Friday, October 21, 2011

Steve Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright and Coco Chanel.

Good Evening Everyone,
Much, probably too much, has been written of Steve Jobs' life, death and the further trials and tribulations of Apple, but as a recovering Apple evangelist (ca 1988), I feel the need to spend some electrons on it.

While it is not a term in common use any more, I suspect that a classical writing of history would put Jobs in the "Great Man" category, though perhaps with a better family life than the typical Great Man. A revisionist would spend all of his time focused on the foibles and failings of Jobs, pointing out that he was a perfectionist, an information control freak, and an intellectual bully. Gawker has a fairly detailed story on the downsides of interacting with Jobs, and if you get tired of all of the wedding cake flavored obituaries, have a look.

For me, though, the emotional connection to Jobs shows that the world lost an artist a little over two weeks ago, one that affected much of our everyday life. Anyone involved in the computer industry knows that Gates was the better businessman, Wozniak a superior engineer, Kay a better researcher, Kapor the leader in charitable work (though Gates has done well recently)...but Jobs was Frank Lloyd Wright dealing with civil engineers, or Coco Chanel working with seamstresses. His taste, and his taste alone, mattered.

Apple, in Jobs 2.0, could see the opportunity to take drab beige boxes and make them colorful, combining software, hardware and music together to create and dominate the portable music market, and after twenty years of hearing about how gorilla arm made touchscreens unusable, building a mediocre phone but awesome palmsized computer, followed by the smashing success of the iPad....not a bad run for a guy who took time off from computing to go build a movie business and get rich all over again by selling it to Disney.

RIP Steve. I never knew you, but my life is better for it all the same.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chili and the Church of BBQ

Howdy Folks,

When it comes to both BBQ (also barbeque) and chili, I have to say that I'm a lover, not a fighter. I worship at the church of BBQ and will take chili with beans or without beans for communion. For y'all who didn't grow up in the South, or in Texas, or think that I'm some sort of pervert, allow me to explain...

When people talk about chili in Texas, there is frequently a discussion about whether or not beans can be in real Texas chili. Now, no one is ever quite sure just what, exactly, real Texas chili is, but beans are definitely a sticking point with many. Actually, I take it back. Just like a real religious debate, everyone is sure that they have the unique revelation from on-high about just what real Texas chili is. The anti-bean folks can get quite worked up about it, but to me, there are only a few required parts:

  • Spicy spices (I use chili peppers, garlic and cayenne)
  • Tomatoes of some sort
  • Beef (preferably fatty, as leaner cuts don't provide enough flavor)
Cinnamon, peas or other clearly unnatural substances are, however, wholly unnatural and against god's will vis-a-vis chili. If it's got cinnamon in it, it might be tasty, but chili it ain't. 

Now, while chili is perhaps a soup of the gods, BBQ is nearer and dearer to my heart and waist line. Unfortunately, though, "To Barbecue" is a term often used by unlearned peoples to indicate "cooking outside on grill". Those of us fortunate enough to know better, however, know that hot dogs and hamburgers do not a BBQ make. Unfortunately, the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of BBQ also has its own religious wars underway.

First and foremost, there is "beef vs pork". A silly argument, implying you can't have both. The meat argument is often followed by  "dry vs. wet" (without sauce vs. with sauce). After that, there are arguments about "mustard vs. tomato" sauces, and that's before you get into entire sub-genres of arguments of types of rub, hickory smoked vs. mesquite smoked and what-have-you. Peh. Do wine connoiseurs argue whether red wine is better than white, Pinot Noir better than Cabernet Sauvingon? Perhaps, but if so they are short-sighted idiots. I'm a simple man to keep happy--I'll take a big slice of brisket, a pig sandwich and whatever else ya'll have...and tomorrow, I plan to attend a noon service at a church in Yokohama.

Good Eats Y'all!

PS Found this from the former CTO of Microsoft discussing a trip to a few Texas BBQ spots:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tokyo disaster planning: with Pics!

Good Evening Y'all,

Since things have been busy in the day job, it's been tough to keep up with my once per fortnight target blog posting, so hope to make it up to both of my dedicated followers. Post-quake, while we didn't have any materially negative effects, we did identify a number of things that we could improve in our planning in the event we had to either (a) head for home quickly or (b) get out of the house with a minute's notice or so.
After thinking about it, and combining some camping gear with red cross backpacks, here is what we ended up with:

After thinking about it, and combining some camping gear with red cross backpacks, here is what we ended up with:

  • A leatherman multi-tool that includes everything from a bottle opener (for those pesky, non-twist off bottles) to a sharp knife, the leatherman is light, compact and makes you feel like a boy scout even if you believe that the great outdoors should stay outside. This particular version comes with a penlight as well. In the same picture, there are also two hand-crank LED flashlights, and while the light bulb won't warm the hand like the old incandescent lights, they hold a charge for several hours after getting cranked. 
  • This all-purpose radio (with slightly more limited Japan capability than I would like, but fine in AM bands) is also hand crank, and designed for outdoor use. For those of us who care more afraid of  dying of boredom after a life changing event, this handcrank radio provides (a) exercise (b) music, assuming that radio stations are cooperative and (c) a USB port that you can use as a cell phone charger for smartphones. Oh, and it has a headphone jack, so you can jam away without having all of the neighbors who evacuated with you demand your head.

