Wednesday, 29 June 2011


It's bad form to blow your own trumpet, but Our Man is quite pleased with this article in Japan Echo. He wrote it all by himself, though is indebted to the underrated but startlingly able journalist Sophie Knight, who got the quotes that made the story sing. And it will be translated into Japanese and Chinese. Our Man is...

... chuffed.


Our Man really should be keeping a diary. It's just that stuff keeps happening and before he knows it something else has happened of even bigger import, and then what he was going to write down, if he had a diary, would have been redundant and less interesting than the thing that was going to happen in the future, and just did happen, if anyone ever looked at his diary. Which they wouldn't because it it doesn't exist. And if it did, it would be private, so there. Besides, you can't spend your life writing entries in a diary no one will ever see (that's what this blog's for - ed.)

So instead, here are a couple of bullet points that, as long as you promise not to read them, we could say are Our Man's diary.

  1. Finished work. Had a cup of instant coffee. Chatted with US Ambassador to Japan John Roos on twitter, as you do.

  2. Signed a copy of Quakebook for him and will pop that in the post with a copy bound for Cornell University, oh, and a signed one for an old university pal in Scotland.

  3. It's now even further into the future and Our Man has already sent the book to Ambassador Roos. But since you will be reading this in the real future, this too will be old news, and Mr Roos will or will not have the Quakebook in his hands, or in the gold-plated loos or wherever ambassadors do their reading.

  4. If Our Man is not mistaken, the old business class of TWA used to be called Ambassador Class. That was back in the days when folk were easily impressed by free hot towels and those air-powered headphones that played a never-ending loop of easy listening and Spanish. Did Our Man ever tell you that he once nearly peed himself waiting in a queue for the loos on a TWA flight to Atlanta? It wasn't a queue, it was a line of Muslims praying to Mecca. The space near the loos was the only one they could find to do their business. This was a long time ago though. Our Man was only nine. But he did get a hot towel handed to him on tweasers. Anyway.

  5. Have contacted British Ambassador David Warren to see if he would like a Quakebook too.

  6. Perhaps the Ambassadors could form a very exclusive book club.

  7. This, though, is very far in the future and has not happened yet, even if you are reading this several days later on your plastic loo seat, I'd wager.

  8. But if they did get together, that would be a true Ambassador Class (Gedditt?).

  9. Our Woman in Abiko also gave a Quakebook to the Deputy Mayor of Abiko (Aoki-san? Our Man has forgotten now) yesterday.

  10. Later in the future Our Man will write a post debunking yet more radiation fear and loathing in Abiko, but he thought you long-suffering readers could do with a rest from the microsieverts and stuff.

But if you want serious, independent scientific stuff on radiation in Japan, check these guys out - they are doing an open source radiation map of the whole of Japan. That's class, baby.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Father's Day began with a bit of a shock. Seems my youngest daughter will be off kindergarten all next week because they are digging out all the topsoil from the playground and replacing it with fresh soil. Because of radiation levels. Radiation. In my daughter's playground.

Well, the figures are here. If you can understand numbers and such. And Japanese. Our Man has trouble with both so, he took advantage of a clandestine rendezvous with a nuclear physicist at an Abiko shopping mall (it was hastily arranged to hand over the geiger counter Our Man had borrowed from and Our Man interrogated Agent J (aka asked obvious questions) at the Abiko Starbucks. This is just a taste, we talked for an hour or two. Best quote that didn't get recorded: "Those on the side of reason need to be armed with data to fight fear." Something like that.

You can listen to the recorded bits of the interview in part one and part two, It will take about 20 minutes of your life. And you can hear the cafe lattes too. You will not be tested on your comprehension. But there is a cheat sheet below.

