Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost In The Supermarket

There's nothing "super" about supermarkets. They are in fact, the opposite of "super".

Some basic questions:
Where does the food in the supermarket come from?
How far does the have to travel in order to reach my local supermarket?
How much energy is required for this journey?
In emergency situations where time is of the essence, can the food be moved faster?
In emergency situations where fuel is of the essence, can the food be moved more efficiently?
If I panic-buy all the monkey food at my local supermarket, does this mean that a child in Sendai can't feed her pet monkey?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear Japan Who's Who

I intend this post to serve as a reference to interested parties, providing only the most basic of information. I shall endeavor to keep opinion to a minimum.

The Elements
Atomic weight 238.02891 grams per mole, atomic number 92, phone number 555-HOT-STUFF, uranium-238 can be used as a nuclear fuel when it is enriched with 3 % uranium-235, a more unstable isotope.

Contrary to popular belief, plutonium does not come from disgraced ex-planet Pluto. With an atomic weight of 244 grams per mole, an atomic number of 94 and a phone number that is unlisted, plutonium has a deservedly bad reputation. It's used by reactor 3 at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station that was hit the tsunami.

During nuclear accidents and explosions any iodine that's lying around becomes radioactive. If people eat or drink the radioactive iodine, or breathe it in, it can be absorbed by the body and result in thyroid cancer. This only happens if your body is in need of iodine. This can be prevented by taking potassium-iodide or potassium-iodate tablets, or by eating iodein-rich foods such as seaweed. The British embassy in Tokyo has been distributing potassium-iodate tablets to people who can prove they are British citizens.


The radioisotopes of cesium present a high health risk during and after nuclear accidents. Cesium's radioactive isotopes don't accumulate in the body but they do accumulate in fruits and vegetables. Best avoided if possible.

The Radiation
Alpha Particles
These can be thought of as helium nuclei with both electrons missing. If someone tells you that alpha particles are not dangerous because they are non-penetrating just punch the person in the side of their jaw at a 45 degree angle to the X, Y and Z planes. When alpha particles are ingested or inhaled they about 20 times more dangerous than beta and gamma radiation.

Beta Particles
High-energy electrons or positrons traveling at high speeds, beta particles have a medium ability to penetrate, and a medium ability to ionize, when compared to alpha and gamma radiation. Nobody likes Mr Average.

Gamma Rays
What most people think of as "nuclear radiation". Gamma rays are very high frequency waves that are released when subatomic particles do things. Blocking gamma rays requires thick, dense barriers such as concrete blocks or packed earth.

The Companies
The Tokyo Electric Power Company has a history of covering up nuclear accidents. TEPCO has admitted that over the 25-year period from 1977 to 2002 they lied more than 200 times to the authorities.

General Electric
The US company that built three of the six light water reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station. They also make nuclear weapons. Nice work if you can get it. Here's an ABC News article about problems with design of the reactors and their containment systems:

Hitachi built reactor number 4. Read into that what you will.

Toshiba built reactors number 3 and 5, and supplied most of the equipment for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station including the cooling pumps.

The People
The "Fukushima 50"
The Fukushima 50 refers to a group of about 200 TEPCO workers, police, firemen and others who are working at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station to deal with the numerous incidents that are occurring there.

Naoto Kan
Being president of Japan must be tough during times of crisis. On a good day, the Japanese government is lazy, ignorant, incompetent and corrupt. There haven't been any good days since the earthquake.

John Beddington
The UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser. He sometimes chats with the UK ambassador to Japan. Read one of his conversations here:

Akio Komori
Foreign media have been focusing on the fact that Komri, managing director of TEPCO
, cried when leaving a press conference. Crying at press conference is a standard operating procedure in Japan so I wouldn't read too much into it.

Dr Masashi Goto,
Goto designed the reactor containment vessels while working as an engineer for Toshiba. Shortly after the earthquake he gave a lecture at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan explaining why he thought the situation was much worse than TEPCO had made out.

Josef Oehmen
Oehmen was the author of a (fake?)letter asserting that Fukushima Dai-Ichi posed no threat to the public. It went viral the day after the earthquake but was quite quickly by myself and others.

Keely Fujiyama
When UK tabloid newspaper The Sun published a bizzare apocalyptic account of the situation in Tokyo by Keely Fujiyama, several people in the Twattersphere suggested Fujiyama may have been a fabrication. I can reveal that she is in fact, a real person. She was born in Nottinghamshire, UK in 1975 and married Ryu Fujiyama in 2002. She may have a famous sister. More information will be released shortly...

Taro Kono
Japanese MP who Wikileaks has revealed, expressed serious concern about the safety of Japan's nuclear power industry during dinner with a US official in 2008. Read the leaked cable here:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How Can Hackers Help the Quake Victims?

Over the past few days members and friends of Tokyo hackerspace have been discussing the best way to help the earthquake victims in northern Japan. We now have a clear plan, but we need some cash. Please donate if you can:

Japan Earthquake Update

Despite what the timestamp may say, I'm writing this on Wednesday afternoon, 4 days after the huge earthquake in northern Japan.

Here is the current situation as I see it, written in micro-paragraphs for the Twatter/Facebook generation:

There continue to be problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. There may be problems at other nuclear power stations, but none has been reported recently.

There's been a lot of hype/disinformation in the Twattersphere. Interestingly, at least among the people I follow on the web, there has been as much calm-mongering as there has been scaremongering. I find this type of head-in-the-sand response very upsetting.

The information provided by the axis-of-stupidity(Japanese government, NHK and TEPCO) has been worse than useless. They are largely the ones to blame for any hype in foreign media. They have talked in vague generalities that frequently don't make any sense at all. I'm never one to defend the shit-for-brains BBC, but at least they've talked to a variety of "experts" about the unfolding situation.

