Don’t Work When You’re Sick

When you’re sick, you are working with less than your full physical and mental capacity. And because you’re sick, you’re not always a great judge of exactly how far below your full capacity you’re actually working.

I happen to strongly agree with this advice, and would add work when you’re sleep-deprived to the list of don’ts.

Meanwhile, in Japan…

就職した友達が研修で「体調不良でも会社のために出勤しないといけない時はある。熱なんて計るから風邪になるんだ、熱さえ測らなければ風邪かわからないから出勤できる。体温計は捨てなさい」という旨のガイダンスを受けたらしく早くも目が濁り[sic]始めてた

At training for friend’s employer, [friend] was given something to the effect of this guidance: “There will be times you must come to work even when you’re not feeling well. If you don’t take your temperature you won’t know how much of a cold you have, and you can come to work. Throw away your thermometers”, [friend] has already fallen under their influence (lit: eyes have become clouded)

(Tweet reference via: RocketNews24, translation and bolding mine)

My experience in Japan has been: if you don’t have a fever, you’re not sick. Nope, snot running down your face, hacking up your lungs, dizziness, double vision are all signs of your moral failings and lack of gaman (我慢; endurance, stick-to-itiveness). You’re not really sick unless you’ve got a fever. Not just any fever; less than 38ºC (100.4ºF) will be semi-derisively labeled a low-grade fever (binetsu 微熱) with an undercurrent of “quit bitching and get back to work, you pussy”. Explosive diarrhea is a close second to a high fever in the “eh, I guess you could take time off if you can’t hack it, slacker” sweepstakes.

People regularly come to work sick, usually wearing face masks, which is thought to help block some transmission vectors (though even Japanese sources say they don’t really help). Face masks do nothing to protect against contracting a cold, and do absolutely nothing about the frequency with which people wash their hands, which is the main way most infectious agents are spread.[1]

From friends reports of their experiences at private companies as well as my own experiences, nobody really gives a flying bukkake session about your productivity, accuracy, or anything else. Your ass better be in your seat during the appointed hours or you will face social and workplace consequences. Hell, I’ve seen people sleeping at their desks in the middle of the day. No one gives them shit. But better believe they’ll get stink-eyed if they show up 30 seconds late to the morning meeting.

In my early jobs, I was required to show proof that I went to a clinic to see a doctor in order to take sick leave, as opposed to mandatory use of my regular leave (i.e.: “vacation” time). Leave (kyûka 休暇) was considered a general pool of time that was also used if I was late for any reason — including the time I got hit by a car while biking to work — or had to take time off for banking,[2] sending letters or getting money orders from the post office, etc. There was no separate sick leave.

Things have gotten slightly more lax in the intervening years, but in general being sick with anything that doesn’t require hospitalization isn’t much of an excuse, so everyone comes to work sick. A lot.

The one exception is influenza, which is determined via a lab test by the doctor, not just your say-so. Kids are not allowed to come to school if an influenza test comes back positive, and even more hard-assed companies will tell you to stay home.

Japanese are positively paranoid about flu epidemics, probably because Japanese mortality rates are much higher than US populations. In the 2009 outbreak, they actually quarantined people entering Japan from overseas and shut down schools due to an estimated 3/4 of a million people being infected. There were enough people being treated that it put a strain on medical resources and personnel.

So, yeah, they take that shit seriously. Moral of the story: want some time off in Japan? Get the flu. Otherwise, come to #^¢*ing work.


  1. Judging from my restroom visits (and those of others) very, very few guys wash after pooping. Even when someone [me] was audibly in the next stall and could hear them walk straight out afterward. Ironically, Japanese kids are absolutely drilled in basic hygiene like handwashing and toothbrushing, so maybe this is a sign of adult rebellion.

    And on an undoubtedly completely unrelated note, I’d never even heard of norovirus, much less been infected, until I came to Japan. Can we get a whoop-whoop for absurdly crowded living conditions and shitty hands?!  ↩


  2. Bank hours in Japan used to be 09:00–15:00 (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) almost everywhere, even in big cities in the early 2000s when I first got here. ATMs used to close, and be locked inside alarmed fortified anterooms, at 18:00 (6:00 p.m.). There was very little inter-bank cooperation, so you had to find an ATM from your bank even to withdraw money. If you weren’t married or living with your parents, you basically had to take time off to do any banking.

    There are many more 24-hour inter-bank ATMs and branch offices that stay open later now, but even 10 years ago I’d have to take an hour off once a month or so for banking, insurance, etc.  ↩

Female Athletes and Body Image

Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Quest for Success - NYTimes.com

Williams, who will be vying for the Wimbledon title against Garbiñe Muguruza on Saturday, has large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated women’s tennis for years. Her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to.