Questions are as follows (in nuclear cloud formation):

Part 1 - What the hell is a micro Sievert? 0.51 Are you familiar with the concept of radioactive daughters? 2.10 What was the previous background level? 2.40 Is that a meaningful camparison? 3.55 How does this compare with the rest of the world? 5.44 Eating bananas? 8.32

Part 2 - What's a safe level of radiation? 0.15 What are we talking about 1.15? What's a hotspot? 2.15 Who is an expert to talk about radiation? 5.05 How many people exposed to radiation are going to die? 6.40 What should we worry about? 6.50 How do we lower the fear level? 7.55 What is Safecast? 8.10 What do you want to say? 10.10

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


Our Man in Abiko
Chiba Prefecture

The Prime Minister of Japan
2-3-1 Nagata-cho

June 15th, 2011

Dear Mr Kan,

I'm sending you my copy of Quakebook, because I want you to know that the world supports your efforts on behalf of the survivors of the earthquake. As Japan faces its biggest calamity since 1945, now is the time that this country needs its leaders to lead, not to quit.

This book was written a week after the earthquake in a spirit of cooperation by people around the world. It's an example of what we can do working together under pressure.

I urge you to find the strength to fight the only true enemies Japan has - hopelessness, doubt and fear.

Lead, and the world will follow.

All the very best,

Our Man in Abiko
Quakebook Editor

Monday, 13 June 2011


Big news - you can now order a paperback English version of Quakebook from RIGHT NOW (details here).

And if you want to know why you should pay your cash for a book you can read for free on kindle, how about a quick visit to Ishinomaki, well a four minute video with tasteful music and pictures by yours truly and pals, right here. Now tell me with a straight face that Japan doesn't need your support. Can't do it, can you?

Carry on.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Here's the second video. Our Man mumbled. He stumbled, but you can see what Ishinomaki is up against.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


There really is too much going on with Quakebook, Ishinomaki and the cover life to waste time posting here, but Our Man has to do something in case his handlers lose interest and do something crazy like email pictures of themselves in briefs or run for Congress or something.

So, here's something. Our Man strapped the bento Geiger counter to his Toyota Harrier and jumped all over data (when he remembered to press "start" on the inboard computer, ahem) on his mercy dash up to Ishinomaki the other day. The long and the short of it was: He got more radiation in Fukushima than anywhere else in Tohoku (duhhh), elevated levels in Abiko and nothing to write home about in the tsunami-hit areas. Radiation wise. But wherever he went, Our Man was safer than if he lived in Denver.

What does it all mean to laymen? Dunno, preferring to lay women himself (leave it out - ed): But here is an intercepted, decyphered, steamed microfiche from Chief Petty Science Officer Agent J (embedded deep within

Tip: If you can't read it, you might try squinting real hard. Or you could click on it and it might get a bit bigger (as the Congressman said to the porn star).

Or read it here, ahem:

Got back in one piece - the readings ranged from 0.07 uS in Ishinomaki to 0.59 uS 55km due west of Fukushima Dai Ichi. The Abiko 7-11 was 0.29.

Yes, I was following your progress via Twitter. 
Well done.

Are these measurements micro or milli sieverts btw?

The numbers are micro Seiverts. Normally I would next add a caution about the unreliability of converting the output of a Geiger counter to Seiverts because there are so many variables that can thwart a valid calculation. But in this case we're on firm ground: The unit inside the bGeigie is calibrated for the same isotope (cesium 137) that is the main contaminant we
find outdoors hereabouts. (There is also some cesium 134 around but its energy is similar so its presence doesn't spoil the calibration validity.)

I would say that the plus/minus 15% uncertainty of the detector itself is the main caveat for your readings. Good work Agent Nabiko.

What do these figures mean that a layman like me could make sense of (and tell others)?

We will need to compare the data you collected to previous trips to see if the places are the same, but based on your descriptions, it seems that levels have fallen significantly. That would be good news.

Speaking more generally, the levels you encountered are still most definitely "elevated" compared to what was previously considered "normal background" for Japan. What you reported in Ishinomaki (0.07uSv/hr) is likely not much different than a year ago. Your reading from Fukushima-ken (0.59uSv/hr) is obviously well above what is natural for that area. (But still substantially lower than some uncontaminated places on Earth.)

