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Autumn twilight

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Newsflash!! “Productivity tools” don’t necessarily make you more productive!

I’ve been playing around with OneNote, Evernote, SkyDrive and some note-taking apps on the iPad2. And, gennelmen and ladies, I’ve discovered that using these tools does not necessarily result in greater productivity! Why not?

  • First, there is the time it takes to learn to use these tools effectively (although that’s true for almost any endeavour)
  • B, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal, and the goal is not to become more proficient at using these tools! They are tools: means to an end. What is the end? It’s so easy to lose sight of that.
  • D, sometimes the tools start dictating what you spend your time doing, instead of the other way around. Here’s an example – use Evernote to keep track of every one of your Tweets instead of them all disappearing forever into the maw of Twitter’s unsearchable archive. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.
  • Four, (tho see B, also), getting  everything into your in-tray is impossible, at least for me: as I’m writing down one idea, I get 2 or 3 more. Getting everything down, emptying your mind, needs to be combined with, and preferably preceded by, what Dave Allen calls the view from 50,000 feet. However, I don’t mean this kind of advice on the GTD website. This is just more of the same: chasing the rainbow. You can make yourself insanely busy dealing with stuff at runway/ground-level or 10- or 20,000 feet, stuff that you would simply drop if you could take a look from 50,000 feet. From 50,000 feet, for example, improving my “operational responsiveness” doesn’t show up on my radar. Not even close. I’d be having too much fun looking at the view. Another way of looking at it is, if today were your last day on earth, would you be spending it the way you are? (“This life is worth more than the most precious jewels. Yet you are spending it as though it wasn’t worth a penny.”)
  • So I disagree with this advice: “taking care of those runway items and 10,000 foot items through the GTD system will allow you to think about and consider the items on the higher levels.” Not in my experience it won’t – you usually end up with a permanent inability to see the wood for the trees.
  • Sometimes, quietly listening to one’s own inner voice can bring great clarity and help sort out one’s priorities. But you can’t always hear it if you’re listening to your iPod while reading your favourite blogs and noting down all the cool quotes in Evernote (then exporting them all to OneNote, for backup), then madly surfing the web or Skyping friends to learn how to unfreeze your Kindle.
  • Finally, you can’t take it with you.

You Can't Take It With You

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2011/09/02 03:49 – Vending Machines To Light Up The Night Once More

And on a brighter note:

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Lighting for some 870,000 beverage vending machines will soon be turned back on at night in areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) and Tohoku Electric Power Co. (9506).

With the summer’s demand for electricity having passed its peak, the Japan Soft Drink Association concluded that its members no longer need to voluntarily reduce their energy consumption.

via 2011/09/02 03:49 – Vending Machines To Light Up The Night Once More.

The ubiquitous vending machines were one of the first things I noticed about Japan. They are everywhere, and you can find ones selling rice and eggs. Unlike vending machines in Britain, they all work!

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34 spots top Chernobyl evacuation standard : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri)

Update: Fukushima prefecture has created a new website with information about the dangers of radiation (mouse-tip to Lenz Blog). The website includes a map, government pamphlets and FAQs about radioactive risks. Below is from the Daily Yomiuri:

Soil at 34 spots in six Fukushima Prefecture municipalities has been contaminated with levels of radioactive cesium higher than the standard used for forcible evacuations after the Chernobyl disaster, it has been learned.

According to a soil contamination map submitted at a study meeting of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, six municipalities recorded more than 1.48 million becquerels of cesium 137 per square meter–the standard used for forced resettlement after the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

The 34 spots are in no-entry and expanded evacuation zones around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

via 34 spots top Chernobyl evacuation standard : National : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri).

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21st century Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is an enduring character. “Seventy-five actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 211 movies.” Read more at Suite101: Legendary Sherlock Holmes Back On Screen: Guy Ritchie Directs Newest Adaptation |

Just watched the first episode (on NHK BS) of Sherlock, which places Holmes and Watson in 21st-century London. It’s very good. The dialogue is very fast, snappy and clever, tho it goes a bit overboard with the lightning speed of Holmes’ near-supernatural induction skills, swerving a little close to parody a couple of times, methought.

