Friday, December 8, 2017

Network! And make my commute more entertaining.

So it's decided: fiber installation — including drilling holes into the building elevator shaft — will happen January 22nd.

On one hand: Yay! On the other: another month without fixed-line internet. Oh well; my brother suggests viewing it as a form of detox. And maybe he's right - if I can't be without all-I-can-eat high-speed internet, then perhaps it's good for me to be without for a while.

Meanwhile, let's talk about cars. Or more accurately, commuting in cars, and making that time if not fun then at least bearable. Your options for entertainment is frankly pretty limited when you're supposed to be driving. Can't read, can't sleep, can't practice the ukulele.

But you can listen to things. And what I listen to is podcasts. Bespoke radio programs, usually on very well defined subjects. So I thought I'd introduce my favourite podcasts here, then ask you for any good ones I should know about. I haven't, for instance, managed to find any Japanese-language podcasts that I find interesting; if you know of one, let me know.

English Podcasts

  • In Our Time.

    This is a weekly BBC radio show, available as a podcast. In short, each week the host and a few invited guests discuss a subject, usually something with a historical connection. Subjects have ranged from the ancient Greek city of Thebes; Picasso's painting Guernica; Kants Categorical imperative; Purgatory; and bird migration.

    And if you think these subjects sound dry, even fussy, think again. This is the BBC we're talking about. Almost every episode I've heard has been absolutely fascinating; even - I'd say especially - the hard-core historical ones such as the Congress of Vienna that I knew nothing at all about (historical education in Sweden being what it is). If anything I'd say the science episodes are the weakest ones.

    This is one podcast you really owe it to yourself to follow.

  • Embedded

    A podcast by a husband and wife team of developers, ostensibly about embedded computing — you know, industrial computers, control loops, internet of things and so on. In practice the subject matter is much more eclectic — and more interesting — than that.

    Each episode is a well-done interview with somebody connected to embedded computing or making in some way, but the hosts manage to find some very interesting people, and while the discussions are centered around computing in some form it can easily stray into music, books, working life and so on.

    If you're into computing you should follow this. Oh, and don't mix this up with another podcast called "Embedded" that's apparently more of a current news show.

  • IRL: Online Life is Real Life

    A podcast from Mozilla about technology in general and the net in particular — but from a social perspective, not a technical one. Privacy issues, social media, online harassment, "fake news" and so forth. The first couple of episodes were a little rough, but it's matured into a really interesting, very well made podcast. It finished its first season this fall, and the next season should start in a few months.

  • Steal The Stars

    This is not a recurring podcast. It is, instead, a self-contained science fiction drama in 14 episodes that ran over last summer. The story was fun, the acting was great, and the production is really high quality. This was the rare thing where I was impatiently waiting for the next episode to be released already so I could find out what happens.

    All the episodes have aired, so you can listen through them at your own pace. And you should; this was a high point of my commute last summer. And I hope TOR books will create more dramas like this.

  • Ubuntu Podcast

    If you use Ubuntu Linux (or, really, any Linux variant), this is a fun, well-made weekly news and talk show about events in the Linux world. They cover both big events and small things (neat new utilities and whatnot) in a very entertaining manner. And unlike many ensemble podcasts, it never devolves into multiple people all talking at once (hard or impossible to understand when you're not a native speaker).

Swedish Podcasts

  • Vetandets Värld

    A Swedish weekly radio show, it is similar to In Our Time in a way, but with shorter episodes (20 minutes rather than 40), and with the focus decidedly on science rather than art or history. This one, too, is a high-quality production with (usually) interesting subjects each week. Around this time of year they tend to focus a lot on the work of Nobel price winners, but the rest of the year it's a fairly eclectic mix of subjects.

  • Språket

    Another Swedish radio program available as a podcast. The Swedish language in all its forms, with a linguist and with listener questions. It can be more than a bit uneven, but when it's good it can be really good.

There you have it: a list of podcasts well worth listening to. I do subscribe to a fair number of other podcasts but the rest are too uneven for me to recommend outright. I've also tried and rejected any number of others.

