Category: Accounts

Japan: the hyperfunctional society: part 2

Day 5

I don’t believe there was a wake-up call. I take in the view from the massive windows (supposedly, you can see Mt. Fuji, as remarked by my teacher in one of the earlier travel meetings as an opportunity that she has never been able to have from a hotel room, but it’s cloudy, so it is unfortunately not possible). I will not forget this view. Again, I curse at myself for not bringing my DSLR; the view is too magnificent to be taken by my two cameras, although it is raining and hazy. (more…)

A visit to the Googleplex

After doing a thing with Google for the summer with a team of college, 150 or so of us were given an all-paid-for trip to the Google main headquarters in Mountain View, CA, for having completed the primary goals of the coding project.

It is certain that there are a very few number of individuals that get this opportunity. If you were just a kid, you’d be jumping up and down, but we are mature individuals (and broke college students) and know better than to get our hopes too high.

Because we were not informed at all that we were forbidden from disclosing any part of the trip, I can make full disclosure – well, at least the most interesting parts.

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Japan: the hyperfunctional society: part 1

This is intended to be a complete account of my events in an eight-day trip to Japan, which had been planned for about two years by my native-speaking Japanese teacher, was organized by an educational travel agency, and included 26 other Japanese students with varying levels of knowledge.

Names have been truncated or removed for the sake of privacy.

After many intermittent lapses in editing, I decided to just split it into two as it was getting increasingly difficult to get myself to finish the narrative, but at the same time did not want to hold back the finished parts. I am not intending to publish this for money or anything like that; please excuse my limited vocabulary and prose during some dull parts. (more…)

EF review for Japan

They said they’d be posting my review “this fall,” which I guess implies that they screen and censor each review for any personal information. Also, I had to write the review in a tiny textbox in Internet Exploder because it failed to work in any other browser, and when I go to the “write review” menu, it’s as if I had never submitted a review in the first place. What a horrible web infrastructure their website has.

I’ll post my full account of my experience in Japan in a few days, but for now, please enjoy my scathing three-star review of the EF tour. The country is great, but the tour was certainly not.


One cannot review the culture and aspects of a country; it is not something that can be placed stars on. You can choose any country that EF offers tours for and expect a great experience simply being present in a new environment with classmates. This part does not change with any educational tour or travel agency.

Thus, I will focus on primarily the tour itself, which is the part that EF specifically offers in competition with other travel agencies. I will cover praise and criticism by points rather than in chronological order.

Praise

  • There were no outstanding needs to contact EF. The tour and flights were all booked correctly.
  • Good density of places to visit. The tour’s itinerary was loaded with many points of interest, yet there was no feeling of exhaustion. I took around 900 photos by the conclusion of the tour.
  • Excellent cost-effectiveness. It’s difficult to beat EF in terms of pricing, especially in how they provide a fairly solid estimate with one big price tag.
  • Tour guide knew his history very well, even if he was unable to explain it fluently. You could ask him about the history of a specific point of interest, and he could tell you very precisely its roots, whether they be from the Meiji, Edo, or Tokugawa period.
  • Every dinner was authentic Japanese food. No exceptions.