For comparison, the average annual effective dose for Americans from all sources (sorry U.S. data is the most freely available) is 6200uSv, about half of it from natural sources. A person just sitting outside near where you measured the highest level would absorb 5172uSv in a year if conditions don't change; about five-thirds as much as the average American and a bit more than half what a typical resident of Denver gets.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Ishinomaki was quite an experience. And rather than giving inane commentary (that will come in a later video) Our Man thought he would give you as best a taste of what it was like for him to roll into the city 5.30am last Sunday morning. If you could substitute the strings music for the stink of salt water and decay, then you are witnessing pretty much what he did, dangling his iPhone out the window. He could point out the sights, but you smart folk are as capable of interpreting what is before you as he is, so he'll shut up, present this video as is, and get to work on the next one.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


As you read this, there's a good chance Our Woman, Our Man and six others will still be on the road to Ishinomaki - making our way from Abiko, departing 7:30 pm Saturday, heading west through Chiba, north through Ibaraki, cutting through Fukushima and turning west after Sendai through Miyagi towards the Pacific and, at around 3am, our destination - the tsunami devastated city of Ishinomaki.

If all goes to plan - thanks to the selfless efforts of our students, neighbours and friends - we will be rolling into Ishinomaki with a four-tonne truck laden with relief supplies gathered through the neighbourhood grapevine. Just some of the fruits of our labours:

four children's bicycles; 400 emergency rice rations; home-baked cakes; summer clothes for children; nappies; children's books; pens; a washing machine; toiletries; make-up; puncture repair kits; writing paper; backpacks; clothes for the elderly; toys; manga books; school satchels; boxes of toothpaste; baby's potty; insect repellant (and we're bringing with us an Abiko city politician too)

The idea is to distribute the goods at a free jumble "sale" in Ishinomaki from 9.30am Sunday. We aim to reach the people who the government have missed.

But there's more...

We'll be rendezvousing with three dentists Our Woman has dispatched from Abiko to give free care to tsunami survivors.


We'll be meeting up with Bikes For Japan who will be giving out 70 bicycles around the city through Sunday morning.


Yours truly will be trying his best to entertain the troops with an impromptu guitar and blues harp session (haven't they suffered enough? - ed) with Reluctant Jim to warm the crowd up for a real gosh-darn Japanese folk singer who's been on TV and everything.

You might ask...

Why the hell are you doing all this stuff, shouldn't the government be doing this? Well, yes. But if the government should be doing this, then so should we. Are we not civilised people? Are these people suffering not worthy of our help? If so, shouldn't we help them ourselves? If we can, we should.

And we will.


Because the alternative is to say that we are no better than animals, that civilisation counts for naught. Our Man doesn't believe that for a second. Now is the time to prove it. Woof woof.

Follow the mission on @freetohoku live.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (not for human consumption)...

So, Our Man returned in one piece with a NUCLEAR SUITCASE from a real gosh-darn American nuclear scientist (let's call him "Joe" because that was his name) after rendezvous-ing with him in the no man's land of Matsudo. Our Man was running late for his cover life English lesson, so "Joe" rode with him back to Abiko on the Joban Line (and had a Mega Mac Meal at the Abiko McD's) along the way he opened the above suitcase and gave Our Man the following information:
  1. Exposure levels in Abiko, Tokyo and California were about one molecule in a yard or so of air.
  2. At the highest exposure level recorded on edge of exclusion zone, 20km from Fukushima Dai Ichi Thingy Nuclear Meltdown site were 50,000 molecules in "this much air" (arms spread akimbo).
  3. There is no acute danger from exposure levels now, long-term health affects are more problematic (no one knows - still arguing about Chernobyl's effect 30 years later).
  4. Our Man is going to hang the thing christened "the bento box" out the window as he drives to Ishinimaki and back this weekend.
  5. The data will be used for scientists ("boffins" in tabloid speak) to experiment on white mice and stuff. Or not.
  6. It's all part of a voluntary global radiation mapping scientific research project thing by, which is voluntarily globally radiationally mapping things. Strangely, there's enormous interest in radiation levels in Japan at the moment.
  7. Yes, yes, you are supposed to use a Geiger counter at a stationary point, 1 meter above ground level at 25C. But that's just scientist talk for "my test tube is bigger than yours". In the field, you do what you can and figure out what it all means later.
More posts later on what readings I'm getting in my bunker tonight after I stop pointing it at stupid stuff, and why sticking it on stupid stuff gives you useless readings.