Saturday, January 18, 2020

A new Breakfast

I like coffee, and so I read r/coffee on Reddit on a regular basis. Last week one user posted that they like to have coffee and cereal in the morning. As in, coffee and cereal together, in the same bowl.

That made me curious. "Self", I said to myself when I read this, "why not try it? How bad could it be?" So this morning we tried it out.



We start with a bowl of cereal.



Add some coffee (low acidity coffee blend, a medium grind pour-over at 1:13 extraction).



Breakfast time!



How will it taste?

It tasted... Not bad at all. Quite good in fact.

When we were kids a long time ago, our grandmother would sometimes make us a treat by shredding a cinnamon roll into a large mug, then mix in coffee, milk and sugar. This is amazingly delicious (and I believe my brother still makes it for himself from time to time).

Mixing coffee and cereal is really the same kind of idea. It's not nearly as sweet, and you don't have the cinnamon and cardamon flavors from the rolls, of course. Instead you retain a lot more flavor from the coffee itself. Ritsuko feels this mix might be better still with an espresso rather than drip coffee; it would give you a stronger coffee flavor. I feel it was quite good already.

If I moved somewhere and was told that this is how we eat breakfast around here, I would have no problem having this every morning. I do feel that it's a waste of coffee — I prefer to enjoy it sans sugar and roasted carbohydrates if I can — but if you don't care then this is not bad. And if you are short on time, you could grab a mug of coffee and cereal on your way out and have a decent breakfast on the way to work.

Coffee and cereal does work well together. Live and learn.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Osaka and Misasa


Ahh, another new year! It didn't start great — I came back to Naha Monday and I've already burned our tea kettle, and some of our cheese got moldy over the holiday (not a disaster: cut away the visible mold, wash with salt water, wrap it and return to the fridge). Oh well.


Osaka is as subtle and refined as always. Never change.

New year in Osaka is the same as always. New Years eve was at Henrietta as usual (and fun, as usual, even though I didn't drink). Early in the new year I scored a couple of Lucky Bags at the Mizuno flagship store in Osaka — a pair of last years' Wave Rider shoes, insulated shell running jacket and pants, winter shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, gloves, socks and a towel. All you need for winter running, for the price of a regular pair of running shoes. Not bad.


I guess a steering wheel will work as well. It doesn't strike me as that practical, but the bike did look very good. That was of course the point.


We spent most of New Year in Osaka, but we did go to Misasa in Tottori for one night before New Year. Tottori, for those that don't know (I didn't), is on the Japan Sea side, north of Himeji and Okayama. If the Pacific Ocean side — with Tokyo, Osaka and so on — is the front side of Japan, the Japan Sea side is Japans backside, with fewer people, many rural (and depopulating) areas and few or no large cities.


Tottori.

Tottori is out of the way from the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka area so it's not inundated with Asian tourists shouting and shoving people with their tax-free drug-store bags. Misasa is famous for its mineral-rich hot springs, including a few that contain radium — hard to believe, but at one time radiation was considered healthy (and to be fair, small amounts do seem to have some health benefits along with the increased danger).

Getting there is easy: there's a direct train from Osaka station all the way up to Kurayoshi. It takes about three hours. From Kurayoshi it's another 25 minutes to Misasa; the ryokan picked us up with their shuttle bus.

Misasa itself is a smallish village along a river valley. The main business is ryokan and hot springs, although Okayama university have a "institute for planetary materials" (geology department it seems) there as well. Makes sense to have it at a plane with so much geological activity I guess.


Izanro Iwasaki in Misasa. You can get a very nice run just by following the river, crossing it, then running back up to the village. Go far enough and you can return through the car tunnel instead if you like.

We stayed at Izanro Iwasaki. We chose it — and, really, Misasa — because Ritsuko stayed there with her family as a five-year old (not so) many years ago. The main building and the hot springs have of course been extended and renovated, and the garden layout has changed. But a few things, such as the stone lanterns, still remain from that visit.


Traditional kaiseki dinner. It really was very good.