  • While not the height of fashion unless "grey" is in this year, the emergency ponchos are lightweight, and should keep you both warm and dry in the event of unplanned excitement. Add to that two survival blankets, and should provide some protection from nasty climate.
  • A small first aid kit with some bandaids, two light sticks, K rats (well, ok, calorie bars) and a couple of masks round out the "grab and go" packs.
Not pictured: Lots of water that makes up about half of the packs, because it is absolutely, incredibly boring.

Missing items that I plan to add: Asthma inhaler, more complete first aid (especially non-aspirin cold medicine, decongestants. antihistamines and antibacterial cream). Spare pair of eyeglasses. Shoelaces and/or other rope (I like shoelaces because they are multi-purpose). Duct tape. Matches and/or lighter.

Missing items that I may add: PHS phone, since no one is on the network, it would be nice to be generally reachable. Spare shoes.

Items My (retired military) Dad Thinks Are Missing: Man portable missile weapons, predominantly utilizing gunpowder, both of the concealable and non-concealable variety. Ammunition for same. Camo ponchos and two-way radio. Helicopter. (OK, I"m making one of these up. I'll let y'all guess which one.) 

I'm curious, folks: What do y'allhave in your disaster kits? Anything obvious that I left out?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I'm Fixin' to talk to y'all...all of y'all...

Howdy Folks,

For those of y'all used to earthquake news and whatever, sorry that today's post will instead explore the intersection of English, Ainglish and Texan, specifically the brilliance of "y'all". While those from the left and/or right coasts of the US, and, in fact, in Texas public schools, the English teachers explain the second person plural as being "you", despite the fact that the second person singular is also you.

Now, as a people not inclined to create unnecessary complexity, the second person plural became not you, but "y'all", a logical contraction of "you all" (I find it unlikely that it originated as "Your Awl", as Awl wasn't important in the great state until Spindletop). And, noticing that even the second person plural was vague in the case of greater than two other people, "all of y'all" came into existence, a form which I refer to as the "second person superlative plural". In this case, it is clear that the entire group being addressed is included. Now, no proper language explanation ever ends without examples, so, if addressing a football team:

"Y'all over here on the left. Y'all are offense. Y'all need to score."
"Y'all over here on the right. Y'all are defense. Y'all need to really stick 'em."
"Now, all of y'all go out there and kick some *. "

Questions? Comments? Random acts of literature? Feel free to post below....

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tokyo: The new Abnormal part II...

Good Evening Everyone,
This post has been edited because I wasn't that happy with it after posting. I have now reached "happy enough". I hope that the "happy enough" feeling is contagious.
The New Abnormal:
  • Every time I hear high pitched chimes, I automatically assume that there is an earthquake en route, since those chimes are what the radio uses to notify you that the early warning system has gone off.
  • My daughter has a solid understanding of what earthquake means, and how to hide under the table, but is not really clear on what "scary" means. "Earthquakes are scary," she says, smiling. Very different than monster muppets, where she hides her face and goes quickly for a hug.
  • When I saw a facebook post from a buddy that he had walked the entire Yamanote line loop (about 40 km), my assumption was not "This is some Oxfam charity thing", but instead "Oh, wonder how long it was shut down."
One severely undercovered story on the Tokyo effects of the quake was just how well Tokyo building codes and engineering held up to the shaking. When I look out my window each morning, my daughter and I play "count the cranes on the skyline", starting with the ones closet to us...not only did none of the ones we could see fall down, I have heard of more cranes falling in Houston than in Tokyo in the past three or four years.

Not all was good in the world of construction, though. In the suburbs and exurbs around Tokyo, there was substantial liquefaction damage (If you went to church, you know that the foolish man built his house upon the sand, but they didn't mention that it turned to water during an earthquake).  The stats for the damage are at the daily yomiuri, or for a picture of what a manhole looks like when soil turns to water, you can click through.

Finally, I had an interview with AOL-Huffpost about TEPCO condolence money that I really didn't think was controversial...but then again, I'm rational, or at least I tell myself that at night before bed. The text of my e-mail (later covered in actual phone conversation) follows:
OK, I haven't followed the details[on compensation by Tepco to affected communities], but it is imperative to separate radiation poisoning (ie what is going on at the plant, presumably, and could kill you in hours or days if you aren't wearing a spacesuit) from higher levels of radiation exposure, which increases your risk of cancer. 