You can find all these from their homepage, or from an aggregator such as gPodder, iTUnes, and, lately, Spotify. They'll have links to feeds that you can put in a podcast app or RSS reader. You'll then be able to list, download and queue episodes right in the app, and you'll get notified of new episodes automagically.

If you have any tips for other high-quality podcasts, please let me know.

Friday, December 1, 2017


We've had our new apartment for two months now, and lived there for one, all without internet. We could get some kind of connection pretty fast (through the cable-tv company for instance), but we really want a real fiber connection. The problem is that it's on the 11th floor of an old, complicated building with mostly offices, not apartments, so actually running cable through all of it is very non-trivial.

An NTT tech came by a few weeks ago and did a thorough examination of the different possible routes. The old cable canals are long since overfull with stuff, but he determined they could run the fiber through the elevator shaft. Problem is, they'd need to drill a hole from the shaft into our apartment, and that would of course need approval from building management, and approval would be all but certain.

But a couple of days ago we got the go-ahead from the building manager. So we will get fiber at home again after all! Now, the fiber installation people are heavily booked, so we won't see them before New Year, and I suspect it may not happen until February. We're looking at another couple of months without a real internet connection.

Meanwhile, we've managed to sort of find solutions. Our mobile data plans are basically a 3GB data allotment each month, with unused data rolling over to the next. But even without the high-speed connection enabled we have an unlimited use of a really slow 128kbit/s connection. And I can of course tether my laptop to the phone, and get connected that way.

128k is not fast. But it is surprisingly useful. Forget any kind of video, music and most image-related stuff. But if you stick with mostly text, and you carefully block ads, then a lot of the web is useable.

Email and chat works fine; google, most news sites, Stackoverflow and the like are all about as smooth as ever. Reddit is fine on the desktop, but the mobile app is not (crappy app). Voice-only hangouts work fine - voice audio compresses really well. SSH access to remote machines is no problem, and git could probably use smoke signals if you let it.

On the other hand: no YouTube, no Spotify, no video clips or images from family or posting my own images online, no online gaming. Searching for recipes, how-tos and that sort of thing is hopeless as that's all going to heavy websites with lots of images and video. Can't do remote backups or transfer significant data.

So yes, I miss my high-speed connection, and I eagerly await its return. But meanwhile, it turns out we're not quite so disconnected as I thought we'd be.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Moving house and visiting Denver

We've moved house again. Just 500 meters or so, mind you; we're not leaving Okinawa or anything. When we moved to Okinawa last year we had to pick an apartment in a hurry, and while the one we found is quite good, it was only meant to be a temporary place. We've now had a year to search for something that will fit us better, and last weekend we moved in.

No pictures yet; the place still looks like a giant magical giraffe with stomach ache poked her snout through the window and threw up a truck-full of furniture and cardboard boxes into the living room. It's getting better but it will be some time before we're fully settled in.

Also no internet. We'd like to get a fiber connection, but we still don't even know if it's possible or if we have to settle for cable internet. Either way we probably won't get connected before the new year. Life without the net feels strangely like play-acting an earlier era, as if we should darn socks and churn our own butter by candlelight as well.

The new place is a bit larger and much brighter. I get a room of my own, and Ritsuko gets a bedroom without computers, oscilloscopes and random electronic junk. That's a win-win situation right there. It's on an upper floor without a garden so there's less insects and less humidity. It's also noisier, but that's what you get for living in the city center. No place is perfect.

We have a few of these tiny (the body is only 2-3cm) geckos as co-tenants. They apparently like living here and they don't seem to mind us very much. They're cute, and they eat any insects that stray inside. Good neighbours.

In other happenings, I'm going to Denver, the 1.609344 kilometer-high city, on Saturday. We're attending Supercomputing 2017 — and for the first time in forever I'll attend a major conference without having to present anything! Much relax, very relief. I can just go to seminars and workshops (I'm focusing on application software and user training) and not have to worry about giving my own talk.

