Vaccination Progress in Japan

The City of Setagaya (東京都世田谷区) has announced the dates when vaccination will be expanded beyond the current group 2 (residents aged 65 and above). Between June 15-19, coupons will be mailed to group 3 which includes:

  • people with existing medical conditions
  • people aged 60-64 (anyone born no later than March 31, 1962)
  • people working in elderly care

Group 1 were the health care workers, if you are wondering!

Currently about half a million vaccinations are happening in Japan per day, about 2/3 of them aged 65 and above, 1/3 health care workers. As of Friday, 2021-05-28, over 92 percent of healthcare workers had received at least one shot and over 60 percent had received both. That leaves them only about 350,000 shots short of full coverage for first shots. About 1.55 million healthcare workers have only received one shot, so fully vaccinating them with a second shot in the next three weeks will be the bulk of the remaining vaccinations for this group.
Of the people aged 65 and above, 12.46 percent have received at least one shot and 0.86 percent have received both. Meanwhile the Olympics start in 52 days…

Setagaya also announced that more reservation slots would be opened at mass vaccination sites for people aged 65 and above, recommending people in that group who currently have dates in August to move them to July (i.e. cancel in August, make new reservation in July). This will then free up those slots for the next group.
This means there’s a good chance that both my wife and I (who were born before the March 1962 deadline for age 60-64) will get vaccinated in August.

In my last post I had pointed out that daily vaccination totals for healthcare workers and people above 65 was being handled differently. One set was being updated retroactively, the other set only once per listed date.

Basically, for healthcare workers the government publishes daily numbers (on weekdays, excluding public holidays) of the number of total shots given since the previous published total. That’s why numbers only get added for the final date, once a day. It is also why no vaccinations are listed on Saturday, Sundays and holidays — not because no healthcare workers were vaccinated on those days, but because no results are published on those days. Consequently, healthcare worker stats do not show how many healthcare workers were actually vaccinated on a particular day.

For people aged 65 and over, they precisely track the totals by the date the doses are used. So there are entries for Saturdays and Sundays, even though it may take until Tuesday for them to be listed on the website. Furthermore, unpublished counts of shots already given weeks ago are still finding their way to the Prime Minister’s Office and are then added. Here’s the total given for April 14, as listed on the day the numbers for a given recent date were also added:

May 18: 2,533
May 20: 2,666
May 27: 2,793
May 30: 3,078

A near 20 percent increase for vaccinations that already took place over a month ago is quite surprising, considering that vaccinations are tracked with Android tablets with software specifically developed for the purpose. How can a computer-based system be so slow? It actually makes fax machines look good by comparison (yes, they are still widely used here in Japan)!


Tracking Vaccination Numbers in Japan

The website of the Prime Minister’s Office in Japan (Kantei) is providing a daily update of vaccination progress in two categories: medical staff (doctors and nurses) and senior residents (age 65 and above).

To track these vaccinations, the government has issued tablet computers running software known as the Vaccine Recording System (ワクチン接種記録システム, VRS). It was developed by Milabo, a small privately held company founded in 2013. It describes itself as:

A start-up that provides child-rearing support services such as DX, immunization, health checkup, checkup scheduler, electronic maternal and child notebook, health center reservation system, mainly for local governments.

It had previously worked with the cabinet secretariat on the “MyNumber” personal ID system that assigns a personal identification number to every resident of the country. The budget for developing VRS was 385 million yen (about US$3.5 million).

The software in the tablets is used to scan bar codes and forms when people receive their vaccine doses. Theoretically this should allow the government to accurately track the progress being made.

However, the numbers published on the website keep changing even after they are published. For example, on Monday, May 17 the Kantei website listed a total of 69,526 doses (first and second doses) given to seniors on Monday, May 10 and 57,172 on Saturday, May 15. Two days later, on Wednesday, May 19 the numbers for those two days had been revised to 71,543 and 83,311 doses, respectively. That is an increase of 2.9 percent and 45.7 percent several days after publication.

