Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Wisdom Of Teeth

Wisdom teeth. Not the greatest invention in the evolutionary history of mankind. At least we1 only have four of them, so there's a limit to how much trouble they can get us into.

Three of mine are OK. I had the two in my upper jaw pulled years ago, with minimal fuss. One of the lower ones is fine as it is. The last one, though, has given me more trouble than the other three combined.
Problem is, the tooth never appeared. It was sitting horizontally in the lower jaw, and pushing against the next tooth (this is called "impaction", and is quite common). Worse, it was causing a small gap between that tooth and the gums, so it was all but certain to get infected and damage the other teeth over time. The tooth had to go.
 Not the actual chair.

And yesterday it went. I spent a few quality hours in an Osaka Dental University Hospital chair getting it out.

The major problem for this surgery is a sensory nerve called the inferior alveolar nerve. It innervates the teeth, lower lip and chin on that side, and can run very close to a wisdom tooth, or even pass right between the roots of the tooth if you're unlucky. If you damage that nerve you can lose the feeling in part of your lower face and teeth. Not good. Fortunately there was plenty of space between the nerve and my tooth.

Less good news was that this was a big tooth, with three roots that had all grown together into a large potato-shaped lump. To get it out, it had to be split into multiple pieces. According to my dental surgeon this was a difficult extraction, and it took over an hour and a half of prying and chiselling to get it out.

Which sounds horrible, but the actual experience was remarkably good. I sat down in the chair surrounded by a dozen people (this is a teaching hospital). The assistant anaesthesiologist hooked me up to a pulse, blood oxygen and blood pressure monitor2, placed an IV in the back of my hand and told me this would be the sedative.

By this time I was working myself into a panic. I started feeling lightheaded and a little dizzy, so I nervously asked him if this was the sedative taking effect? He smiled and told me it probably was. Good, I thought, it's probably working then. And …

…and the next moment the surgeon says to me "モレンさん、終わりました。お疲れ様。" ("It's over, Mr. Morén. Well done.3") . They used only local anaesthesia, but thanks to the sedatives I slept through the entire procedure. I apparently tried to talk — in Japanese — a few times during the surgery but I don't remember a single thing.

My face and jaw was swollen and sore — it still is, though my beard conceals it nicely — and it hurt a fair bit that evening, especially after my dinner of lukewarm minestrone soup and Finnish pirogs (when they say you'll have trouble chewing, they mean it). The pain killers knocked me right out at bedtime.

The swelling will take a week to subside completely. But the bleeding stopped during the night4 and the pain was already almost gone this morning. Haven't needed the painkillers at all today, in fact. I still can't chew today, so both breakfast and lunch was oatmeal porridge with lingonberries and mashed banana. Tonight we'll have kare-raisu, and by tomorrow I should be able to eat as usual again.

Most people will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth, so chances are that you will too. An impacted wisdom tooth is serious business, and likely to be the most extensive oral surgery you will need.

But the actual experience is not nearly as bad as your imagination can make it out to be. I would rate this as slightly less painful than when I had my ordinary wisdom teeth pulled, and definitely preferable to when I cracked a tooth in half a year ago.

So yes, impacted wisdom teeth suck. But getting rid of them turns out not to be all that bad. Don't worry.

#1 Not counting the 20-30% or so worldwide that never get wisdom teeth. Lucky bastards. This, by the way, is quite possibly human evolution in action.

#2 I've seen these elsewhere too, and they're really cool. They even go "beep". Would be fun to have one at home.

#3 お疲れ様 ("otsukaresama") literally means "you must be tired" or something similar, but is really a stock expression that doesn't have a straight translation. The implied meaning is that you must have worked hard or endured a lot, and it's finally over for now. It's the stock phrase to anybody that leaves work at night for instance.

#4 Protip: cover your pillow with a fluffy towel after something like this. Unless you like washing blood stains from your pillow covers.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

On the impermanence of the online life.

