Monday, November 29, 2010

The long morning after

So, I went to bed after being awake for nearly 48 hours. I did not set an alarm clock.

I woke up 17 hours later. My personal record.

Also - oh f*ck, because I had plans for Saturday. To get on top of everything again.
Ah, well, plans change - what I planned to do saturday afternoon mostly got done, just a few hours later, mainly between 1 and 7 AM Monday morning.

At 8 I gave an inspiring lecture about attitudes to first-year students... which came out pretty good, if the feedback is any indicator. I actually got an applause when I finished :)

Then another 6 hours of work and school, followed by an hour of walking, half an hour in meetings and then an hour of dance lessons... and now I am back home.. and counting 22.5 hours uptime again.

My plans of resting this week failed. I have an exam next Monday, in a course I have not attended for over a month. I also have a small thing about Sharemind which needs to be done ASAP, but that should hopefully be a pretty minor thing. In any case, it seems I have my hands full again.

Ah well, at least I have a week of rest behind me, and am feeling pretty good about life in general :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Big in Japan

I mentioned a few curiosities in the first post already. Since then, a few more things caught my eye whilst I was there.

Japanese gardens, though very reminiscent of their Chinese counterparts, are usually considerably bigger and somewhat more dense in terms of flora. However, both share a common characteristic - namely, the garden is built around nature, not of nature - so everything human-made is built so as to be in harmony with the natural things (trees, rocks, ponds) surrounding it. The gardens are also planted so as to bring out the essence of nature, so the feeling you get is like walking in the woods... only multiplied 10 times. Serenity cubed :)

Vending machines for drinks (and cigarettes) really are everywhere. Including temples, which usually have small designated rest areas with a few of them.

Recycling is big. Separate trash cans for bottles and soda cans can be found on every other street corner. Sometimes, there is also a separate container for magazines and newspapers.

Normal trash cans (for ordinary trash such as packaging material or food remnants) are often next to impossible to find. Considering this, I seriously wonder how they manage to keep the streets as clean as they do. However they do it, they are doing a good job because the streets are considerably cleaner than in Estonia, or even Denmark for that matter.

The center of Kobe is a designated non-smoking area where even outside, you are only allowed to smoke in certain places. I like the idea, I really do. On the other hand, people are stuill allowed to smoke inside in the restaurants, which they do, but thankfully not too often.

Maps are not always north up, like in Europe, and so one has to be careful when looking at the maps posted around the streets. I saw maps that were south up and east up, but I presume all 4 are an option.

The traffic in Japan is left sided and the traffic laws are obeyed more strictly than in Europe. For instance, people only cross streets at designated places. However, the laws do have certain oddities. For instance, a green light for pedestrians still means you have to watch out for cars that are making a turn onto the street you are crossing as they also have a right to move at that time.

Also, despite the car traffic being left sided, the pedestrian traffic posessed no discernible pattern of sidedness. In airports, they sometimes had signs saying that if you stand on the escalator, stand on the right (so people can pass on the left), but other than that, it was completely random. This seemed odd to me, because the pedestrian chaos is in stark contrast to the usual orderlyness of the Japanese.

Smartphones are indeed ubiqiutous, and so are high-tech toilet seats, but I saw no other clear indicators that Japan is more advanced than either Europe or the US.

Japanese seem to be as fond of Casinos (Pachinko machines) as Estonians are, which came as a complete surpirse to me. Sad, to say the least.

A lot of sweets are green in color. Green Tea taste - very very common. for instance, Ice cream often comes in just two varieties - vanilla or green tea.

Doors often slide rather than swivel. The slide function is often automatic and activated by lightly pressing the handle. Takes some getting used to, because the first instinct is always to grab the handle, not just simply press it.

Most small places do not have any staff that speak english, but they may have an english menu or (more commonly) a menu with pictures or even a stand with plastic models of the dishes. The word "vegetarian" is also in common use, so finding things to eat was usually not a problem. And the food is truly delicious, even in fast-food type places.

Many western food (Italian, French, Indian) places are around, but they usually seem to be locally owned and operated.

Green tea is often free in restaurants - as much as you can drink. If not, then cold water definitely is. At least one of these is brought to the table for you first thing you enter and they usually refill it for you if you empty it.

Coffe is either cheap and tastes like dirt, or expensive but really, really good. Any place calling itself a Cafe usually had the latter. Allen (who had been in the coffee business) confirmed that Japanese have a reputation of buying the highest quality beans they can find around the world.

Both green tea and coffee are just as popular served chilled as they are served hot. Even in high-end cafes they ask whether you want coffee hot or cold, if you do not specify which when ordering.

