Tuesday, December 31, 2013

[jules' pics] Glasgow

In Glasgow, the sunshine capitol of Europe, global warming has caused the Mediterranean cafe culture to take off big time.
And that's not all that is blue...

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 12/30/2013 11:14:00 PM

Monday, December 30, 2013

[jules' pics] Christmas Origami

And the turkey was nice too.

It is, however, very dark in Scotland at this time of year.
Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 12/29/2013 10:14:00 PM

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

[jules' pics] People sheeple

Much enjoying the improved sheep density in Ole Blighty compared to Japan, although we have yet to eat any of them, because the relatives have naturally been mostly serving fatted calves.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 12/24/2013 09:32:00 PM

Friday, December 13, 2013

Breakfast with Gavin!

The AGU is making a greater effort to stream quite a bit of stuff online. Actually finding the sessions seems a bit difficult, but hopefully that will improve in later years. James points out that with 5 or 6 channels, now the only reason to go to the actual Moscone Center is to miss even more sessions.
Breakfast with Gavin
Thus it was that we were able to enjoy Gavin debunking Tamsin's foolish Guardian blog post over breakfast in our empty house. We missed the start so would like to re-watch the whole stream, but it doesn't yet seem to be available, or else the search engine is defeating us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

[jules' pics] 143

The people came and packed up our stuff and took it all away - in 143 packages.

Getting ready to eject the sofa out the window and over the balcony; a standard procedure in Japan.

Wrapping a tandem

This being Japan the level of service and organisation was extraordinary.

They were amused by the number of unicycles, bicycles and tandems, and quantity of bicycle parts so it was fitting that the last package, no. 143 was Tandem Bicycle (blue). Naturally we have another tandem tucked away in our check-in baggage. Wouldn't do to be without any tandems at all for 6 whole weeks!

Don't know what Pickfords are like at the UK end, but at this end they were just as careful as you'd expect a normal Japanese moving crew to be.. (super-careful).

What now, you are thinking? This is Japan! Now we CLEAN!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 12/12/2013 01:12:00 PM

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Final score

As an update to something I blogged about last year, I thought I'd look at the final version of the IPCC AR5 WG1 report to see how Japanese scientists fare. It's important to not take this too seriously, as weight of papers, and even numbers of citations, are not really that good an indication of scientific quality. But on the other hand, they are better than nothing as a rough guide.

Choosing to look at IPCC citations is far from arbitrary - right from the outset, our institute has always been heavily focussed towards climate change research, with this publicity pamphlet talking of "the final goal, predictions of global changes" and even now RIGC's web page boasting of our "active participation in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change". This metric also introduces a modest element of quality control compared to purely weighing papers by number or page count.

I didn't restrict my attention to team leaders this time, but instead started off by considering the Senior and Principal Scientists at RIGC. These grades should represent well-established researchers with significant records, typically in their late-30s at least. We are the lower of these two grades. And here's how they did. Each symbol is a person, with the x-axis indicating total number of papers they have co-authored, and y-axis their number of first-author papers, that are cited in the IPCC AR5..

I was rather surprised to find that getting on for half of them - 28 in total - are not cited once. That is, they have collectively not even co-authored a single paper that the IPCC considered worth a mention. A further 19 have at least got their names on papers, but not written any themselves. Only about 18 have actually written anything at all.

There are plenty of active researchers in Japan, at all levels from junior to senior. I looked up a number of people who I expected to have made a significant contribution, including the Japanese IPCC Lead Authors, prominent professors, and other active scientists at more junior levels. Sure enough they had mostly contributed a decent number of papers. Some of them are mostly managers hence not writing a lot (but co-authoring with their group members) but some are quite young and writing a lot of good stuff.

Jules and I took our responsibility to contribute to the IPCC seriously, and basically top the list (well, one person has co-authored one paper more than either of us, but they have not written many). A combination of a bit of good fortune, combined with jules' good management, has resulted in us collaborating with many of the best people here. And maybe we helped them a bit, too. But it's clear enough that JAMSTEC simply doesn't care, hence the demotion for jules last year and the destruction of our group.

