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April 25, 2007

Land of Enchantment

Solar Telescope Tall Yucca

After Boston, we flew southwest to New Mexico. L attended an international conference at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. While she was hard at work, her parents drove over and I went site-seeing with them. We saw amazing petroglyphs. Then, L finally finished up her conference and we headed to Phoenix for the weekend. On the way, we stopped off at White Sands. I had never been and was amazed at the soft touch of the dune sands. We saw amazing buried trees that still survived even though engulfed by dunes. We saw lots of animal tracks in the dunes, and even one small lizard brave enough to greet us. Our photos don't all do a great job of capturing the alien landscape. And the sand was really white, even though some of the photos make it look more tan in color.

See more photos from our trip by clicking here. You can use a new feature of the photo gallery where you just wave your mouse over the image and it shows you the full caption on the left side. Then click if you want a bigger version.

Family sweatshop


Some of you may recognize this quilt from our wedding. L's grandmother made it for her, but was unable to finish it before she died. Now that she is retired, L's mom has been working on completing the task. Quilting by hand is time consuming, so during our stay in Arizona, we made our contribution. It's apparently a tradition, as L's grandma used to get her family members to help out whenever they came to visit.

April 24, 2007

Two and a half weeks of Mexican food!

We just returned from a brief trip back to the good old USA. L needed to check back in to her home office in Boston, Massachusetts. So, we flew back in early April.

It's hard to believe it, but our year in Japan is more than half way over. After one year, mission control for L's satellite will migrate to Boston, so we'll definitely be moving back there at the end of the summer. Our return to America is starting to sneak up on us, and that means it's time to start thinking about the future. While L was in Boston checking in with her colleagues, I spent my time searching for a job.

Some of you may know that I have been devoting a lot of my energy into science education, and so I am taking this opportunity to search for jobs that have a strong education component, rather than science research like I've been doing for the last several years. I talked with people doing research into how people learn, people that design educational curricula, the Boston Museum of Science, and teaching positions at the high school and college level. I'm not sure exactly where I can make the best contribution (or who will hire me), but I met with people about every other day for informational interviews and a couple of more formal job interviews. I'm still waiting to hear if I will receive any job offers from the interviews, but I had a fun time talking with people about what they do.

Other than work, we visited with friends, walked around Boston, and got snowed on during two different April storms. After two weeks in Boston, we went to New Mexico where L attended a conference. We spent time with her parents, and then flew back home. We even got to see my parents during a four hour layover in the San Francisco airport.

Overall, a great trip. And the best part? Getting to eat decent Mexican food for two and a half weeks straight!

April 11, 2007

Stop smoking, or we'll inflict stupid ads on you

The first time I started to think I'd been in Japan too long was when I was walking behind someone smoking a cigarette and thought, "that smels kind of nice."

There is so much smoking in Japan that one really does have to get used to it or be miserable. However, I'm told that things are much better than just a few years ago, as many restaurants and office buildings now have non-smoking areas. My office, for example, has designated smoking areas ... which of course leak smoke all over out into the halls and adjoining offices, leading people to leave windows open all over the hallway, making it necessary to put on a coat, scarf, and gloves in order to venture out in the hallway to the restroom.

If things are better than they used to be, it gives me pause think that ads like the one below may be motivating factors. And that's not all ... it's part of a whole equally inspired series. Plastic Bamboo, a website that showcases wacky Japanese stuff, has the rest of the series here.

April 9, 2007

Peep Jousting: an Ancient Easter Tradition

Peep Jousting

Marshmallow peeps have been an Easter staple from approximately the beginning of time, though peep jousting is thought to have developed only a few thousand millenia ago, shortly after the first pre-Cambrian microwaves evolved from the primordial goo. After the inital preperatory ablutions, peeps are placed in said microwave for a few minutes, with their toothpick jousts plunged strategically into their chests. The powerful peeps swell to several times their size in the heat of battle and finally joust to the death. Here, I and a friend from work partake in the ancient rite, under the scrutiny of a team of anthropologists, a National Geographic film crew, and the CIA.

April 8, 2007

Date Course: Hanami float on the moat

Imperial Palace from the moat Watch out for that branch!

There is always a "right" way to do things in Japan, and dating is no exception. So when a Japanese coworker mentioned something about the "date course" for spring time, we thought that it was an important part of our cultural experience as a young couple. Our instructions were to go visit the Imperial Palace moat for hanami (blossom viewing), rent a rowboat, and then stay to see the area after dark. By this time, we had spent quite a bit of time enjoying the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park, Yoyogi Park, and scattered around all of Tokyo. We already considered ourselves lucky to have seen the famous Japanese cherry blossoms at some of these famous viewing spots, so it would have been easy to pass up this suggestion and spend our time packing for our upcoming trip to America. But, we decided to give it a try anyways.