Japanese are very polite and very friendly. Example. Me and Allen were walking around in the rain, looking for a Kobe beef restaurant. We asked directions from a girl advertising another restaurant on a street corner. a) She did not know where the place we wanted was, so she asked a friend. b) She then took us to the competing restaurant, walking with us for 100 m. c) When we realized that we still had to keep walking, she offered us her umbrella (despite needing it herself as well since she clearly wasn't dressed for the rainy weather). I had a chocolate bar from Estonia with me, so I gave it to her for such kindness :) But seriously, you rarely see something like this in Europe.

Finally - you would think I would be an odd sight for most Japanese, being on average 35 cm taller than they are, having dreadlocks and dressing like a hippie. However, the look that did arouse attention in both India and China somehow seemed completely normal to Japanese. Noone seemed to be surprised by the sight of me or to think I was odd or out of place there. Im guessing its to do with politeness, as it is presumably not polite to stare so they did not do it. Still, I felt kind of strange, because I am so used to getting weird looks, even in Estonia, and I just didn't get any there.

I enjoyed the trip. More than I expected. A lot more, in fact. I made good connections, talked with interesting people, saw multiple incarnations of perfection in both Temple and Garden architecture. Despite the current sleep deprivation phase, I have not felt as refreshed and mentally alert for a very very long period. I hope I can hold on to that feeling, as a lot still needs doing and I have a todo list that will probably keep me busy until the end of February. However, I will try not to get overwhelmed by all of it again, like before.

Or, rather
"Do not try to do it. Just do it!" - Mimic

Time is precious and it's slipping away

I woke again at around 7, had breakfast with Soma and then headed out.

First stop for the day was actually outside Kyoto. Namely, Soma had asked me if I wanted to see the mountains and go hiking (to which I of course replied "yes-yes-oh-god-yes") and then recommended Mt. Kurama to me.

I needed to change trains 3 times to get there and it took an hour just to get there but... It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Words can not describe the place.

If you ever happen to be in or near Kyoto
Just. Go. See. It.

Supposedly it was the peak season to go see it, but the place was relatively quiet and empty. Which is one part of its allure. But trust me, there is a lot more to it. Basically, it is a Temple built on a steep hillside of a 550 m high mountain, with gorgeus architecture and scenic views. But seriously, it has to be seen to be believed.

After coming down the mountain and walking the scenic valley path to the next railway station, I got back into town and headed towards the more usual suspects.

In town, I stopped by a diner to have a quick lunch. I ordered a Set Special, which contained zashimi and tempura, mushrooms, seaweed, rice and miso soup - or in short a good overview of Japanese cuisine. Menu had a note that it might take some time, but it was all delivered to me in an orderly manner and I was finished half an hour after entering the restaurant.

First up, Ginkakuji or The Silver Pavilion, which, unlike its golden counterpart was not silver but just white. As usual, it came attached with a beautiful garden but since I got there at around 1 pm, the place was crowded.. which meant walking the garden path felt like standing in a long and slow-moving queue. Not the way to enjoy Zen garden architecture. Good way to practice your patience, though. Thankfully, it was that slow for only one section and eventually sped up so I did not have to spend too much time there. One of the main sights besides the villa itself is a perfect geometrical cone made of gravel called Kogetsudai, that supposedly represents Mt. Fuji. Seriously - abstract art a few hundred years before the europeans :)

As hinted by the name of the post, I was on a pretty tight schedule. Soma had highlighted a number of temples and I had only 4 hours before they were about to close. Thankfully, most of them lay on a straight path. Bad news was that the straight path was around 5 km. It also turned out to be a bit less straight than originally anticipated.

The first section was called "The Philosophers path", which was a nice walkway along a canal lined with maple trees. Crowded, of course, but not nearly as bad as I feared, as it was still enjoyable. Especially if you walked on the other bank which was nearly empty.

On the other end of the path, Soma had marked I should visit Eikando temple but it was crowded, charged 1000 yen for admission and did not seem all that special so I decided to skip it and head onwards.

Next up - Heian shrine. Got off the path a bit and had to ask for directions twice. Once I got there, the first emotion that overwhelmed me was "Oh, Fuck". The front courtyard was just enhormous. An then I found out that the gardens surround it. Considering I had been walking for 4-5 hrs by that time, "Oh, fuck" seemed appropriate again, this time with a bit different connotation. The gardens were still completely worth it, though.

From now on, it was a straight sothward path, first through the modern city centre and then through a district that constantly had temples and shrines on both sides. I wondered into a few of them, but there were really way too many and I was on a time budget.