What do you do at a ryokan? Relax. Get out of your clothes and into a yukata. Soak in the onsen, go for a walk, have dinner, watch the river. Let life quietly flow past for a day.



Japanese do like their crab.

I really like onsen (Ritsuko is more about the food). This one was split up into multiple baths indoors and out, and the two gender-separated sides were quite different. The male and female side is swapped every day (every morning at 5am) so you get to experience all the baths. More fun than places that simply duplicate the same bath design.

They have one steam room with radium water. The signs told you not to stay too long; good advice, and I skipped it altogether. My absolute favourite bath was one of the outdoor rock pools. You sat sheltered from the wind with a partial bamboo roof that let through the cold rain falling from above. The feeling of the hot spring heating your body and the cold rain cooling your face as you sat looking up into the sky was wonderful. It must be spectacular when it snows.


A rain-soaked Misasa in early morning.

I went running of course. The evening run the first day was fine. It was raining when I went out for a pre-dawn run along the river the next morning. When I came back I was cold and soaking wet from the rain. It felt great to wash up and soak in the onsen for an hour before going to breakfast.

We spent some hours in Kurayoshi before returning to Osaka. Protip: always go to a local supermarket when you travel if you can. They will have local stuff — foods, sweets and ingredients — that you can't find at home, and at regular prices. Also, it's a slice of life, and always fun to see. Cafe Source Mid next to the station was a good place for lunch and hang out with a cup of coffee.

This was fun, and we should probably try to do this again next year.


Nakanoshima, Osaka.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year!



2020, the year of the Rat

Have a good new Year everyone!

Janne and Ritsuko

Monday, December 23, 2019

Denver and SC19

I spent a week in Denver recently, attending the Supercomputing 2019 conference. This is something we do every year; it is part vendor meetings, part job training.


Naha airport has square windows toward the runway that make for a neat natural frame if you manage to catch a moment without people sitting or standing in front of them. This is Ritsukos idea by the way; I just copied her.


The conference itself has both academic research and practical workshops, but also a very large exhibition area and hundreds of companies large and small descending on the conference to meet customers and each other. I'm not too interested in the academic part, though it can be fun to follow. The tutorials and workshops are aimed at HPC professionals. They cover cluster management, teaching parallel programming and HPC, networking, user group meetings for popular tools and so on. Very useful and very interesting.


The conference is held at the Colorado Convention Center. It's right in the middle of the city, a couple of blocks from the main walking street.

The exhibition is like a car show for HPC computing. An enormous space filled with giant booths from Intel, DDN, IBM, AMD and so on down to small desk-size spots in the back with startups and highly specialised businesses - a Japanese company that only does pipe connectors for rack water-cooling systems, for instance. Many corporate visitors attend the conference only for the exhibition.


Immersion water cooling displays are always fun. You can see the liquid boiling away from the CPU in this image. It's clear that water cooling in some form is going to be mandatory for most high-performance clusters in the near future; Racks are getting denser and CPUs and GPUs more power hungry. Air is just not enough any longer.

Yes, AMD had juggling presenters in their booth this year. AMD is one of the big winners in HPC nowadays; they certainly deserve a bit of silliness.

Surrounding this conference is a cluster of vendor events. All the major companies organise their own meeting facilities, parties and even mini-conferences in hotels and other venues around the main event. If you are a customer this is the place to meet with your suppliers. You can get one-on-one meetings, get future trends and product roadmaps and generally figure out which direction you will want to go in the future.


Denver in the morning.


Graffiti.

As many of these companies are very large, and as this event is quite important, they all tend to throw parties, serve lunch and organise other events to get people through their doors. Intel, for instance, runs an entire two-day developer conference every year right at the start of SC. The yearly DDN party is popular with younger visitors (leans towards loud music and dancing), while Mellanox has a "talk-show" and a live entertainer at their party.


Dell rented the Denver Hard Rock Cafe for their event. Like most events you can get a ticket by just asking for one at the booth. We picked the Dell and HP events over the others this year simply because the weather was cold (it started snowing this night) and these events were close by.