I haven't been to USA in 20 years so it should be fun, although I'm a bit (and perhaps irrationally) wary about immigration control when we arrive. The overall impression you get from the news is not overwhelmingly positive if I put it that way. I also need to find my winter clothes in our disaster zone of a home before I leave. Now let's see how much swag I manage to collect while I'm there...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Typhoon #22

Typhoon time again. Typhoon #22 is passing right over Okinawa main island and Naha right now. It's our second typhoon in two weeks, but the previous one didn't get that close so the effect was limited. This one is pretty weak, but a weak typhoon is still a typhoon, and it's right above us so we get fairly heavy rains and gusts of wind strong enough to pick people off their feet. You're not going outside while this is happening.

Typhoon #22, going almost right over Naha.

Everything is closed, of course, and all public events are cancelled. The not-so-informal yardstick on Okinawa are the buses: when the bus companies cancel the bus service everything closes. It's a convenient signal and a practical necessity; if buses can't run, neither can cars or any other public transport, and you can't open the office or the shop when your employees can't get to work.

In our back yard, a couple of ornamental trees in the neighbours yard have fallen into ours. There'll be some cleaning up to do after this one. Our main problem, though, is that we're moving (only about 500 meters; we're not leaving Okinawa), and we were supposed to bring all the small stuff to the new place this weekend. That's not going to happen in this weather.

Some plants and ornamental trees have fallen in the yard. I know it's a bad picture, but I'd need to go outside to get good shots and both Ritsuko and common sense puts a definite stop to that.

The typhoon is pretty small so the weather should improve by tonight, and we can probably cart the stuff over to the new place tomorrow. We'll spend Saturday packing, cooking and listening to the wind and the rain. Oh, and drinking a beer or two, in Okinawan tradition.

Monday, August 21, 2017


I have a fun job. So fun, in fact, that I've been tooling away on a small work-related programming project in my spare time. I enjoy programming, and this is an opportunity to create something useful and learn something along the way.

I call it Ruse (from "resource use"), and you use it to measure the time and memory a program will actually use as it runs. Specifically, it's made for jobs on compute clusters, rather than desktop software. Compute jobs can run for days or weeks, and use hundreds of GB of memory in the process.

Ruse measures memory in the same way that Slurm (the job scheduler we use at work) does, so you can directly use the results to estimate the amount of memory and time your jobs will need.

The initial version is done, and I've just released version 1.0. You'll find a tar package there that should be easy to build on any Linux machine. Just remember that this really is for profiling apps that run for hours at a time; you're not going to get very sensible results for any short-lived program.

If you do try it out, let me know. Any feedback will help make it better.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Old Faithful

This, here, is my beard trimmer:

A Philips "philishave" beard trimmer.

It's a Philips trimmer specifically for facial hair, and it's broken. I bought it in the mid-1990's; this thing lasted me for 21 years.

The battery gave up ten years ago, so I've used it plugged in since then. The motor did start to make some odd noises over the past year, and finally, a few weeks ago, the mechanism that moves the comb snapped, making it impossible to adjust the trim length.

21 years is an eternity for consumer devices like this. 21 years ago, the web was only starting to become popular. CRT televisions and monitors were still common. The smartphone didn't even exist. I could lose half my fingers in a bizarre knife-juggling accident and still count the number of electrical devices that lasted this long on a single hand.

My wife, ever the practical one, pointed out that a new trimmer costs only a few thousand yen. And repairing and maintaining old devices may be a worthwhile hobby, but it's only a matter of time until this one will get stuck in my beard or set it on fire. Neither of which would be conducive to a professional appearance at work the next day.

So I finally gave it up. The trimmer went to the Electrical Goods Store In The Sky, and I got myself a new trimmer. There's several makers and lots of models out there, but, really - 21 years of good service? No price for guessing what brand I bought this time around. And yes, I'm happy with the new trimmer so far.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Not All Bad

I've been complaining here lately. About the weather, mould, cars and family matters. You might get the impression we're not as happy here as we could be. Fortunately, that is not true. Life here has it's occasional issues, but it has many positives as well.

I really enjoy snorkelling. And Okinawa is one of the best places in the world for snorkelling and diving. You can of course drive down to a beach on the main island and snorkel from there. We do that now and again, and it's nice to get into the water on a hot summer day, but with the exception of a few spots the views aren't really spectacular. Instead the best areas are on other, smaller islands. And the closest is the Kerama islands, close enough to Okinawa island that you can clearly see them from the Naha seaside.

