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NPR's Intelligence Squared

So now that my daily commute involves trains again, I've been listening to a lot of podcasts. The kindle is also a great thing for trains, but for a short 8 minute train commute followed by much walking, sometimes in the dark, audio is the way to go. Anyway, while casting around for other podcasts to check out, I came across NPR series covering Intelligence Squared. Intelligence Squared pisses me off somewhat. They tout themselves as "Oxford style debating" as though they're above the fray of your average TV talkshow brawl like say Bill Maher or Bill O'Reilly (what is with the Bills and shouting?). Granted I watch as little of O'Reilly as possible so I can't be sure that's accurate, but I feel that that's what they're going for. But these guys on NPR shout each other down, use their "debate" time to push personal agendas (I'm looking at you Phil Gramm and Arthur Laffer), exploit the limited debate time to deny their opponents the chance to prove their lies/half-truths wrong ("I think you're wrong." "No, I think you're wrong." has come up more than once. But more often it's just you hear someone laying out a load of crap, and one of the other panelists goes "Tch" or the audience even audibly groans, and lie #1 gets ignored because it's closely followed by even more inflammatory remark #2 that simply has to be dealt with first) and the moderator (an ABC news guy himself) never calls them on it. Most frustrating of all, they play on fears so heavily (like for example in "Treat Terrorists Like Enemy Combatants, Not Criminals." Michael Hayden and Marc Thiessen use every possible opportunity and invent some of their own to implore people to relive their to fears of 9/11 and/or fear another incident of the same), I feel like I could be listening to CNN or some such crap. The most disheartening part is that the audience polls show you that their cheap tricks work, and the conservative crazy people usually "win" the debate (as counted by "number of audience members that changed their opinions." Ya right). Anyone who accuses NPR of "liberal bias" simply has not listened to them...

I dunno. I'm on the fence as to whether this one stays in the permanent podcast cycle along side such greats as "Wait, wait... don't tell me!" and "The Naked Scientists." (The Nature Podcast is often good, Freakonomics used to be good but lately the production value seems to have gone down, and "It's all politics" makes a nice complement to the Daily Show ;)

Fukushima Nuclear news and fear-mongering

I don't actually like posting long stuff on facebook, so I'm going to try reviving Livejournal.

First of all, is a good summary of events up to now, and stays fairly current about current status. This morning nothing much has changed, which depending on how you look at it is either good or bad. They've finished attaching external power to their internal central distribution unit, and are now apparently checking connections, and setting up something (dunno exactly, they weren't clear) before they start charging the batteries on unit 2. I find it kind of strange that they can't just power the pumps directly, but I suppose powering through batteries provides another 8 stable hours in the event of one of the super super-bad scenarios (eg. another tsunami), even if it means they get started a little later.

Also, last night I went back through my archives of Democracy Now from the past week, and man they have some serious pants-scaring guests. If you want to see some hardcore rational fear-mongering (as opposed to some classic flat-out stupid fear-mongering), that's the place to go! There's maybe three common themes among their guests:

