Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year ...

This is the year of cow ... so ...

Shanthi's flower lessons ...

Recently Shanthi has been attending "Dutch style" flower lessons, that are customized for Japan. It is taught by Rieko at the Hanapot. A fun filled lesson, I accompany Shanthi and Solomon to the lessons for 2 reasons,

Translate lesson which are in Japanese into English,
Most importantly to take care of Antony Solomon when the lessons are on.

I enjoy the lessons too, because
I can learn flower arrangement without actually having to pay for it and
I can learn new Japanese words (silly me ...)

After I started attending the lessons I learnt the mildness of color they use. Back home in India we believe stark contrasting colors are georgeous, but here they use simple colors and make things look milder and cool. For example the reeth uses mostly light colors, but it look good ...

Week before last, she made the wonderful christmas reeth. I enjoyed it's look very much. Except that I dropped it when I tried to hang it and it lost it's shape (a bit though) ...

And last week, she made yet another beautiful full green stuff, which is also cool and mild (some people would like to term it dull ... though). This week she made this veritically aligned New Year special stuff which was by far the best (according to me). It did cost special too. But in any case she is enjoying these lessons, and I will accompany till such time Solomon is old enough not to disturb her.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Birthday parties ...

Nov 7th was Antony's birthday, 10 days later was Ravi's kid, Vishu's birthday and yesterday was Teja's birthday. So we were eating a lot of cakes recently, with Christmas falling on the 25th. As always I was the photographer yesterday too, and I snapped a lot of photos. Am attaching a couple of them.

Now, it is holiday season here in Japan, with temperature hovering around zero degrees, I have been happy to stay back inside home all times.

I plan to finish some of the training courses stipulated by the company before I start off my next assignment. Hope the procastinating days are gone ...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lighting a candle ...

Recently I was busy with Christmas and my office. My project got over yesterday and I was busy as I had to finish a few things.

As for Christmas, it was less than usual, I received 10 shirts as gift from my sister, Shanthi and Solomon received a couple of dress each and a sweater.

Anto's special pair of Puma shoes looked cute, I was surprised to see such good finishing in such a small scale. Anyway I thought it was worth the high price.

The other day, Solomon (Anto) imitated his mother's way of lighting candle. And we happened to film it, and thus this video. Enjoy !!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Meltdown ...

After I started working in 1999, this is going to be most challenging year owing to the economic meltdown. The news isn't good in Japan too, Toyoto corp. which symbolizes Japanese economic strength is going red in 71 years. Why should this happen, are these problems created by guys who play with stocks. Or those (stupid) banks in America which gave away all the money to home owners ... Like many including Paulson I don't know either ...

I dont know what to do, the JPY-INR exchange rate is floating like anything ... I dont know whether to send money to my country or not ...

Whenever I am confused I always wait and watch, and this time though it is frieghtening ... I decided to wait and watch ...

God bless !!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Test cricket's more interesting than ever before ...

Recently South Africa chased a mammoth 413 against the mighty Australians in their own backyard. While many are happy to discuss the reasons for this Australian defeat, I am happy to see that few teams have already started outplaying the Aussies, and this will make cricket more interesting than ever before.

On a philosophical note ...
Recently, I was watching the movie Matrix, in which Neo defeats "Agents (Smith)" when he starts "believing in himself". In this note, it's just that more team think that they can chase huge totals instead of playing for a mostly sure "defensive defeat" ...

On the other hand, Australia will be alright once they start believing that "they are invincibles, no more"...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Anto in his dhothi ...

Recently Anto has been sporting this green Dhothi (Indian style wear), like everyone I like it too. Shanthi had made numerous videos of it, at-last I got a chance to upload it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Computer scientist's holy grail?

For a long time we know that Resistor, Capacitor and Inductor form the basic elements. We also know to use a combination of these elements to create complex circuits.

Now make it four, add the newly created, but the 30 year old, "memristor"

Discovered as early as in the 70's, but got into the limelight after scientists from HP really made one. It is taking us to the nano age, really. It seems that the potential applications include "brain emulation".