Assuming that the payments are for the latter, this seems similar to what tobacco companies in the US did in the following suit:

Now, that [tobacco] was a court case and so absolved them of further liability, and the Tepco payments do not as they are "mimaikin", but it is unclear to me how this is different in principle or in practice, or is even particularly Japanese--excepting, perhaps, the willingness to pre-emptively take some sort of liability without a court of law requiring it.
Some of the one-liners in the phone conversation are more interesting "...It's not that TEPCO is a big evil empire that's going to come and lay waste to their farms. ...", but the content is roughly the same as the e-mail.
As always, I welcome comments, feedback, questions and other random acts. Spambots and those computers lacking personality not welcome.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tokyo: The new Abnormal

Good Evening Everyone,

Well, it's been three weeks since we went back to work post-earthquake. Japan has largely been off the front page of the news, with the exception of the planned Tepco nuclear fix utilizing edible kindergarten paste and paper machie, and for those of us in Tokyo, life goes on. Bread is back on the shelves, no more shortages of eggs or milk, or at least not in my neighborhood, and the earthquake relief efforts go on. We have a lot of water, which is unnecessary scientifically, but helpful emotionally.

Radiation and Science and Other stuff
On the radiation front, there has been some good and/or interesting news, such as "Hong Kong Radiation Exceeds that of Tokyo", which despite being published on April 1, looks true to me. The NY Times, after a somewhat shrill start, has really done some good reporting on radiation dangers and not, along with a not quite brand new career in atomic forensics, leading to the new Jerry Bruckheimer show, "CSI: Fukushima". (OK, I made the last bit up). Finally, for the ubergeek, we have the Radiation Dose chart.

Things that have changed for me:
Ignoring the fact that the first thing I did each morning for two weeks was check a Tokyo Geiger counter web site, I have found that I no longer trust my inner ear. Going up stairs, or otherwise consistently shifting my weight leads to a "hmm, is that an earthquake or am I just off-balance/not as young as I used to be". If you haven't seen the Japan Quake map (and the 900+ quakes we've had since March 11), well, you aren't the quake geek that I am.

I sure know that we know a lot about radiation except when we don't. Or, put another way, neither government will announce the additional cancer risk that is being provided within a given "exclusion zone" or "evacuation radius" or whatever. It makes it tough to make a rational decision, so I usually just revert to first principles (and online Geiger counters).

I am pretty sure that the risk of distributing KI (Potassium Iodide) tablets outweighs the risk of substantial exposure in Tokyo (people who are allergic to shellfish in particular are at increased risk from KI, at least if the words "anaphylactic shock" qualify as increased risk).

This summer will be bad news for the greater Tokyo area, and (probably) the Japanese economy as a whole. While I am a long term Japan bull, losing a quarter of your power during the height of air conditioner season is going to be painful, and unless we are lucky (think "Global Cooling"), domestic production is going to get hammered this year, and there are going to be substantial knock-on effects throughout the economy.

Business continuity planning for a number of our customers has gone through the roof, and so we look to be quite busy getting ahead of this summer's blackouts.

Otherwise, though, things are basically normal.

Things I'm grateful for:

  • My family is safe, warm and reasonably happy.
  • A large outpouring of concern from family and friends, some of whom I haven't heard from in years.
  • Tokyo remains a great place to live, work and eat...and with the lower levels of foreigners, it was easier to get a table at popular restaurants for the last two-three weeks.
  • The US government assigned a smart, turned-on FoO (Friend of Obama) as ambassador here. He has been on youtube regularly, and has been up to visit several of the shelters in the north.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Modest Proposal

Good Morning Everyone,

For those of you in the Tokyo community, you are probably aware of the new slang "Flyjin", a derivative of "Gaijin", parodying those that chose to leave for other parts. The WSJ has a solid article discussing both "Flyjin" and the operational challenges of bridging a gap between those who stayed and those who left.

As I've said several times, the right decision is the one that puts an individual and his/her family in the best emotional state, as the greatest damage from the Fukushima issues in Tokyo will likely be stress related. [Caveat: If the leader of an organization departed without ensuring that employees and customers were being taken care of, I think that is Leadership Meltdown.]

A Modest Proposal:
So, for those of you that left, whether Flyjin or not, I have a modest proposal: Take the same amount of money that you and/or your family spent on your vacation (albeit unplanned) and donate that to one or more of the charities that are doing good work up in Tohoku. Help out the some of the 450,000+ people who are homeless and/or have lost family members.

For those of you that didn't leave, you're ahead of the game. Donating the amount you didn't spend to fly you and your family somewhere else should be easy, as I am confident that you would have spent it if your personal safety or emotional state required it. Help out the survivors that are living in shelters get their lives back on track.