Google is discontinuing Google Reader, a service I, and many others, have been using to follow large amounts of RSS feeds. It got "spring cleaned", as it's isn't a core part of their online business. Fair enough, though a major pain for me.

Also, Google just announced Google Keep, an online note-taking and keeping service. This is not part of their core business either, and was preceded by Google Notebook, which was much the same thing but discontinued about a year ago. In my mind it's not a matter of if  Keep will disappear, but when. Just Like Google Notebook or Google Reader — Or, for that matter, Apple Me; all cloud companies do this.

I rely on Gmail Tasks, but that overlaps quite a bit with Keep. And it has not seen any updates or attention in a long time. Google Sites, which I use for a landing page, is similarly semi-abandoned, so both seem destined for the trash heap shortly. If you rely on Tasks or Sites directly or for syncing apps you probably need to look into alternatives very soon.

A specialized online service like Evernote will not cancel their main product of course, so they may seem safer. But they can go bankrupt; they can get bought up and disappeared (Evernote for Windows phones only?); and they can change direction, turning their app into something you don't need and don't want. With online-based systems we have no control.

We have no control. When it's online, when it's in the cloud, all decisions are out of our hands. Fair enough, you might say; it's these companies that foot the bill. True, but that doesn't change the basic fact that you can't rely on online services for anything that is really important. And especially so if it will be important for years to come.

I'm not thinking about games or social media or things like that. We can lose our G+, Twitter or Facebook accounts without losing anything very important. But would you want to keep your financial records or email love letters from your wife with an online service that might not be around next year? If you deposit hard-won experimental data to an online repository — or make use of data stored there — can you really trust you can access it in twenty years?

I'm also becoming afraid of the trend towards computers or software that can only be used online. Google Chrome is the prime example — I would never rely on it for anything of importance as you can't know any of the tools are available a few years from now — but Apple and Microsoft is rapidly moving in the same direction.

I realize that I'm more exposed to this problem than I like. Some online things like Google+ or file sharing are either just fun diversions or generic and easy to replace. But this Blogger blog or my Flickr account would be very painful to lose. It would be a lot of work to move somewhere else, and I'd lose all the links and regular visitors. Gmail would also be painful, but it's more or less the public junk drawer of my online life, so abandoning it would probably turn out as a blessing in disguise.

So, what to do? From now on I will make a point of using mainly offline tools when I can. Desktop notes rather than online, for instance, and choose applications that sync in a generic or standardized way, rather than rely on a single company's service.

For things that must be online, I think that perhaps a server of my own might not be a bad idea. A debian server image with my own domain name can be hosted anywhere; could even keep it at home, though we'd have to change our ISP for that. I could have a photo gallery and a mirror of my blog there, along with a calendar, RSS reader, home page and file synchronization. With my own domain name, I could replace most of Gmail with my own address, and leave Gmail for public-facing junk. I wouldn't replace this blog or other online things so much as keep a live back-up just in case.

Has anybody set up something like that? I want to regain control over my digital live; I'm not sure of the best way to do so.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Permanent Residency

I've just returned from the immigration center in Osaka, where I received my permanent residency permit. This makes me happy.

So far I've stayed here on Researcher or Professor visas. They are time-limited — usually to one or three years — and tied to your employer. I can work only in research or teaching1, and if I don't have a job when it's time to renew it I'm out of luck.

The permanent residency permit doesn't normally expire. You can take any job, with a few limits2, and you're not dependent on a guarantor for staying here. For many purposes you have the same rights and obligations as a citizen. Also, people will take you a bit more seriously in some situations; it's apparently easier to qualify for loans and to find a job when people know you intend to be here for the long term.

I don't normally have to renew the permit, and with the new immigration system the permit is only recorded on your residence card so I don't have to do anything when I renew my passport. The residence card has to be renewed every seven years but I can certainly live with that. I can leave Japan for up to a year, and with a re-entry permit I could live abroad for three years at a time without losing the residency.