Read more about it at spectrum and also wikipedia

Now, if you do not have time to read through the entire article, I want to quote the following paragraph from spectrum,

"... However, even a mouse brain simulation in real time involves solving an astronomical number of coupled partial differential equations. A digital computer capable of coping with this staggering workload would need to be the size of a small city, and powering it would require several dedicated nuclear power plants."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tamron Vs Nikon (Expensive 1 to 5)

One of my class mates (Dennis) from Engineering college days is getting married. Thinking of taking some snaps for the wedding, I thought of buying a lens with a large aperture for portraits. For a long time I had been eyeing the Nikon 15-55 F2.8, but it's highly expensive (JPY 150K) that I was postponing the purchase. Especially with JPY clocking its peak.

But then recently when I was checking the Tamron's website, I came across the Tamron 15-50 F2.8 AF. Man, it costs around JPY 33K. Which is roughly 4 times cheaper or a 5th of the price of its Nikonese counterpart. I can't believe my eyes. Now its time to start reading the reviews ...

What's in store ...

Once upon a time, reading "IEEE spectrum" was enjoyable for me. It was an eye opener into many things that I did not know of. Those days I understood the future technologies and thought that it will definitely help improve human race.

These days, I am slightly disturbed with the following technologies

- Artificial Intelligence, After some years, all you will do is teach a computer and make it work for you. Or buy an already intelligent off-the-shelf computer and ... then "What will you do?"

- Neural or Brain mapping, Computers can read your brain, remove or add information. Like the one shown in the film Matrix. I do not know the technical term though. Direct Brain Access (DBA) or something ... It will be good, if this is used in a good way. But hmm.... kowai

Imagine a situation,
We have developed a machine that can add or remove contents to or from human brain. And there is a simple machine mal-function or worst, this is in the hands of some "really bad guy". I do not want to think more ... on this. It is really really scary.

- Gesture identification
A good technology, machine's will be able to understand our gestures. And if those machines are intelligent and in some way do not like our actions, then ... ;-)

- Nano technologies etc etc ...
Super computer microprocessors the size of ball pen tips, electronics printed on clothes, invisible or transparent electronics. They have 100's of good applications and 1000's of not so good ones...

Now, I may be sounding a bit negative. That is exactly how I feel about these future technologies. May be I should stop reading "IEEE Spectrum" ... ;-) or what?

Monday, December 15, 2008

387 scored in the fourth innings ....

This is great news for the "shell shocked Indians", especially after the Bombay carnage.

Tendulkar (is from Bombay) and he once again did it for India. From now his critics will have to find a new reason. What an Innings from our "little master"?

I attribute this test to the entire Indian team.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Abbeee abbeee ... (probably it means gran-ma gran-ma)

Mom, this is for you.

Anto (that is how every one in my family calls Solomon) recently started talking using some language which is foreign to perhaps everybody.

We made a video of that, and I am attaching that for my mom ... enjoy !!!

忘年会ーBou-nen-kai [Forget year party]

Yesterday I along with Shanthi (my wife) and Solomon (our kid) attended the year's first bou-nen-kai 「忘年会」. This is a party to forget any (every) bad thing(s) that happened during the year. Yesterday's party was for the tennis circle called "the november" that I am part.

For Shanthi and Solomon, this is their first time attending a bounenkai. They had a good time enjoying all the food that was served. Solomon was in his good spirits and he did not cry. He was wearing a sherwani. I had a chance to discuss with my mate Mr. Masa. I have never seen someone who can talk more about cars that this man. He can exactly tell each and every Japanese car's dimension.

After discussing with him I decided 2 things.
1. Buy a toyota car (possibly harrier)
2. Apply for my driving license ;-)

BTW, Toyota will stop making Harrier from next year.