I like Watson. Martin Freeman plays a solid, down-to-earth character who has his own quiet strengths, and completely ignores the traditional “bumbling side-kick” role, which was never true to the original Conan Doyle stories anway.

Benedict Cumberbatch is physically just right, as most of the screen Sherlocks have been: tall, slim, intellectual, a rare combination of the thinker and the man of action. He thinks while lying down staring at the ceiling, not with fist to forehead a la Rodin.

In the first episode, we get introduced to everyone – Lestrade (played intelligently, not as a buffoon) Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft and Moriarty. Oh, and the “aren’t they gay?” meme gets thrown in there as well, and promptly dealt with. Ditto Holmes’ drug use, but that was dealt with in a less interesting, tho hardly unexpected, way.

It’s interesting to see how the series’ creators mixed original details (Watson being a doctor) with modern ones (like cell-phones and Google maps). How many will consider the irony that one detail at least did not need to be changed – that Dr. Watson had seen action in Afghanistan where he had been injured? (The original Watson was injured in the Second Anglo-Afghan War; that would make the present one the Third.)

In this first episode, there is some confusion about Watson’s injury. He first appears hobbling with a cane. He later abandons it and is running unencumbered with Holmes through back alleys and up and down staircases. What the …? At the end, to Holmes’ inquiry, Watson says, “shoulder, actually”. This didn’t make any sense until I read that Conan Doyle himself was the cause of it:

the account of that wounding differs in Doyle’s books. In A Study in Scarlet Watson states: “I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail
bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery.” while later in The Sign of the Four he says that he: “sat
nursing my wounded leg. I had had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent me from walking it
ached wearily at every change of the weather.”. Perhaps Doyle realized this discrepancy because the third and last time he
mentions Watson’s battlefield injury in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor he simply has Watson state: “the Jezail bullet which I
had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence.” [From ]

Can’t wait to see the next episode. (Here’s a 2010 Daily Mail preview of the series.)

account of that wounding differs in Doyle’s books. In
A Study in Scarlett Watson states: “I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail
bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery.” while later in
The Sign of the Four he says that he: “sat
nursing my wounded leg. I had had a
Jezail bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent me from walking it
ached wearily at every change of the weather.”. Perhaps Doyle realized this discrepancy because the third and last time he
mentions Watson’s battlefield injury in
The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor he simply has Watson state: “the Jezail bullet which I
had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence.”


iPad2 vs Kindle

I recently bought an iPad2 and a Kindle. I want to try and go paperless (or as near to it as I can). From my pre-purchase research, I learned that an iPad can’t be used as a substitute laptop because it can’t handle spreadsheets, and typing on it is a pain. So I’ll compare these 2 gadgets only as e-book reading tools.


I live in Japan. I bought my iPad2 on AmazonJapan. I got the Wifi version, not the Wifi + 3G one as I figured I didn’t need to be online all the time. Just updating from my PC, like syncing my iPod, would be fine, I reckoned, and so far I’ve not wished I’d bought the 3G.

  1. You sync it like an iPod/iPhone, so if you’ve got either one of those gizmos, getting used to the iPad will take you all of 5 seconds (that’s how long it took my son to login to my Wifi and connect to the Internet).
  2. You can download books onto your computer then sync them on your iPad. You can also download books directly from the Internet, e.g. from iTunes, if you’re logged into a Wifi network.
  3. You need to download the iBooks app (free: just go to the iTunes App Store).
  4. There are tons of great books available in ePub format, many of them free or very cheap.
  5. You can also download/sync PDF files and read them like ePub formatted books. They don’t look quite so great and there are a few things you can’t do with PDF files (see below).
  6. iBooks app allows you to add bookmarks – the digital equivalent of turning down the corner of a page to mark your place – although the page numbering gets changed if you alter the font and/or if you simply turn the iPad sidewise.
  7. iBooks app also has a built-in dictionary. Very useful.
  8. iBooks app also allows you to highlight text (choice of colours) and to add notes to highlighted text. VERY useful, tho typing on that digital keyboard is a bit of a chore. I’ve only typed one-fingered. The keyboard isn’t really suitable for fast touch-typing.
  9. There’s also a search function.
  10. When you close /shut down your iPad, it remembers where you were and opens up at that page (and that book) when you fire it up again.
  11. iBooks app stores “books” (i.e. ePub formatted publications) and PDFs separately.
  12. You can sort the PDFs and the books by author or by title. PDFs tend to have these weird, shorthand titles, but you can edit them in iTunes before syncing them onto your iPad.
  13. You can’t add highlights or notes to the PDFs on your iPad2.
  14. I briefly tried the Internet connection –  it is faster than my home computer. I also managed to set it up to read my Outlook email, but I don’t use it for email because the iPad email software doesn’t filter out the spam, and believe it or not I get tired of reading 400+ variations on “Get Your Vi@gr@ Here”.
  15. iPad has a colour screen and also has backlighting so you can read in the dark. Useful.
  16. I bought this fake-leather case for it on Amazon.
  17. I bought this protective film for the screen.