Despite Williams’s success — a victory Saturday would give her 21 Grand Slam singles titles and her fourth in a row — body-image issues among female tennis players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.

Two things immediately strike me as absurd about this story: that fashion-world aesthetic standards are applied to athletes, and that the athletes themselves give a damn about those standards.

But then again, I’m at least sipping the kool-aid of the CrossFit world, where the top female athletes are nearly as burly as most males in other sports, and who usually say they want to get even bigger and stronger.

CrossFit is a very young sport, and has had more than its share of growing pains, but among the things the CrossFit community has done right, the most positive is the promotion of the primacy of performance. Aesthetics are acknowledged, but looks are considered to be a reflection of health and performance; an external indicator of internal states. In stark contrast to many fitness venues, the vast majority of CF boxes[1] don’t even have mirrors.

That doesn’t stop the objectification of either gender in CrossFit, but it does influence the perception. The CrossFit promotional video Beauty in Strength is guilty of selecting some of the most aesthetically pleasing women involved in CF, but the focus on strength and the changes in body-image the women themselves express is quite different from the mainstream fitness industry, and apparently more positive than the self-image of athletes in other sports. An article in the CrossFit Journal, “Saved by the Barbell” talked about the overwhelmingly positive effect the pro-fitness bias in CrossFit has had on women who have often had psychological issues in the past about their weight, stature, or tendency to put on muscle.

Williams would be one of the skinnier women out there if she were competing in the CrossFit Games. Non-CF publications like Shape, Men’s Fitness, and The Athletic Build have compiled galleries of the “hottest”[2] women in CF, and you can see that the most girly of them is arguably more muscular than Williams. Maybe Williams should consider getting into CrossFit instead. I’m pretty sure it would be better for her self-image than tennis.


  1. CF-style gyms are called “boxes” in the community. I would say all CrossFit boxes don’t have mirrors, but since there’s nothing like a universal format, there might be a couple of places with a full-length mirror or two somewhere. Certainly nothing like the wall of mirrors at your typical Gold’s, though.  ↩

  2. I put that in scare quotes because it’s a loaded term, to say the least.  ↩

Why I like DST

Dr. Drang already said most of what I would say. What I can add is the perspective of a person who grew up where Daylight Saving Time was standard (California), and who moved to a place where it isn’t used (Japan). Latitude makes a bit of a difference. I grew up around Sacramento (38°33′N) which is nearly 3° farther north than Tokyo (35°41′N). Tokyo’s day on the summer solstice is 17 minutes longer than Sacramento’s. Note that since Tokyo does not use DST, sunrise occurs at a local time an hour and seventeen minutes earlier, and sunset is an hour and a half earlier than Sacramento’s. If they both used the same time offset, Tokyo’s dawn would be at 5:25, only 17 minutes earlier than Sacramento’s.

I’m a natural night-owl. Normally, if I go to sleep at around 01:00, I wake up on my own at about 08:00–09:00, no alarm necessary. If I have to wake up at 06:00, I need an alarm no matter what time I go to bed. Getting older and having kids has adjusted this tendency to some extent, but the lack of DST in Japan still makes my life somewhat miserable in the summer.

The adjustment to the time difference during my first week in Japan was complicated by a homestay. I was in a room with very insubstantial curtains and the dawn light woke me up every day before everyone else in the entire house, including the mom who got up an hour before the kids. I had much the same problem when I finally moved into the housing provided by the school I was working for. I would wake up around 4-something most mornings during the spring and summer. It wasn’t until I had my own place and got blackout curtains that I literally tacked to the walls so that too much light wouldn’t leak in that I was able to sleep until a more “reasonable” hour of 05:00–06:00. Even those measures weren’t enough to adjust my sleep clock much when the rest of the day’s light was telling me that it was much, much “later” in the day than the clocks said.

Without DST, it gets dark ridiculously early during the spring/summer months, feeling barely later than in winter. Adjusting the clock to better fit the actual daylight hours makes an enormous amount of sense, and makes it much easier on people like me who are easily cued to wake by the sun, but who don’t want to get up 3–4 hours before everyone else.

Microbes May Drive Speciation

Carrie Arnold, for Quanta Magazine:

By removing Wolbachia from these wasps, the researchers showed that the Wolbachia infections were the wasps’ major barrier to interbreeding. “It was as if they were no longer two separate species,” Bordenstein said. “This was some of the first evidence that a symbiotic microbe could wedge two species apart.”

Far from being a rare, one-off event, Bordenstein’s findings suggested that the microbiome has played a larger than expected role in the evolution of new species. Thousands of insect species are infected with Wolbachia, making symbiosis a potentially major player in the development of these species.