Someone else suggested an alternative metric, which is to simply count the number of times that each name appears in the report. This may better represent the case where someone has written one or two highly influential papers that crops up again and again. It's also a lot easier to count (apart from multiple and partial names). This time, jules is top by a huge margin, with 90 mentions to my 68, with the top Japanese appearing in the high 40s. Of course the point is not to claim that we are really the best or more prominent scientists here, but merely that we've done well enough that actually punishing us was, and remains, an astonishing decision that demolishes the notion that JAMSTEC has any interest in performing scientific research, more specifically climate change research.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an exit interview with the Executive Director of JAMSTEC. Along with shrugging his shoulders and claiming that none of what had happened to us was any of his responsibility, he also explained that his future vision for JAMSTEC was as an outward-looking international organisation. He didn't explain how our treatment fitted in to that plan.

So long and thanks for all the fish

James doesn't actually like sushi, so I have to go alone. The kaitenzushi (plates of sushi goes around on a conveyor belt) near Kamakura is quite good, so was the obvious choice for my probably last luncheon.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

[jules' pics] MAC Excess

It's a tough life working for JAMSTEC. Here's my desk on our last day.

MAC excess

By the third from last purchase, when we were told to buy new computers if ours were more than 3 years old, because there was too much money to spend, I'd run out of good names and called my new Mac Pro "MACXS". The only mitigating circumstance is that these are the sum total of both our computers. The oldest dates from 2008, which is a long time in PC world, but Macs almost all just keep looking new. One is broken beyond repair and another so well used that it is held together with string and sticky tape. But another only has a dodgy trackpad, and the iMac's disk blew up a few weeks ago; we would have got that fixed if we were staying.

So what happens to all these computers now? Usually when someone leaves, precisely nothing happens. We have been there longer than almost everyone, and since our research was so fundable, we had three large budgets we had to help spend on our really rather cheap science. Computers and travel are what we bought. So I think we have accumulated more than average. We have at least got someone in another program interested in taking the latest two laptops. But I don't hold out much chance of the Mac Pros going to a good home - everyone will want the new style tiny black desktop thingie... I prefer the old one, as the modularity was very useful for spending up budget. Buy a base model one year and then ramp up the disks, RAM, graphics whenever the budget demanded to be spent. If only the motherboard could also have bee upgraded...

Things are going to be different now! We have a beautiful second hand laptop from Akihabara with his'n'hers partitions.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 12/07/2013 04:14:00 PM

Friday, December 06, 2013

Everything you never wanted to know about Japanese pensions and never thought to ask.

So, this is going to be a long and boring post which delves into one of the reasons why we wanted to keep up our permanent residency (though not the only one). But I’ll start with the tl;dr summary for any Japanese residents who might have found this post in a google search, which is that the forthcoming change to a 10y qualifying period (from the previous 25y) for the Japanese national pension scheme should help to cut down on one of the particularly unfair ways in which foreigners have long been treated in Japan. Now for the longer version...

I had never really looked into the pension system here in any detail, not because I was one of these silly people who preferred to stick their heads into the sand, but rather because I knew there was nothing I could do about it anyway, and we had made our choices to stay here even on the assumption that we wouldn't get a pension out of it. A common complaint about the Japanese national pension scheme is that is rips off foreigners who stay for between 3 and 25 years. The basic problem is that, in order to get any pension at all, you have to pay in to the system for 25 years. 24 years 11 months gets you nothing. Foreigners who join the scheme for between 6 months and 3 years can get a reasonable lump sum payout when they leave (at least a large proportion of what they paid in, though not all). However, the lump sum is capped at the level of the 3y payout, so anyone who leaves after say 10y, or even 24y, gets very little back in proportion to what they contributed. Obviously this is grossly unfair, but the number of people affected is small, and they can't vote anyway, so who cares. At least, I assume this is the logic behind the JGovt's policy.

However, throughout our time here, we'd not only got statements from the national pension scheme, but also a JAMSTEC-related scheme (it seems to be called the Science and Technology Pension Fund, so presumably has a broader remit than just JAMSTEC). These leaflets had always been in Japanese, and no-one had ever volunteered any information about how it all worked, so I'd never gone looking for answers. So I basically knew nothing. That all changed a couple of weeks ago, when suddenly someone from admin came along to explain my options prior to us leaving. She was encouraging me to take the minuscule lump sums, but I think I managed to persuade her it was not a great move in our case.