  1. I bought it on Amazon Japan.
  2. I bought the Wifi version, not the Wifi+3G
  3. I bought this fake-leather case for it.
  4. In Japan, you can buy any colour of Kindle you like as long as it’s black (graphite).
  5. I assumed it would come setup for use in Japan.
  6. It doesn’t.
  7. There doesn’t seem to be a Japan-version Kindle. Yet. (This Japanese blogger tells me 日本語対応新型kindleとkindle DXはamazon.comに登録しないと購入できません
  8. There are apparently very few Japanese-language books available for Kindle, as yet. I won’t hold my breath.
  9. It’s set up to connect to your account. If you don’t have one, you will be prompted to create one.
  10. Your Amazon Japan account won’t work with this Kindle: you can’t login using your Amazon Japan ID, and you can’t buy books from Amazon Japan via your Kindle.
  11. So buying books on Amazon is pretty much a washout for me, as I don’t have an account and don’t like being forced to create one.
  12. I have an Amazon UK account. I want to be able to buy the Kindle version by connecting from my PC, then download the book to my Kindle, like I do with my iPad. But will Kindle let me do that? I can’t figure this out, and that is annoying.
  13. But you can plug it into your PC just like the iPad and drag and drop your PDFs. PDFs, but not books.
  14. Kindle has a built-in keyboard, a tiny real one, not digital like on the iPad. Well, it’s not really a “real” keyboard, it’s more like an extended punch-keypad like on your cell-phone.
  15. You can use it to search within documents, to highlight text, and to add notes.
  16. Kindle is smaller than the iPad2: it’s about the size of a paperback book. And about the same weight, so it’s lighter than the iPad2.
  17. Kindle is in b/w only, no colour.
  18. Kindle has no backlighting so no reading after lights out.


iPad2 wins. If you want to save on weight and size, maybe get an iPad (1) which is probably closer to the Kindle in size and weight. I still want to explore the Kindle’s functions more, but playing with the iPad2 has been much more fun, I haven’t got around to it yet.



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Fukushima plant site originally was a hill safe from tsunami | The Japan Times Online

Hindsight is always 20/20

Hindsight is always 20-20. “When I see the situation now…” The issue is that no-one thought at the time that shaving 25 meters off the bluff was a potential problem.

Also, is it definite that this would have avoided a nuclear disaster? Admittedly, the nuclear disaster’s immediate cause was the tsunami flooding the compound and knocking out the power lines to the national grid as well as the first-line backup generators. However, there have been numerous other problems which have come to light as the disaster has unfolded, many of them to do with safety policies or features that TEPCO was required to put in place or fix and which they did not.

The level of complacency in the Japanese nuclear industry as a whole can be measured by the fact that all nuclear reactors have undergone safety checks since March 11, and several were put on standby or on reduced power, awaiting checks and approval from local and national government.”No, no, no! Absolutely no danger! They’re all completely, 100%, utterly safe! We’re just, erm, double-checking to satisfy the naturally nervous public but there’s really nothing to worry about.” Yeah, right.

I reckon there would have been a major accident somewhere sometime, even if the tsunami hadn’t happened. It took the tsunami to reveal the head-in-the-sand arrogance and complacency of the nuclear industry and the public’s wilful ignorance and blind trust in their “elders and betters” (TEPCO and government ministers).

