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.