Photo courtesy, Jeffrey (my friend who writes this amazing blog)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Definition of a dream

Yesterday late in the night I was watching a program called "人体~セックスと人体機能~" in the discovery channel. The english reading is "Human body ~ Sex and human body function ~". I happened to see yesterday's part from the series. Yesterday's was all about brain's functionality. In that program they defined the meaning of "dream".

It was mentioned
"Dream is nothing but, uncontrolled thinking", and they added great scientists always dreamt solutions to their problems, and this was possible only due to "uncontrolled thinking". It was a very interesting definition, because from time to time, I have dreamt about solution to some complex algorithm related questions that I have come across ...

Can we term a scientist "a day dreamer", why not?

How little we know about the world.
We start at the atomic level, and stop at the milky way galaxy.

We need better microscopes and telescopes eh ...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“Implicit, mild and honest” – Personified

My first impression about Japan was during my high school days, it started when I read a prose titled “Selected snobberies” by “Aldous Huxley” in which the author writes that the “Japanese style of snobbery” is to add honorific prefix to all nouns in a sentence, according to Huxley the Japanese would say “Keep the honorable umbrella in the honorable umbrella stand”. I read the above passage to the whole class, and as expected, all students laughed. My impression during those days was that the land of “Sony and bullet trains” is perhaps weird. Much later I would have confronted Huxley if only he was alive.

Selecting a topic for describing my views on the Japanese culture seemed difficult. I have a feeling that I had found some unique things in Japan that many foreigners living in Japan might overlook. The topic search can be difficult if you have no ideas, and also if you have many ideas. I was suffering from the “many ideas” syndrome.

The “words” we choose to express our thoughts might reflect our culture. So the first title that flashed my mind was “The Japanese language”. I think students of the Japanese language may pickup some aspects of the culture. Once puzzled during my high school days I was impressed with the idea of “honorific salutations” [丁寧語] after seeing its practical usage, partly because my mother tongue too is heavily influenced by honorific expressions for the elderly. I started jotting down a few points about the Japanese language, after jotting down all I can think of, I realized that my knowledge of Japanese language is limited to express my complete feeling about the Japanese culture. So I started thinking about some other topic …

Seasons in Japan! It was Jan, 2005 I had just landed in the Kansai airport wearing a T-shirt. The first impression was that Japan was very cold. In my home town I had witnessed only three seasons, “the hot, hotter and the hottest”. For a moment I started enjoying the cold weather, but I had to scamper for my sweater after sometime. On my first day I was in Kyoto, it was covered with snow; like a kid I played with the snow for sometime, much to the amazement of some passersby. On that day I would experience yet another season. Much colder than the coldest hill station I had ever been to. I have observed that food, clothes, color, moods, activities, vary based on season. But then seasons are universal, so I started looking for something that is unique to Japan.

It will not be a joke to say that “some Japanese men spend more time commuting in trains than they spend with their wives”. I thought of writing about Japanese trains and the Japanese society. Sometimes the symbol of Japan is the bullet train “Shinkansen”. I have seen super stores dedicating a section for selling toy train. Looking at the prices I was not astonished to learn that it was mostly used by adults. The trains had been in Japan for over a hundred years. Though it is unique to Japan and tempting and interesting to write an essay about trains, it may not reflect my feeling on the culture. My mind was looking for something more solid.

I am lucky in that my work has taken me places in Japan, one such place was Matsumoto. I was single and had enough time (and money) to check out some of the exotic Japanese foods. What started as an adventure since I was bored; will soon engulf me into the world of sushi, sashimi, udon, soba … the list will be endless if I start with basashi, fugu, hirezake, yamadanishiki. Yes, I love Japanese rice wine, nihonshu. Though the country is small, it still has many pockets famous for specific items, for example Akashi-yaki, Sanuki udon, Nagano Soba, Shizuoka eel (unagi), etc. But then I thought it might be “mean” to write about food when I am supposed to write about culture.

The list continued, so I wrote down all topics that came to my mind. After jotting them all, I though three English words can define the Japanese culture, they words are “implicit, mild and honest”. The meanings of these words are as deep as the Japanese culture.