It turns out we have been paying in to no fewer than 3 pension schemes. First (and least) there is the Japanese national pension scheme (kokumin nenkin), roughly equivalent to the UK state pension. It's not a lot of money - a little under ¥20,000 per year, for every year you have contributed, up to a max of 40y contributions (making ~¥770,000 max per year). Contributions are a flat rate of about ¥14,000 per month. But if you don't pay in for 25y, you get nothing. We are also participating in the national employees' pension scheme, kousei nenkin. This is perhaps comparable to the UK SERPS - however in the UK, it is common to be "contracted out" of this, as we were when we lived and worked there. Contributions, and resulting pension, are earnings-related, but it has the same 25y threshold below which you get nothing. Based on the lump sum refund we were offered, this could potentially be rather a lot more money than the state pension (maybe 5x or so?), but I don't know how the payout is calculated and don't have a clear figure. Finally, the Japanese Science and Technology Pension Fund. This is already going to give us a pension, even based on 12y of contributions, and has no 25y qualifying period! So that was a nice surprise. The amount is projected to be rather less than the modest amount I am due based on 7y as a NERC employee. But still better than a slap in the face with a bit of sashimi.

Now, on to the (mildly) interesting bit. One reason I'd been interested in getting and keeping PR, is a few articles that I'd read about kara kikan (empty record) which were written by Steve van Dresser [1, 2, 3]. The term relates to a scheme whereby "missing" years in the pension record could possibly be included towards the 25y threshold, specifically (in my case) years prior to my even coming to Japan. Sounds silly, but that was apparently what happened in Steve's case. The underlying logic is to not exclude people (primarily Japanese of course) who fail to pay in under circumstances where they are not supposed to pay in, e.g. through living abroad, or due to various other things. It turns out that this is probably not possible, at least not for me. The only place I could find PR mentioned on the nenkin.go.jp web site was on this page here, which specifically says that PR holders can claim years up to 1981, but also that only years between the ages of 20-65 count. I wasn't old enough in 1981 for this to help me (but maybe Steve was, which could explain his positive outcome. Or possibly the rules changed, or something else).

So, that looked a bit sad.

Until...I found this page, which says something interesting about an impending reduction in the nenkin qualifying threshold from 25y to 10y! This proposal seems to be linked to recent plans for increases in consumption tax, and I think the law is basically in place, though perhaps not quite formally approved or implemented. It is expected to come into effect in October 2015. At that point, our 12y of contributions will qualify us for the kokumin nenkin (albeit only 30% of the full amount) - and hopefully the rather larger kousei nenkin, since they are both Govt-run and seem to use the same rules.

So this is why I want to keep the PR, because while I retain PR, I will be considered temporarily absent, rather than having fully left the schemes. If it all goes according to plan, in a couple of year's I'll qualify with no further contributions.

(Incidentally, one thing that does seem clear is that there is no difficulty in either keeping, or getting paid, the pension while living in the UK, even if we have lost PR in the meantime, so long as we qualify for the pension first.) Whether the Yen will be worth anything in 20 years is anyone's guess, of course.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Marathon man (and 10k woman)

It's taken us 12 years, and we only just managed before leaving, but we've finally discovered what Tsukuba city is good for - road racing! Flat with wide tree-lined roads in full autumn colour, it was as good a course as you could hope for. It is one of the early marathons in the winter season and I had failed to enter the more local Shonan marathon in time, so it was the only option.

The start..and the inevitable mascot.

Based on previous half-marathon results I did have rash hopes of beating 3 hours, and after the inevitable congestion at the start I was only a little behind schedule by half way and was still feeling pretty fresh, but quite suddenly around 26k or so it all started to go a bit pear-shaped so at that point I decided to call off the attempt and complete the rest at a more relaxed pace. Jules was very insistent (and I was happy to agree) that in return for tolerating my training over the summer, I had to make sure I enjoyed it and not knacker myself too much.

Just as well I restrained myself a bit, as it got a lot harder in the last 10k anyway! I even ended up stopping briefly at a couple of feed stations to get in a good drink, as it was hot and thirsty work in the sun (which is why my Garmin time is a bit off, as it's set to pause at stops). Ended up with a real time of 3:06:51 and a position of 735, out of about 11,500 entrants (though probably fewer starters). The official timings are here, (this may be more permanent) but it took me about a minute to even get to the start as I'd been put in the B starting block. There were a lot of slower people in A and the overall winner was a B so I'm not sure how they worked that out. The crowding was a bit annoying for the first 2-3 k but obviously didn't really make much difference in the end.