Many Japanese keep wittering on about being the only country that has suffered atomic attack. Yet prior to March 11,  when it came to types of radioactive isotopes, safe levels, the meaning of “millisievert”, half-lives, etc., Joe Tanaka was as ignorant as any citizen from a country without any nuclear power industry.

Katsumi Naganuma, 70, a former worker at Tokyo Electric Power Co., feels particular guilt because he knows that a 35-meter-high, tsunami-safe, bluff overlooking the sea was shaved down to build the Fukushima plant closer to sea level more than 40 years ago.Tepco, assuming tsunami 3.1 meters or higher would never hit the coast, cut down the bluff by some 25 meters and erected the plant on artificially prepared ground only 10 meters above sea level.”When I see the situation now, I feel it was wrong to clear that much of the hill away,” said Naganuma, who worked at Tepco’s local office preparing for the construction in the late 1960s.”If they did not dig the ground down that much, we would not have faced this situation. The nuclear disaster would not have happened,” said Naganuma.

via Fukushima plant site originally was a hill safe from tsunami | The Japan Times Online.

The article takes the easy option: slam TEPCO (with hindsight), but it includes good reasons why TEPCO did this:

During a recent interview with The Japan Times, Masatoshi Toyota, 88, former senior vice president of Tepco, said one of the reasons the utility lowered the bluff was to build the base of the reactors directly on solid bedrock to mitigate any earthquake threat.

Toyota was a key executive who was involved in the Fukushima No. 1 plant construction.

It is actually common practice to build primary nuclear plant facilities directly on bedrock because of the temblor factor.

Toyoda also cited two other reasons for Tepco clearing away the bluff — seawater pumps used to provide coolant water needed to be set up on the ground up to 10 meters from the sea, and extremely heavy equipment, including the 500-ton reactor pressure vessels, were expected to be brought in by boat.

If the entire structure had collapsed because it was not built on bedrock, no doubt the Japan Times and others would be slamming TEPCO with articles like “Fukushima plant not built on bedrock! TEPCO wanted safe height to avoid unlikely tsunami”.

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Japan nuke plants to add tin-foil hats, vents and other safety steps – Yahoo! News


Tin-foil hats for Japan!

Tin-foil hats for Japan!



The operator of Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plant said Tuesday it is installing rooftop vents and taking additional safety measures at two other plants to help cope with any severe accident in the future.

via Japan nuke plants to add vents, other safety steps – Yahoo! News.

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“Technology and organization – the central themes of the modern era”

Stop Screwing Around and Get Organized

Stop Screwing Around and Get Organized By fitzage on Flickr


  1. “I feel that the government needs to attach itself to a project that would be popular with the citizens of Japan. The notion of sacrificing, or the attempt to go above and beyond the call of duty, is a Japanese trait ingrained in the mindset of the older generation of the Japanese populous. The people of Japan are starting to lose hope in their government, and the government needs to reassure them that they are trying their best to rectify the disaster that has struck the Tohoku area. One can see that the “suicide corp”, as Hosono has idiotically dubbed, is somewhat controversial, and with the backing of several politicans, it can gain more momentum and allow for others to join their cause. That said, Japanese people love their legal, political red tape more than the average bear, and this is just another example of it.” [A comment left on this blog]
  2. “We have been conditioned to regard the nuclear issue as something so political and unrelated to our daily lives that it’s only for experts to deal with, not for us to even think about. But it took just one business enterprise to point out to us, in words that were completely devoid of sensationalism or hyperbole, that it is actually our own responsibility to get involved.” [Novelist Genichiro Takahashi, writing in the Asahi Shimbun, May 27th, 2011: POINT OF VIEW/ Genichiro Takahashi: Finding post-disaster hope in people who avoid ‘big words’]
  3. “What they’ve been taught is this: everything is created from above already; there is no more room; the individual invents nothing.” [from John Rappoport Music]
  4. “The central theme of the modern era is: technology and organization. It was not always seen to be that. But the men who are riding the biggest horses of organization in this world today… have come to realize that… domination can be achieved just through improving the functioning of their organizations. Their ant colonies… in the long run it doesn’t really matter what car or movie or CD or medicine or cosmology or God or law enforcement system is sold as the product of a given organization. Yes, it has to be interesting and functional up to a point, but whatever wild desire and surmise once motivated an inventor or a theologian or a president to start one of these organizations, and make a product, a service, a particular THING for the public, much of that is gone now, that passion is gone and it doesn’t matter. What matters, to an alarming degree, is making the public PERCEIVE that it likes the product. What matters is that the public… have somehow deadened their own perception of reality so that they can become passive enough to accept organization as the ruling force of the world, so that they can accept what organization gives them as consumers and demands of them as employees without blinking or rebelling. And individual creation, and small-group creation are the magnificent trumping answers to that. Undeadening perception and expanding the scope and power of the creative imagination… Let’s break out. As the writer William Burroughs used to say, Wouldn’t you?” [Jon Rappoport, Full Power, 91-2.]