To get the permit you must have lived here for ten years or longer; not been arrested; and been working, paying taxes and earning enough to support yourself. If you're married to a Japanese citizen you can get permanent residency without the ten-year time and without fulfilling all other requirements. As I'm married to Ritsuko it didn't matter that I've been here only nine years so far.

We applied last June and got it now in March, so it took about nine months. It can apparently go as fast as six months or take up to a year, so it's important that you keep your normal visa up to date while you wait. I think there are seasonal aspects to this; going over New Year probably slows down the process, and I suspect it's not a coincidence that I received it in mid-march, when people try to clear out work before the end of the fiscal year.

It's not really difficult to apply for it yourself, but it involves a lot of forms and documents and a fair amount of legwork. We chose to hire a paralegal rather than do it all ourselves. Basically, he made sure to get all supporting documents, filled in all forms correctly and made sure the office would be satisfied. We only had to check the finished forms and visit the immigration office once to submit the application. To me it was well worth it to avoid the stress and having to take time off work multiple times.

So, am I here for good? We'll stay here in Japan, but for how long we can't know. At least until retirement is my guess — but then, I thought I'd return to Sweden after one year when I first arrived, and see how that turned out. And if anything, permanent residency would make it easier to leave, since you can stay abroad for years without losing your right to return as long as you have a valid re-entry permit.

Having permanent residency is convenient of course. and it can be useful for job hunting and things like that. But what this mostly means to me is peace of mind and a sense of stability. My life here with Ritsuko just got a little more permanent, and that makes me happy.

Me, feeling very peace of mindy. Aren't you happy you let this guy into the country?

#1 I get asked to sell rights to a picture now and again but usually turn people down, partially for this reason. I'm technically not allowed to make a living as a photographer, and the rules seem fuzzy enough that I'd rather not take a chance on this. The other reason, by the way, is the difficulty of receiving small payments from abroad. The only way I've found are bank transfers, and the transfer charge is almost as much as the typical cost of an image license.

#2 The exception is public-sector jobs limited to Japanese citizens only. It surprisingly includes grade- and high-school teachers, while anybody can teach or do research at national universities. Come to think of it, this is generally the case: grade-school teachers need years of training and practice, while any PhD student with a pulse can lecture at a university.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bangkok (at long last)

So, we went to Bangkok over the New Year holidays and I thought I'd post-

— what, you're writing about that now? It's freaking March already!

— Um, so it's a bit late, I know. But I took a lot of pictures that needed to be sorted and processed. I had to scan some as well, and my scanning software was acting up.

— It took you three months to crop a few pictures!?

— It wasn't just the pictures, you know. I switched jobs in November and I've been working on two projects at the same time since then. That takes a lot of time. Also, Ingress.

— OK, so your work is taking up a lot of time. And Ingress is your daily exercise, pretty much. But still, months?

— I know, I know. The thing is, once something is late, it will remain late. No matter what I do, it won't be on time again. So I've been doing other other things that aren't yet late instead, and putting this off. Truth be told I'm a bit embarrassed about this too, and that just makes it even later.

— But posting about the trip now? You don't think that's just too late? Nobody's going to be interested.

— I still want to post some of the pictures. They don't grow old. How about this: I skip the long explanations and just do a picture post?

— Sounds OK I guess. But do be a bit more timely next time, won't you?

Where was I? Ah, yes: So, we went to Bangkok over the New Year holidays, and I thought I'd post some of the pictures here. In short, we stayed at a resort-style hotel in Bangkok itself, and spent the days mostly walking about the city. Over the New Years Eve we had dinner atthe hotel; not as exciting as joining the crowds in the city center, but not as exhausting either.

Pool - Morning
The hotel was a resort hotel, despite being in the city, so it had a fair-sized garden and a large pool. Of course, this being a resort, the pool chairs filled up very early; I only got this picture because we arrived in Bangkok before dawn, and none of the other guests had risen when we came to the hotel.

Pool - Night
The pool was very pleasant at night as well. Good place to relax after a day out on the town.