At one point, this forced me to ask a group of tourists "Excuse me, could you help me out a little? Im not entirely sure which temple Im at right now". Turned out I was a bit behind the schedule as they had just come from the place where I was heading (and where I hoped I actually was).

In short, I had a quick look into Chionin temple, Maruyama park and Kodaiji monastery. It was a quarter to five, sun was setting and I still had one thing on my list.

Kiyomizudera. A temple with a famous terrace with a 15 m drop that people used to jump down. Japanese version of Russian roulette - if you live, you do the thing you planned, if not, well... then not. Although, jumping down what would be the equivalent of a sixth floor window. Onto a paved road. Seriously? Thing is, a few people actually did survive this. The saying "To take a plunge at Kiyomizudera" is still in use with meaning similar to english "to take the plunge into the unknown" (according to Wikipedia). Seriously - you cannot miss going to see something like that. So I didn't. I arrived just as the sun was setting, which made the place enhormously beautiful.

I finished the temple tour just as the temple was closing. As my legs were killing me by now, I just found the nearest cafe, sat down, ordered coffee and just rested for a while. I then went to the nearest sovenir shop and bought a few things for people back home.

Doing so I realized I was actually running low on cash. I had a conservative estimate for the ticket costs all the way to the airport and I had maximum 1500 yen (200 eek) extra after that. And Japan is expensive, so I had to really watch my costs from then on.

So, I headed back in the direction of the temple.. and saw that instead of being closed, they had moved up the ticket counters to also cover the temple park. And increased the prize for the ticket twofold. It was still less than I paid in the other temples - Kyomizudera was surprisingly cheap, considering most other places I had visited were all 400-600 Yen but that was only 200 during the day and 400 now. So I entered the same temple for the second time, paying double.

For a childrens ticket, as it turned out.. or well, they accidentally gave me the wrong one. Thankfully, the person checking the ticket also thought it had been an accident (and in fairness, I had paid the adult prize) and let me in without trouble. The temple was even more beautiful at night, and so was the park, with the red maple trees lit up in the most beautiful way.

It was 7 p.m. by now and I had to find my way back to the train station to go back to my host, pack my stuff and head for the Airport. I had spent my last spare money on a birthday present for my aunt and now tried my best to ignore all the small souvenir stores and restaurants that lined the path to the station. Not easy, especially considering I was getting pretty hungry already. I was looking around for a place to change money and at some point even entertained the thought of asking some european-looking people if they would be willing to change a few EUR-s I had in my pocket at a rate beneficial to them... but in the end I still overcame my temptations and went directly to my host's appartment.

There it turned out that the tickets were actually a bit cheaper than I first thought and that I also had a few more large coins that I had not noticed before, so I actually had enough money left for a nice strong meal in the railway station. 800 Yen for a bowl of noodles in a fast food place. Bowl so big I would have had trouble finishing it had I not been walking for the entire day. And that was not the first time I got served such a quantity - the portions in Estonia are usually smaller, which does not make sense since Estonians themselves are considerably bigger. The food was good, despite being served at a fast food restaurant again (I was pressed for time, after all).

I arrived in the airport without any real problems, but the ride was considerably longer than I expected. In the airport, I now had 8 hours in the airport, 1 on the plane, 3 more in Tokyo airport, 9.5 in the plane, 3 in Helsinki, 3.5 on the plane, 1 in Tallinn and 2.5 in Tartu before getting home. This sums to 30.5. Fun, as always, considering I cannot usually sleep in busses or planes, and had been up for 17 hours before arriving to the airport already, which means I had 48 hours of uptime with maybe 2x2h of sleep in total.

Sweet insomnia - it only makes what follows that much enjoyable :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Welcome to Kyoto

I arrived at the Katsura train station about 20 minutes before the agreed time. I found a place where I would not bother anyone, set my stuff down and sat down to read.

Soma arrived at exactly the apointed time. He was taller than I expected, above average by Japanese standards. We greeted eachother and then set off towards his apartment, which was about 1.5 km away. On arrival I was again surprised, this time by the size of the apartment. I expected something along the lines of a 15 m2 dormroom, but what greeted me was a full 30 m2 apartment - not at all unlike the first floor in my home, even in layout although it did have a separate kitchen. The room was nice, but not the perfect epitome of cleanliness and order like I expected a japanese home to be. Typical student apartment, quite comparable to those back home. One thing I also noticed fairly soon was that it was cold there - maybe 15 C.