Wolbachia, a bacteria that lives on most insects, apparently greatly affects mate choice.

The idea that microbes and fungus drive behavior in more complicated forms of life is not a new one. In real life, there are documented cases of mind controlling fungi that infect various insects, and Toxoplasma gondii might even affect human behavior. In fiction, David Brin wrote The Giving Plague about a virus that caused altruism in humans, and Greg Bear earlier wrote Blood Music, though his biological nanites went quite a bit farther than just altering behavior in humans.

We have a great deal to learn about our microbiome, and what as-yet unknown effects they might have on us. Seemingly unrelated things like bathing habits and intestinal bacteria are increasingly being shown to have profound implications for health.

“Study Shows Blah-Blah-Blah”

Popular science articles almost always go with this kind of headline. The problem is that it’s almost always inaccurate. The vast majority of the time, when you check on the primary source, you find that the reporter hyped it, misinterpreted it, or is making some other error like citing a tiny study as conclusive. Even worse is when they phrase it as a question.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has commented that if a tech article asks a question in the headline, you can safely assume that the answer to that question is “no”. “Is [insert ridiculous product name here] an iPad Killer?” Nope. The same applies to pop-sci articles.

I’m being charitable to the researchers by assuming that their research has simply been misinterpreted, but sometimes they’re overstating the case for their own research, as I’ve pointed out in the past. I deliberately phrased my headline in that piece as a question, because I was aping the usual pop-sci junk headline. It was still better than the original Atlantic title, since I removed the inflammatory “fad” and showed that the assertion was just flat wrong.

If you see an article with a headline like this: “Study Shows Foo and Also Bar!” you can safely assume that one of the following is probably true:

  • No it doesn’t.
  • It might, but the connection is tenuous.
  • It might, but needs confirmation.

You should always check the original research — which should be cited in even a semi-crappy article — to see for yourself what was actually published.

Have You Ever Considered That You’re Pooping Wrong?

Squatting relaxes your muscles in just the right way to create optimal inner plumbing movement and can potentially combat some pretty serious diseases like Colitis and Colon Cancer. Now you can poop right with Squatty Potty, a step stool that allows you to sit on the toilet with perfect squat posture. Despite being full of water-plopping sound effects, the ad is pretty convincing. Perhaps an unsightly plastic thing is a small price to pay for happy bowels?

Or, you could just use a Japanese-style squat toilet.

How Your Brain Becomes Addicted to Caffeine

Smithsonian’s Surprising Science:

Soon after you drink (or eat) something containing caffeine, it’s absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Because the chemical is both water- and fat-soluble (meaning that it can dissolve in water-based solutions—think blood—as well as fat-based substances, such as our cell membranes), it’s able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain.

Structurally, caffeine closely resembles a molecule that’s naturally present in our brain, called adenosine (which is a byproduct of many cellular processes, including cellular respiration)—so much so, in fact, that caffeine can fit neatly into our brain cells’ receptors for adenosine, effectively blocking them off. Normally, the adenosine produced over time locks into these receptors and produces a feeling of tiredness.

Caffeine is physically addictive. Your brain actually starts to increase the number of adenosine receptors in response to overstimulation. If you drink coffee or tea on a regular basis, that “boost” you get with your morning cup of coffee is probably just the relief of withdrawal symptoms. To find out what your normal baseline is, you need about 1.5 to 2 weeks to reset.

Caffeine is most beneficial when taken occasionally, in moderate doses. The effective amount varies, depending on sex (women process caffeine faster than men), habits (smokers eliminate caffeine 30 to 50% faster), body size, and individual metabolism. Between 50 mg on the low end, and about 300 mg on the high end is optimal. More than 500 mg in a day can cause negative effects and more serious withdrawal symptoms.

A Starbucks Grande brewed coffee (16 fl oz) has about 330 mg of caffeine, which is an average individual’s limit for the day. Lattes contain about 150 mg, so you can have about two before encountering some negative symptoms.

If you have insomnia, better lay off the caffeine entirely, or at least limit consumption to before noon. The half-life in adult men is between 2.5 and 4.5 hours, so sleep patterns can be affected long after the last dose.

(Via @vaughanbell)

Insomnia doubles the risk of prostate cancer, study claims

John von Radowitz at The Independent:

Insomnia can double the risk of prostate cancer in older men, a study suggests. The risk rises proportionately with the severity of sleep problems, increasing from 1.6 to 2.1 times the usual level. The reason is not known. But a link has also been seen between insomnia and breast cancer in women.

You might want to get a good night's sleep tonight.