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.