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.