The final night there's always a big conference-wide party. It's usually held in a cool or special venue of some kind. This year it was in a military aircraft museum, right in the exhibition hangar. It was exciting — airplanes are cool technology! — but with a bit of a bad aftertaste; all this effort and all this ingenuity spent to kill other people.


Lots of cool-looking airplanes here.


The conference has a total of 15000 attendees; even though far from everyone attends the party you still need a large venue to hold so many people. Such as a large aircraft hangar for instance.

I wrote a whole section on trends and things; I doubt anybody reading this blog really cares, so I will summarize (just look at the pictures if it doesn't interest you):


The last days it started snowing. I haven't experienced winter weather for years so I really enjoyed it. 

AMD is beating Intel big time right now. They were everywhere on the trade floor, and a lot of new clusters are using their Rome CPU.  It has better price/performance, better power/performance and just plain better performance in absolute numbers than anything Intel has

ARM is starting to show up for real, with the absolutely insane Fujitsu A64FX cpu that's going to power Fugaku, Japans next supercomputer. 48 cores, 512 bit wide vector extensions and 32GB high bandwidth memory right on the package with a 1Tbit/s throughput.

This leaves Intel in a tough spot. AMD is leading them on CPUs and ARM is skulking in the wings. Once Moore's law is well and truly dead they'll likely end on roughly equal footing and Intels former dominance on CPUs may be permanently gone.


I went running, of course. It's a great antidote for jetlag, and a quick way for some sightseeing. Here an amusement park closed for the season.

Speaking of ARM, NVIDIA bought Mellanox (the maker of Infiniband tech) early this year, and are now partnering with ARM to build complete HPC server nodes with their own GPUs, CPUs and networking. They clearly no longer want to just act as a part supplier to system builders. But with NVIDIAs dominance in GPU computing this makes everyone else very nervous.

AMD has a GPU line already, and they are moving to counter NVIDIA with a GPU computing systems of their own. Intel does not, and they really, desperately need it especially as their CPU dominance is eroding. They announced a new GPU for computing with a lot of fanfare, but the word is the performance will be quite disappointing for this first generation.


Snowed-in scooters. The winter weather really got going the day we left. And we were lucky — just a couple days later Denver got completely snowed in with all flights cancelled. Two days earlier and 15000 attendees would have been unable to leave.

Interesting times. And a fun conference.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kumejima

I'm late, I know. I've got years worth of posts I've drafted but never finished. But I've decided to no longer fear the delay or feel ashamed for my lateness. Accept your tardiness! Embrace procrastination! Tomorrow! Or some other day!

Anyway, on to the subject at hand.


It's a short flight, and along the way you get a good view of the Kerama islands.

We usually do something for our birthdays. This year I turned 50, so we flew to Kumejima island at the end of June. It's a smaller Okinawan island only 30 minutes by propeller plane from Naha airport. If you like you can take a 3-hour ferry from Naha, and bring a car or a bicycle.


Small island. Small airplane. I will say this though: These Bombardiers are really comfortable. Quiet, smooth and with plenty of legroom. Nothing like turboprops of old.

Kumejima is a small island. The taxi driver showed us the islands only traffic light (he ran a red light), and one of the two convenience stores. We stayed at a hostel in Shimajiri on the eastern end of the island; the entire trip from the airport on the western edge takes less than 25 minutes.


The "tatami rock" is one of the few real tourist spots. It's vertical columns of volcanic rock that solidified in a hexagonal pattern. It's pretty, and during low tide there's plenty of small animals in the rock pools that form.

Sugar cane fields. Very Okinawa.

People mostly come here to dive or snorkel, though I did see some surfers as well. The island itself is fairly undeveloped, and I understand this is by choice. People have seen the effects of rapid development on Miyakojima island, so the land-owners here have seemed to agree not to sell to big hotel developments. And a good thing too; the peace and quiet is a major asset, and something I hope won't change soon.


