“Don’t play with your food!” I don’t remember how many times I heard this sentence when I was a child. Every time when I finished lunch, but my plate was not totally empty and I started pushing around the meat or vegetables I was admonished not to play with food. Maybe as a child you don’t realize the importance of this sentence, but when you grow up and learn that there are so many people on the world who are starving, you will automatically stop fooling around with your lunch. I think that Japanese parents also tell their kids not to play with food. I guess they do so, but when I see something like the picture below I get the feeling that a few of them did not listen to their parents.
In recent months “French Fries Parties” have become popular all over Japan and more and more young people are gathering at McDonald’s where they purchase a large amount of fries, spread them out on the table and then take pictures. In doing so, the target is not to eat all those fries, but rather have a “cool” picture that can be shared over Facebook, Twitter or similar social networks. I am not going to comment more on how I think about this behaviour, but I just put this picture here, which ironically uses an Asian (Japanese?) kid to motivate people to deal with food more carefully.
Still 5 days to go, but maybe you want to start preparing the celebrations early? No? Well, that’s OK because there won’t be a party anyway. So what is the “World Metrology Day”? First of all, it is a day dedicated to “Metrology” (i.e. the science of measurement) and not to “Meteorology“, which is the scientific study of the atmosphere. So why is it being given a dedicated date and why May 20th? The reason for this can be found on the official homepage of the World Metrology Day which tells us
World Metrology Day celebrates the signature by representatives of seventeen nations of the Metre Convention on 20 May 1875. The Convention set the framework for global collaboration in the science of measurement and in its industrial, commercial and societal application. The original aim of the Metre Convention – the worldwide uniformity of measurement – remains as important today as it was in 1875.
This explains well the importance of metrology for both scientific research and daily life applications. Without metrology and standards nobody could be sure that a quantity is as big (or large, or long or whatever) as one expects. This applies to all fundamental units of measure and derived quantities. Thus, one can be sure that the kilogram of meat he buys in Japan is (about) the same as the kilogram of meat he would by in Austria (assuming the butcher does not cheat!). However, even though we can now celebrate the 138th anniversary of the Metre Convention, the Meter (and other units) are not used in daily life in Anglo-Saxon countries.
Tagged with: daily life applications
, International standards
, International System of Units
, SI base units
, SI units
, Systems of units
, World Metrology Day
Posted in physics
Neill Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had already set foot on the Moon when at the same time Luna 15, an unmanned space mission of the Soviet Luna program, ignited its main booster and started to descent to the surface of the moon. Recordings from the events around the July 1969 moonwalk were made public in 2009. In these newly released recordings, one scientist can be heard narrating events with conversation from the Apollo 11 astronauts in the background. It is noticed that the orbit of Luna 15 has changed and that it might crash-land closer to the US landing site than expected. One can then hear people shouting “it’s landing” and “it’s going down much too fast” as they track Luna 15′s final moments before it crashes. Although this event has been commented as “I say, this has really been drama of the highest order.”, nothing happened and Armstrong and Aldrin returned back to the Earth as heroes. So what do we learn from this? Even if you are the first man on the moon, watch out for other spacecrafts as they may drop on your head
Crystal ball gazing for predicting scientists’ future output???
Yesterday I was reading this article
in “Physics Today
” where the authors discuss about how to predict scientists’ future impact. What sounds like crystal ball gazing has been scientifically investigated over the last years. Having a reliable prediction about a scientist’s future output and performance allows employers to make decisions about hiring or promoting a professor or granting tenure to a researcher. Such decisions can be seen as a million dollar investments and nobody knows for sure if the salary that a university will pay to a new professor will pay off in the form of papers, patents and projects in the future. The article then explains how the Hirsch index (h-index)
can be used to somewhat predict the output a scientist will produce in the future. As discussed in the original article
published in Nature, the suggested model predicted the future h-index accurately, yielding R^2
=0.67, which has been cross-validated across scientists (an R^2 of 1 would mean that the model predicts the data perfectly). This means that one might be able predict the future scientific output from a young researcher and thus make a decision whether to hire that guy or look for other potential candidates. And as statistics have shown, in most of the cases a young and talented researcher will reach his/her full potential and justify the investment an university or research institute has made in that individual. However, there are also cases where researchers lean back and don’t produce much scientific output once they have been tenured. I think these cases are getting less in recent years, where the scientific world is getting more and more challenging and one can’t rest on the laurel from the past but has to stay actively involved in science.