As soon as we exited the train station, we quickly realized that we made the right choice. The Emperor, while a largely symbolic position, still gets to enjoy the most fantastic display of cherry blossoms one could possibly imagine. We strolled through one of the palace gardens enjoying bright green maples, perfect pink camelias, delicate purple flowers, and of course, the sakura blossoms.

We eventually made our way to the part of the moat where we could rent our row boat. We took turns rowing around, enjoying the blossoms cascading down the moat wall. We paused along the edge of the moat underneath the graceful limbs and stared up at the white canopy above. It was truly blissful.

We took lots of photos on this gorgeous day. Take a look through them all by clicking here.

Download a fun movie clip of L rowing among the flowers by clicking here [Quicktime movie, 2.3 MB].

April 5, 2007


Cherry progress 1
Cherry Progress 2
Cherry Progress 3

The season to watch cherry blossoms, called sakura in Japanese, has come and gone in Tokyo. We were incredibly lucky to be living in Japan because it would be incredibly hard to time a visit to coincide with peak bloom. The blossoms open and drop all within about a week, which is one of the reasons the Japanese make such an event out of this brief period on the yearly calendar.

We were able to enjoy the entire process of the blooms because we live and work near some of Japan's most famous "hanami" (flower watching) sites. M visited Ueno park six times in two weeks to check on the status of blossoms and then to enjoy them at their peak, which was perfectly timed to coincide with the warmest and sunniest day we've had in a while. The photos on the left show three of the best visits, and you can see the progression of the blossoms. Even though some trees are overall more pink and some closer to white (and a few with an amazing combination), the photos to the left show that individual blossoms change color as time passes. They start out more pink, but as they open become more and more white.

Step through our hanami season experience by reading the captions to the photos we took over the last few weeks by clicking here.

April 2, 2007

Matt on TV

Matt on TV Duck, Cover, and Hold on

"So what we're going to need from you is some excitement, some personality, maybe some humor. Don't worry about the science, we'll take care of that." Those were my instructions a few weeks ago when I hosted a TV crew from the National Geographic channel for two days of filming in Tokyo. While their documentary will focus on earthquake hazards along the west coast of the US, they wanted to use Japan as a model of where earthquake science could go in the future in the US.

Click the link below to read more about my experience as a scientist/actor.

The first day of filming was at Hakone volcano where they said we would discuss the relationship between earthquakes and volcanoes around the ring of fire. In reality, they filmed me walking up and down paths, and looking intently at the view. When we did finally sit down for an interview, it seemed to last forever because it was freezing cold, windy, and they kept interrupting my answers because nearby tourists were making too much background noise. Between the conditions and the fact that I have less experience talking about volcanoes, I wasn't too happy with my answers that day.

The next day, I discussed Japan's sophisticated early warning system (see earlier blog entry). I gave them the option of filming me in the noisy, windowless room where ERI houses its computers, or in my office where I actually work. They selected the computer room, indicating it looked more authentic. I have no idea how many of my answers of the 2 hour interview will make it onto the 42 minute show (an "American hour" with 18 minutes of commercials).

With more than 20 years of formal education culminating in a Ph.D., who'd have thought that my role as the title character in my kindergarten production of the musical Peter Rabbit would be the best preparation that I had for my biggest national TV appearance as a scientist. The acting became most important when we went to the Honjo Disaster Preparedness Center, a museum sponsored by the Tokyo Fire Department. In addition to a wind tunnel where participants experience hurricane force winds and driving rain, it features a model kitchen set up on an earthquake shake table. They filmed me reading the paper at the kitchen table and then they activated various size earthquakes. The photo on the left shows a member of the crew braced in the corner holding a camera before the earthquake starts (he ended up banging his head pretty hard once the event started). The museum docent instructed us on the proper procedure for diving under the table, but our film crew had slightly different instructions. "Once you dive under the table, we can't see you with the camera, so try to stay above the table a little longer than you would like to" -- a great lesson for the viewers at home. After about 5 or 6 takes, the shaking was still pretty scary. By staying above the table for so long at his request, I actually was genuinely panicked about being unable to make it to safety once the strongest shaking hit. The movements were so violent that it was actually hard to get from the chair to underneath table.