After I had set my stuff down into a corner and presented the gifts I had brought from Estonia (chocolate and candy by Kalev for both Soma and Natsuki), he took me to the supermarket to get stuff to eat for the evening and next morning. Thefood isles at the store were... well completely different from what you get in the western world. At least half of the stuff I saw probably cannot be had even in specialty stores in Estonia. We grabbed just a few things and then went back to the appartment.

Soma cooked dinner - rice, fish in soy sauce and miso soup, a pretty stanard meal in Japan. He then helped me plan the next days activities, writing down the place names for the places I should visit as well as the station names for the railway. He also said he would print me a map of Kyoto but can only do so for the next day. I showed him my phone/GPS which had an offline map and said that it should be enough. He agreed :)

Soma then dug out the additional blankets and helped me set up the sleeping arrangements. He himself slept on a matress on a slightly elevated wooden frame (which served the role of a bed) and I got a blanket laid on top of a heated carpet (the floor, by the way, was cold, so the heating did come in handy). Since I had a long day behind me, I turned in and fell asleep fairly quickly.

I woke at around 7, and so did my host. For breakfast, we had the sushi I had bought from the supermarket the previous day. I left the house at around 8, expecting to arrive at my first destination just at 9 when it was about to be opened. This I did actually manage.

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion. Complete with a nice Japanese garden, like all the other temples as well. Supposedly the most visited place in Japan. Frankly, though, I do not see what the fuss is - yes, it is beautiful but many other temples are far nicer. Starting there was probably a good idea though, as it wasn't horribly crowded yet at 9 a.m.

A kilometer down the road was the next larger temple, Ryoanji, famous for it's rock garden. Its normal gardens were also very nice, though. The rock garden was.. a lot smaller than I thought, as I kind of assumed the rocks to be human-sized while in actuality they were much, much smaller. Still beautiful, though. Its amazing how Japanese discovered abstract art hundreds of years before the Europeans.. and in a form so much more enjoyable :)

As I was heading for the next temple down the line, I suddenly noticed a staircase leading up the mountain that was not marked on the maps. Curious as I am, I decided to follow it up. It led to a small Shinto shrine behind which there was a hiking path. Which I (of course) walked. It took me up to the mountains there and I got a first-hand account of the local nature, as well as a fairly good workout (as the path went up and down the mountain range). When I finally exited the woods, I found myself in a fairly rich neighborhood which the GPS claimed to be somewhere between Kinkakuji and Ryoanji. However, it lacked the street map for the area so I just had to use my sense of direction to get back to where I needed to go.

After a while, I found myself at a fast food place I had passed by before, and since it was lunchtime, I entered. Turned out that they mainly specialized in beef dishes, but when I showed them the text "Im a vegetarian and fish is also ok" that I had asked Soma to write up for me, they recommended Udon noodles with deep fried tofu, which turned out to be pretty tasty (although, udon noodles are a bitch to eat with chopsticks). I then set off towards the third temple.

Ninnaji or the old imperial palace. Distinct from the previous two, mainly in scale and featuring vast empty spaces, giving a very grandiose feeling to the whole temple. Fitting for the imperial family, who had been its head priests for centuries. Possibly not as famous as the previous two but definitely worth a visit.

I now headed to the nearest rail station to go to Arashiyama. Only thing I knew about the place was that Soma recommended it. There seemed to be one bigger temple quite nearby the station and then a few smaller ones both to the north and south. In practice, it turned out to be tourist district, where the temples were mixed with gardens, natural woodlands and private manors. I walked about, exploring and visiting different gardens until it got dark, at which point I sat down on a river bank and watched a mountain range, which I hoped they would light up (as the spotlights could be seen all around the place). Sadly, that did not happen, and as it was getting fairly cold, I decided to call it a day, walked to the railway station and headed back to my Host.

He again prepared dinner, this time noodles and rice with mushrooms and vegetables. Both good. I then went to the supermarket to get some foodstuffs to bring back to Estonia with me. Soma then gave me the itinerary for the next day, which promised to be very packed, so I again headed to bed early to be well rested for all of it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Last day in Kobe

After the conference ended for the day, we were taken to Sake brewery for an excursion. The brewery was pretty cool, but the guide spoke japanese not english and although there was a translator she only translated maybe one tenth of what the guide said.. so most of the time was just filled with waiting. After the tour ended, we were all given some 18% strong unpastorized sake to taste. Others then headed back to the bus to be dropped back to the conference venue.

I was determined to go back to the art museum however. There was a map on which it seemed it was pretty much around the corner. Sadly, it turned out not to be the case and after 3 km of walking and realizing there was still at least 1 km to go and not enough time to really see anything once I get there, I found the nearest railway station, caught a train to the center and just looked around the shopping district and had a cup of green coco - which was actually surprisingly tasty. I then headed back towards the conference center to attend the evening banquet.

