November 13, 2005

Birthday Blood Typing

So I turned 31 today, in Japan. This is the second birthday I've had in Japan actually. Last time I was here for a conference in 2002 I believe, and it was not memorable. I believe that I bought myself a cup-cake at a convenience store or something.

This time, I had a memorable birthday. I met F. at Shinjuku for lunch, at "La Boheme Cafe", which was quite nice. After that we walked to the governmental building, which is constantly being destroyed by monsters in movies. We did some window shopping, and then came across a blood drive. I've been meaning to give blood for a while, since I don't know my blood type and would like to have it typed. Also, I like the idea of helping out people in need.

One reason I'm interested in knowing my blood type is because in Japan, people believe that one's personality is indicated by blood their blood type. I've been asked what my blood type is many times, and I never know. People are shocked. Anyway, I donated blood, and it turns out I'm type A. Sounds good to me. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

It's a birthday I won't soon forget!

October 21, 2005

SF2 scene at Shibuya's Game Kaikan

On Friday I decided to head over to my favorite arcade, the Shibuya Game Kaikan, and play some Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting Anniversay Edition. Over on Shoryuken.com they call this one AE (Anniversary Edition) but I wonder what it is called in the states: there already was a Hyper Fighting over there.

Anyway, I got to the game kaikan at about 8pm, after a nice Little Spoon (my favorite Curry chain in Japan) dinner. Now, I love Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and I really like AE as well, since you get to play older versions of characters against the new ones. It's a fun game. Unfortunately, the past 8 years in New York didn't do much for my head-to-head skills. I probably only played ten or twenty games the whole 8 years in New York, despite having a ST machine available at the Chinatown Fair. So I tend to get my ass kicked. I probably win about 10% of my matches at the game kaikan.

I'm posting this a few days late, so I can't really comment on how I did. I think I won once with my T. Hawk, who I'm trying to get into playing shape. I'm trying to learn how to option select the crouching jab into piledriver, but I'm still not very good at that yet. I probably lost 15 times at least though, so I don't think an analysis of my play would be ver interesting.

I did, however, chat with a nice salaryman who plays a throw-happy grape Dhalsim. He's pretty good, but not great because I can hang with him to some extent. He was happy to chat with a white guy about SF2 though, so we spent quite a while talking strategy and commenting on the other players there. Two really stood out: a ST Zangief using the held-button black color, and a massive E. Honda who was nearly unstoppable. The Zangief was really good, and I thought that at least initially I could take him with my crappy Ryu, but that wasn't the case. His play was pretty limited, in that he didn't show much variation, but was very good at what he did. He would SPD at very, very long range. Whiff a roundhouse, receive a SPD. He also used the hopping punch from out of range to get into range and SPD. I've seen that before, but he was just really effective at using it. He knew the ranges really well, stayed far enough away to use the Lariat, invite a roundhouse or forward, the SPD you. I didn't think he was anything special, but he ran up a pretty good win streak, so I changed my mind as the evening went on.

The E. Honda was another story. He was just massive. I hadn't seen many E. Honda's there before, so this was pretty interesting to me. He used Honda's charge butt-drop move often, and used it to cross-over, then would tick into the command throw. He used the command throw really well, much more frequently than I had ever seen it used before. He would get at least two a round it seemed like. He also used Honda's super to get four hits off consistently, which is something that I wouldn't be able to do. He didn't ues the super often though, and of course was a master of the jumping fierce to wiggle over fireballs and such. Anyway, it was an impressive display.

October 17, 2005

Ikebana show

Ikebana pictures Fumie and I went to a large Ikebana show at the Takashimaya in Nihonbashi on Sunday.
 

October 13, 2005

Visit to Hiroshima City University

On Wednesday morning I went to Hiroshima City University (広島市立大学) and met with Professor Hidetsugu Nanba (難波 英嗣), and was introduced to Dr. Teruaki Aizawa (相沢 輝昭 先生). I gave my multi-lingual multi-document summarization talk, as well as a brief demo of NewsBlaster and a short talk about graduate student life at Columbia University. Professor Nanba and one of his students, Ms. Taniguchi, gave a talk about their work on PRESRI, an automated survey paper generation system, although currently it identifies survey papers.

Afterwards I met with some of the students, and saw a brief presentation on some of their hetergeneous database searching research that also uses some interesting citation analysis methods.