There were several times during the experience that I wondered why they didn't just hire an actor, but then I realized that I was doing the gig for free and they would have had to pay a professional union wages. And I'm not sure that they will get the science right, but I'm anxious to see the final edits. I'll let you know when I find out about the air date (on the National Geographic Channel in the US) and I'll post a clip of the final version online when I get a copy.

April 1, 2007

April Fools

Tokyo Tower

Holy rusted skyscraper, Batman! The Eiffel tower's turned orange!

Fear not, friends, the Golden Gate remains golden, the Statue of Liberty did not shrink in the wash, and the Eiffel tower will forever retain its, er, dull boring grey color. These are all just Tokyo's attempts to trick us into forgetting we're in Asia. And in the meantime, you can rest assured knowing that if King Kong comes round to battle Godzilla again, he'll feel right at home with his very own Empire State building to climb.

Felt Earthquakes

Earthquakes are a common part of our experience here in Japan. They are so common that we even started keeping track of all the ones we felt. While catching up on our blog this morning, we felt another earthquake, the 15th in 6 months. L feels more earthquakes because M works in a brand new building that uses a technique called "base isolation" to minimize the amount of shaking in the building. He has never felt an earthquake while at work, while L averages one earthquake every 9 days in 2007.

2007 Earthquakes

06:53 JST 06 Jan 2007
06:59 JST 07 Jan 2007  3.6 (alarm came on just moments after).
18:45 JST 08 Jan 2007
13:18 JST 09 Jan 2007	36.1N	139.8E	80km	4.3	IBARAKI KEN NANBU (L)
03:18 JST 16 Jan 2007	35.0N	138.9E	170km	5.7	SHIZUOKA KEN TOBU
16:12 JST 27 Jan 2007	36.0N	139.4E	140km	4.2	SAITAMA KEN HOKUBU
20:59 JST 04 Feb 2007	35.6N	140.1E	80km	4.2	CHIBA KEN HOKUSEIBU
14:16 JST 04 Mar 2007	35.5N	139.0E	20km	3.4	YAMANASHI KEN TOBU-FUJI GO (L)
14:04 JST 08 Mar 2007	30.0N	141.1E	140km	6.0	NEAR TORISHIMA ISLAND (L)
11:52 JST 01 Apr 2007	32.4N	137.7E	380km	5.7	FAR S OFF TOKAIDO
03:49 JST 01 May 2007	35.8N	140.1E	80km	3.6	CHIBA KEN HOKUSEIBU
20:12 JST 01 May 2007	34.0N	141.0E	80km	4.7	E OFF KANTO
(away for 3 weeks, back for 2 weeks, away for 3 weeks)
18:26 JST 28 Jun 2007	35.8N	139.2E	10km	4.1	TOKYO TO TAMASEIBU (L)
10:13 JST 16 Jul 2007	37.5N	138.6E	10km	6.6	OFF JO-CHUETSU NIIGATA PREF
15:37 JST 16 Jul 2007	37.5N	138.7E	10km	5.6	NIIGATA KEN CHUETSU CHIHO
23:18 JST 16 Jul 2007	36.8N	135.2E	370km	6.6	OFF KYOTO PREF
17:10 JST 23 Jul 2007	35.7N	140.0E	80km	3.4	CHIBA KEN HOKUSEIBU
11:38 JST 24 Jul 2007	35.3N	139.1E	10km	4.4	KANAGAWA KEN SEIBU
15:28 JST 29 Jul 2007	35.6N	140.1E	80km	3.6	CHIBA KEN HOKUSEIBU
04:15 JST 16 Aug 2007	35.4N	140.6E	30km	5.3	E OFF CHIBA PREF
08:20 JST 16 Aug 2007	35.4N	140.6E	30km	5.0	E OFF CHIBA PREF
08:32 JST 16 Aug 2007	35.4N	140.6E	30km	4.5	E OFF CHIBA PREF
09:22 JST 16 Aug 2007	35.4N	140.6E	30km	4.7	E OFF CHIBA PREF

2006 Earthquakes

2006-Aug-31 17:18      35.53N  139.88E  90km     5.10 (L)
2006-Sep-07 03:06      35.48N  140.84E  49km     5.20
2006-Sep-07 10:57      35.59N  140.13E  66km     4.70
2006-Oct-14 06:38      34.81N  140.13E  63km     5.10
2006-Dec-09 12:29      35.70N  140.00E  70km     4.70 (M)

Channeling the Jetsons


Last week I visited Tokai University for a conference. After taking in this building and some other campus architecture, I found myself searching for the spacemobiles and Rosie the Robot Maid. Actually, with this being Japan, I probably could have found a pretty good facsimile of Rosie if I had tried...