Criticism

  • Tour guide had poor command of English and was extremely difficult to understand. In Japan, “Engrish” is very common, and it’s admittedly very difficult to find someone who can speak English fluently and correctly. However, this really reveals that you get what you pay for: if you want a cheapo tour, you will get a cheapo tour guide who might not be all you wanted. I will reiterate this: he was not a captivating tour guide, and it took great effort to try to absorb the information he was disseminating.
  • Little time spent in the actual points of interest, possibly due to an inefficient use of the tour bus. In many cases, it’s cheaper and faster to use the subway to get to places, although I concede that the tour bus is useful in times where one wants to see the area that leads up to an important or unfamiliar destination. Still, on the worst day, we were on the bus for a cumulative three hours, yet we only had around forty to fifty minutes per point of interest. No wonder I took so many pictures, as the tour felt rushed and didn’t give me time to take in the view before we had to get back in the bus to go somewhere else.
  • Miscommunication with EF during the tour. We were promised two people to a room on the first hotel, but instead were assigned three to a room. The arrangement wasn’t that bad after all, but it still contradicted the claims made in the travel meetings. What’s more, we were informed something about an EF group from Las Vegas that would be merging with our group, but this also never happened (they toured separately from us, but we encountered them occasionally).
  • Reversed tour. There is, in fact, fine print that EF is allowed to do this if reversing the tour would save money, but it’s still unpleasant and detracting from the intended experience. My group leader, who is a native speaker I know very well, told me before the tour that she was irritated from the reversal, since it’s much better to start from Tokyo, the modern part of Japan, and work one’s way southward to the more traditional Kyoto.
  • The last day of the tour was poorly planned by EF, so our group leader had to change the itinerary of that day (well before the tour, obviously) to some significantly better plans. Originally, the whole day would have been basically hanging around in Ueno Park, but she changed that to going to Tokyo Skytree, Hongwanji Temple, the Tsukiji fish market (which is moving elsewhere very soon), and the Edo-Tokyo Museum. We had to foot the bill for the attractions of this day, including Skytree, the museum, and 100 grams of toro (fatty tuna).
  • Poor distinction between what is already paid by EF and what we would have to pay for in addition to our tour. For instance, some of our subway tickets were already bought ahead of time by our tour director, but some we had to pay for with our money, which doesn’t really make sense because all of the transportation was supposed to have been covered by the tour cost.
  • Our group leader (and her husband and kids) ended up doing most of the work, especially rounding up everyone and ensuring that they are all present.
  • Less time than you would expect to spend your own money. After all, they want the tour to be educational, rather than just general tourism. But the interesting part was that we had to vote to go back to Akihabara, because we were only given two hours (including lunch!) to buy the games and figurines we had always wanted to buy from Japan. Even after the small petition, the final decision was to make Akihabara and Harajuku mutually exclusive, which means that you could only choose to go to one or the other. I decided to just go to Harajuku purely because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t stick to the original plan, but I regret the decision in retrospect because I ended up buying absolutely nothing there. (They just sell Western clothes in Harajuku, so you’re a Westerner buying used Western clothes in a non-Western country.)

There are probably quite a few number of points I am missing here, but this should be sufficient to give you an idea of the specifics of the tour that are not covered in the generic “it was really great and I had a lot of fun!!” reviews.

As a recent high school graduate, I’ll be looking forward to my next trip to Japan, but this time with another travel agency that provides more transparency in terms of itinerary and fees. I’d also be predisposed to spending more money to get a longer and better quality tour that actually gives me time to enjoy viewing the temples and monuments, rather than frantically taking pictures to appreciate later.

The hackathon

The hackathon was okay. There were some regrettable moments and some unforgettable ones.

When I arrived there, I was still pretty miffed that my friends had ostracized me from their group. I came in with the “I’m-scared-of-tall-white-people-with-glasses-and-braces” look, but to be honest, looks turned out to be deceiving when the final products appeared.

I saw some kids from my summer engineering program, at least the ones that mattered. There was a noticeably smaller amount of kids than were expected, but this turned out to be quite advantageous.

As with any group project, I was the mastermind, and everyone else just sat and watched me do all the work. More specifically, they played League of Legends for hours on end. That morning I did not have an idea for a project, but before I came, I suddenly recalled my need of an all-encompassing cloud storage solution, so I decided to call it UltronCloud. I mean it’s not ever going to be finished, so just give it some joke name.

The environment was excellent; this was the college my brother goes to. It’s private but the tuition turned out to cost less than that of a public university, and needless to say, it seems that every penny of it was spent wisely on the infrastructure and architecture. I got a huge-screen television all for myself, so I was able to use the television as my primary monitor, which made it very easy for my eyes as the night progressed.

The hackathon was great, or rather should have been great. But I think I did not take advantage of the opportunities; there were mentors who were teaching how to develop for mobile platforms. I also didn’t take as many breaks as I should have; I strained myself in order to squeeze every hour of the venue, so I didn’t have as much fun with other kids. On top of that, the challenges I was facing when making the project were serious yet to a ridiculous extent. Some problems took hours to be solved, only to be met with yet another problem.

This following section is part of an issue I made on the repository of the library I used, because the following morning, I was so mad that I had wasted all this time for nothing. Once again, I hold nothing against the developer of the library:

Literally every step of the way has been riddled with bugs and other quirks and undefined behavior, even when following the instructions to the letter and trying it on two different Windows 7 x64 machines. Needless to say that I wasted my time trying to make a frontend out of this library. Maybe you can figure out whether the library hates me or if it’s just that unstable.