We will be donating both at work and as individuals and I hope all of you will as well. Ganbare Nippon!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mr. Wizard and Dr. Strangelove share a Perrier

Good Evening,

On some days, writing this blog, I feel like I'm writing for Mr. Wizard's world, as presented by Dr. Strangelove or vice versa. At this point, everyone has presumably heard about the radioactive drinking water, declared unfit for babies at "twice the maximum levels". If not, a couple of good articles are the NY Times article on tap water (good factual reporting with consistent explanations for adults vs. infants) and NPR's article on "contaminated milk".  If you have read the latter, let's just say it's a much greater number of milk glasses than it ever took the owl to get to the center of the tootsie pop...

OK, so now the Mr. Wizard Strangelove bit:

The reactor shutdown properly last Friday, the 11th. It is now Wednesday, the 23rd. Post Chernobyl, the brilliant folks in the life sciences field found that Iodine-131, a particularly radioactive version of Iodine, was the primary health issue. People typically have an iodine shortage in their thyroid (no big deal typically), so when this particular version shows up, the thyroid drinks itself full.

I-131 has an 8.2 day half life. The last time any was produced at this plant was over a week ago, so it means that there is 50% less to worry about then when the earthquake hit. If the current level is about 200  becquerel, and 100  becquerel (I keep thinking "baklava") is safe for children (300 is safe for adults), then 8.2 days from now the problem is 100% gone away. Risk level is increased thyroid cancer years in the future, as opposed to radiation poisoning now. (Most of this data comes from when the US was testing A-bombs in the atmosphere and not really thinking about the random particles strewn across creation).
More good news: If you're over 40, this is unlikely to matter at all! Nice to be loved by mother nature....

Theory on where did this come from anyway:
I don't know for sure, but I believe that we are just seeing run-off from the rainstorm a day and a half back, possibly from the release last Tuesday, the 15th. It's been a while since I've studied hydrology, but it makes sense that the northernmost water filtration plant might be seeing some excitement as rain falls and runs downhill.

Will continue to experience shortages in the oh-so-critical bottled water supply, and encourage people to drink beer, wine and unfrozen drinks. Will soon read about "increased levels of radiation in the water supply", which will have zero effects on anyone including the fish.

For us, we think (a) these amounts shouldn't matter and (b) our activated carbon filtration systems will take care of this, but carefully consumed wine and beer this evening just to be safe, while our little one enjoyed more fruit juice than normal.

Good details on how and why the US Embassy acted vis-a-vis dependents

Good Morning Everyone,

I've been spending a little time with the family over the three day weekend (in Tokyo), so the blog has been quiet...and largely because there hasn't been much to report.

Kudos to the US Embassy for detailed clarification on both (a) why families and dependents were allowed to leave and (b) that there are more people at the embassy working now than before the earthquake. My favorite quote:
Our employees remain in country, and we are absolutely open for business – in fact, the number of people working at the Embassy now is much larger than before the earthquake due to the number of experts who have arrived from the United States to augment our operations in these difficult times. We look forward to our dependents returning to Japan once the situation has eased.

A few other observations:

  • Aftershocks really continue to rattle the nerves. Had two more this morning, and while it is kind of fun for our little one to play the "hide under the table" game, her Mom and I are both tired of it.
  • If Dad happens to be retired military, and you ask for disaster recovery plans, plan to spend some thoughtful time sorting through the advice. It's great stuff, Dad, but will take us a little while to work into our earthquake bags.
  • There are about 450,000 people homeless due to the earthquake. If you haven't made a donation to the charity of your choice, please donate for Japan disaster relief here.
Otherwise, for many of us, as one of my clients said, it is "Business as Unusual". We're open, doing what we can to make things as normal as possible for everyone. As always, if there is anything that we can do to help out, personally or professionally, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I told all of y'all before that I would post my recommendation on donations. Well, here it is. The entire contribution will go to families affected (ie no operational overhead), and I will be personally involved in the distribution as a Vice President of the ACCJ. Both my company and I personally will be donating as well.

For those of you outside of Japan:
Via PayPal (outside of Japan only): ACCJ PayPal account: “”
[Paypal may charge a slight overhead, but it's cheaper than international bank transfer and easier]

For those of you in Japan:Transfer to ACCJ Bank Account:
Mizuho Bank (0001)
Kamiyacho Branch (146)
Current (Toza) # 0052534
Name of Account : ACCJ or ザイニチベイコクショウコウカイギショ

For full details:

Finally, an update on those folks who have made it so far:

Giving the Security Blanket back to JR: More good and reasoned news

Good Afternoon Everyone,

I mentioned before that we had tickets to Kansai as a security blanket. Well, we're returning the blanket today. It helped us sleep a bit better last night and our friends running the geiger counters have continued to show us that no news is good news, so thanks JR! I'm happy to pay the cancellation charges.

Also, thanks to my friends in FEMA and the DHS about reassuring me that my math and risk calculations were on-target vis-a-vis radiation. Those midnight phone calls can occasionally be reassuring. 