Due to the fact I'm quite far from the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, I'm not really very concerned about the acute effects of radiation. The general concensus, if you can call it that, is that the radioactive isotopes produced in the even of a major fuckstorm would have relatively short half-lives and therefore pose little risk to people in Tokyo.

The chronic effects of increased radiation are a different matter. Tokyo is my home and I would like to remain here for the foreseeable future. I'm concerned that background radiation here might rise significantly and remain high for months or even years. The authorities in Japan don't seem to believe "Honesty is the best policy" so without purchasing a Geiger counter and using it to check food and water, it would be hard to know if we're being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

Many of the key issues regarding the short-term outlook here are not being addressed by anyone. I'll post a list of the key issues(as I see them) later today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Read Josef Oehmen

Many people, including some I know personally, have been linking to an article by Josef Oehmen that explains why Japan's nuclear reactors are entirely safe, and will remain so, despite the recent earthquake, tsunami and aftershocks.

Here is a quote from the MIT website:
Josef is the author of the essay “Why I’m not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”. It was an email he sent to his family in Japan. When his cousin posted it on his blog, it went viral.

Josef is working hard with a team from MIT to provide an appropriate response to the interest the post has generated. The original blog will be migrated to an MIT site, managed by a team of experts from MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. The link will be posted here when it becomes available.

Josef is not a nuclear scientist or engineer. He is a mechanical engineer by training, working on product development processes with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative and the MIT-KFUPM Center for Clean Water and Energy.

Please direct all media inquiries to MIT's News Office.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fukushima Nuclear Spring

The situation here in Tokyo is becoming very grave indeed. I managed to get quite a lot of food and drink today but I couldn't get batteries, lights, candles or medical supplies. I can't imagine supermarkets and chemists reopening in the next few days, but just in case I'll go out tomorrow to see if I can get some iodine tablets and other medicines.

I'm about 220 km from Fukushima where the reactors are located which sounds quite far but really isn't when you are considering the movement of radioactive dust and water. Although I have a few hand tools and some basic materials I don't think it would be possible to seal my house against fallout. The nearest DIY store is about a hour on foot, and is very unlikely to be open.

Here are a couple of practical links for people in the Kanto area of Japan.

How to build a fallout meter:

Very practical book on dealing with aftereffects of nuclear accidents:

Another book on surviving nuclear accidents is "Life After Doomsday". It's available on BitTorrent or eBook websites like http://www.ebookee.com

Here is some info on previous cover-ups of nuclear disasters in Japan:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: How To Survive

IMMEDIATE ACTION: Prepare enough food and supplies for at least a week, longer if you can.

This is not a wait-and-see situation. If we assume that there will be no more major earthquakes, and no worsening of the situation surrounding Fukushima Dai-ishi nuclear power station, it is still likely that the Kanto region of Japan will suffer food shortages.

Some causes of food shortages:
(1) People panicking and buying up all the food. :)
(2) Existing food in Japan failing to reach supermarkets due to lack of fuel etc.
(3) A cessation of food imports. (Japan imports more than half of its food).

Something else to consider: if the nuclear situation worsens, it may not be possible to leave your house(or homestead, as you will learn to call it) for days or even weeks.

My homestead strategy is to stock up on foods that keep well and that I would usually eat. If, as I very much hope, there proves to be no food shortages, I won't have a lot of strange food on my hands.

While there is fresh food in the supermarket, I strongly recommend only eating fresh food, my thinking being that you might not get a chance to eat fresh food for a few days or weeks, so make the most of it while you can.

When buying food aim for 4 things: food that doesn't require lots of water to digest, food that is nutritious, food that is high in calories and food that makes you feel good. Buy a wide selection of spices and sauces as you might be eating the same food several days in a row.

Canned food is great because it can be eaten cold in an emergency and doesn't require water. Dried food such as pasta keeps well, but requires water to cook. On the topic of pasta, here's how you cook it: don't boil and then drain it. Instead, just leave it in a covered saucepan of very hot water until it softens. If you expect water shortages, ensure that you use the water for soup once the pasta is soft enough.

Good luck.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Death Or Glory: The Earthquake

Having quite a tough night, what with all the death around here and everything. I'm on the western side of Tokyo; there doesn't seem to have been any damage here so far. The death toll is currently 350 but it's going to go to at least several thousand, assuming nothing more happens. I guess most deaths will be a result of the tsunami, not the quake itself.

There have been serious aftershocks in other parts of japan. The earthquake warning system here is predicting the quakes but the predictions about epicentre locations are not accurate.

I've been sleeping in my clothes, with three bug-out bags next to my futon. Obviously my main concern is my book collection....

Good night, and hopefully not good bye.
Karamoon, Tokyo.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Magnificent Seven

In order to get somewhere useful once your brain has suffered sustained attack in the form of industrialized education, one possible approach is to learn from people who were able to get somewhere useful, or people who at least were well on the way. Here are seven people who will be my teachers for the foreseeable future.

Ted Nelson
Still fighting, almost winning.

Mister Rogers
A man of immeasurable power.

Alan Kay
Angry, intelligent and doing something about it

R. Buckminster Fuller
Look for pressing problems, the solutions to which would make things much better for everyone.

Doug Engelbart
We can find better ways to do things, and then apply the methodologies, languages and tools to themselves.

F. M. Alexander
We must look at how we do things, not just what we do. In order to do this we need to pause.

Leonardo da Vinci
Train the senses. Study the art of science. Study the science of art. Understand that everything is connected to everything else.