Jules decided to have one last blast at a proper race rather than just fun running, and easily smashed her previous best 10k with 51:06 (51:42 in net time), making her 109th woman out of 1100+. No pics of her though, because that all took place during my race.

Resting on a handy verge. I'm looking forward to replacing the 2900 calories that my watch tells me I burnt!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Leaving-but-not-leaving Japan

We will be out of here in another few weeks, but because of our permanent resident status (which we would like to maintain for the time being), it's not necessarily quite as simple as for most foreigners on shorter visits.

It is fairly clearly implied by the various documentation (eg here), but the system was changed recently and our situation is not that usual, so it was a minor relief to find out that we really can maintain our permanent residency rights in Japan for as long as we want after we leave. The PR status does not have an expiry date in itself, but in the past everyone has also needed a separate re-entry permit to get back into the country after an absence. The requirement for this old re-entry permit was recently abolished for any absence of up to a year (even for short-term visa holders) but no-one batted an eyelid when we turned up at immigration yesterday, told them we were off on a long trip and not returning inside a year, and applied for the old-style re-entry permits, which still exist. So now we've got these re-entry permits, valid for 5 years - and if we come back at the end of that time, there's no reason why we couldn't get new ones ad infinitum. The PR residency card itself also needs to be replaced every 7y, and furthermore jules' and mine are a year out of synch, but that's an annoyance for the future.

Not that we have any particular plans to return, but it's nice to feel that our options are open. More importantly perhaps, are the financial implications, which require a longer blog post to come...

[jules' pics] New website!

hachinamngu (1 of 1)
Inspired by the blue skies which are the norm for eastern Japan at this time of year, I started work on our new website this week – blueskiesresearch.org.uk

Wordpress.com seems quite good. I tried a couple of others, but they mostly seem focussed towards simple display of piccies rather than useful things like uploading and linking to PDFs. Next step is to try to get the Wordpress.com blog posts to forward to James' Empty Blog - so if you see a few weird things there in the next few days, that will be our experimentation!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/23/2013 04:49:00 PM

Sunday, November 10, 2013

[jules' pics] Blue skies research

Since that was (sniffle) the last Japanese mountain adventure ever, and soon we are off to do blue skies research in the land of famously cloudy skies, here are some unashamedly gratuitous bonus blue skies!!

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/10/2013 08:04:00 PM

Saturday, November 09, 2013

[jules' pics] Akadake

The aim of the day was climbing Akadake, Yatsugatake's highest peak. With Fuji-san visible from early morning, we set off expectant of blue skies.
Deciduous leaves were already gone at this altitude, leaving the berries to flaunt their red-ness against the sky.
As it was a public holiday (exercise day, no less), there were plenty of stumbling grockels around. Knowing the fun scrambling that lay ahead, we felt quite sorry for one woman, when her legs started to visibly shake before the first ladder of the day. But she carried on, so I expect she followed the all white circles all the way to the top, eventually.
The top is, of course a bit wrecked, with some bits of concrete shrine things and a hut just over the summit.
With plenty of people milling about on the top of Akadake, we didn't hang about for long.
Over the other side of the mountain, the far end of the Yatsugatake range was visible...that somewhat Fuji-san shaped mountain in the distance is the last peak. We once spent several days walking the ridge the other way from that end, but that time we didn't make it to Akadake, due to being blown off the mountain by a blizzard.
After coffee at the second hut over the summit, it was a romp through changing seasons, 1500m down the valley.
We had a bath at the hut next to the bus stop before catching the public transport home.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/09/2013 07:48:00 PM

Thursday, November 07, 2013

So long and thanks for all the sushi

Since xkcd has started posting cartoons about our time in Japan, it's obviously time to go public:

We've been playing chess on a go board for over 12 years now (though unlike white in the above we did realise this a long time ago!), and have decided it's time to stop. We actually gave up on JAMSTEC about a year ago, 6 months after they effectively gave up on us and our research. More on that in another post. But we've been a bit busy since then, and this is pretty much the first chance we have had to leave.