What this suggests is that the software does not track the numbers and automatically uploads them to a government server at the end of the day (say, via a mobile data connection with a SIM card). Instead, there must be manual steps involved. Comparing the results published two days apart and looking back across 4 weeks worth of data, it turns out that daily totals still change after a whole month, for example by 46 doses from 2,533 to 2,579 for Wednesday, April 14 between May 17 and 19. I mean, really?

In rare cases the numbers have also decreased by 2 or 3 doses from the previously reported totals, which would be hard to explain by late reporting: the numbers should go up but not down! This could be cases were mistakes were made that made vaccination unreliable and so the cases were purged from the total.

The good news is that currently about 77 percent of healthcare workers have received at least one dose while 42 percent have received both doses. At the current pace of second doses it should take less than two weeks for all remaining healthcare workers to have received their first shots and three weeks after that anyone willing to get the first shot will have had their second shot too. For some strange reason, the healthcare worker counts seem unaffected by the late count updates and I don’t understand why.

One thing to look forward to is for the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273) to receive approval in Japan at the end end of this week. It is very similar to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in terms of safety and efficacy. It has already been imported into Japan since the end of last month.

There are about 7 times more senior citizens than there are health care workers, so the number will have to increase much more. There should be enough vaccine by the end of June/early July to vaccinate about 36 million of them, but will the local governments be able to keep up with setting up vaccination sites? Each prefecture and city has been left to figure it out on its own. There is no national vaccination reservation system, each local government was left to build its own system. If the bottleneck is not vaccine supplies but organisation then the Moderna vaccine will not help all that much.

If Japan manages to vaccinate all its doctors and nurses by early June and most of its people aged 65 and above by the end of July, that still leaves about 70 million people to be vaccinated after that, with no date yet when this is expected to start and how long it is expected to take. It looks like a long road ahead to herd immunity and for life to return to normal.

Pixel 3a: “Analogue audio accessory detected. The attached device is not compatible with this phone”

Three months ago my wife and I both changed our local smartphone plans and changed to a Google Pixel 3a.

Within a week she had a problem where her phone would suddenly shut down when the battery still had 50-60% charge left, while doing nothing. This even happened after the phone had been factory reset, with no third party apps installed. It took a few weeks before Softbank Mobile replaced the phone under warranty.

Now it’s my turn it seems. Recently I would find the phone with less than 50% of battery left in the morning when I had left it hooked up to the charger (so it should have been at 100%). I would reconnect the phone but it would not show the charging symbol. I then tried different cables and chargers and also rebooted the phone. Eventually it would charge again.

Today it showed the following error:

Analogue audio accessory detected. The attached device is not compatible with this phone

Nothing was plugged into its headphone socket or into the USB C port. There was no analog audio device connected. I googled the problem and most results suggested it was a problem with the USB C port. That makes sense, since it would explain both the charging issues and the audio warning, as one can plug an analog device into the USB C port via an adapter.

Other results suggested a factory reset may get it working again, but that did not work for me. After the factory reset I could charge the phone with the charger from my earlier Nexus 6P and a USB C cable when powered off. However, after I powered it up and started the system restore, it no longer charged from either that charger or from the Pixel 3a charger or a Pixel 3 charger. The problem was back.

Time to take it back to the Softbank Mobile shop, I guess 🙁

Needless to say, I am not impressed with a 2/2 failure rate for our Pixel 3a phones so far. The Pixel 3a was great while it worked. The picture quality seems as good as for its more powerful sibling, the more expensive Pixel 3 and battery life was decent too. But that is all meaningless if it randomly shuts down or you can no longer charge it.

UPDATE: Softbank Mobile sent the two months old Pixel 3a in for testing and repair. A couple of days later they quoted almost 20,000 yen (US$190) for the repair of the unspecified damage, which they said would not be covered under warranty 🙁

Strava Cycling Climbing Challenges

Strava is a popular service for logging bike rides and other activities, which provides a way of comparing one’s achievements with those of other cyclists and runners. Competition is a powerful stimulant and a main driver behind the success of the service. Monthly “challenges”, such as a Gran Fondo (a ride of at least 100 or 130 km, depending on the time of the year) or a monthly cumulative distance or elevation gain challenge, are particularly popular on Strava.