In a Japanese sentence the subject is implicit. Initially I was confused, because Japanese language had pronouns too. But then after living in Japan for a longer time and learning more Japanese, I learnt this grammatical construct expresses an aspect of the Japanese culture. In many places there are un-said or un-written rules. After coming to Japan, the first time I went to a bus-stop everybody was standing in a queue though it was not explicitly written and people thought standing in a queue to board a bus was implied. I also learnt that many Japanese business contracts have no major written clauses, but are bound by implied commitments.

I had worked as a “haken employee” in Japanese companies. I never had a formal briefing on office timings, lunch hours or waste disposal. But still I have managed to do all those tasks perfectly. Their culture is to mingle in a group and this works perfectly when executing large projects. I started pondering over it. Back in India, we use to get a big manual and often undergo week long trainings on policy and procedures, but still I felt the Japanese system is more effective.

Some of the things that can be interesting to foreigners are, People waiting in signals even during midnight, litter free pavements, train coming on time, railway station staff sincerely apologizing for a minute train delay.

Whenever I asked my Japanese friends to translate some Japanese phrase, more often the answer was either, “it’s difficult to translate into English” or “it’s Japanese specific”. These answers from them made me curious and thus I started learning Japanese. Soon I was using phrases like “osaki-ni-shitsurei-shimasu”, “otsukaresama desu” without knowing the meaning. In the due course I “realized” the meaning. And now when I teach Japanese to my wife, I always tell her that meaning needs to be realized “kanjiru”. Culture often reflects the nature of a race as a whole. The meaning of the salutations like “Ojama shimashu”, “Shitsurei shimashita”, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu”, needs to be felt based on situations.

Recently I can read kanji characters and suddenly I felt like being blessed with a new eye. The first realization came when I read the Japanese translation of an English novel “The Alchemist”. The Japanese translation I thought was far better than the original version. The translation was[アルケミスト- 夢を旅した少年]. The phrase that caught my attention and one that I quickly memorized was 「何かを強く望めば宇宙の全てが協力して実現するように助けてくれる」. I got a chance to read both the English and Japanese version, and I felt that probably the Japanese version made me visualize more. I realized visualizing「想像」is an excellent means of understanding, and the Japanese often explain things pictorially. Is it because of the pictorial kanji? Anyway, the liking for cartoons and anime is a proof.

After pondering over the implicit things that I observed in Japan, I started wondering, after all, what is the meaning of the word “culture”, is it just the sum of all implicit things attributed to a particular race.

When learning the Japanese language, many times my teacher mentions that certain words are used to make the sentence mild [軽くする為の表現]. In learning this aspect I saw another realm that might be specific to Japan. In the Japanese language the expression are so mild that it may lack assertiveness. Does that mean the Japanese lack assertiveness? That is another question. But this mild way of expressing things works well in the Japanese society. They words like “may be”, “I think …” can be seen as prefix to sentences often. After living here for sometime I learnt that many times, when the Japanese say “may be”, it means they are mostly sure.

Japanese are good at finding out mild differences. I read that some Japanese people can find out even small difference in the thickness of paper just by feeling it. Unbelievable was my first impression, but later experiences made me believe this..

Once I started wondering why someone would eat raw fish, and raw meat. Japan was the only foreign country I have ever lived, so I could only compare this culture with mine. Back in India, we deep fry fish, soaked in a variety of spices or eat it as part of a fish curry. Both “fish fry” and “fish curry” is a delicacy in south India. I thought probably since Japan does not have spices, they consume it as sashimi or sushi. I asked a friend, “why do the Japanese eat raw fish”. His answer was “we eat it raw to feel the taste of the fish”. This answer made me thinking; actually Indians taste more spice than the fish in itself. Some more thinking into it, probably we amplify the taste of the fish with spices. The lesson learnt here was important that the “Japanese can enjoy and distinguish even mild taste differences”, and like things mild.