  1. "It could happen here!": The US has something like 25 of the exact same reactor around the country (over 100 of the same series of reactor), some of which lie on/near fault lines, including one just 35 miles from manhattan (try evacuating all of the NY metro area! ya, right!). One of the Democracy Now guests pointed out a study conducted years ago that said that the estimated probability of a Fukushima-style disaster (ie. one that exceeds the plants operating parameters) occurring at one the US reactors in a 20 year period is about 50%.
  2. "All nuclear power is bad and a disaster waiting to happen!": Japan, in general, does safety better than anywhere else. And yet, look at us now? If Japan can't do it, how the hell does country X expect to do better? Especially like in the US where companies like BP and haliburton run amuck, and the now transactional legislature effectively allows them to change inconvenient laws for a fee. Another DN guest cited a study that showed than in a recent audit of US nuclear power plants, something like 40% of their backup power supplies were faulty and would not even have turned on in loss-of-power incident.
  3. "Radiation is leaking like crazy, and yet the Japanese government is persistent in claiming its safe. Wtf?" I plurk'd earlier about radioactive iodine+cesium being found in the fukushima water supply, and yesterday radioative iodine was found in some local spinach. Spinach is easy to fix (don't eat that spinach!), water not so much, but at any rate Japanese authorities are checking both agriculture and water stuffs, and setting up long term screening plans, so already it's nothing like chernobyl. However, nomatter how you look at it, radiation levels have/will increase. Risks associated with radiation are largely suspected to be linear (eg. "You get twice the dose, you double your chances of problems."), so the DN pundits go, "it doesn't matter that the radiation levels detected on the edges of the evacuated areas and Tokyo so far are within "safe limits", they're like 50%-400% above normal, therefore peoples risks of radiation sickness/cancer must also have increased 50%-400% right??" The really scary one there is obviously cancer. Well, imho even if the "linearity of dose and effect" holds true (which, technically, doesn't make sense at the high and low ranges of dosage, so they're definitely making some simplifying assumptions which I suspect don't hold up), you're still talking about an effect on the prior probability in the conjugate probability "What are the the chances I get cancer and it was caused by radiation." There's lots of other things that cause cancer, and humans are notoriously bad at disentangling these kinds of conditional probabilities based on intuition alone, so we tend to think "That mean a huge increase risk of cancer!" but I suspect that's not the case.

    Incidentally, XKCD just made a cool chart visualizing radiation doses.

Overall, the DN crowd and other the anti-nuclear folks have already seized on this incident as proof that nuclear power is doomed. I don't know. It's not over yet, and we really don't know what the state inside the reactor units is. It could still get much much worse (spent fuel storage pool runs out of water, explodes, that'd be game over), it could be that we got lucky and very little radioactive material was actually leaked. Now might be a good time to point out ongoing research into liquid thorium molten salt reactors. It seems like Japan should have been jumping on this technology a long time ago...

Over maybe a dozen guests, perhaps my favorite was Peter Bradford who, in response to Philip White's claim that TEPCO has a history of lying through the ass in order to get clearance to do what they want to do, offered this gem: "Right now, my sense is that if TEPCO’s people were replaced by a band of angels, they still could not give very accurate information with regard to what’s going on within the damaged reactors, because much of the area is inaccessible, a lot of the equipment is disabled, and there are no manuals that describe this situation. So, the problem of inaccurate information has moved past the point at which TEPCO’s corporate character is the driving factor."

One more update, from slashdot slashdot, "Japan reluctant to disclose footage of power plant taken by U.S. drone." As you can guess from the above, I'm trying hard not to be an alarmist, but it's stuff like this opaqueness that worries me. Yesterday the news outlets spent a whole lot of time covering the government explanations for why they believe there to be water in the storage pools and why they believe it not to be boiling yet, based largely on some aerial photography footage (like this (not sure where the original footage is online)) which when they show on TV we can't tell crap from, yet the government says "this frame has evidence of water in the pool." They need to be handing out information as fast possible, not taking time to censor it... MEXT has been pretty good about updating news and radiation readings; who the hell is in charge of this video?

Classy relationship advice

In relationships, moments of self-doubt/self-loathing (eg. "I'm not good enough for hir. What does sie see in me??") are the mental health equivalent of farts in bed. Unless you have super-human powers of retention, it happens to everyone sometimes and is not that big a deal. It's the the frequency and intensity that determines whether or not it affects the relationship.


Computer naming and ZFS

Those of you who have lived with me probably know that my naming scheme for my computers has been anime characters. I can't remember all of the characters that I've been through, but currently my hefty Macbook is kusanagi, my lightweight MacbookAir is chiyo, my windows desktop was tomo, my beefier do-everything server is yomi, more recently my archive fileserver is megabaa, and there's also fumie, haruhi, akabane, and once upon a time our video-server kanchi. Yes I've gone through many computers. I always like to make the name reflect somehow the characters of the machine (if you don't understand the above, you need to watch more anime ;)

