I wrote; clearing my head was the point, really.

But I don't have all that much stress I need to to distract myself from these days. And, paradoxically, my new-found free time keeps me busy with other things. I need to rethink how I use this blog, in other words. Perhaps I can start writing more about work-related things and interests now. We'll see.

Gone Fishing

Monday, November 7, 2016


Early Wednesday morning, as I was driving to work, the weather announcer told me that "It's 21 degrees in Naha now. It's getting chilly now, so bring a coat". 21 degrees is "chilly"? Ridiculous.

A banyan tree ("gajumaru") at Sogenji in Naha.

A closer look at the huge tree.
Except that it did feel a little chilly. The day was cloudy and quite windy. The sea had turned slate grey instead of its usual crystal-clear blue-green hue, and I found myself wishing for long sleeves. Autumn had happened, as suddenly as flipping a switch.

But it's too early to break out the kotatsu, pull on a wool sweater and start heating the mulled wine. The grey clouds broke up by evening and the wind calmed the next day. It may technically be autumn here, but it's nothing like autumn up north; there's no rustling of fall leaves and no early morning frost.

Fall fashion says "knitted caps" so you wear a knitted cap, even if it's hot enough for t-shirts and sunglasses. Of course, biker fashion says "black leather" even in high summer, so it's not as if young men are immune either.

Early mornings may be as cool as 21-22 degrees now, but we get well over 25 degrees later in the day. The sudden rains have stopped, and the air turned dry and clear, with high, bright skies. It's warm enough to go swimming if you want, but the weather is really perfect to go walking in the sun, or while away an afternoon at an outdoor coffee shop.

Crossing a canal in Naha.
Now that it's cool enough, we spent the past weekend walking through Naha. We left home near city hall, walked along the monorail line and had lunch at a very good shabu-shabu restaurant called "Ganaha" near Miebashi station. Great place; we'll have to go there again.

We walked on to the Sogenji ruins, then up to Omoromachi, the new business and shopping district. Had some coffee, browsed a bookstore (I need something new to read now that I've finished "電車の運転"), bought ingredients for dinner, then we returned home on the monorail in the late afternoon sun. Life is good.

A temporary izakaya in a parking lot near the Ryubo department store. Plenty warm enough to sit outside at night.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Summer Holiday

It's the tail end of October, and I've just had my summer holiday. OIST actually granted me two days of summer leave even though I started only in September.

Cape Manzamo.

One part of my new job is user training. I've prepared two training classes — one an introduction to HPC, and one on GPU programming — and I gave them both last week. They went decently well; better than I expected for a first course draft. Seemed like a perfect time to take two days off for a four-day weekend with Ritsuko here in Okinawa. With the move and the job we haven't had much downtime together in a while.

Summer vacation in late October may sound daft, but it's still about 30° here most every day; summery enough for me. And four days is plenty of time since we don't travel anywhere. A week at some vacation spot is just 4-5 days in practice without the travel and packing time.

On Saturday I finally got to see Shin Godzilla, the first new genuine Toho Cinema Godzilla movie in years:

This is a great movie — if you like kaijuu movies, of course. It's classic Godzilla, but starting over with a new origin story. Original Godzilla was about nuclear testing; this is thinly veiled commentary on the political (mis)management of the Touhoku disaster and Fukushima meltdown.  It's really an ensemble movie about politics as much as about a big lizard with bad temper.

Good casting overall — several characters bear more than a passing resemblance to real politicians. The female lead (who is supposed to be a Japanese-American) could have benefited from an actor with a little more (or, you know, any) subtlety and at least a basic grasp of English.

Godzilla itself lives up to the part; they really manage to convey the sheer mass and scale of the monster. It really feels physical - the CG effects in most movies feel like empty shells projected onto a screen, but this feels like it could really have been an actor in a rubber suit. That is high praise.

The story? It's a Godzilla movie. Monster appears. Monster destroys Tokyo. People flail about trying to stop monster from doing same. The rampaging and action sequences are extremely well done, and, again have a sense of physicality to them that many movies fail to convey. Excellent movie. I sincerely hope they're working on the next one.

The Okinawa Industrial Fair was at Onoyama park this weekend, just a few hundred meters from home. It's a yearly exhibition for Okinawan producers of consumer and industrial goods. Sounds dry, perhaps, but it's anything but.

Rows upon rows of tents, all selling or offering
something, a lot of it edible or drinkable.

It's a big family festival that mixes serious industrial exhibitions, university and NPO projects, and small shops showing (and usually selling) their goods. You find hot sauces, hair tonics, music instruments, CNC casts, awamori, cement, beer, flowers, solar panels, robots, prosthetics, chiffon cakes, kariyushi shirts, power stones, salt, PVC pipes, graves,  and so on and so on. And of course lots and lots of places that sell food and drink.

An underwater Crown-of-thorns hunter robot by students at a technical college. The starfish eat coral, and can devastate an area. This one has a vision system to recognize the specific starfish, and syringes at the front that inject vinegar which kills them.

An exoskeleton showcased by a couple of students at a technical high school. Mostly passively compliant with counter-springs, though the hands are servo-controlled. The kids in the audience loved the demo.

Okinawan-style grave. The price of a car — though you obviously get more years of use with the grave.

One company displayed the manhole covers they produce for the various local municipalities in the prefecture. Cool, though they weren't for sale.

It's spread out over much of the park, with hundreds of outdoor stalls, and an indoor exhibition at the budokan. We spent all of Sunday afternoon there, and still had to skip one section altogether. It's big, it's noisy and it's a lot of fun to wander around, eat and drink, and look at the crowds and at all the things on offer.

One of the tent areas, with the Budokan housing the main industrial exhibition in the background.

The Kerama islands is a group of beautiful islands in the Pacific with coral reefs, white beaches and few people. It's a good area for snorkeling and diving. It's also just half an hour away from Naha by boat.

A fishing boat berth in the Naha harbour area.

So on Monday we took a half-day snorkelling tour (with Marine House Seasir) to the Kerama islands. Breakfast at home, go to the harbour and on to the boat, two hours snorkelling among beautiful reefs, then back in time for a shower and lunch at home. Perfect!

The colourful fish on the reef really stand out when you catch them over the sandy bottom

A determined-looking trio against the sun-dappled surface.

A section of coral showcasing the variety in the area.

It was a fairly big boat with almost thirty people on board. These people are doing a trial dive, not just snorkelling.

 A fun day trip and a great summer vacation. Have to do it again some weekend soon. Next time perhaps try diving myself; it looks like a lot of fun.