The banquet started by the keynote speakers and organizers breaking open a barrel of sake, which was then distributed to the participants in square wooden "glasses" that had IWSEC engraved on them. Fancy. Food was laid out in a buffet style and contained all sorts of japanese delicacies. There was also a concert with a "piano and a soprano" and both the pianist and the singer were pretty good.

They also announced the winners of the best paper and best student paper awards. And I actually won the best paper prize :) When I went to accept it, though, there was a small cultural problem. A real "Clash of cultures", if you will. When they presented it to me, I accepted the certificate and then bowed deeply.. and bumped my forehead against the extended hand of the presenter :P Everyone got a good laugh out of that of course, me included :)

Banquet was just two hours and ended right on time. I left together with Allen again and we walked around the city talking some more. This time we headed our separate ways pretty soon, though.

Walking towards the hotel I realized I should practice my presentation through at least once. As it was late, I decided to leave it for the morning and headed for bed.

So come morning. I wake up at 6.40, go down for breakfast at 7, get back to my room at 7.40 and start with the presentation. The first attempt was pretty horrible but I did not have time for the second as by then I was already running late.

The first talk of the day was about elliptic curves. Complicated stuff by most standards but the presenter (Daniel, who I had met during the coffee museum visit) had put a lot of effort into trying to make it understandable and I managed to follow it all the way to the end. That was followed by two very esoteric talks - one implementing pairing-based crypto on cellphones and another doing software engineering research on security test cases. Then my turn was up.

The presentation actually went surprisingly well. I did not stumble anywhere and finished exactly on time. I got three meaningful questions all of which I could answer and it turned out that even Allen (who has no technical or CS background) had understood the talk.

We then went to the museum with Daniel, first stopping to drop off my larger bag into a locker at the station and then going to lunch before actually seeing the museum.

We soon split up because he had an appointment with a collegue and had to speed through the museum whereas I had plenty of time before my train to Kyoto and could easily take my time. The permanent exhibition was an overview of Japanese modern art (naivism, surrealism, impressionism, expressionism, even traces of op-art and social-realism). Most of it quite good. I especially liked "The shadow" - a painting of a shadow of a little girl that looked just like a shadow should look on the white wall it was hanging on. Or the following picture, named "Mother 1" by Morimura Yasumasa

The other exhibition was about the history of modern art in Europe, featuring Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and all the other greats of the first half of the last century. Interesting to see up close, but for some reason it somewhat less moving than the permanent exhibit. "Self portrait with a model" by Corinth was the painting that left the biggest impression - mainly because it was shamelessly painted to look exactly like the picture in the mirror would - which was probably unheard of before and even shocking by the contemporary standards.

The museum itself was also architecturally very beautiful, reminding me the estonian national library building in many ways. Especially in that many of the most beautiful places were off limits. Or at least seemed to be so at first glance. After leaving the exhibits I did some exploring and found a completely legitimate route to nearly everywhere I wanted to go. Strange why they should block some passages but not others. There was also a very nice park right next to the museum, so I walked back to the center through that.

In the center I realized I still have 2 hours to kill. I had explored the center on the previous two nights so thought there would really be nothing to do - but after examining the map, I found myself in error - there was a Shinto Shrine 500 m from the station I had somehow overlooked previously. That took care of 40 minutes. Another 50 were spent in the local Starbucks, drinking coffee and watching Ol while my phone was charging. I then grabbed my larger bag and jumped on the train towards Kyoto

Monday, November 22, 2010

I know, I know for sure, that life is beautiful around the world..

I woke up the next day at 7.30, feeling more rested than I have for the past 2 months. I had breakfast in the hotel, which was nice, having a wide choice of things to choose from. Seaweed goes well with noodles, by the way. I then set off to see some of the sights in Kobe.

First of all, Kobe is famous in Japan for its "western-style buildings". Epic fail for an European. Thankfully, there are also a few nice parks and a few museums that were recommended. As the hotel is right downtown, everything seemed to be in walking distance so I just set off to the nearest one, which was a carpentry museum, and was sadly closed. I then headed off to the Art museum, which was some 3 kilometers away, so provided for a nice view of the central city on my way there.

Things I noticed: they have bikes that fold in half and that you can pack up into a shoulder bag. Nice. They also have a lot of footbridges over the roads.. whose purpose is usually completely defeated by a zebra crossing right next to the bridge. Odd.