Notice how item #1 and #2 are about perception: it’s important that the people of Japan perceive their government as popular, as backing popular projects , begging the question, if they’re popular, why is the government necessary? People need to perceive something as “legit”. In item #2, the questions going begging  are, “We have been conditioned” … by whom? Who is “we”? And are we pure victims, or (as the commenter noted in #1) has the Japanese people’s love for legal, political red tape made them willing participants in their own conditioning?

There is a certain irony in item #2: that he was under the spell of one organization was an insight prompted by anOTHER organization! Organizations are competing for customer loyalty, not just for their particular products but for allegiance to their particular brand of organization,; perhaps loyalty to the idea of organization as the legit, ruling force; in this case, that politicians and experts are best left to manage the important aspects of our lives.

The March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis seem to have banged a big hole in a lot of people’s loyalty, indeed to their very idea of “loyalty”, i.e. meekly accepting the decisions and directives of the politicians and the elites. This acquiescence was based on an assumption: that those in charge have our best interests at heart, that the authorities are fundamentally on our side. Is this assumption justified? It seems many people, prompted by the March disaster and its aftermath, are asking themselves this question.

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Japan retired nuclear workers ready for duty – Yahoo! News

“Skilled Veterans Corps”. Good name. It took a politician to call them (publicly) a “suicide corps”. Way to go, Hosono! Diplomatic, eh?

This article has more details than the one Mike Rogers linked to yesterday.

More than 160 engineers, including many former atomic plant workers, aged 60 or older say they want to set up a “Skilled Veterans Corps” to help restore the cooling systems crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

via Japan retired nuclear workers ready for duty – Yahoo! News.

“We need to bring the participants’ voices to parliament as well as to the government,” said Hiroe Makiyama, an upper house member of the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan.

What the heck for? To make it look like the parliament and the government are actually doing something? As the man who came up with the idea, Yamada, said,

“A functioning cooling system is indispensable,” he pointed out. “But who is supposed to build it? Only people can do it”

Only people. And not politicians, but people who actually know what they are doing. As Masahiro Ueda, 69, a former nuclear power plant worker with more than four decades of expertise on water pumps of cooling systems, put it:

“Someone should take action. You can’t work properly at nuclear plants without specialist knowledge.”

“We will also consider the necessary legislation to back the project.”… said Hiroe Makiyama, an upper house member of the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan.

Why is legislation necessary?

“We are very thankful and want to accept their feeling of devoted action,” said Goshi Hosono, the special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan in charge of addressing the ongoing crisis, according to local media.

“But our principle is that we should stick to procedures that will not require such a ‘suicide corps’,” Hosono said.

Translation: we’d rather Tepco paid minimum wages to inexperienced sub-contractor workers who don’t know what they’re getting into, than nuclear industry veterans who know exactly what they’re doing and what the risks are, and are more than likely to criticize Tepco and the government’s strategies. Who needs that, sheesh! We’re in charge, and we don’t want anyone throwing doubts on our competence, duh!

And anyway, initiative is a dirty word. It upsets solidarity and harmony, the pillars that uphold Japanese society, doncha know.

March 5th 2008 - Everyone should give themselves a slap on the wrist sometimes

"Slap on the wrist" (for initiative). Photo by Stephen Poff on Flickr (click photo to visit)



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