I had some Hiroshima Yaki (a type of okonomiyaki) at Micchan (a chain) at Hiroshima station. Then I caught my 6:30pm Nozomi to Tokyo, and arrived at Shin-Yokohama at 10:10pm. I wish they had electrical outlets so I could use my laptop for longer than the hour that the battery lasts, but I really like the Shinkansen rail system. It is very comfortable and convenient.

October 12, 2005

Trip to Hiroshima, do I have to change this website to FuguTabeta.com??

On Tuesday evening I took a train from Tsu to Nagoya, and from Nagoya to Hiroshima on a Hikari Shinkansen. The picture is actually of a Kodama Rail Star train from Hiroshima because the shot I got of my Nozomi 700 Series Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo didn't turn out well.

On arriving at Hiroshima, I met with Professor Hidetsugu Nanba (難波 英嗣 先生) for a very, very nice dinner. We ate at a place called きっ川, proprieter 吉川 修平 (Kikkawa Shyuuhei). It was a fresh seafood restaurant, small, and with a very nice personable atmosphere. Every dish is described and explained by Mr. Kikkawa before you eat it. I really enjoyed the dinner, it was just excellent. We also had a nice local Sake with the dinner, 雨後の月 (Ugono Tsuki).

The first course was a nice Sashimi, and then there was a baked fish and a stewed fish? There was a great tempura course, and as Mr. Kikkawa explained, the anago (conger eel) was caught earlier that morning by Mr. Tiger, a famous Anago fisherman in Hiroshima that has been catching them for 40 years. It is said that he catches the most delicious Anago. It certainly was delicious.

The next course was a soup with many interesting things, mostly mushrooms and oysters, but there was also Fugu. Yes, Fugu. The namesake of this site, which I've been running since about 2000, but of course I've wanted to try Fugu for much longer than that. Maybe I first heard of it in 1996, in my first long trip to Japan. So, I had the Fugu, and it was delicious. Now, do I have to buy the domain FuguTabeta.com?? (FuguTabetai means "I want to eat Fugu", FuguTabeta would mean "I ate Fugu".)

So if you are ever in Hiroshima, I highly recommend Kikkawa. The phone number there is (082) 241-0002, but you had better know Japanese if you call there. It is a small place, so reservations are recommended.

 

Lab visit at Mie Daigaku (三重大学)

Tuesday I visisted Dr. Masui (桝井先生) at Mie Daigaku. He introduced me to Dr. Atsuo Kawai (河合 敦夫 先生) and I was able to see some demonstrations of the research that they are doing. They have some very interesting work on identifying errors in Japanese and English (particles and determiners respectively) and some interesting Q&A work, as well as automatically learning features for nouns from the internet. Some of the Q&A work uses patterns, similar to Sasha's genus / type identification for ACQUAINT.

October 11, 2005

Trip to Tsu and Ise Jinguu

On Monday morning I caught the Kanki 3 train to Tsu (津) and met with Professor Nanba of Mie Daigaku. He and two of his students (Naito, who was very talkative, and another student who was not as talkative) took me to Ise Jinguu (伊勢神宮). Ise Jinguu is a very large temple, one of the main ones in Japan, that has a "moving shrine" that is destroyed and re-built in a new location every 30 years I believe. There are two main grounds, the outer temple (外宮) and the inner temple (内宮). We visited and walked around both.

Before we went to Naiku, we stopped at Okage yokocho, an area of lots of little shops and restaurants. We had a nice gyuudon for lunch, and then went on to the Naiku temple. It was really impressive: the grounds are just huge. And, they have lots of nice places to store rice.

 

October 10, 2005

Visit to Nittaiji in Nagoya

On Sunday, I visisted Nittaiji temple in Nagoya with the Maedas, and we also saw a small local Matsuri aimed at kids. It was very interesting. Nittaiji had some interesting Buddhist artifacts that were donated by the King of Thailand, according to what I could understand. So maybe that isn't really the case. The five-level pagoda was built about five years ago, so it was interesting for me to hear that new construction of traditional temples still continues. That probably shouldn't have surprised me though.
 

October 9, 2005

Tokyo to Nagoya, dinner with the Maeda family

I caught a 3pm Shinkansen from Tokyo and arrived in Nagoya at 4:22pm. I met with Maeda-san, and we went back to his house where we met with his daughter Ryoko, her two children Amane (2.5) and Hitoki (.6), and later on Masao and his wife Chisato and their two children, Yuusuke (3) and Motoki (1.x?). A total of four grandchildren, and they were all very active, especially Amane-chan.