In keeping with the good news spirit:

Decent amount of business activity (still!), so the only other post you might see today (JST) will be charitable contribution related.

The things that haven't happened to us and the Boots Cooper story

Good Morning Folks,

Busy morning, much of it actually business related, so sorry for not posting more and taking care of business.

I appreciate the feedback from all of y'all, both who have advised me to pack up and head for the hills and those who have said "cool, we're here too and doing the math". It's all about what keeps your personal/family stress minimized. I do think that the popularity of Freakonomics has helped here--any book which points out that guns don't typically kill children in the US (very rare) where swimming pools do (relatively common) gets people grounded.

Here are the things that have not happened:

1) We have not been in a car wreck.
2) No one has died from an allergic reaction from food.
3) None of us have slipped in the bathroom and hurt ourselves, fallen down the stairs, or poked our collectives eyes out with pencils or scissors.

None of those relatively high probability events have happened.
Excerpted from Molly Ivins quoting John Henry Faulk
Johnny used to tell a story about when he was a Texas Ranger, a captain in fact. He was seven at the time. His friend Boots Cooper, who was six, was sheriff, and the two of them used to do a lot of heavy law enforcement out behind the Faulk place in south Austin. One day Johnny's mama, having two such fine officers on the place, asked them to go down to the hen house and rout out the chicken snake that had been doing some damage there.Johnny and Boots loped down to the hen house on their trusty brooms (which they tethered outside) and commenced to search for the snake. They went all through the nests on the bottom shelf of the hen house and couldn't find it, so the both of them stood on tippy-toes to look on the top shelf. I myself have never been nose-to-nose with a chicken snake, but I always took Johnny's word for it that it will just scare the living shit out of you. Scared those boys so bad that they both tried to exit the hen house at the same time, doing considerable damage to both themselves and the door.Johnny's mama, Miz Faulk, was a kindly lady, but watching all this, it struck her funny. She was still laughin' when the captain and the sheriff trailed back up to the front porch. "Boys, boys, " said Miz Faulk, "what is wrong with you? You know perfectly well a chicken snake cannot hurt you."That's when Boots Cooper made his semi-immortal observation. "Yes ma'am," he said, "but there's some things'll scare you so bad, you hurt yourself.
So, that's our plan. We will continue to not hurt ourselves. If the family takes a trip to the grandparents, well, we do that a couple of times a year. We accept that risk. And if it helps the family sleep better, that's probably worth a few positive probability points in our favor.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buying a Security Blanket: More on the Embassy Announcement: I'm STILL NOT LEAVING

Good Evening Folks,

I'm a little bit too tired to do a good article on political game theory, but I will point out that politically, doing something is generally rewarded over "doing nothing", even when doing nothing would be better than doing something. But perhaps I digress. Here is the note:
[additional conference call transcript that I found after returning home tonight tha tis much, much more clear than the original announcement:]

In an earlier post, I mentioned that you do whatever keeps your family emotionally in the clear and happy first and foremost. I also said we were definitely staying. After the numerous emails received from non-working embassy dependents saying "we are being forced to evacuate" (inaccurate, at least according to the posts above), and the rumor mill going around about large companies relocating operations to Kansai (for indefinite time periods) and/or having no employees come to the office, we were facing some uncertainty at home.

So we bought a security blanket. Three tickets for Kansai, where my in-laws live, which are for my wife, my daughter (who is three) and my wife's sister, on Saturday March 19th. So, I guess in the big picture, we're not that scared, but continue to be nervous. For the record, though  I'M NOT LEAVING. I am stressed, no question. Somewhat ironically, I have probably done more damage to myself dealing with stress(have a look at how poor my diet has been) that way than I'm likely to have from Fukushima...

Now, these tickets are refundable, but in the same way those people who didn't buy groceries because they knew that the bulk of the logistics system was sound got hosed for a few days (because everyone else bought out the stores), we were acting using our animal, rather than our rational brains. Mea culpa on that....but between the well meaning notes, the incessant "lack of new information news", along with the calls from the people at the airport today offering to take our three year old out with them, we figured that time at the grandparents might be soothing. A security blanket doesn't do anything but (a) potentially keep you warm and (b) sooth the nerves. That's what we're buying.

By the way, I'm still going to work tomorrow. We're still open for business. I wish I could do more, but that's where things are at now. If/when we cancel them tomorrow/Saturday, I'll be sure to post.

Advance notice: I am planning to go to Australia for 10 days at the first part of Golden Week, booked it in February, so please don't hold that against me. I love the Hunter Valley wines...hmm, I wonder if this also qualifies as high risk behavior?

On Stress and Happiness

It's been a long day and evening, and I certainly have a run-on keyboard tonight. 