The village is very quiet at night. Peaceful or unsettling depends on your mood, I guess.
There are a dozen restaurants, mostly izakayas, in the local area. During the day the village seems almost deserted and you wonder how these places can stay in business. The looks are deceiving, though, as almost all tourists leave early in the morning for diving or snorkel charters. Once they return they fill the places — you need to book a table in the morning if you want to have dinner around 7-8 and not have to wait.

There are only a few places to eat lunch. One of them does have pretty good shaved ice for dessert. Ice cream and brown sugar topping.

I went running, of course, and the best place to run, by far, was south along the east coast to Shimajiri village, then follow the road south around the cape, then across and back again. It's about 10km, and the road around the cape crosses a large ridge with some very steep sections. But the scenery feels almost primordial; it's a real jungle dotted with a few farms. It is wild enough that you're advised to run along the center of the road to avoid startling snakes resting near the edge.


The south-eastern end of the island is strikingly beautiful.

This is a paradise if you are a diver. It's also great place to visit if you just want to get away from the the main island for a couple of days. I want to go again, and I'm sure we will.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Hello Cycling

I've had bicycles since I was old enough to learn and I rode motorbikes for many years. I want some way to get around on my time off. We have a car of course, but I drive to work every day and don't really want to spend even more time in the car. Also, driving on the narrow streets in Okinawa is stressful and no fun. I prefer two wheels.

But Okinawa is hot and humid for much of the year, and Naha is quite hilly. A regular bicycle leaves me literally drenched in sweat. I'm not kidding - if I bike from home up to Omoromachi in summer, I will form literal puddles around me when I stop. Bicycles are great for exercise but not that practical as utility vehicles.


A bit of coast close to the new Parco City shopping mall. Easy to get to with a bicycle. Hopeless with a car since there's no place to park around here.

A few months ago I discovered Hello Cycling. It's an app-based rental service (owned by Softbank) for electric assist bicycles. They have cycle stations — each with a handful of bikes — around town, typically by convenience stores, car parks and apartment buildings. It's available in Naha, Tokyo, Osaka and a few other cities. Fukuoka has lots of them, Kyoto has a few, while Nagoya curiously have none at all.


A typical station by a Yamaha bike shop. Not coincidentally, the bicycles seem to all be Yamaha as well.

The service is really simple to use: you download the app and register your email address and a credit card. On the app (and online) you can see all the stations in an area. Hover over them to see how many bikes and empty return spots are available. Select a bike, press "book", and you get a 4-digit number in the app and in an email. Go to the bike (you have 30 minutes), turn it on and enter the number. The bike unlocks and is ready to use.

Returning it is just as simple. Stop at any station, park and lock the bike, press "return" and confirm. If you want to stop on the way, you just lock the bike. When you get back, turn it on again, then enter your number to unlock it. You can also register an IC card (any card — I use my "Okica" transit pass) then use that instead of the PIN. A registered card also lets you take any free bike directly without booking in the app.


They're extending the increasingly popular monorail. This is the future Ishimine station.

Electric assist bicycles


These are regular bicycles with an electric helper motor: you pedal, the bike measures how strongly you push and the motor adds power in proportion to the effort you put in. Simple, but the effect is profound. Flat areas feel like rolling on a gentle downward slope, while steep hills and strong headwinds effectively disappear.

If you stay within certain limits they legally count as bicycles. You need no license, and you can ride and park them just like a regular bicycle. They do cost a fair amount, however; you add the cost of a motor and an expensive high-capacity battery to a regular bicycle.  Decent ones start at 100k yen, and really good ones can be several times that. We don't have a place to put a full-size bicycle, so I — foreshadowing alert — would need a foldable model. That further increases the cost of course.


A Yamaha PAS With bicycle. You can see the small motor control by the left handle and the larger rental terminal (with GPS and cellular connection) in the center.

This is actually quite a nice bicycle and well suited for its intended use. But it is quite small for me; the saddle is as high as it will go. The curved handlebars are good for manoeuvring it around a parking lot but get a bit too close to be comfortable when bicycling.