Praising the Japanese all times, I have concerns too. For example, about the way the Japanese copy western life style ending up being obese. The hamburger outlets seem to be popular among the youth. Obesity is compounding to the increasing NEET issue. I think the younger generation is able to afford many luxuries just because their forefathers did all the hard work to grow the economy in a resource starved country.

I was traveling from Tokyo to Shiojiri in the JR Azusa super fast express. I missed the single small bag that I was carrying which had all my valuables like passport, all my traveler’s cheques inside the train. After alighting I was totally frustrated once I learnt that I lost the passport and all my money. With much difficulty as I did not know a single word in Japanese I somehow explained to the station in-charge. I was more worried because the station in-charge was cool. For a moment I thought he did not understand. He called up the Matsumoto station (which is Azusa’s final stop) and traced my bag. Once I got the bag I was surprised that nothing in that bag was touched. It was my first experience of Japanese honesty.

I used to stay in a small village called Hirooka near Matsumoto and commute to my office by train. The JR Hirooka station was manned by a station master only from 8AM to 5 PM, and it did not have an automatic ticketing gate too. Sometimes late in the night I see some coins and tickets lying in front of the closed ticketing counter, much later I found out that it was the honest way of fare adjustment. Amazing, was also the fact that even the punks who roamed around the railway station in the night did not touch those coins.

I think the discipline in Japanese life style is because they are honest to themselves. The meticulous garbage separation even when no-body force you do not.

I had always thought that this country suits me. I wish I will sometimes dare to say that “this is my home away from my home”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Eating out ... after a long time

Today my colleague Terai's family visited us for dinner. Mine and my friend's (Nanda) family made a five course meal, and topped it with Indian mangoes. It was fun all day as Terai-san's son Ryose was an active guy, much like Terai himself. I made most of the cooking and cleaning, as my wife was busy with Solomon.

After the dinner we set out for shopping and bought few household things and one the way back we decided to eat the much hyped Marukame [丸亀] udon. Everybody liked it. I like udon very much and this particular shop is my favourite. I wish I can visit Sanuki some day to eat my favourite udon...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obsessed with our gray matter

Recently I have been reading a lot of IEEE spectrum. Another article on mapping human consciousness and selectively adding or removing it. The future seems to be thrilling, but I feel something slippery about the path taken by humans.

If we reverse engineer the brain and create a machine with the functionality of the brain, we might needs to create a way to stop it from going against us.

At this I remember King Arthur's farewell,
"The future seems dark and dreary" ...

20 years from now, you call 911 .... and the answer is something like "Sir, this is your Robo-Cop speaking ... How can I help you" ... And you say, sigh !!! "I just want to talk someone human ..."

Star thrower - an impressive story

There's a story I would like to share with you. It was inspired by the writing of Loren Eiseley. Loren was a very special person because he combined the best of two cultures. He was a scientist and a poet. From those two perspectives, he wrote insightfully and beautifully about the world and our role in it.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man, much like Eiseley himself, who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had the habit of walking along the beach before he began his work. One day he was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up. As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing Starfish into the ocean."

"I guess I should have asked; why are you throwing Starfish into the ocean?"

"The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don't throw them in they'll die."

"But young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it, you can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one."

His response surprised the man, he was upset, he didn't know how to reply, so instead he turned away and walked back to the cottage to begin his writings.

All day long as he wrote, the image of that young man haunted him; he tried to ignore it, but the vision persisted. Finally, late in the afternoon, he realized that he the scientist, he the poet, had missed the essential nature of the young man's actions. Because he realized that what the young man was doing was choosing not to be an observer in the universe and watch it pass by, but was choosing to be an actor in the universe and make a difference. He was embarrassed.

That night he went to bed, troubled. When morning came, he awoke knowing that he had to do something; so he got up, put on his clothes, went to the beach and found the young man; and with him spent the rest of the morning throwing Starfish into the ocean.

You see, what the young man's actions represent is something that is special in each and every one of us. We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference. And if we can, like the young man, become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our vision the power to shape the future.

And that is your challenge, and that is my challenge. We must find our Starfish, and if we throw our stars wisely and well, I have no question that the 21st century is going to be a wonderful place.