The top ten things that let me know I'm more stressed than usual:

1) Have eaten french fries 4 times since Friday. I normally eat them once/month, tops, as a special treat, as those things are deadly.
2) While I'm sloppily sentimental, it's usually for movies. In fact, my wife has started to point out to my daugher that "Daddy is about to get all teary" in movies in normal times. Now, though, I'd swear I'm pregnant. Occasional e-mails and comments from people make me all bleary-eyed, and when a customer sent us e-mail today to say not only they were renewing but the appreciated our dedication and support and were renewing for five years, our normally somewhat clean office became really, really dusty. Must be kafunsho (hay fever).
3) Can't focus very well on important things like billing and accounting (not too much non-emergency selling right now--we have had some of that), and spend most of my work time on Facebook and blogging.
4) Confused "doing something positive" with "Studying nuclear reactors to try and figure out how long those babies need to cool down."
5) Related to (3) and (4), trying to see how hard it would be to explain a nuclear reactor meltdown by comparing it to your typical Texas BBQ pit.
6) Have strong desire for any or all of the following: 
(a) Tex Mex. Proper Tex Mex, not to be confused with typical Tex-Mex in Tokyo. Unfortunately, it's a long plane flight away.
(b) BBQ, and not just because I'm trying to figure out how cladding overheating in one of the Fukushima plants is kind of like the paint on the barrel catching fire.
(c) Chicken fried steak, with cream gravy on mashed potatoes.
7) I keep forgetting that we're still in allergy season, so that I should wear a mask. No, it's not for fallout....
8) Can only get to 8 on a top ten list :-).

US Embassy Allows Voluntary Departure of eligible family members

Good Afternoon,
In the not really the news department, but in a pre-emptive strike on inaccurate headlines, 

US Embassy update: 
"[we have] authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya, and the Foreign Service Institute Field School in Yokohama."

Now, if I were paid by the click, the headline would read "US Embassy Family Members Depart Tokyo". 

Radiation Effects, Cancer Scares, and Concerned Citizens

Good Morning Everyone,

Thanks to all of you who took me up on the opportunity to call and chat. For the record, I am recommending you do whatever is appropriate for your personal peace of mind. My family and I sat down and went through the likely risks associated with both travel and staying put, and decided to stay put. YMMV.

Now, here are some really great links that I've run across--good, solid reporting without lots of exclamation marks in the headlines. Kudos go (not surprisingly) to Bloomberg for providing actual, useful information about radiation exposure in Tokyo.

MIT has done a great job, ranging from:



I give F- reporting grades to CNN so far--superior skills at scaring Moms back at home, but inferior when it comes to science reporting. Even one of the better interviews I saw emphasized the worst possible outcome, as opposed to the worst likely outcome (not to be confused with the most likely outcome).

Update from PBXL: Open offer to help

Good Morning Tokyo,

We (PBXL) sent out the following letter to all of our customers last night, in both Japanese and English. The English text is below:
Dear Valued Customer,
March 16, 2011

We hope that you, your family, friends and colleagues are safe from the tragic earthquake that struck last Friday.

For our part, we are pleased to report that the PBXL team suffered no injuries, and has largely resumed normal operations.

I am also happy to report that our infrastructure survived last week’s earthquake with minimal impact to customer services. If you have suffered hardware damage, please contact us and we will be happy to work with you to replace it. If you need to set up forwarding or need a temporary softphone for an employee who cannot make it to the office, please let us know.

Our data centers currently are excluded from the rolling blackout areas, and have substantial on-site power generation capabilities. As such, we do not believe that you will see a service impact due to the recent earthquake and related power disruptions, and will update you if the situation is expected to change.

We appreciate your understanding and cooperation, and please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have.

For technical support, [support e-mail removed to avoid spam]
continues to be appropriate. For general account inquiries, [sales e-mail removed to avoid spam] should be fine.
If any of you wish to speak to me directly, my direct line is 03-4550-1604.

Finally, you may have heard about foreigners leaving Japan in this time of crisis. I know I have seen this on NHK. My personal opinion is that friends, neighbors and colleagues support each other at times like these, so I want you to know that if there is anything that we can do, whether personally or professionally for you or your company, please let us know.


Jim Weisser
Co-Founder and President, PBXL

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I'm staying in Tokyo with my family....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Tokyo Japan
Jim Weisser
Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Dear Everyone,

I very much appreciate both the outpouring of concern and support from you, including the numerous offers of places to stay, sleep and so forth. For the record, though, I'm staying in Tokyo, as are the rest of my family. This choice is just for us, though, and I don't expect everyone to agree with it, or to make the same decision. For those of you in Tokyo, that is up to you and your family. If you are in Fukushima, evacuate please. 250 km or so is a material difference, and besides, I'd rather know that Tepco didn't have to worry about you.

I've posted separately on the earthquake, but suffice it to say it was scary. Following that, it went from scary to inconvenient when the trains were largely shut down, et cetera, and it remains at inconvenient now, with the power plants shut down and occasional blackouts in different parts of Tokyo. Business is slow at the moment, though our customers are largely up and running, and we are happy to support them.