Japanese restaurants all smell very nicely. At first I could not place the smell, but then I walked by a sewer canal which smelt the same way, and then it hit me. Seaweed.

Stopping a car for speeding is a 5-man affair in Japan. One is 30 m before the others with the spedometer. If he notices a speeder, he notifies the others, who then jump in front of the car and wave it to stop. They often have to run backwards 10-20 m so as not to get hit as the car slows down. Two guys take turns doing that. One guy is the radio operator and one more just sits there and makes notes.

The art museum was really nice on the outside, but it was closed for cleaning on Monday. I will try to return there later on, though. I would not have had much time there anyways, as the conference was about to begin so I needed to make my way to the venue.

Conference itself was... well, as usual. Keynote speakers good, everyone else.. notsomuch. I did make an interesting new connection though - a person who currently runs his own ad agency in US but used to be a senior marketing manager for AOL. He had stumbled into the conference hoping to get an overview of practical IT security, but felt somewhat out of place due to all the cypto in the talks. He was a really interesting person, though, so I spent the rest of the evening with him -- went for lunch, then coffee and walked about the city just looking around, first for a Kobe beef place that also had vegetarian menu (which we did not find) and later just aimlessly to see the city. We talked for 5-6 hours, possibly even more. At some point, we were both just a bit too tired to keep on going so headed to our hotels.

The second day began just the same as the first - I woke up completely rested and full of energy, had breakfast and did a quick round to the Kobe Tower and its surrounding park before heading to the conference venue. In the train I noticed something perculiar - the seats had ads on them and they were for IWSEC, the conference I was attending. And this was not a special conference train but a standard metro train. And it is not a big conference - maybe 100 people, no more.

Again, good keynote lecturer. Talking on a topic quite similar to that which I am to present on Wednesday. So of course I asked questions and approached him after the talk and had an interesting follow-up discussion as well.

The next talks were too technical and I lost interest quickly. During the lunch break I again met up with the advertising guy. Turns out that in the US Kobe beef is very popular but - get this - they generally chop it up into hamburgers and sell 200 $ kobe beef hamburgers. Only in America :P . Conference organizers had received the notification of me being vegetarian and took it very seriously - even giving me special vegetarian soup (despite the normal version also being comletely vegetarian) and then serving me seitan instead of meat. I was the only person at the table who knew what it was. Hat tip to Rita for introducing me to it half a year ago. It was well prepared and quite tasty - definitely better than the batch I had made :)

We then went to the coffee museum, that was supposedly nearby. The advertising guy also owns a small coffee roasting company, so we basically got the equivalent of a guided tour, despite all the wall explanations being only in Japanese. And it was quite interesting to see just how delicate the process of coffee manufacture is and how much care goes into creating quality coffee.

Back to the conference after that.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

... on my way, to Japan

Saturday began with me grading homework for the programming course. Note to self - next time, be less kind to students about deadlines. Thankfully, there were only a few so it took just around half an hour.

My mom sent me all the way to the ship terminal. We still don't talk much (old habits die hard), but things are improving. She still cooks too much for me, but I decided to take a constructive approach and asked her what I could do in order for her to go to less trouble. And I actually got an answer - to just be more specific about what I want to eat when I come. Worth a try :)

Just outside the ship terminal, Elo walked past me. Or well, nearly, before I stopped her. Unexpected - but nice. We had a quick chat, and then both went on the way.

As usual, the trip was through Vaantaa Airport, but this time I decided to go to Helsinki by ship instead of directly flying there. I had not gone to Helsinki by ship for over 10 years. But the ship was just as nice as I remmembered from my youth. I sat in the front atrium cafe, that spanned three floors.

When I went for a coffe I realized that the sea must be pretty stormy, as walking in a straight line was pretty complicated -- which should not usually be the case in a ship that big. My suspicion was confirmed when the ship drove into a way that covered the whole front window (spanning three storeys) uniformly with water.

As I was stepping out of the ship in finland, my phone rang. As expected, it was Mari, an ex-classmate I had not seen for over 3 years who studies Biology in Helsinki and with whom I had agreed to meet up before my plane. The ship was already about 15 minutes late, so I was afraid she would be waiting for me already. Turned out, she would actually also be late, so things worked out. We went to central helsinki, sat down, had a hot beverage and talked about life as a scientist. Halfway through the conversation we switched from estonian to english... and then kept on going, up to the end when she sent me to the airport bus.

I arrived at the airport just in time having to wait just 10 minutes in the Terminal before the boarding. The 9-hour plane ride was rather uneventful - watched two movies, two episodes of Outer Limits, tried to sleep in 3 different positions and failed in all 3 cases -- so about the usual pre-conference plane-ride.