Anyway, while home for the holidays I was taking care of broken home computers, and was annoyed that the central house server had such a non-descript name gw. Because our houses are connected by VPN, MDNS and NetBIOS names often across the ocean, so "gw" is a confusing name (which network is it a gateway on??). So I decided to at least give meaning from names to the family computers I manage. I needed another naming scheme, and I don't have a whole lot of cultural overlap with my parents. One thing we do have in common is Battlestar Galactica. So, the former gw became athena, and the computer I was converting into a fileserver became baltar. The tricky bit is baltar is my ancient Athlon with 758MB of RAM (originally "misato") and no SATA interface (though equipped with SATA drives), so it was a bit of a challenge trying to get an OS configuration where ZFS was running stably. OpenSolaris does't support the SiI3114 SATA card natively (of course). I tried linux with zfs-fuse (zfs-fuse had an extremely stupid error while doing a scrub. something like "assertion integrity_check_ok failed." Of course it failed. That's why I was doing a scrub. *sigh* Also zfs-fuse still doesn't support snapdirs, so it's not ideal anyway). For a brief moment, I tried OpenSolaris from within VirtualBox and got to name the guest VM "six" which made me very happy. Unfortunately trying to run osol and linux inside of 758MB of ram without hardware virtualization is an exercise in pain, so I gave up and installed FreeBSD 8.0. Fortunately ZFS support has gotten much better in FreeBSD 8, and actually everything worked basically without a hitch or excessive tinkering. Good job FreeBSD!

Anyway, the point of this whole post was basically to say how happy I was that I got to make a virtual "six" inside of "baltar." Six doesn't exist anymore, but I think I'll add six as an entry to hosts.allow just in case she ever comes back ;)


外国人参政権反対抗議 @ 渋谷

So, Saturday night I was headed to Shibuya to meet Noriko for dinner. She mailed me and said "Shibuya station's crazy right now, so I'll be waiting at ???." I just thought she meant it was busy, but no, it turns out it was actually crazy:

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外国人参政権 protestors at shibuya 外国人参政権 protestors at shibuya 外国人参政権 protestors at shibuya 外国人参政権 protestors at shibuya

These guys are protesting the newish law that (if I'm reading all this stuff correctly) would grant Koreans in Japan (and simultaneously Japanese in Korea) the right to vote starting April 2012. If you're not familiar with the status and history of Koreans in Japan, it's a long and complicated subject, and the wikipedia page hardly does it justice. I know very very little about the status of Japanese in Korea, but I don't think that there are many, so I'm pretty sure that (at least for now) the reciprocity of the Korean law is more of a symbolic gesture than something that's going to make a real dent in Korean politics. For Japan, however, this affects a fairly large number of people, as this page claims that there's about 3 million Koreans in Japan who will be eligible to vote under the new law (which is a lot larger than just the "special permanent resident" numbers as this law is kind of EU style in that it doesn't matter what the status of the resident is).

I don't pretend to be terribly up to date on Japanese politics, but I'm surprised this one slipped under my radar. At the time I hadn't heard anything about that law, so I could only guess what the actual content was based on their signs and shouting. Because when I walked, lots of them noticed the foreigner in the crowd and glared at me and pointed their signs right at me like it was a cross and I was a vampire or something, I figured maybe some politician was proposing I should have the right in Japan (not a crazy idea. I've lived here for almost 6 years now, I pay taxes, my work ties into a sizable chunk of Japanese science projects/funding. If someone told me "you should vote!" I'd believe them). But listening to the leader guy on the van/megaphone talk it was all about "Chinese and Koreans are trying to take over Japan! *boos* Japan is losing its identity! *boos* Japan is by Japanese for Japanese! *cheers*" Basic boiler-plate hate/fear of Koreans/Chinese/foreigners-in-general stuff... I was very tempted to stop and pick an argument with these guys, but I was on my way to meet Noriko and was already late, so not today. Fortunately, I think these nutjobs are a fairly small minority (this poll however disagrees), but given how relatively hard it is to rally Japanese to a political cause, it was disturbing to see that many of them out there, all shouting random hate at foreigners. Jingoism's still alive and well in Japan...