While I regularly participate in the Cycling Distance and Gran Fondo Challenge, I do not normally sign up for the Cycling Climbing Challenge, which is meant to encourage you do ride hilly courses. I love hilly courses. In fact, most of my weekend rides are hilly, usually going from close to sea level to over 900 m and back.

Last year I averaged one century ride (at least 160.9 km / 100 miles) about every other week, so the Gran Fondo challenge is not really that much of a challenge for me. My typical centuries are about 170-190 km with 1800-2100 m of elevation gain. Yet at 7500 to 8000 m the goal for the Cycling Climbing Challenge is set so high, I could do a hilly century ride four Saturdays in a row and still miss the climbing goal. So how do other people, who do not ride 170 km into the hills every other weekend complete the climbing challenge?

I think the Strava climbing goals are designed for people who record their rides with phones or other GPS devices that rely only on satellite data for elevation. GPS-based elevation data is much less precise than lattitude-longitude data. Other popular GPS units like the Garmin Edge 1000, Garmin Edge 520 (or my o_synce Navi2coach) use a barometer for more precise elevation tracking. The problem with GPS-based elevation is that it’s noisy, it will go up and down pretty randomly but all those little ups will be added up by Strava, resulting in a considerably inflated climbing total. If you’re using a GPS device measuring relatively accurate barometric elevation, you can’t really compete against all that noisy data 🙁

I could confirm this in group rides with other people who were using mix of equipment, where I had a chance to compare the posted stats on Strava afterwards. The iPhone or Android-app recorded totals were often 50-100% higher than the Garmin-recorded totals, for one and the same course.

Here is one random example of 4 people doing the same course up a volcano in Tenerife, Gran Canria yesterday. Note, this not my ride, I just randomly stumbled on it while looking at high scorers in the March Cycling Climbing Challenge on the Strava website. Two of these cyclists were using the Strava iPhone app, the other two were using a Garmin Edge 520:

Strava iPhone App:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1437744625
5,080m

Strava iPhone App:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1437728113
4,635m

Garmin Edge 520:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1437709764
2,847m

Garmin Edge 520:
https://www.strava.com/activities/1437730812
2,556m

As you can see, the two cyclists using the phone app posted almost double the total climbing for the course as the Garmin users, despite riding the very same roads and posting the same elevation profile for the activity (i.e. no hill repeats).

Based on evidence like that, I don’t think elevation gain competitions on Strava are happening on a level playing field! 😉

Huawei Nexus 6P Battery Upgrade

I’ve had my Huawei Nexus 6P for about two years now. The combination of a great camera, an excellent screen, good performance and decent battery life has made this my best smartphone ever.

However, a couple of months ago something happened as the battery capacity appeared to have collapsed dramatically. Sometimes the phone would shut down only 5 hours after I had disconnected it from the AC charger when I left home, starting off supposedly fully charged! I had to always carry a USB battery and cable with me to not risk losing the use of my phone in the middle of the day.

Attempts to recalibrate the capacity indicator helped only insofar as the phone would shut down at 14% charge instead of say 55% charge, so there was slightly more warning, but the number of hours was still too short. This actually seems to be a common problem with the Nexus 6P, which otherwise is still a great phone.

It’s not uncommon for Li-ion batteries to significantly lose capacity after about about three years, but if it happens after less than two years as in my case, that’s not very good. Fortunately, replacement batteries are available and any competent phone repair shop will be happy to do the necessary surgery to replace a battery that is on its way out. Unfortunately the days when you could simply pop open the phone case without any tools and swap the battery yourself are long gone. This is a trend started by Apple and almost every other phone maker has since followed suit. I think it’s meant to get people to buy a new phone sooner, which is good for Apple and its competitors, but bad for consumers and for the planet.

There are Youtube videos that will show you how you how to open the Nexus 6P case and disassemble the phone to swap the battery. This involves the use of a hairdryer or heat gun to soften the glue that holds it all together as well as a plastic card and a small screw driver. As I did not feel adventurous enough to attempt this myself, I contacted several phone repair shops here in Tokyo. Repair King Japan replied. Though they they didn’t have the Nexus 6P battery in stock they were happy to order one for me. Once they got it, I dropped the phone off and two hours later I could have it back with a new battery. So far it’s looking good: It’s been 40 hours since the last full charge (with battery saver mode inactive) and it’s still showing 64% with about 3 days of power left 🙂

UPDATE: At 72 hours, it still had 23% charge left. At that point I connected it to a charger.