You can go there by yourself. Take a ferry to Tokashiki or Zamami, then rent a car or bicycle to get around. Perhaps stay overnight. But you'll spend a lot of time just getting around and looking for good places. Great if you want to explore the islands.

If you don't have that much time to spend, or if you simply want to get to a good spot and snorkel, you can instead book a tour from Naha, and get to a guaranteed good spot in less than thirty minutes for no more money that you'd had spent on ferry and transportation. Also, the tours can take you to spots away from the coast that you just can't reach by yourself, and an organized tour is safer should something happen.

We went on such a tour Saturday two weeks ago. It's pretty relaxed; you get down to the harbour in the morning, get on the boat, and they give you equipment and explain things if you don't have your own mask, snorkel or fins. The boat stops right at the spot, and you get an hour and a half in the water before it's time to return to Naha. We left after breakfast and returned home just in time for a shower and lunch.

Table coral.

Yellow coral just under the water line.

I seem to have attracted an observer.

Yellow coral with some inhabitants.

A closer look.

Many areas are teeming with sealife.

A few other coral species. Some sea anemones too,
but I didn't get a good picture.

Sea star.

Giant clam.

Another closeup of the coral.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Forget Habu (I've yet to see one). Forget cone snails, stone fish, sea snakes and blue-ringed octopii(1). You can even leave typhoons, ants and the flying cockroaches(3) aside. Our biggest problem here is mould. Our fine, fuzzy, fungal friends are fabulous when they age cheese, make soy sauce or ferment sake, but when it starts growing all around the house it becomes a headache.

Okinawa is hot and Okinawa is wet. It rains a lot, and it's very humid. 30° temperatures with 80-100% humidity is of course perfect conditions for moulds and other fungi.

Hazy, wet summer day. It's not "real" rain; it's just so humid the water starts to condense right out of the air.

Everything here will grow mouldy within days unless you're careful. Dry foods, cutting boards and kitchen tools, window seals, laundry, even stainless steel racks ­— anything with dark cracks or hidden corners can go mouldy within days or hours.

The bathroom is easy: scrub the shower and bathroom with anti-mould spray once a week (and the bathroom gets all nice and clean too). But you can't use those anti-fungal chemicals in the kitchen or on dry goods; all you can do is clean often, and try to keep things dry.

Foods go bad quickly. Once you've opened a sealed jar or bag, store it in the fridge. That includes dry pantry goods such as pasta, flour, rice, spices and tea. Salt is safe from mould but will turn into a solid rock from the humidity, so that, too, goes into the fridge. Bread and coffee beans go into the freezer. There is no such thing as a "too big refrigerator" here.

You need to air all bedclothes, including the mattresses, every day, or they'll get mouldy; floor mattresses are better than beds here. You don't want to leave wet laundry in the washing machine or it'll go bad within a few hours. A washing machine with a timer and an unheated air-dry function is a really good idea.

We got a dehumidifier for the bedroom/work room last year, and that's perhaps the best thing we've ever bought. We leave it running all day, every day when we're not in there. We try to keep books and other sensitive things in that room, and so far we've managed to avoid any water damage or mould.

Camera gear is very sensitive. Once you get mould in a lens, it's ruined — the mould permanently damages the glass surfaces, and you can't ever really get it out again. I keep the gear in the bedroom and so far the dehumidifier has kept it clean. Still, I may have to get a separate dry-storage cabinet at some point.

I think we'll also need to get a second dehumidifier for the main room. It's not as critical as the bedroom, but better safe than sorry. A bump on our electricity bill is a lot less painful than trying to remove some black mould infection out of the couch.

I keep thinking, though: in aquariums, people keep catfishes. They happily eat the algae that grow on the glass and rocks, and keep the aquarium clean while being a cool inhabitant. And people keep goats to remove weeds and brambles.

Isn't there some animal that similarly eats mould? Perhaps something cute that you can keep as a pet? Any geneticist our there looking for a nice, flashy project might want to take notice and try to produce a catfish-guinea pig hybrid or something. A glamour-mag publication is almost guaranteed ­— if it's cute, you might even get the cover!