Vision without action is merely a dream
Action without vision just passes time
Vision with action can change the world

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Matrix and total recall ... Now it may be reality

Today I was reading an article in the IEEE Spectrum , this article is titled "Reverse engineering the brain". Guess what they are trying to do, YES! they are trying to map a human brain. I use to work for a semiconductor company after graduating and heard from my manager that Taiwanese are good at reverse engineering ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits). I thought it was just gimmick, or those people who can reverse engineer are way too good.

After reading the above article, it was interesting how close we are towards resolving many human issues like "mental depression", "loneliness", "stress", etc. using brain mapping. The future looks interesting. I will be more than happy if someone can transfer all the "Japanese Kanjis" into my brain. But, that said, I guess it might have a darker side to it too ...

Is scientific fiction yet another reality of the future. Are those fiction writers oracles. Recently I read a novel named "Alchemist" 「アルケミスト」(in Japanese) by Paulo coelho. It talks about omen 「前兆」, and how they become reality. Now I am left wondering, may be ... those fiction writer are in a way ... oracles.

Monday, March 24, 2008

All directions ...

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog. Recently there is a feeling, life is taking me in all possible directions. So I set out to find if this is just a feeling or otherwise.

One thing is for sure, my career is at cross-roads. I now know exactly how Robert Frost would have felt, when he wrote "The road not taken" ... It is scary. Yes recently I am into a ASIC design project, and it is a night mare.

Photography is taking me to new places, recently to the backyard in our appartments. I was able to snap some photos, which others thought were nice, but I feel there is scope for a lot of improvement.

Sports, Tennis has been in my mind for a looong time. Recently, I started playing tennis. Yes, after the teacher taught me, the first serve I served was in, with force. Everybody thinks that either, "I am lieing that I have never played tennis" or "I am a natural tennis player" ...

Recently I started trying sake (Japanese rice wine) again, and I am drinking a lot of them ... I am finding ways to stop it ..
The guy is Shin-chan (my tennis teacher ..) and his wife Rieko-san.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In anticipation ...

Yen is soaring high in the air, I don't know if dollar is falling. Taking advantage of this, I was hoping to send most of my bank balance to my Indian account. We get a special discount with SBI (State Bank of India) Osaka branch, if we send more than JPY 1 Million. I was expecting some money from the insurance company, which never got credited into my account. I drew flak, plan dropped ... atleast for today.

Then again, I was hoping to get some money from my company over some re-imbursements related to my house deposit. Flak again ... it is 1 month now, and I have no answers ...

But, the Macro lens that my friend Jeff ordered last week for me, was delivered today. I am looking forward to lay my hands at them tomorrow. Hopefully I don't draw flak again ...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Natural tennis player

In my high school days, I used to watch a lot of tennis. I first thought Borris becker was great. I used to imagine Becker & Graf were siblings, I also made my mother believe this. Those days I used to think that, "I will be a *great* tennis player someday". And it seems now, that "someday" can be in my next birth.

Anyway, today I was requested by my friend Shin-san to join him for a session of Tennis. I accepted it, though I was not feeling well. And I had no expectation apart from picking up a few Japanese words from Shin et al.

To my surprise when I was there with them. According to Shin and others, it seems that I played "really well" for a beginner. Shin told me that my back-hand strokes, and approach was good.

I remembered, once I told Yuki-san, that "I am a natural tennis player", and I was not sure if she believed it. But today I myself could not believe I am one.

After a long time

Its long since I composed a blog, I was in a different world altogether. The following are some of the things that has happened in this period.
- Changed job twice (SCM->TATA Elxsi->WIPRO Japan)
- Moved to Japan, and presently living in Kyoto
- Got married to Shanthi and we were blessed with a kid on the 11th of Nov2007

After coming to Japan, every single experience I have had was so wonderful, that I always wanted to write them down as a record for myself. The starting trouble which tormented me for a long time is now gone. "the cast is broken ..."