So we have resigned from JAMSTEC and will be in the UK before Christmas. We are looking forward to doing do a bit of freestyle science over the coming months - jules has already been invited to a couple of workshops next year, so we will see how things pan out. If by some miracle, suitable paid opportunities appear in the future, we'd certainly consider them, but at this point we are looking forward to some blue skies research.
We are a bit sad to be leaving Japan,and particularly Kamakura where we've very much enjoyed living. But we are also excited about going to Britain!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

[jules' pics] The Importance of Verticality

Another view of Yatsugatake, for those who have forgotten the story so far (sorry for the delay in posting).
There was a hut just over the peak, where we had stayed before,
but from the peak we could see in the distance another hut so we decided it was our goal for the night. It took only about 90mins to get there. I'm not very good at taking level photographs (but I note that neither are some great artiste photographers), but how come the people are vertical while the hut is not? None of my camera lenses have that much distortion!
The truth became very clear when I tried to walk up the little corridor inside the hut and fell over instead. The hut was vertically challenged!
Actually most people seemed to not have as much of a problem walking straight in a crooked hut, and perhaps some didn't even notice. There was a newish looking diagonal wire on the outside of the hut. Perhaps it was helping slow down the rate of slide, but it seemed likely that the ground was moving under the hut, causing it to tip down the mountainside.
Actually, at altitude, I quite like to have my head well above my feet while sleeping, so it was quite comfortable in some respects. In others it was not so good, as the sleeping theory of this hut was access to the upper sleeping floor from one end, with everyone sleeping in a row, such that everyone further from the door had to step over your body when they wanted the toilet in the night.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 11/05/2013 08:17:00 PM

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

[jules' pics] blue skies weather magic

It has been the wettest October in Yokohama since 2004 with a series of typhoons trundling by (394mm so far - footling British storms take note). Even when they don't really hit, the typhoons disturb the weather forecast, leading us to think that the typhoon forecast and weather forecast are not that well integrated. But the Japanese Met. Agency fixed it for everyone to enjoy the October public holiday that is specially set aside for exercise. A week in advance, the forecast was set fair, and so it proved to be! We headed for Yatsugatake.
Leaves were turning around 1500m.
Kita alps in the distance.
The plan had been for a quick up and down from the west, with an overnight on the top, but, for the first time ever when taking a trip to the mountains, we got on the wrong train, and so missed the bus. The plan was quickly changed to involve a longer walk from the south.
This was the first peak we got to, with more of Yatsugatake (it means 8 peaks!), behind James. Last time we came here, all we could see was cloud.
Yatsugatake view!
More Yatsugatake, and note some examples of the distinctive windily shaped trees. Not much wind this time though.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/30/2013 09:11:00 PM

Sunday, October 27, 2013

[jules' pics] Typhoons

After the hornet plague came the typhoon plague. Two at once yesterday.
Two typhoons
The morning after the typhoon, everyone is busy repairing their houses.
The finished home is certainly worth all the work. I wonder if we computer modellers could learn something from this intricate grid system. There seems to be a row of knots every 5 or 6 rows.

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/27/2013 03:02:00 PM

Thursday, October 24, 2013

[jules' pics] Battle of the predators

It was starting to cool a little in early September and I braved a run to work. To wile away the time I decided to count hornets and, in about 45 minutes, got to 29. In the weeks that followed the numbers dwindled. It was the year of the plague of hornets, but now it is almost all over. New predators have arisen!

Hornets like to use the human-made paths in the thick forest vegetation. They are kind of like hornet motorways. A couple of weeks ago, suspended over such a path at Jufukuji temple were a series of webs of which this was one.
Jufukuji - spider eats hornet
Yes - it is a spider sucking out the insides of a neatly wrapped hornet. Now we know why the thread in their webs is so ridiculously tough - it's to make the most of the once-in-a-decade hornet bonanza!

Elsewhere smaller spiders were just posing attractively over gravestones, eager to attract boyfriends for supper.
Jufukuji - spider

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/24/2013 03:48:00 PM

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

[jules' pics] Sasuke Inari

Red for Shinto. Sasuke Inari Shrine is all about a man who saw a fox...
Sasuke Inari
And here are some of the foxes.
sasuke inari
Sasuke Inari

Posted By Blogger to jules' pics at 10/22/2013 08:35:00 PM