In Tokyo, I first went through customs, which entailed giving your fingerprints and having your picture taken. I then received a very thorough security inspection. They even checked the pockets of the spare pants I had in my backpack. And found an apple stem.. which they seemed to suspect was marijuana. Thankfully, they pretty quickly realized that was not the case, so I was let through to Japan.

I had 7 hours between two flights, so I headed for the railway station to go to Narita-san buddhist monastery - one of the sights very close to the Airport.
There was a nice street lined with small shops and restaurants leading up to the temple, so I got my first peek at the stores already. Surprisingly to me, there were relatively few surprises. "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" being played through loudspeakers by 3 different stores was one of them. Ice cream prizes (300 yen or around 40 kr for a small cone) was the second. Other things - like Maneki Neko statues being sold in every souvenir shop or vending machines every 30 meters.. or even a begging Zen monk in white robes and large brown hat - I was somewhat prepared for already, although they still left a somewhat odd impression to me. Everything else was.. well, normal.. exactly what I would have expected. Which I did not expect, as I though of Japan as a Very Odd Place. Odder than China and India (both of which I have seen). Well.. it was not.. or maybe I was just spoiled by the latter two already..

The temple complex was stunningly beautiful. Both the buildings and the landscape architecture. Words cannot describe it. Neither can pictures, but they do a somewhat better job. Everything in its right place. Nothing missing and excess. Just perfect. Serenity. And even the large number of people there did not interfere with that feeling to a significant extent. Perfection.

On my way back, I decided to have lunch and sat down in one of the restaurants. The restaurant I chose had two sections - one western-style, with stools, and another one, with low tables and very low cushion-chairs. I sat in the first part, as I did not want to take my army boots off (which is somewhat of a hassle). I was then quickly given an english menu, from where I picked a bowl of japanese noodles with vegetables. Delicious.

I then headed back to the airport.. which was a bad move in hindsight, as I arrived in the waiting terminal 2.5 hrs before boarding. I had expected a lot of hassle and several kilometers of walking, but everything went smoothly and neither was needed. So I sat in the terminal, watched OL and even slept for 30 minutes at some point.

The second plane ride was completely uneventful. In Osaka airport, everything also went smoothly. I went to the tourist info station and was directed to the bus. Ticket had to bought from a vending machine, but the bus driver was so nice as to wait for me to do so instead of just leaving without me.

It seems using vending machines is unavoidable if you want to use public transportation in Japan. Both railways and busses seem to rely on it extensively. And to the point where even the people behind counters just send you there instead of selling to you directly.

I had a hotel very close by to the center of Kobe, so once the bus arrived, I just walked there. Although Google Maps had recommended I take I train, I suspect it would have actually taken longer if I did it that way. To my surprise, the hotel even had public wifi, so I could send an e-mail to my mom saying I had arrived safely, and, of course, to update my facebook status :P. I then had a thorough wash in the shower and then headed for bed. I fell asleep at around 22 local time.

Oh yes, esoteric quote time:
I'm a bonus track on my way to Japan
And I'm gonna be spread on Internet
- Edguy

Friday, November 19, 2010

You do it to yourself...

This past week I have been pretty much unable to do anything...

However, that was not a real option, so in actuality I have:
Given a lecture on the boundaries of computer science
Attended most of my classes
Went to Taiji (our trainer just had his 3d child, by the way)
Went to the dancing course
Finished writing the Sharemind protocols paper (we found an inconsistency at the last minute)
Went to see a performance by two of my friends
Learned a new song on the bass
Had a band practice
Finalized my planning for the Japan trip
Made provisions for my lectures and tutorials next week.
Created two versions of a Test in programming course.

And Im probably forgetting a few things.

I started packing my bag today at 9. At about 9.30 I realized that I will probably also need my Passport to get to Japan... And I had no clue where it could be. I did finally find it, at 10.00 - which meant I was 10 minutes late to the tutorial session I had this morning with the programming students. Only 10 of the 30 were present, though, so that ended a bit early, allowing me to get my first cup of coffee before going to manage the Intro. to Informatics course lecture...

If I weren't so tired, I would be loving all of this. But for now, I would just like to sleep for... a week?

Maybe after Japan

After the lecture today, I realized I had lost my keys... or rather forgot them at my own room, which had since then been locked by someone else.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I love my job

I gave a lecture this morning, (Monday) at 8.15. On theoretical computer science. Half of it was set theory, the other half computability and complexity theory. Complicated stuff by most first year's standards.