Now, for why I'm not rushing out of Tokyo--reading only CNN or NPR (my default sources), I should have run for the hills, but being (originally at least) an engineer, I started looking for hard data. Here's what I found:

1) A really cool online geiger counter. Turns out that the baseline radiation we have been seeing during this excitement in Tokyo is less than San Francisco typically experiences.

2) Tokyo, so far, at peak, has received an equivalent dose of radiation to 1/50 or so of a chest x-ray, or eating a banana. In other words, no more risk than we receive in the course of everyday life.

3) Nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs have materially different designs. Nuclear reactors, to use a technical term, can't go "Kablooie" like nuclear bombs. I'll have more on this in a separate post, once I get more cool science terms, like "SCRAMMING". Pop quiz for the day: How many people died at the 3 mile island nuclear incident?

4) Polling the American companies in the room at the ACCJ board meeting, the vast majority were between "Business as usual" and "Business as usual with a little flex time".

5) Yes, many shelfs are kind of bare. There is definitely a self-fulfilling prophecy component to this kind of reaction--hard to get ramen, toilet paper or rice. Fortunately, we don't need any of these things in the immediate future.

More to come, and happy to have comments and questions,

Don't Panic: Jim's Facebook Post: Updated with Brave New Links

Hi Everyone,
OK, trying to consolidate everything (consolidating a couple of my FB posts):
1) Don't panic. If you're in Tokyo, you're fine. If you're not, well, trains are generally running but taxis are harder to get than normal.

2) I've collected everything that I liked on the nuke reporting. It's below.

3) The geiger counter below @1130 am on 3/15/2011 has a bit of a jump. While the jump is scary, we're still not anywhere near a bad place. When it gets to 100, we've had the equivalent of 1/100 (or maybe 1/50) of a chest X-ray. Given that I had a catscan two weeks ago, I've done worse to myself recently.  

 4) Really cool link on background radiation. Cannot vouch for accuracy with certainty, but my cursory reading says OK: 

5) Some of the worst reporting I have seen comes courtesy of NPR and CNN. Not necessarily because of the actual interviews, but because the headlines read "Meltdown possible" instead of "Meltdown viewed as extremely unlikely" or whatever or "Meltdown bad for TEPCO stock but won't affect you". I think, but am not certain, that meltdown is a term like "injury", where it can range from "Sprained ankle" to "likely to die in the next week".  

Remember, "NEWS" is a business, and the first headline gets you clicks and links, while the second gets "Oh, right" and no one reads any further. Kudos to the Washington Post for having done better, at least as far as I can tell:

[snipped possibly questionable MIT scientific posts] 

Interview with MIT scientist on the reactor:

Geiger counter in Tokyo for those of you who are debating about returning:
100 CPM = approximately 1 microSv/hour 

Fukushima reactor summary from earlier:

1) Reactor core overheated due to no power post-earthquake, and backup generators going offline. I wondered if it was the steam get too hot and overpressurinig the outer containment facility.
2) Evacuating 20 km radius (have also seen 10 km radius, think that has been superceded) from the plant NOT due to the release, but because they are planning to do additional work on the containment structure and "just to be sure".
3) Radiation released so far in the superheated steam was about 1.5 milliSv  (at the release point) The USDA recommended amount of radiation is 1.0 milliSv/year. 1.5 millisSV is also the same amount of additional radiation you pick up flying 125,000 miles in a year, so it's really about a long term increased cancer risk, not bone marrow damage tomorrow.
4) Currently, core protection seems to be ok, while the explosion did do some damage to the containment.
5) Tokyo is something like 250 km away.

More on "How much radiation will kill you":

A Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On: Tokyo Earthquake, March 11, 2011

Tokyo has been experiencing some minor earthquakes for the past couple of days--one I didn't feel on Wednesday the 9th, and one that I did on Thursday the 10th. I don't know if they were related or not, but today's quake happened about 1445 local time, when I was in Omotesando/Gaienmae on the 14th floor of a somewhat old building. It started out shaking, and we thought it was just a typical quake--yes, I suppose we should have been under desks or whatever, but you get blase about these things.

After it had gone on, and gotten worse for 30-45 seconds (typical quakes are under 10), my buddy went out to make sure his staff were ok. I guess it was good that he did, since some of the filing cabinets were starting to roll and the drawers pop out. We somewhat stupidly held up the cabinets, preventing them from falling at a time when we probably should have been under a desk at a bare minimum. People in the office were screaming and clearly not happy with life.