Ah well, until the happy day when Rodney the Guinea-fish arrives to lick fungi off our apartment walls (while emitting, I imagine, happy chirping sounds), we'll just have to keep after it ourselves.

#1 Octopisces? Octopussies? 2×octopus=sedecpus! 3×octopus=quattuorvigintpus!(2)

#2 The plural forms "octopuses", "octopi" and "octopodes" are all considered correct, either due to grammar regularity (octopodes) or actual usage (octopuses and octopi). The others, not so much.

#3 Yes, they fly. But they're pretty small, slim and silvery; nothing like the regular squat, wide, brown cockroaches. I honestly don't mind these much.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

On Film

The rainy season is upon us. We get days with heavy rain alternating with perfect, beautiful sunshine. Which, come to think of it, is not all that different from the weather the rest of the year.

Anyway, I've finally gotten to the point here where I can start developing and scanning film again. It's far from ideal — I have to develop sitting on the shower floor — but it's at least doable. I don't know of any place that will develop medium-format colour film in Okinawa, but the Kamera no Kitamura chain will accept it and send it to the mainland for processing. Good enough.

I've only just started looking at the pictures from our Golden Week vacation in Osaka; meanwhile, here's what I've managed to take over the past winter here in Okinawa. They really look better large, so please click through for larger versions.

Arrival. Naha Airport.


Kilns in Kawaramachi district, Naha.

Resting spot in the kimono sellers quarter of Makishi market.

Naha side street.

The Convention Center in Ginowan.

A wintery beach in Ginowan.


"Bar Kiriko". Old entertainment area in Naha.

Abandoned car near Kokusai street.

Gasoline stand, Naha.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Car Life, Year 1

It's exactly a year today since I got my Japanese driver's license, and my "beginner" mark is coming off. It's also seven months with the Toyota Aqua; here some early impressions of life with a car here in Okinawa.

Beginner mark.

The Toyota Aqua

The Aqua is a hybrid compact car, tailor-made for daily commutes. It's small — fits in any parking space — and economical, and safer than a kei-car, with features such as side airbags, collision detection, lane warnings and so on. It's big enough for four people or a fair bit of luggage if needed, but really perfect for one to two people or a couple with a baby.

The Toyota Aqua.

When we got the Aqua I hadn't driven a car for over twenty years. I was astounded just how easy cars are to drive today. You press the pedal and it goes. There's no gear-shift, no clutch, no choke, no anything. Starting on a steep uphill slope? The car stops itself from rolling down when you release the brake. Backing up? The rear camera outlines where the car will go. Need to go somewhere? The navigator will guide you.

It will easily reach 100km/h — the practical top speed on Okinawas only highway — and fuel economy is good. My total average over the past seven months is just about 30km per liter or .33 liters per 10km. It varies quite a lot, though. The engine needs to warm up, so short trips use more fuel. Tire pressure and weather makes a noticeable difference, and I get much better mileage from routes I know well than when we're going somewhere new.

The Aqua is not an exciting car. If cars are your hobby you won't find much to like about it. It goes where it should with little fuss, maximal predictability and minimal excitement. It's as useful and dependable as a refrigerator, and just as thrilling. That is fine. Just like our fridge is our appliance for keeping food fresh, the Aqua is our appliance for getting around. A boring commute is a good commute; it means I arrived on time, with no problems.

Driving in Okinawa


The pachinko business in Japan is certainly at the forefront of pushing the bounds of architectural creativity, if not of good taste.

Unlike the big Japanese population centers, Okinawa doesn't have a great public transportation system. The bus network is fine for short trips, but slow and unreliable for long distances. Bicycles are hampered by the hilly terrain and the hot, humid and unpredictable weather. Taxis are relatively inexpensive but still not something you can afford to use on a daily basis.

That means most people have to drive whether they want to or not, so there's a lot of less-than-excellent drivers around. I freely admit I'm one of them. It also means traffic can get very congested on the few big roads on the island.

Morning sunlight near Sunabe.