This article does not deal with military activities around the Gulf war, but rather describes living next to a Japanese high school.
How do “desert storm” and Japanese high school fit together? Well, those of you who live (or have lived) next to any kind of school in Japan might know what I am talking about, but for the rest I am going to explain what bothers me. Japanese schools look pretty much the same, independent of their type (elementary, junior high, senior high) or its operating authority (i.e. public or private). Beside the box-shaped school building, almost all schools have a sport ground where gym lessons and festivals are being held. In the afternoon (and on weekends) different school sport clubs (soccer, baseball rugby, track-and-field, etc.) meet at that ground and either practice or have games/competitions against other schools. Thereby, more than 95% of the school sports grounds are not covered with grass or a Tartan track, which one would expect to find at a sports facility. Instead, almost all Japanese school grounds are just huge sand-boxes which have been compacted and levelled. I don’t know why a developed country like Japan, still maintains such shabby facilities as sports grounds for their kids, but that’s how things are here. To make things worse, those grounds have another annoying “feature” that affects people living in the neighbourhood of a school. Although the surface of a typical sport ground has been hardened over the years, such places turn into swampland during the raining season. Since raining season is soon to approach in Japan, one can see now janitors riding mini-tractors which pull huge and heavy rollers to compact the surface as much as possible. The drawback of this undertaking is that as long as it is not raining (or the ground is being irrigated) a small layer of sand can be found on-top of the solid material. However, the beginning of the raining season in Japan is usually characterized by strong pre-summer winds. And this is how the title of this post relates to high school sports grounds. Since we are living close to three (!!!) junior and senior high schools, one feels like being in the middle of the Sahara, rather than standing on its own balcony. When the wind blows these days, one can’t hang clothes outside and since doors and windows are not 100% tight, it happens that fine sand finds its way into our apartment. Calling the responsible high schools does not help much. Some turn on their sprinklers for a few minutes, but most of them don’t care about the sand storms that originate from their sports ground. Well, so much for “mutual respect”, from which people think that it is one of the pillars of Japanese society …
Sweet flag leaves waiting to be put in our bath tube…
Today is May 5th, which is a Japanese national holiday called Children’s Day (こどもの日-”kodomo no hi”) and which is part of the Golden Week. The day was originally called 端午の節句(“tango no sekku”) and was celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th moon in the lunar calendar respectively the Chinese calendar. After Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, the date was moved to May 5. This day marks the beginning of summer or the rainy season, which in this year, is almost correct as we had temperatures close to 30 degree around lunchtime. Another tradition on May 5th, is to have a 菖蒲湯 (“syoubuyu”). What’s this? Well, one simply puts Sweet Flag (or sometimes called “calamus”) leaves in the hot bath tube and enjoys the manifold medicinal benefits of the plant. My wife saw those Sweet Flag leaves on sale in a nearby supermarket and we purchased a bunch of them in the afternoon. It is a little bit weird to sit in the bath tube with all those huge leaves inside, but one get used to it. And since it takes place only once a year it is something special that makes you remember that from now on the hot season of the year will start. So maybe one needs to sweat with the Sweet Flag leaves in the bath tube, before one can sweat for the next 5 months everywhere outside …
Yesterday I was trying to find a bug in my source code which lead to quite unexpected results. I thought that I narrowed down the possible origin and will be able to localize the problem within a short time. However, as it turned out there was no suspicious piece of code around the lines from which I suspected that they contain the bug. Thus, after several hours of going trough the source code, I gave up and went home. In the evening, I could not really forget about the necessary bug-fix and the problem kept at the back of my mind. I went to bed before midnight and had a relaxing sleep (although temperatures are recently climbing up and we did not start the air-condition in our apartment). I don’t remember what I dreamed (actually I can never recall any dreams), but when I woke up this morning I knew why the program does not work as expected and where the bug is located. Thus, when I came to the office this morning, I opened the source code of the module from which I suddenly knew that it contained a bogus approach, immediately identified the wrong code, re-compiled and ran a test which gave me the expected results. This took me less than 10 minutes, although I went through the same code for hours yesterday without finding anything that looked suspicious.
I guess sometimes it is better to stay away from looking for a solution to a given problem and refresh yourself or just give your brain enough time to recognize that it has found a solution already? And maybe as in my case, just consult your pillow and wake up with the solution !!!
