January 1, 2006
Happy New Year!Celebrated the New Year in Kuala Lumpur with Gyn-Ian Yap, Sue-Ling, Ken-Wei, and Elissa. Nice fireworks at Petronas towers, and then a crazy crowd trying to get into the subway to get home.
December 31, 2005
Coffee Shops in MalaysiaI'm currently in Kuala Lumpur visiting a friend of mine from my undergraduate days. I've been meaning to visit Yap for years, and since Kualu Lumpur is only a five hour bus ride from Singapore, I finally was able to make the trip here. I've really enjoyed Malaysia so far, Yap and his girlfriend Sue-Ling have been taking me all around to see the sights. It is strange for me because this is the first time my Christmas and New Year's celebrations have been hot and sweaty. I'm not sure that I'm cut out for this sort of humidity, and the sun certainly doesn't work well with me. I have enjoyed the nice internet access that I've been able to pick up in the coffee shops though.
December 24, 2005
Weddings in SingaporeI went to Singapore for my friend Min-Yen Kan's wedding on December 23rd. I met up with another Columbia researcher, Michelle Galley, and we had a blast running around Singapore doing touristy things. I don't approve of the Taxi system in Singapore though: we spent two hours trying to get one once. Singapore's Taxis have been a bit kinder to me than Malaysian taxis though.
November 24, 2005
2005 Dallas Turkey TrotOn Monday the 21st I arrived in Dallas from Tokyo. The flight went well, in particular since I requested a seat with a power plug, I was able to use my computer for about four hours, and the flight seemed to go quickly. On Tuesday, I drove down to Austin to pick up Alana, and Wednesday we loaded up her can and drove back to Dallas. On the way we picked up our registration packets for the 2005 Dallas Turkey Trot fun run. Alana, Dad, and I were going to run the 5k fun run on Thursday morning. We got up at about 7am on Thursday so we could catch the 7:15am DART train from Parker road. We figured that would be easier than driving downtown since there was supposed to be a lot of people showing up for this race. We missed our train by about two minutes and had to wait about half an hour for the next train. Lots of runners were showing up in the mean time. We were able to get a seat on the train, and boy were we lucky. But the time we had gone three stops, the train was packed with runners, and by the time we hit Mockingbird station there was no room for people to get on. (Or so they thought, a normal Toyoko line late night train would be at least twice as packed.) We made it to the run, and there were 24,000 people there. It was packed. When we started our race it took about 6 minutes to get up to the starting line from where we were lined up. We all stuck together and took the run slowly, it was lots of fun. It ran right through downtown Dallas, and went by lots of historical points in Dallas. I made a Personal Best slow time at 51:50. Afterwards, we had thanksgiving dinner which was nice. Our stove broke, so mom had to run out and buy a broiler for $30, and we cooked the turkey in that. It turned out fairly well, and probably we'll use the broiler for a while since it is very expensive to get a new stove.
November 13, 2005
Birthday Blood TypingSo 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 showFumie 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
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
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 ATRI 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 NTTI 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
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.
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
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 softwareI 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.
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