Things I learned this weekend

When making chocolate chip pancakes, M&Ms are way better than chocolate chips. With normal chocolate chips, when they melt they do some bad things like dry out and become pockets of gross, or soggify the surrounding pancake giving you some unevenly cooked pancake, or sink to the bottom and become burnt gross. The hard candy shell on M&Ms seem to solve this almost perfectly. They get soft but retain their shape and concentrated chocolateness, and maybe I just got lucky but I had no burnt sinkers. The dye in the shell does seeps into the batter though, which I think makes a kind of nice rainbow swirly pattern, but if you're one of those people who are like "Food should never be blue" then maybe you should find some non-colored hard-shelled chocolate (or stick to pancake colored M&Ms).

Sorry no pictures this time.

And the Mark Bittman inspired recipe, makes about 4 pancakes:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. melted and cooled butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pack of M&Ms (about 45g)

Also, driven by Sims 3, I tried making Apple Pancakes. Same as above, but use chopped apple instead of M&Ms. Also works great with sauteed apples on top (those would probably be great on the M&Ms pancakes too ;)

PS. Sauteed apples (sautee until beautiful):
  • 1 apple (thinly sliced)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar



So, in Japan (and I think at least China, probably other asian countries too), lots of doctors use 粉薬[Konagusuri] (powdered medicine. as opposed to like gelatin capsules or hard sugar-based pills, etc). Looks like this. And I don't get it. What's the deal with that? I recently had a sucky cold with much coughing, sore throat, and headache fun, so I went to the doctor. He asked me:

Doc: 粉薬飲める? (Can you take powdered medicine?)
Me: はい。 (Yes.)

Had I been less sick, more adventurous, I probably would have gone for a joke (粉薬 "konagusuri" especially with my doctor's pronunciation sounds like "komagusuri", so I was tempted to say "Nono. Not coma. Just a cold." But I dunno if he would have found that as funny as I do).
Anyway, he's a fairly old doctor who also prescribes me 漢方薬 (chinese herbal medicine) whenever I go in for something, and this time had me lie down, felt my stomach-area and pressed his hand under my ribcage and asked "does this hurt?" (duh, yes) "Yeah, when you have a cold this hurts." So I think he might have some "not so modern" beliefs about medicine, and thus the 粉薬 and 漢方薬. That said, the stuff he prescribed seemed to work, so I'm not calling him a bad doctor or anything. I just don't get the point of 粉薬.

Here's my beef with 粉薬: You basically have to somehow get the medicine, and water in your mouth and swallow it and try not to let too much of it stick to your mouth/teeth because if you don't get it all down afterwards it tastes really awful if you happen to brush some of it with your tongue or something (or eat something which dislodges it, and then eww gross! medicine apple!). So it takes like a full glass of water to do properly, and even then is not the most pleasant taste sensation. I still never seem to get all of it out of my mouth in one go. If you could put the same stuff in a simple gel cap, why not just do that?? I mean, sure, water is good for sick people, but lets just stick to the water and try to make the drug delivery as convenient as possible. Also because 粉薬 gets (I think) mixed with some other stuff to make it less gross in your mouth, its really bulky, so a week's worth of medicine is a pretty hefty bag. If there's one good thing about 粉薬 it's that if you have several medicines to take at one time you can mix them all into one bag and drink it in one go. But you can do that with gel caps too with a little experience...

Actually I suspect that because 漢方薬, by it's nature as "herbal medicine" is mostly bulk and if you had to say "distill that down to its critical ingredient so I can put it in a tiny gelcap!" you simply couldn't, and that's why the 粉薬... *sigh*

Anyway, that's my whiny rant for the day.

Also, anybody else see Harry Potter in 3D? I felt pretty let down by that too. I mean, I paid like an extra 800円 ($8) for IMAX tickets, but only the first 10~15 minutes was in 3D! Kinda lame =p

Then again I'm not sure I would have really enjoyed having the whole movie in 3D. When movie-style cinematics go 3D, depth of field gets confusing (at least it didn't work nicely in Harry Potter). Things out of the focal plane are out of focus and in a normal 2D movie you'd tend to naturally not focus on them, but in 3D I found myself focusing on them (cause hey, they're jumpin' out of the screen at you!) but then finding they're still out of focus even when I look at them. Kind of distracting.