Hopefully with the new battery my Nexus 6P will be a great phone again for a few more years!

Getting Rid of the EMUI Launcher on the Huawei P9 Lite

Last time I switched mobile provider here in Japan, I signed up for a contract that included a Huawei P9 Lite. My biggest grip about it is its non-standard EMUI interface that runs on top of Android 6.0.1.

Previously I was using a Nexus 5, which had worked OK for me, though the picture quality of its camera was rather mediocre. One nice thing about the Nexus 5 was that it runs stock Android, with no customization. Its user interface is identical to that of my other phone, a Nexus 6P.

I really prefer stock Android without OEM customization. For one, stock Android means you can get version upgrades sooner and for longer (or at all!).

I found the EMUI launcher confusing. For example, I did not see any easy way to launch an app that didn’t have a desktop link.

It’s possible to switch from EMUI to the standard Google launcher. Here are the steps I performed:

1) Install “Google Now Launcher” via Play Store.

2) Swipe down, select Shortcuts and then Settings

3) Enter “def” into the search box at the top (may have to scroll up first)

4) Select “Default app settings”

5) Select “Launcher” and pick “Google” instead of “Huawei Home”. Ignore the warning that tries to scare you into sticking with EMUI (you can always change back by following the same steps and selecting “Huawei Home” again).

6) There you go!

The irritating long push home button

Another irritation that seemed to happen more on the Huawei than on my other phones was the Google screen that pops up (seemingly randomly) when I just try to go to the home screen. It has a “Want answers before you ask?” prompt at the bottom and a Google search box with voice search option at the top. I really don’t need this screen because the standard Android home screen already has a Google search bar at the top. I’d rather have the home screen with all my app shortcuts come up reliably whenever I push the Home button!

It took me a while to figure out that this Google search screen comes up on what the phone thinks is a long push of the Home button, which has a different meaning from a regular short tap. If that happens, just tap again and it will go to the home screen. Or just make it your habit to double tap the home screen to go to the home screen, then this should never happen 🙂

Nexus 6P Flashing Charge Icon

Recently the USB-C quick charger that came with my Huawei Nexus 6P appeared to stop working. I normally leave the phone charging over night, but one morning I found its battery charge was low and it hadn’t been charging. When I disconnected and reconnected it to the cable (which is reversible with USB-C connectors on both ends), the lightning bolt inside the battery charge indicator kept blinking (flashing on and off), rather than being solid on as it normally would while the device is charging.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the device or unplugging and reconnecting the charger to the wall socket made no difference whatsoever. Reversing the cable direction did not help either.

My only way to still charge the phone was to use a USB-A to USB-C cable that draws power from a PC USB socket, which is a much slower way to charge the phone. So I decided that the charger must have failed after less than a year of use. I already started looking for USB-C quick chargers on Amazon (they exist but are much more pricey than USB-A chargers), but didn’t order one yet.

Today I decided to Google for the problem and found others who had the exact same issue. It turned out that simply powering down the phone and powering it up again will fix the problem: Yepp, it will charge again!

I’m not sure what the fundamental issue is, but it seems I won’t have to rush out and buy a new charger (which wouldn’t have helped anyway!), as the issue is on the phone side.

If a simple phone reboot fixes it and it doesn’t happen too often, I guess I can live with that. The Nexus 6P has worked great for me so far.

Google Maps Engine brings back custom routes

Last year I stopped updating Google Maps on my Android phone because Google had dropped important functionality with Google Maps 7.x. Google Maps 6.x for Android was a great tool for following mapped routes on long bicycle rides, especially randonnes of 200 km and more. After an update I had to revert to Google Maps 6.x to get it back. This also meant I could no longer allow Android to install all available updates in one go. I always had to manually confirm all updates except Maps to not lose 6.x again.

Finally Google has brought this functionality back. There are still missing bits, but at least the product seems usable again for my purposes.

On Android there is an app called Google Maps Engine, which supports loading custom maps. Select “Open a map” in the menu. You’ll get a list of maps created by you or shared with you.