We had a great dinner of tempura and sukiyaki, and I really ate my fill. Later, at about 10pm, we were able to use iChat to video chat with Mom and Dad back in Texas, which was a lot of fun. All the little grandkids enjoyed seeing themselves on the computer, and Amane liked screaming at the camera. She just likes screaming in general though, it seemed.

October 7, 2005

Kyoto Daigaku, Kinkakuji, back to Tokyo

Small camera phone picture of Kinkakuji

On Friday I left the Keihana area and headed to Kyoto to meet with Professor Toru Ishida, whom I was introduced to by Professor Sal Stolfo. Professor Ishida spent some time at Columbia University years ago. We had a nice lunch and talked about the upcoming "Language Grid" project and other things. I should contact Isahara-san at NiCT.

After meeting at Kyoto Daigaku for lunch, I headed out to Kinkakuji. It was really nice - the golden pavilion is just so dominating. I took some pictures with my Japanese cell phone, but it turns out that the camera on that thing is like 64x64 or something! It's horrible! While walking to the temple I met a family of three from Utah who had visited Kiyomizutera and Ginkakuji earlier in the day, and were finishing up with Kinkakuji. It seems like they were having a really nice vacation in Japan, which is nice to see.

After Kinkakuji, I headed back to Kyoto station and had a coffee. I tried to connect to the free wireless network in Kyoto, but you had to register (in person!) to get an account to set up a VPN. So that didn't go anywhere. Anyway, I caught my Shinkansen at 7pm, and made it back home by 10:00pm.

 

American Analog Set in Kyoto

So my sister tells me that I need to see the group "American Analog Set". They are currently touring Japan, and as luck would have it they played in Kyoto while I was there interviewing. According to my sister, the girl making her dress, Jesse, is dating the drummer of AmAnSet. Since I'm staying about 40 minutes away from Kyoto, it is a bit of a hike for me, but I thought it would be stupid not to see them, so I headed out.

I got to the venue (Metro) at about 7pm, and people had started lining up. They started to let people in about about 7:25 or so, and luckily they hadn't sold the place out completely so I was able to get in. Unlike New York, small live shows are really expensive: 5,000 yen for this one (included one drink.)

The first group up was 13 & God and I liked them. They had some nice soft soothing music, punctuated by really hard rocking parts and loud, fast rap. A guy I was talking to in the audience told me that the album is almost completely mellow, which was really surprising given the show, but I'm definitely interested in picking up their album, or perhaps some of the stuff from the component bands, since "13 & God" is apparently the joint work of a group called "the Notwist" and "Themselves". Here is a kind of nice review of their history together. "Doseone" even had one of those thinkgeek favorite LED belts. And at least one song was about gravity and atmosphere, so it has a geek appeal that I would like to check out.

After 13 & God, American Analog Set came on. Unfortunately, I had to leave after their first song in order to make it back to the station to catch the last train (I actually got the second-to-last train) back to my hotel. But I did pick up their latest album, "Set Free" which has 4 bonus tracks (remixes) for the Japanese release.

I didn't hear a thing out of the closing band, Her Space Holiday.

October 6, 2005

Talk and interview at ATR

I gave a talk today at ATR (also in Kyoto) and met with some people there: Dr. Yutaka Sasaki, the head of the Natural Language Processing department. I also spoke briefly with Dr. Eiichiro Sumita, a principal researcher in the NLP group, and I heard about Dr. Kiyonori Ohtake's work on Japanese paraphrasing / simplification.

After lunch with Dr. Sasaki, I met with Yoshinobu Tonomura, the deputy director at NTT. We talked for about half an hour I believe, and I think he was impressed with (if nothing else) my Japanese.

October 5, 2005

Shinkansen to Kyoto, talk at NTT

I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto today, from Shin-Yokohama. It took about 20 minutes, not including the ridiculously long time it took me to get to Shin-Yokohama. To get there, I took the Toyokosen to Kikuna from Jiyugaoka, about 25 minutes, then at Kikuna realized that I had forgotten my passport (which I will need to exchange my order for the JR Rail Pass I bought) so I turned right back around and was back at Jiyugaoka 25 minutes later. A short 10 minute taxi ride to the apartment and back to get my passport, and then another 25 minutes to Kikuna, from there one stop on the JR Yokohama line, and I had about 2 minutes to spare to catch the last Hikaru Shinkansen (the fastest type you can get with a JR Rail Pass.)

