Japan travel #3: Sausage at Kyodai

This is picking up from my last Japan travel blog…

There are a lot of loan words in the Japanese language, and this can be convenient, endearing, and absolutely frustrating at the same time. Add in the fact that Japanese love to abbreviate things and you’re assured to never have a dull moment.

The convenient thing about loan words is that Japanese has specific notation called katakana that explicitly indicates foreign words. The マクドナルド menu in Japan is chock full of the things you’re used to, like アイスコーヒー, チーズバーガー, and ポタト, but it has some interesting things, like ドイツバーガー.

It’s really cute to pronounce the things you see in katakana to see how the Japanese decided to cast the words into their syllabary. For example, カーブ took me a little while to figure out. エネルギー makes me scratch my head because the Japanese do have the soft G phoneme but decided that the hard G at the end was more appropriate.

It gets complicated when abbreviations come into the picture. ファミレス is a common pattern where the first two syllables of each word in a compound word is smashed together to give you the word. Some are just tricky to parse if you don’t have any context and are seeing it for the first time, like スマホ.

The abbreviations extends to the Japanese words as well. For example, a common food combination is 天婦羅 and 玉子, so a noodle menu item might be called 天玉そば — notice how the first character from each item is used for shorthand.

Now, I thought I’d talk a little bit about about the actual reason that I went, and was able to go, to Japan in the first place: the theoretical computer science conference called Symposium on Computational Geometry — otherwise abbreviated as SoCG. But that’s an awkward acronym to spell out, and you can confuse it with things like GSoC, for example. Well, if you look at it long enough, I’m sure you’ll agree with a lot of the frequent attendees that “Sausage” is a much more endearing nickname for the conference. Suddenly, the wifi password of ‘sausage2014kyodai’ makes a lot of sense if you consider that the venue was the clock tower hall at Kyoto Daigaku, or Kyoto University.

You clever Japanese.

Well, over the course of the 4-day conference, I witnessed quite a few theoretical talks that went way over my head, but what I took away from those talks at a high level is that the emphasis doesn’t seem to be on any particular application but rather on solving a previously unsolved problem or solving a problem more efficiently, for example, by proving a lower asymptotic bound. Secondly, beautiful, clean, simple schematic figures are a lot better when the point is to illustrate your method in a severely constrained amount of time. I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to visualize real data thinking that I need to show that my work is authentic, but I am missing the point that it might be way too cluttered and distracting for my intended audience.

My seat in one of the conference rooms.

My seat in one of the conference rooms.

A view from the speaker's point of view. Also, blurry Carlos.

A view from the speaker’s point of view. Also, blurry Carlos.

Jin Akiyama, very famous Japanese mathematician, giving his invited talk.

Jin Akiyama, very famous Japanese mathematician, giving his invited talk.

As for my talk, I think it could have definitely went better. I knew that I had 15 minutes to work with ahead of time, but I did not factor in that part of that would be used for Q&A and speaker changeover, so it was pretty rushed. Anyways, I pointed people to the website I made in the end for reference, so it wasn’t so bad.

I was also lucky enough to run into some CGAL editors on the last day of the conference. From left to right are Michael, Monique, and Eric:

cgal_socg2014

The Kyoto University campus was smaller than I expected. I think it is about the size of San Jose State University. The students really struck me as acting very young, maybe because they are, and I’m starting to not be anymore, but I don’t know — this is just my impression, which is similar to how I felt when I studied abroad in Hong Kong.

A view from the northwest corner of Kyoto University.

A view from the northwest corner of Kyoto University.

Lots of bikes on campus.

Lots of bikes on campus.

Also motor bikes on the left, too.

Also motor bikes on the left, too.

Small cars are pretty common to see.

Small cars are pretty common to see.

Having Indian food with Carlos near campus. Crazy amount for less than $10. The naan is huge.

Having Indian food with Carlos near campus. Crazy amount for less than $10. The naan is huge.

All in all, it was a fun time, probably solidifying my view that the academic life is not the one for me. It felt great to meet people who are interested in what you do, though most likely that is going to be that one person whose name you’ve seen online doing similar stuff already. It was cool and humbling to witness how chummy the researchers are with each other. I’m sure I will make my mark, but most likely it will be writing things other than academic papers. I think I can be more useful writing software or translations or blogs, for example.

Thanks for the trip!

1000 Japanese flashcard milestone reached

Huzzah, my Japanese flashcard deck has reached 1000 cards in size! While playing games, watching anime, and basically enjoying assorted Japanese media, I look up words and turn them into flashcards to review if I see them enough. It’s pretty cool to see that it’s accumulated up to this much.

The flashcard program I’m using is jMemorize, and if you’re interested, you can check out my 1000-card deck here. I try to make flashcards for words that I’ve seen frequently enough, but who knows if they are really esoteric or not — I am reading some fanciful fiction after all.

At some point, probably during some new year, I resolved to study Chinese regularly, which meant making a number of flashcards every week. At this point, my Chinese deck has been untouched for quite a while now, and I have somehow switched over to Japanese in full force. Definitely, the enjoyment factor is the biggest reason for this. There’s so much in terms of games and media to experience that I would rather spend my time becoming proficient enough to translate and appreciate it natively.

On the other hand, I have only really regularly watched the news in Chinese. Watching domestic news in Chinese is just about as fun as watching domestic news in English: it just isn’t. The international news segments are pretty interesting though, and the special interview segments are pretty cool because they’re typically targeted to the native Chinese demographic. But the news only gets you so far, and I drove myself away from Chinese because the news got too boring. I probably also wanted to focus in on one language as well, but that’s probably just an excuse.

Anyways, I think I can finally say that I know the same amount of vocabulary that an elementary school kid should know. I’m definitely looking forward to the next 1000. Also looking forward to graduating from games and fiction and moving on to more “grown-up” things like science and tech periodicals and other specialized media. And I mean in Chinese or Japanese.