This menu can be populated from a desktop machine. There you can import existing maps created for Maps 6.x. Go to https://mapsengine.google.com/map/ and select “Open a map” (you need to be logged in to your Google account). Select “Classic My Maps”. You’ll be able to select one of your existing maps and import it in to Maps Engine. After that it will become available to the Google Maps Engine app on your Android and you can use it for navigation. The route will show as a blue line and special locations, such as my brevet PCs (“points de controle”, route check points) will show marked with a pin.

One drawback of Maps Engine on the Android compared to the old Google Maps 6.x is that it doesn’t seem to support displaying a ruler on a map yet. Thus when you zoom in or out you won’t be able to tell how far you are from any point you see on the map, whether one cm on the screen corresponds to 100 m or 10 km on the map. This is the same problem that Google Maps 7.x had when it was launched last year. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Still, it is disconcerting that Google misses out such basic functionality when launching products. Are all their eyes on monetization these days?

Google does an “Apple Maps” to its own Maps

Last night Google proved to me that you don’t have to be Apple to shoot yourself in the foot with a major Maps application release.

Naturally, online maps are a big feature on mobile devices, which is why it’s important to get them right.

Not too long ago Apple ended up with egg on their faces when they introduced their own Maps application to replace Google Maps. Google has just done the same. They rolled out a completely new Maps app starting from the middle of July and yesterday it landed on my Android phone. I was just preparing for a 280 km bicycle trip and had mapped out the route to follow, which I usually use Google Maps for. Imagine my surprise when I found that following an externally mapped route file was no longer supported on the latest Google Maps app: It doesn’t support the “My Maps” feature any more. With “My Maps” you can map a route using a number of third party products and highlight key locations, such as restaurants or shops on the map and assign a name to this. Google Maps then marks these points of interest with asterisks and highlights the route with a coloured line that you can follow easily. Simple but powerful. Well, that’s how it used to be before the “upgrade”.

This is what they say on their official blog:

Finally, My Maps functionality is not supported in this release but will return to future versions of the app.

Sounds to me like they were keen to release a new version of the product, even thought it wasn’t ready yet — just like Apple. Interestingly enough, the iOS version of Google Maps didn’t have the “My Maps” feature either. So what Google has done is to dumb down its flagship product to the level of the inferior version it ships on its competitor’s operating system!

Another annoying omission was the ability to display a scale bar (ruler) illustrating distances on the map, at whatever zoom level. This option has gone. It was quite useful to be able to estimate distances on the map. Without it, I simply don’t have a clue about distances unless I’m totally familiar with the area, in which case I presumably wouldn’t be using Google Maps in the first place.

My temporary fix was to uninstall Google Maps, reverting back to the factory installed version of Google Maps. This gets Google Maps working again, but it’s not sticky. After uninstalling it, the “upgrade” (i.e. downgrade) was back again the following day. Therefore it is important to disable automatic updates in the Google Play settings. Once you do that you will have to manually confirm all updates for apps other than Maps (and you need to avoid confirming Maps updates, which will still be offered).

Other problems that caused user complaints:

  • No more offline maps – the new version only supports map viewing with a mobile data or WiFi connection
  • Removal of +/- (zoom buttons) – zooming in and out now takes two fingers
  • Fewer and less relevant local search results
  • No more green/red/yellow lines along roads to indicate congestion levels
  • Removal of Google Latitude (which I never used)

UPDATE (2013-08-16): Version 7.1.0 appears to have brought back the scale bar. However, I won’t be installing it until My Maps also comes back.

Garcinia Cambogia weight loss spam from hacked Yahoo accounts

I’m seeing another round of weight loss spam that abuses third party Yahoo accounts for sending. It is similar to the earlier “Raspberry Ultra Drops” weight loss spam that also used compromised Yahoo accounts.

Here is one of the advertised domains, which is hosted on many different servers:

biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 91.207.7.134
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 94.75.193.33
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 94.75.193.38
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 142.0.79.134
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 142.0.79.140
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 176.53.119.24
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 176.53.119.27
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 176.53.119.68
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 176.53.119.69
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 198.144.156.42
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 199.116.117.166
biggsetfatburningsecret.com. 1439 IN A 199.127.98.117

The domain is registered through Ukrainian registrar ukrnames.com using forged WHOIS contact details.