Of course, that train had no reserved seats remining so I had to chance the unreserved seating, but since it was only the second stop, there was plenty of room. I arrived at Kyoto at about 11:45am, and arrived at NTT at about 12:30pm.

The talk went well, and I met with Hideki Isozaki, supervisor group leader of the Knowledge processing group, Eisaku Maeda, Tatsuto Takeuchi (HR, Research Planning Supervisor), Naonori Ueda (Executive Manager), and Hajime Tsukada (Senior Research Scientist.) I really got the feeling that I would be welcome there. It was a nice visit, I saw a demo of their Q&A system, and heard about some knowledge ontology work that they are doing.

September 20, 2005

Cafes in Akihabara: Maid and Linux

Maid Cafes

A few days ago, I saw a show on "Maid Cafes" - places where the staff dress up in Maid costumes, but otherwise normal cafes. There are apparently a lot of them in Akihabara. Admittedly, that is a very popular destination for their presumed target audience: Otaku, but there still seems to be a very large number of these things. There are at least 5 or 6 in Akihabara, and that was just after a quick internet search. I didn't think it was worth counting after seeing there were that many.

I resolved to go check one of these places out when I got a chance. I went to Akihabara today to pick up a cooling pad for my laptop since it has been getting very hot lately. I decided to get lunch at the first Maid Cafe I came across.

I found a place called Cure Maid and went in. I had a nice Tonkatsu Curry Set for 1000 yen. What really surprised me was the normalcy of the place. There were at least twice as many women in there as men, which was the big surprise with me. It seems like these are just normal mainstream cafes, where the wait staff happen to dress up. I think maybe some of acceptance might be due to the wide publicity the "Otaku" has been getting recently in the Japanese media, especially from shows like Densha no Otoko, but it is still pretty surprising.

While I was there, I saw at least two couples come in for dates. In both cases the girls in each couple were semi-cosplaying. One of the girls was wearing a very cute dress, most likely handmade, that was in an Alice In Wonderland theme. It had a cute hearts and spades pattern, and some cat imagery (possible Chesire-inspired, but it didn't look like the Chesire Cat to me.) Anyway, that was a bit more in-line with my expectations.

Linux Cafe

After making my purchase, I wandered around for a while and saw this sign for the Linux Cafe. Now that is some place that I would like to visit. Apparently, they offer free wireless with purchase, which is very rare in Japan. It is a place that I will try to visit on my next trip to Akihabara. I can't say that I go there all that often though, so who knows when that will be.

 

September 18, 2005

Apple Store in Ginza

I met up with Fumie today, and we stopped by the Apple store in Ginza. It is a nice store, with five floors and very curious elevators. Clear glass, but no buttons. They are mind reading elevators. They had a whole bunch of iPod Nanos, and they are a lot cooler than I first thought. They are just amazingly small. Afterwards, we found a nice restaurant that is お忍びダイニング, which just means that you are at semi-private tables. It has nothing to do with Ninja food. It was a really nice dinner though.

Yesterday, Eric, Sharon, and I went to a Matsuri at Toritsu Daigaku. They had a Taiko drum that Eric and Sharon enjoyed beating on for a while.

 

September 3, 2005

Job hunting in Japan, blog software

I arrived in Japan August 24th, 2005 to start my job hunting activities. I also installed bBlog on FuguTabetai.com, and I think it is quite nice software. I should be able to post a bunch more because this automates a lot of what I was doing by hand.

May 20, 2005

Successful Thesis Defense

On Friday, I successfully defended my PhD thesis at Columbia University. Oh yeah.

March 21, 2005

Japan Girls Night US Tour

Japan US Girls Night This is the second time I've gone to Benten's Japan Girls Night tour in New York. Lots of fun. Puppy Pet, TsuShiMaMiRe, Titan Go King's, Gaijin a go-go, and Petty Booka.
 

February 18, 2005

Bishop Allen at the Mercury Lounge

Bishop Allen at the Mercury Lounge Bishop Allen at Mercury Lounge.
 

January 21, 2005

We Are Scientists at CBGBs

Keith rocks out Bishop Allen and We Are Scientists at CBGBs. I was late and missed BA, but made the Scientists part of the show.
 

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