The most common Hello Cycling bicycles are Yamaha "PAS With" city bikes. A solid frame with low instep; three-speed internal gears; a wide saddle, curved handlebars and sturdy tires; and a large front basket. It's heavy and stable and will never win a speed competition. But it will take you to the supermarket and back with the basket full of groceries like a champ. It will take you to the beach, your university lecture or the rail station with equal aplomb. It sells for about 110K yen.

It's heavy but the weight really doesn't matter — it's an electric assist bicycle. For the most part you simply don't notice the weight, but you do appreciate the stability. On flat roads with "Eco" assist it feels like you could coast forever. On steep hills you gear down, increase the assist level to strong, and ride up without breaking a sweat. I've effortlessly pedalled up hills on Pipeline Road so steep that I would have to stop and walk if I were out running. I happily went up a back road in Urasoe that was so steep it was a little scary to ride back down again.


The bicycles also come in a very nice powder blue. 

Battery capacity is plentiful. How much you use obviously depends on the terrain, weather, your speed and how much you rely on the motor. They are normally charged to 90% (that greatly extends the battery lifetime), and after a day of cycling in hilly Naha — perhaps 25-30km — I have typically used about 30-40%. Yamaha states the battery lasts for 56km, and that seems conservative.

On the downside, the brakes are inadequate. I can squeeze the rim brakes until my hands hurt without locking the wheels. Also, I'm not a tall guy, but even with the seat in the topmost position it's still a little short, and the handlebars are a bit too close to feel really comfortable. The intended demographic for this bicycle is likely women running household errands.


A walking path near Shuri castle.


If I got this bike for myself, I would absolutely replace the brakes with disc brakes. For comfort I would replace the seat post with a longer one, and also replace the curved handlebars with a straight type. Or (more foreshadowing) just get myself a different type of bike of course.


The entrance to Urasoe Yodore, an old royal burial tomb. 


Overall the bikes and the booking service both work really well. I've yet to have a bad experience with either.

Pros:
  • The service is cheap and almost frictionless. Just pick up a bike, go cycling, then return it. At 1000 yen per day I don't even think about the money.
  • The bikes are pretty good, and they're kept charged and well maintained. I guess the business (convenience store, apartment or so) that house the station are tasked with seeing to the bikes docked there.
  • This is really useful when travelling. In Tokyo, for instance, you can probably get from your hotel to your meeting or conference way faster going straight across town with a bicycle than finding your way through the subway system.
  • Unlike rental scooters in other cities, you return these at bike stations. They don't clutter up the streets and side-walks; they get better maintained; and they're soon ready for use again. And there's no backlash against them so the service is much more likely to stay available in the long run.
Cons:
  • Our nearest station is 600m away, too far to pick one up just for shopping or carting a package home. They work better as all-day joyrides for us.
  • Stations usually have only a few bikes, so you can't count on a bike always being available. There usually are, but if you need to make really sure, you can of course pick a bike up ahead of time then park it until you need it.
  • A couple of blogs have mentioned booking a bike, only to find the battery nearly drained. They were recently returned and the battery hadn't yet been replaced. You can't see the battery level in the app, so make sure you check it when you go pick it up. You can always cancel and book another bike if it doesn't have enough charge.
  • Many stations in the big cities have raised their prices to 100 yen per 15 minutes and 1500 yen per day. That's still cheap, and I would still not hesitate to use them, but I guess it's a sign they're not always going to be this inexpensive.
Hello Cycling is a good service. It's aimed at residents (Docomo has a similar service for tourists centered around hotels for more than twice the daily cost), so stations tend to be in residential and business areas, and there's no real way to use it in anything but Japanese. If you can use it, I would warmly recommend it.
 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Future

So I go to work this morning, and just as I get to my desk, our car emails me to tell me I forgot to lock the door. I had parked by the outside wall of the parking garage and the key fob has a fairly long range, so fortunately I could walk over and lock it from the ground without having to climb two floors.

The future has a way of creeping up on us without noticing.


LED lights is another revolutionary change we don't even think about. But it's almost as big a change as going to electric bulbs from gas and oil was a century ago.


Apparently the future still includes propeller aircraft and disembarking right onto the runway. This makes me irrationally happy.