The buy link on that site redirects to authenticgreencoffee.com, a domain registered last July, with the owner hidden behind a WHOIS proxy.

Other domains hosted on the same servers, some of which are part of the “Work from home mom” scam series:

bestfoodsforburningfat1.com
biggsetfatburningsecret.com
biggsetweightlosssecret.com
bigjim-foods.com
blogprogramflatstomach.com
blogquickprogramdiet.com
burnfatinfewdays.com
dietsforburningfat.com
eatingplansforweightloss.com
getflatstomachtoday.com
getweightlossandburnfat.com
icbs-news.com
icm-news.com
ircnn-news.com
losingweightrapidly.com
mnc-news.com
myscecretweightlosssolution.com
neverseeweightlossagain.com
plantipsflatstomach.com
plantodayflatstomach.com
rapidweightloss-blog.com
realmenshealthblog.com
revolutionarydiet2013.com
revolutionarydietformula.com
revolutionarydietloss2013.com
revolutionarydietsolution2013.com
revolutionarydietsolutions.com
revolutionarydietweightloss.com
revolutionarydietweightloss2013.com
revolutionarydietweightlosssolution.com
revolutionarydietweightlosssolution2013.com
revolutionaryfatburning.com
revolutionaryfatburningformula.com
revolutionaryfatburningmethod.com
revolutionaryflatstomachsystem.com
revolutionarynaturaldiet.com
revolutionarynaturalweightlosssystem.com
revolutionaryweightloss1.com
revolutionaryweightloss2013.com
revolutionaryweightlossdietplan.com
revolutionaryweightlossdietsolution.com
revolutionaryweightlossdietsolutions.com
revolutionaryweightlossplan.com
revolutionaryweightlosssolution.com
secretultrafastdiet.com
solutionflatstomachsecretsnow.com
solutionflatstomachtoday.com
solutionwithweightonline.com
thebigjim.com
tipsflatstomachquick.com
tipsflatstomachsystem.com
tipsprogramflatstomach.com
todayblogflatstomach.com
todayflatstomachblog.com
todayflatstomachquick.com
todayquickflatstomach.com
ultrafastsecretsdiet.com
weightlossgreatnews.com
weightlossthatworkisnotmagicpill.com

The “work at home mom” scam series also used hacked Yahoo accounts for advertising websites that are made to look like network TV news sites, so these scams are probably related.

The spam senders are often abusing mail interfaces meant for mobile phones. The Yahoo message IDs of the spams contain some of these strings:

.androidMobile@web
.BPMail_high_noncarrier@web
.BPMail_high_carrier@web
.BPMail_low_noncarrier@web
.BPMail_low_carrier@web

Probably “.androidMobile” is for use by the Yahoo Mail for Android app, though the spam is not necessarily sent from Android phones. More likely it is just using the servers provided for Android, but accessing from a PC.

The “BPMail” IDs are an interesting one. I suspect the “_noncarrier” variants involve IP addresses not connected to one of the phone carriers that bundle Yahoo mail with their service, while the “_carrier” variants mean the IP address is part of the provider’s address pool, though it could be used by a PC accessing via a wireless broadband modem.

“High” and “low” could be an internally assigned spam rating, though that is mere speculation. However, “.BPMail_high_noncarrier” is the most common Google hit of these 4 that comes up when searching for information about this type of spam. When investigating a pool of spam samples, this was the order of declining frequency: “.BPMail_high_noncarrier” was by far the most frequent, followed by “.BPMail_high_carrier” and finally relatively small numbers of “.BPMail_low_noncarrier” and “.BPMail_low_carrier”.

The spam recipients (common numbers: 1, 3, 9 or 10) tend to include the last addresses the legitimate owner of the Yahoo account has emailed. So perhaps the spammers are harvesting email addresses from the “Sent” folder of the Yahoo account after gaining access to it.

I find it amazing that Yahoo has yet to find a away to close the vulnerability that allows this spam and fraud to continue, despite the months and years since it was first observed.