And the students actually liked it!!!! Most of the feedback (that actually contained anything) was positive! They thought the stuff I explained was cool... and they seemed to understand it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I just watched the first movie where the happy ending would have been three people committing suicide.

Thankfully, it did end that way.

Just REALLY glad I did not watch it alone.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Introduction to Computer Science course began this week - at 8.15 on Monday morning, to be precise. Promises to be a pretty good year - students were fairly responsive, both to jokes and to questions, even despite the early morning. From the feedback, it also seems that both "Teeviit" and the open doors days do pay off in terms of luring students to study at UT - as quite a few marked one of these as one of the reasons for choosing Tartu.

About a week ago, I decided I would like to go to a beginners dancing course.. (well, actually, I had that planned in the summer already, but I finally realized that if I want to do it this semester, I better start now). So I went and hanged a few ads on notice boards, saying a Young man is looking for someone to go dancing with. No takers, for a week, and I had nearly given up..

This is, until I got an e-mail today. From L. (yet another one, third, I think, although I confess I have lost count) - asking about it and claiming she would be interested. I met her for a coffee just an hour before the course begun.. and very quickly decided she would be just perfect. She is a first year veterinary science student. Very cute.

And just the right amount of attractive - you know, too much and things can get very complicated very fast. And too little - well, the problem there is also pretty obvious - as dancing is something pretty intimate and the course is pretty long...

Anyways - shes a pretty quick learner.. but still has some trouble with sensing the rythm of the songs and staying on beat. To a smaller degree, so do I. The fact that I have mainly been doing rythm exercises with my bass for the past two weeks helps. Immensely. Seriously, I would not want to know what would be happening if I had not. Better keep that up too.

The course seems to be at just the right pace -- at least for a total beginner like me. The first lesson was a tad too slow, but I am guessing they will speed things up a bit at which point it will be exactly right. Teachers are quite ok - although, since there are so many couples (around 15), they do not really have time to correct anything but the coarsest mistakes... Then again, just starting out, it may actually be better, as it is already enough work to get the movements right, even without worrying about posture or the exact step length.

Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed the first lesson. Looking forward to the next one.

Ow yes. And I shaved.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day off

I finally had one full day off from.. well, everything. So, what did I do?

Woke up (around noon).
Played American McGee's Alice
Played Guitar Hero Drums
Watched Dr. Who
Prepared dinner
Watched Outer Limits
Played More guitar Hero
Went for a walk (it was at 2 a clock in the night at this point)
Watched more Outer limits.
Went to sleep.

Considering I can allow myself maybe one day like that every two months, I actually consider it well spent. I do need to be alone every now and then.. and if I have more free time, I would probably start to read books at some point. But currently, my brain is just too tired to enjoy that so I needed and did more brain-dead stuff.

The night before was also quite fun. I was almost ready to spend that alone too, until I ran across V. on my way home. Since I hadn't seen him for over two months, I asked him over to my place, where he (as usual) showed me some very disturbing videos.. after persuading me to vote for the Reform Party.

Or well, one candidate of theirs, Silver Meikar, who is pretty much the only politician who actually cares about human rights (i.e. in N. Korea, Tibet, Georgia,...), as he explained. I'm normally leftist, but all things considered, I think I will actually vote for this guy during these elections.

At some point, I asked A. when she would be returning my guitar hero set.. and she said she could drop it off in the late evening. So she did. We then played Guitar Hero III with V. for a little... But then R. and K. knocked on the window... so I made them tea and talked, until they had to leave too.. But by then it was already pretty late anyways so I set off to bed as well.

Tomorrow, I have to wake up at 6, because I have a lecture at 8. At least I am pretty well rested. Still considering whether I should bring coffee to the students... Guess Ill figure it out tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Decompression period

I think I'm finally done with the Sharemind division protocol. Fixed a memory leak today and also finished explaining how it works to my co-author. Hopefully, no further problems arise and I can concentrate on other stuff now.

A traffic textbook problem arose today, when I was at a 4-way intersection with a car having stopped on all other three directions. Right hand rule would lead to a deadlock, since everyone has someone on the right. There is a solution for this, though?

Well, me, not knowing what it is, and being as suicidal as I am, just drove on.. and was not too far off from being run over.. Thankfully, cars do not accelerate instantaneously.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Old wounds

Two of them got torn open today.

But in both cases, I actually realized something. I am stronger than I was before. Stronger in the sense of better adapted. Stronger in the sense that I have more self-respect. And it is good to know that I still stand by the decisions I made.

Not that it doesn't hurt. It does. But that will pass. And that pain is necessary.

"And the scars remind us, that the past is real" - Papa Roach