Speeding is everywhere. For some reason, Okinawan roads have quite low speed limits. A straight, wide 4-lane road that would have a limit of 70 or even 90 km/h back in Sweden is here perhaps only 50. Also, while all speeding is illegal, the penalties are very mild up to 20km/h over the limit — one point off the license and a 10-15k yen fine. The police are much more concerned with drunk driving and serious offences so they will mostly ignore moderate speeding.

That means just about everybody is speeding. The actual speed on Okinawan roads is generally the posted limit + 15-20km/h. Even police cars are speeding along with everybody else. The only exceptions are driving school students; trucks and delivery vans that follow a company policy of keeping close to the speed limit; and some elderly drivers.

Speaking of elderly drivers, and of new drivers such as myself: the "beginner" mark I've been using, and the "disabled" and "elderly driver" marks, are a great idea. All new drivers have to use the beginner mark for the first year, while drivers over 65 can use the elderly driver mark if they want to.

The "Elderly driver" fourclover.

They warn other drivers that your experience, reaction time, cognitive capability or perception is lacking so you need a bit more leeway to drive safely. If a driver gets into an accident with you, they will be held to a higher level of responsibility because of your status. It really seems to work; people do give these cars a bit more space. I know I do myself.

This is a button. It's in every car. In some places it's called a "hazard light". On Okinawa this is the "instant parking space" button, and it's magical. Wherever you stop — no matter how busy or inconvenient — the moment you press this button the spot turns into your personal parking space.

The magical "make parking space" button.

It could be one lane on the main artery during rush hour, in a sharp bend over the top of a hill, or completely blocking a narrow one-way road — it doesn't matter; once you press that button it becomes your parking space. Quite amazing, really, what we can do with technology these days.

Drunk driving is a big problem here. It's of course connected to the lack of public transportation, combined with a culture of regular social drinking. One solution: daiko, or drive-home taxis. They exist elsewhere in Japan too, but are very common here. You call a daiko service, and two drivers show up in a small car. One of them drives your car and the other follows in theirs, while you ride along as a passenger in your own car.

They're more expensive than regular taxis, but not by that much — they're subsidized I believe. If you're not living that far away, and if you share the cost with 2-3 other people, it can be very economical.

Rush hour traffic along Route 58 is actually not too bad if the weather is cooperating and nothing happens. If I leave work at six it takes me 1:25-30 or so to get home, compared to 1:10-15 if I leave at six thirty. The problem is that if something happens — an accident, a concert or some other event — then the rush hour time can easily become two hours.

Leon Eri Dance School. Taken while I was stuck in an endless jam in Ginowan. I absolutely love the typography.

On Friday evenings, there's always things happening, and the traffic is always hideously slow, so I take the highway.  It costs 650 yen each time, but it's worth it to get home in just over an hour instead of two hours or more.

But overall, Okinawa is a good place to drive. Most drivers aren't stressed or rushed, and the pace is fairly relaxed. People are tolerant, give each other space, let each other in and generally cooperate even when the traffic grinds to a complete halt.

About Driving

People say a car broadens your horizons, and they're right. We get to many places we otherwise couldn't. We often go to farmers markets, beaches and restaurants that we really couldn't reach otherwise. The markets especially is a great place for very inexpensive, insanely fresh seasonal ingredients. It's a lot of fun.

Palm trees in the morning.

But a car is also terribly inconvenient. It's a bulky, expensive, dangerous machine that needs constant maintenance and attention. When you drive, you need to be awake, alert and focused — no reading, dozing off or daydreaming. Driving really is wasted time. You can't suddenly stop or change direction because you saw a neat-looking cafe or something.  And parking is always a problem.

The car hurts my photography. There's lots of photo opportunities here — I have a list of cool spots longer than my arm already — but in a car I can never just stop, take a picture, then be on my way. It means ten-minutes of finding some place to get off the road, turn around and go back, then find a place to stop so I can walk over to the spot. By that time the scene is already long gone.

This cloud line one morning was absolutely unbelievable. It stayed completely straight and unmixed for over an hour.