Taxi Boats
Bangkok has several canals, and they're trafficked by fast, narrow canal boats. They're cheap, convenient and much faster than sitting stuck in traffic. They apparently run well out into the suburbs, so a lot of people use these for their commute.

It does take a bit of courage to use these boats the first time. There's no plank or stairs so you clamber over the railing, and the boat just barely stops long enough for people to jump on or off. Fortunately a young office worker on her way to town explained things to us, and even helped us get off at the right stop.

Canal Boat
The boats are fast and the canals are narrow, so you often get high waves when two boats meet. The blue tarps protect people from getting soaked, and are actually operated by the passengers; you can see the man in the foreground holding a line that keeps the tarp up on his side. It's probably not a good idea to forget to pull your line when a large wave hits the boat. Not if you want to stay on the good side of the other passengers at least.

It's a dog's life
It's a dog's life on a bike.

Head, Arm
The Headless Arm. A clothing store was rearranging mannequins.

MBK is a huge electronics shopping mall. Great place — it seems you can find anything. There's a whole row of photography stores with lenses and professional lighting equipment; and I'm insanely envious that there's multiple chains of phone shops where you can just pick any phone that strikes your fancy, then use it with the provider you want.

And yet, I did not buy a single thing. The reason is that, surprisingly to me, Thailand is a lot more expensive for this kind of stuff than Japan. For instance, Ritsuko bought a really cheap Canon pocket camera in Osaka for about 7k yen; we wanted something we wouldn't mind if it broke. Exactly the same camera is twice as much in Bangkok. I also looked at a few Pentax lenses in the 100-150k range, and again, the Bangkok price was 50-70% higher than Osaka.

If you live in Thailand and looking to buy a high-level camera and a couple of lenses, you could probably take a vacation in Osaka or Tokyo, buy the gear there and end up spending less in total than you would have by buying it in Bangkok. You'd get your camera gear with a vacation in Japan thrown in for free.

Sorry For The Inconvenience
Why is the escalator inconvenient? Beats me.

No shirt, no problem. Bangkok side street.

Paper Distribution Central
Newspaper distribution center.

Fried Ananas Rice
The food is a major reason to visit Thailand. This is a simple stir-fry with pineapple, served in the remaining shell. Refreshing.

Tom Yam Kung
The iconic Tom Yam soup, here at a street-side restaurant.

Fruit Stand
Fruit stands are everywhere along the streets. Not really sure if it's a good idea if you're new in Bangkok and haven't adapted to the local bacteria yet, but I had no problems.

Starters at the New Year dinner.

Leo Beer
Thailand seems to have three major beer brands: Singha, Chang and Leo (made by the same brewery as Singha). Of the three, Leo is cheapest and seems to be the most downmarket. The other two are available here in Osaka, while Leo is not. Which is a shame, because I found Leo to be the tastiest of the three, with the best balance of sweetness and bitterness.

Stir Fry

Evening Meal
Evening meals at a street-side restaurant.

Among the best food we had was a Lebanese lunch on New Years day. Here hummus, and in the background Tabouli, a parsley salad. It's always a good sign when an ethnic restaurant has customers from the same culture, and this one had several middle-eastern families eating a weekend lunch. It was delicious.

Trash Bag Buddha
Trash bag Buddha.

Tools For Sale
Tools for sale. I doubt they come with receipts.

Nighttime Traffic
Night-time traffic jam.

Guardian outside a closed shop in the Khao-san area. Probably just there to make sure no drunk tourists throw up outside the store.

Along the Track
Along the tracks. No, this line is not in use.

As always we brought a few things back home. This time we brought mostly Thai foods, including jams, curry and soup bases, spices and rice (Thai rice is expensive in Japan); but also Swedish crisp-bread (difficult to find in Osaka for some reason), durian chips and and sweets. Among the non-food stuff we got skirts and t-shirts, spoons and a Tom Yam soup hotpot. And if Thailand hadn't been so expensive, I'd have probably brought back some electronic toys as well.