The first problem was when DokanCloudFS failed to load assemblies when I set the build configuration to NuGet-Signed. If I tried cleaning the build, it would still error out. If I tried changing the build config back to regular NuGet, yet again it would throw the exact same exception. The solution was to nuke the entire project, keep it in the default configuration and never touch it again. This alone cost me a few hours to figure out.

And alas, very shortly later, more problems arose. My mounted Google Drive appeared as a drive, but all interactivity with it was completely blocked, thanks to a vague exception thrown repeatedly as shown in the console:

Exception thrown: 'Google.GoogleApiException' in mscorlib.dll
...
Exception thrown: 'Google.GoogleApiException' in Google.Apis.dll
Exception thrown: 'System.IO.InvalidDataException' in SharpAESCrypt.dll
...
Absolutely no stack trace and Visual Studio did not even bother to break.

And this was after I had compiled CloudFS, put in secret keys for GDrive, copied the output DLLs to the DokanCloudFS Library folder, and assured that it had access to the Drive API by turning it on in the console, and waited a few minutes for it to “enable”.

So I said, screw it! Let’s use OneDrive instead, thinking that somehow it would ease my pain. Nope. Same spiel. Except Microsoft was taking me to some OAuth2 auth link that would just take me to a blank page. After a bit of research I found out that I had to add “mobile” as a platform in order for me to even have an OAuth2 login page. Okay, so when it asks me, “Let this app access your info?” and the usual permissions and I click “yes,” ….it just opens another browser window to do the exact same thing. I click yes again, and the window reappears ad infinitum. And instead of the `GoogleApiException` I get a `System.Security.Authentication.AuthenticationException in mscorlib.dll` along with a `System.AggregateException` which VS *should* be breaking to tell me about, but it’s not doing squat.

By this time I’m forgetting about even running the DokanCloudFS.Mounter example and instead just building hacks to bridge the frontend with the library, using the mounter program as an example because there’s absolutely no documentation that comes with it.

And as of the time of the writing of this issue, I’ve spent sixteen hours trying to get all this to work just to make a frontend that will mount OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. in unison.

I racked my brains so hard that instead of pulling the all-nighter as I had intended to, I decided to sleep for three hours. I didn’t bring a pillow nor a sleeping bag, so I was in for a really nice sleeping experience. Thank the lady who showed me where the cot was in the nice, dark, quiet room; all the couches were taken. So between the hours of 3 AM and 6 AM, I decided to rest and try to figure out what to do with the project. Now, the resting period was important because when I woke up (I think I only achieved REM sleep for a few minutes), I did not feel disillusioned as I usually am when I am sleep deprived (the reason for this is that the image of sunset is still ingrained in my brain, so it gives the impression that it was a very short night and that I will have to sleep during daytime hours to compensate for this).

When I woke up, I returned to my workspace. My teammates were still playing League as they were before I went to sleep, and I sat down and looked at Visual Studio. I tried to begin hacking together some sort of interface to figure out if any functionality is possible, but it was futile. By 10 AM, I simple gave up. I failed.

I had really been looking forward to the hackathon, and I met quite a few people there. But I was not met with a stroke of luck, and the hackathon was not as enjoyable as it could have. If I went back in time, I could have done all the right decisions: convince my friend to let me in the team, bring a pillow and a surface to sleep on, actually go to one of the Android workshops, talk with the head of the hackathon, etc.

But alas, the result would have been the same regardless of anything. The judges delivered some rather questionable decisions in terms of which project was “better”; despite my utter failure, I placed third in “best software hack,” and my friend’s team, who had put all their efforts on a robotic hand, did not seem to place at all in the “best hardware hack.” What? At least there was an “everyone’s a winner” attitude which is a nice way to end a hackathon. No massive prizes for winners, like a graphics card or anything like that.

I don’t really know what to do now though; I left the hackathon with an incomplete satisfaction. What can I do instead: order parts for the electric bicycle? Compensate by trying to invite my friends to do something similar? Or just work on the school stuff I’m supposed to finish by the first day of school?

Ugh. I had felt during the hackathon that this was the beginning of my demise; that this was a glimpse of my condemnation; that I was no match for anyone around me in terms of college admissions. It’s not true. But one question still remains: what am I to do now?