While I haven't confirmed it, the rocking and rolling went on for about three or four minutes, which approaches a lifetime when you are holding off an aggressive filing cabinet. It subsided, and then we checked to make sure everyone was ok, and started to head out. The building was either still shaking or my inner ear was a bit confused--I felt like I had consumed a few stiff drinks as my feet weren't going exactly where I expected them to on the floor. We found the stairs and went down the 14 flights, noticing that several of the stairs were gapped a bit differently than normal. That, combined with the large vertical crack in the wall of the office (at least we couldn't see outside) encouraged me to get a move on when the first aftershocks hit. At this time, mobile Internet was working ok (e-mail and facebook, as I'm not a twit), but SMS and cell voice were completely out. Landlines seemed to be working ok, and for the first time in 15 years I saw people waiting in line at pay phones. All the subways were stopped, as were the trains, and taxis were completely full.

Walking back to the office took the better part of an hour, and when I saw a bus in Roppongi heading towards Kamiyacho, I hopped on. Soon it was full enough that it would stop at a bus stop, tell people "sorry, we're full" and keep moving--a first for me in Tokyo.
Get on the bus!
I got off, bought some donuts to take to the office for sustenance, both moral and physical, and went in. Everyone was ok (I'd confirmed that before leaving the building in Omotesando), but shaken. I was pleased to find out that all of our customers were up, and that we had handled the spike in phone traffic without any capacity problems (OK, I'm a network geek even in this kind of situation. So sue me). Everyone had the choice of leaving basically then, or hanging in the office, enjoying donuts and tea and leaving at a convenient time.

I called my gal on her landline and let her know that I would handle picking up Miss A, and walked down to the day care to do the pick up. All of the kids were huddled in a little circle with the teachers, wearing some sort of soft hat (around a third of the office workers were wearing hard hats, which are standard issue emergency equipment in tokyo). The report from the teachers was that (a) Miss A was scared like everyone else and that (b) as usual, she asked for seconds at oyatsu (snack) time. Good to know that the all important kilter was not thrown off!

And then we walked! It just so happened that Uncle S''s office was on the way home, so we stopped there for a visit, not realizing that Koh had already left the office, and then (having called the office and found she left a while ago) played catch up for a bit. Miss A was a real trooper--walked most of three km before deciding that she was cold and needed to be carried (and she agreed to ride on shoulders, which is good since I can no longer arm carry her more than a couple hundred meters--28 lbs of little gal is a lot). We sang the totoro song for a good chunk of the way, mixed it up with some Mr. Rogers, made up some songs with funny words and sounds, and watched completely full buses pass us by and then get passed by us. Stopped by a supermarket, discovered that the line inside was longer than we were likely to spend walking the rest of the way home, so bought a banana at the convenience store next door and kept moving.
Have banana will travel
Ran into/caught up with Koh about 400 m from home, to which Miss A said "Mommy, have you been at work? Why? With Mickey?" (We're into questions now, especially why) Continued the rest of the way home, and confirmed that we had lost one wine glass (a heavy vase fell on it), had a bookshelf barf it's contents (and shelfs) on the floor, but were otherwise fine.

Watching the news, we can see that there is a refinery fire in Chiba (think Pasadena vs. downtown houston for those of you familiar with it) and Odaiba telecom center (can't think of a relevant comparison, but not amazingly close) seems to have a fire that may come from some of the power capacity there, but I don't know. Family and friends wise, everyone seems to be fine, and we're just praying for the people up north in Sendai.

Thanks to all of y'all for the kind notes, and will be signing off for tonight soon.

PS Over the course of the last eight hours, we found the following network experiences:
1) The Internet rocks. Wireless Internet was consistently good, even from mobile access. Them folks who designed for spotty network access sure knew what they were doing!
2) Facebook is actually useful for broadcast messages and other updates.
3) SMS is not useful for the first 3-4 hours.
4) Cell phones are useless for voice.
5) Landlines are still largely useful, but you still need to call a few times.
6) GPS has, at best, marginal value at this time, as the access network was too crowded for useful access. Lots of timeouts. Google maps/equivalent and printers ruled, though--stopped several times to help someone better understand their map, as I've walked this route before for fun rather than need.

PPS To Whom It May concern: Catfish with active tail | tectonic plates | earthquake gods, enough with the aftershocks already. I'm tired and ready for a good night's sleep.

Some Numbers and Common Sense: Thanks to Andy A of the Moonshots!

People who left Tokyo and got on an airplane have already exposed themselves to more than 3 X the radiation than they would have had they stayed in town. Some numbers to keep things in perspective:

One hour in Tokyo today: .809 microsieverts
One hour in Cornwall, UK (lots of granite) normally: 1.2 microsieverts
One hour in an airplane: 3 microsieverts
Chest X-Ray: 100-200 microsieverts
One hour at the front gate of Fukushima, 8:30AM today: 8,217 microsieverts (8.2 millisieverts)
Hospital CT Scan: 12,000-25,000 microsieverts (12-15 millisieverts)

We are monitoring the situation continuously. The US Ambassador is staying in Tokyo. Another friend said that the French have left only because they could not find someone to surrender to.