This morning on the train I was reading an advertisement for a local theme park. On the bottom of the advertisement a short notice, similar to the one I added to this post, was added. It basically says that organized crime members are not allowed to enter the park [note: the Japanese text uses the expression 暴力団("bouryokudan"), which means something like "violent group" and includes the Yukaza clans and other gangs]. The same applies for people with tattoos, since they are used as identification signs among gang members. It is common that Onsen and public bath houses forbid entrance to people with tattoos. I don’t have any tattoo, but such a rule applies to anybody, not only gang members. Thus, it happens sometimes that US soldiers who take a day off, leave the base and want to relax at a spa are not allowed to enter because of their tattoos. As for the theme park advertisement, which I read on the train, it mentions that the park has also a pool in summer. This might explain the tattoo regulation for those who want to spend a hot day at (an overcrowded) pool in Tokyo. But I really have no idea how the guy at the entrance will find out if someone belong to the Mob, when he (or she) enters the gates of the theme park (not the pool site) in a colder season of the year, when existing tattoos are well hidden below several layers of cloths …
In the last week Japanese lawmakers committed their (almost annual) faux pas by visiting the Yasukuni shrine, which also enshrines World War II war criminals. Such actions just increased the tensions that exist between China, Korea and Japan concerning the Senkaku Islands respectively Tsushima island. TV, radio, newspapers and internet media on each country heat up the situation and it is not surprising that nationalistic tendencies grow and are sometimes shown in the public. E.g. this article (BTW, from an American news agency) caught some attention here in Japan as it shows a notice board posted outside a restaurant in Wuhan, China where Honda Motors operates a large car plant.
It says clearly “No Japanese” and has been criticized as an act of racism against Japanese people shown in public. I totally support such a claim, and I really hope that such signs are taken down. However, before Japan can claim about other countries maybe they should put their own house in order. Signs like the one below can be found in almost every city,town or village across Japan and have been documented over years.
When a foreigner claims that such a sign is a kind of racism, Japan suddenly has another point of view. The usual argument is that each restaurant/bar owner has the right to decide which guests he wants to have in his place. Well, in Europe that would be called racism for sure and laws prevent such argumentation. In the end it depends on the point of view. If you are the one who is being punched, you might cry. But if you are the one who hits, you may not even feel guilty…
One might think that Japan with all its cutting-edge technology is a place where simple things like e-banking are well established. However, it turns out that Japan is a developing country concerning online banking, e-banking or other online services that allow you to deal with your bank account. For example, my bank runs an e-banking system, but the options are limited to checking the balance of your account and doing simple transactions (within the same bank group!). Moreover, there is a monthly charge for that lousy service and all transactions cost that same as if I do it in the bank or at the ATM. Thus I opted out for online banking, when I opened my bank account. I need to do all my transactions via ATMs, which have even less functionality than my e-banking account in Austria at the time when I came to Japan (7 years ago). Moreover, most of the transactions are charged with exorbitant fees. E.g. a simple money transaction within the same bank costs about 1 Euro. If I transfer money to another Japanese bank that would costs me about 4 Euro. And foreign transfers are not possible at all via ATMs, and one needs to go to the bank counter, fill out forms and pay even higher fees for something that in the end is again an electronic transaction. My credit card is provided by the same bank, but the online system for showing my transactions is managed by another company. So it happens that in each month this online system goes into shut-down, a period which is set to “calculate the monthly balance”. Well, this does not happen on weekends, but just takes place arbitrarily in the third week of the month. I have no explanation what takes so long to calculate? I would assume that charging me for my credit card payments is an easy thing. Just sum up all the money that was spent and in case, take into account the money that was reimbursed on my card, and in the end withdraw that amount from my bank account.
In my impression, Japanese bank customers are charged for things that in other countries would not be accepted by the people or even treated as distortion of competition. Given that you get literally no interest rates on your bank account, there is really no merit in having a bank account in Japan, beside that you need to stock a lot of cash in your house otherwise. So what to do? Well, I have no really good suggestion. There exist a few (smaller) banks which don’t have branches and are mostly operating only via e-banking and ATMs. I am not sure about their transaction fees, but I guess when it comes to a money transfer to another domestic bank you will need to pay the same amount like in any one of the “normal” banks. In addition, the recent economy and banking crisis has wiped away quite a few of these online banks, and left only those companies which are subsidiary enterprises from large traditional banks. I assume things will not change soon, and people will still be going to the bank directly or do their transactions via ATMs.
Tagged with: ATM
, Automated teller machine
, bank costs
, Credit card
, e-banking system
, Financial services
, large traditional banks
, online banking
Posted in Japanese