Lasik diaries, day 7

One week post-op checkup done and done! All looks well, left eye kicks ass all the way to the bottom of the eye exam chart. Right eye is apparently at 1.5 now, but my left eye has always been better (though requiring higher correction). I was poking around my data yesterday on 23andMe and noticed that I have a SNP that puts me at a somewhat elevated risk for a certain type of uncool glaucoma, and someone else with the same SNP was posting about how when they were given steroid meds for eye surgery their intraocular pressure jumped (IOP) jumped from 21 mmHg to 40 mmHg. I wondered if there was a correlation between that SNP and maybe a hypersensitive reaction to the steroids, so I looked up my pre-op and post-op IOP, both 7 mmHg (which seems actually crazy low, so good news I guess!).

Also, I asked for a copy of my exam data, but all I got was sort of a summary and vital statistics (thus how I know my IOP, and could tell you my cornea is (or at least was) about .5mm thick). What I really wanted was the shiny stuff I'd never seen before and is like uniquely me, like the corneal topogram or the corneal surface microscope image. Kind of a silly goal since neither probably reflects my current cornea anyway, but what can I say? I like collecting data about me. =P

As for headaches, I talked to the doc there, and he just recommended taking more frequent breaks, and that I would probably get used to it (though theoretically the reason for the headaches in the first place would probably only get worse, not better), and that the $1 crappy reading glasses at worst wouldn't do anything bad for me. So decided to cover both bases and picked up some $1 +1.00 glasses, and some ibuprofen and see how each goes. Lens wise the $1 glasses are pretty crappy and the wild warpiness of turning my head with while wearing them is pretty unpleasant (not your friend for a dual-display system). So I'm taking the ibuprofen road for now. Also, I'm pretty sure I still do have some glare issues. In really dark rooms there's definitely some halos, and overhead fluorescent lighting still has some noticeable bloom going on...

Overall feels great now though. Good job z-lasik ^^

ps: If you're in japan and want lasik/other-corrective-surgery too, I have some 1万5千円引券 coupons to give you!


Lasik diaries, day 6

Woo. Finally finished off the last of my antibiotics. There's still a little bit of the steroid solution left.
Halos are almost completely gone. Night vision is back to normal (and crisper than contacts, very cool). I'm still routinely amazed at how now I can pick out individual leaves on trees and can see the grain of a marker on a whiteboard from across the room. It's like someone increased all of my texture resolutions ^^

Pain/itchiness is hardly ever a problem (though yesterday I got an eyelash in my eye, that was pretty annoying, and it seems like the more saline solution I dump in my eye the more likely I am to stick bend another eyelash into a funky position). Tonight will be the first night I get to stop using the plastic eye guards when I sleep (yay! haven't been sleeping too well with those things stuck on). I think my brain/muscles/something is still adjusting to this new super-vision because I seem to be getting headaches after looking at the screen for a few hours. It might be that I'm still sensitive to glare. I'm not sure... my new minimum focal distance seems to be about 10cm, so it doesn't seem like my monitor would be too close (it's at about 50cm usually, but right now I've pushed it back as far as I can on my desk). Anyway, hopefully that gets better. Apparently my vision is expected to fluctuate for the first 3 months or so, so I might buy some of those $1 granny-style reading glasses while my eyes reprogram their microcontrollers so to speak. Or would glasses screw with the retraining? I dunno. Maybe I should go for ibuprofen instead? I'll have to ask tomorrow at my 1 week post-op exam.

Only other complaint is dry eyes in the morning when I wake up (eyes feel "sticky" and hard to open until I put in some eye drops), but in theory this should keep getting better. On the plus side I've gotten pretty damn good at aiming eye drops into my eyes now =P


Lasik diaries, day 1

Just finished my "day after post-op exam." Apparently I'm doing fine with no complications, and my vision does officially kick ass ^^ Went from 0.08 to 2.2. w00t.

Still seeing some haloing on bright objects, moreso when in the dark. Hopefully that goes away soon.

Also, confirmed that the hinge of my flap is on top (ie. at 12 o'clock). I'm mildly impressed with myself that I was able to correctly pick out (and remember!) which direction the flap was folding during the surgery (despite the mild panic induced by all the funky sensations from touch, sound, distorted vision, and the giant bone-crushing suction cup LDV laser).