But I need to get to work, and we want to explore the island. Until we get self-driving cars, driving is the only reasonable way. There is hope though; here's a YouTube clip of a self-driving Nissan Leaf that goes all through busy London — on highways, roundabouts and busy city streets — in the rain all by itself, without any driver input. Seriously, it is already a better driver than I am. And they (optimistically) aim to have something like it for sale in 2020. If they really do, I'd be sorely tempted to trade in the Aqua...

Sunday, March 12, 2017


So we've been to Sweden for a week. Not for holidays unfortunately, but for a family funeral. It was nothing sudden, it didn't come as a surprise, but still you hope the people you love will never leave, and it's heart-wrenching when they do. The far-flung family members all got together again for the first time in years, and this was fun even though the circumstances were not. I even got to meet a relative I never before knew existed.

Yes, this looks great. Too cold for me, nowadays. Borlänge train station.

I never used to have any problems with the cold in winter. In fact, I always rather liked wintertime — the white snow, the crisp air, the peace and quiet. But many years in Osaka, and six months in Okinawa must have softened me up. It was only -5 degrees and I was freezing. I will never complain about the winter in Okinawa ever again.

Now why did I ever leave Borlänge? Oh yes, now I remember: it's a small industrial town in the middle of a forest, with nothing much but trees and mosquitos to keep you company.

My employer OIST gave me another reason to appreciate them. They give you up to a full seven days of leave for this sort of occasion. Travelling from Naha to Borlänge takes three flights and a train ride, about 26-30 hours in all even if you do the whole trip in one go. Had I had just the more common three days it would have been impossible impossible to attend the funeral as well as talk things over with the other family members.

We spent one evening in Stockholm. Too cold for walking around, but I managed a few pictures before my hands started freezing solid.

Finnair is probably the most convenient way between Okinawa and Scandinavia.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Premium Friday

So, "Premium Friday" is upon us. We're supposed to leave work at three pm the last friday of the month, to (presumably) spend the time  — and our money — in shops, restaurants, izakayas and bars. The idea is the brainchild of the Japanese government and various consumer companies (The name is completely non-coincidentally similar to "Premium Malts", a popular beer).

Japanese workers spend far too much time working, and spend too little money when they don't. Premium Friday is supposed to curb working hours a little, and get people to spend a bit of money out on the town instead of saving it all for their kids' university tuition or retirement.

How is it going? The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that champions the idea doesn't even give their own employees clear permission to leave early, that's how well it's going. Some companies do give paid leave but many companies say — sensibly — that if somebody wants to leave early they can take flex-time and make it up later, or take a few hours out of their yearly vacation time.

It's too early to say, but the idea may look dead in the water. Why do they try this sort of thing? Because the long, inefficient, work hours and the unwillingness to spend have become major problems for Japanese society and economy.

The real solutions to these problems are either intractable or politically unworkable. It would mean wholesale reform of employment laws; redesign the pension and social security systems; and spread the economic and social burden on education and senior care just for a start.

That'd be a very tall order indeed. The different stakeholders all have different, incompatible ideas of how to change each of these institutions. My home country Sweden only managed to reform its pension system because of an acute financial crisis (as in "500% interest and currency in free-fall"). I doubt real reform will be possible in Japan either without a similar sense of impending disaster.

Meanwhile the clamour to "do something" is growing steadily louder. And the ministries — like every organization faced with a crisis — realize that doing nothing is worse than doing "something", whatever "something" may be. And so we get "Premium Friday". A campaign at least looks like doing something, which is better than doing nothing even if the end result is the same.

But if Premium Friday fails, the blame will at least mostly be on all those companies that wanted something done but then refused to give their own workers permission to participate. They're the ones that are forcing those too-long working hours on their employees in the first place after all.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The darkest days

We have to leave for Sweden over next week or so to attend to a family matter. Not the best time of year for visiting Scandinavia, in the cold and the dark. To cheer myself up a little, here's a few pictures from last summer that I never got around to post here.

Kobe harbour

Kawanishi warehouses. The sacks are coffee beans.

Fishing on the pier.

Shogi players near Tennouji, Osaka.

Cool Biz, Osaka.

Shinsaibashi, Osaka.

Baseball players at dusk, Naha.

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.