Last month, on September 13th to 17th, I attended the 36th International Conference on Very Large Databases (VLDB 2010) in Singapore, to present a paper at the Ph.D. workshop.
Not only was this the first time I've been to such a large international conference (which was very interesting because it allowed me to talk to a lot of experts in my field and see what other people are doing), it was also the first time I ever visited Singapore.
Fortunately, I was able to get some time for sightseeing, and these pictures are the result. :)
It has been a long time since I posted anything about a trip here, but now it's time I do so. Last weekend, the 22nd and 23rd of August, I along with six friends climbed Mt. Fuji.
We set off on Saturday, leaving Tokyo at 12:40 by bus from Shinjuku, and we arrived at the fifth station of the Kawaguchiko trail (at an altitude of 2305 meters) around 17:00. After spending some time getting used to the thinner air, we started climbing around 18:00. Our schedule had us on the summit some time around 2:00 in the morning, but that was hopelessly optimistic. The climb was very exhausting, and I'm not exactly in the best shape, so it took us somewhat longer. The large number of people caused the occasional "traffic jam" which also caused a lot of delay. It's really unbelievable how crowded that mountain is. It's worse than Shinjuku station.
Our goal was of course to reach the summit before sunrise at 5:00 in the morning, but unfortunately we fell short of that goal by about 300 meters (distance, not altitude). Probably a good thing, in retrospect, since it appeared to be much more cloudy on the actual summit so we probably got a better view from where we were. After sunrise, we continued to the summit. Unfortunately, because many people had paused to watch the sunrise, an enormous queue had formed leading up, so eventually we were at the summit around 6:30. Once there, we took some rest, ate some food (despite the high prices I did buy some noodles, just to have something hot to eat, as it was very cold on the summit). Although thoroughly exhausted, we were all glad we made it.
Here's where things started to go wrong, though. For one thing, we hadn't all made it to the summit at the same time, so we were already separated. I was with only two others when we started our descent, and unfortunately we took the wrong trail back down (the trail down was not supposed to be the same one we took up, but we still took the wrong one). Despite the fact that there's signs every twenty meters or so, none of us noticed it was the wrong trail until we were all the way at the bottom. While we did arrive at a fifth station, it was the wrong fifth station. Of course, the others who went down separately did take the right trail so we couldn't meet with them. And because everybody managed to have dead cell phone batteries at the same time, we couldn't even contact each other to try and sort things out. So we could only go back to Tokyo on our own and hope the others did the same (which of course they did). It all worked out in the end, but it was a pretty stupid feeling when we realised we were at the wrong location after climbing all that way down.
But no matter how grueling the journey (especially the wind and the dust on the way down were very bad), and no matter the mistake with the descent, I'm still glad we did it, and I'm very happy I made it, of course. In fact, I still have trouble believing it. It's the longest single climb I've ever done, and the highest I've ever been (3776 meters at the summit, prior to this the highest I'd been was 3400m in the Sierra Nevada in Spain). The beautiful sunrise (the pictures don't do it justice, really), and the sheer satisfaction of reaching the goal, make it worth it.
Enjoy the pictures!
You may have heard of something called a Let's Play video. These are videos on the Internet (typically YouTube) where someone plays through a game from start to finish, often providing commentary along the way.
I quite enjoy watching these videos. When done well, they can provide some nice added value to the game, and provide an opportunity to catch up on classic games that you never had the chance to play.
For quite some time now, I have harboured the plan to make a Let's Play of my own. Now, I have finally done so. The game I have chosen to play is Riven: The Sequel to Myst. This is my favourite game of the Myst series, and perhaps my favourite game of all time. Its level of depth and immersion is unparalleled by anything else I've seen, and because I know a great deal about the world of the Myst games it presented an ideal target for a Let's Play.
The first video of the series is embedded below:
Today, I have finally uploaded the final video of the 32-part series. The whole thing was recorded in a single weekend, and uploaded one by one over the period of two weeks.
All of the videos are available in this playlist.
First of all, happy new year to those of you that still read my increasingly infrequently updated blog! Let's hope 2009 will be a good year.
I certainly got it off to an interesting start, as I took a trip with some friends from the Soshigaya International House. Over four days, we visited several nice places in Tohoku, the north of Honshu, the main island of Japan. We left by night bus, not my favourite method of transportation but it is cheaper than the alternatives (such as Shinkansen) and arrived at Morioka in the morning of the 29th. From there we took a regular bus to Matsukawa Onsen, a small hot spring resort in the mountains. Here we enjoyed the beautiful snowy surroundings and the various hot springs. Taking a bath in an open air hot spring surrounded by snow is certainly a unique experience!
The next day we travelled to Tazawa-ko by train, a town between Morioka and where we would spend new year, to see the lake there, the deepest in Japan or so I've been told. It was funny seeing the beach all covered with snow. The lake itself never freezes, probably due to its depth, although according to legend it's because Princess Tatsuko fell in love with a dragon god and that it's their passionate love making that keeps the lake from freezing over.
On the 31st we took the Shinkansen to Akita, and from there a local train (which was delayed a lot) to Tsuruoka and finally a bus to the top of Mt. Haguro. There we would stay at the temple itself, and attend the fire festival during the night. The festival was very interesting. It involved a competition between two local villages. First some young men from each village would have a debate, which involved enormous amounts of sake, to decide who would run the race later. The winners of the debate (incredibly drunk of course) of each village would race against each other pulling a giant burning rope. There was also a ceremony inside involving monks trying to fly as a bird, and some monk wearing a rabbit mask. Near new year, the temple bell would ring 108 times to get rid of the troubles of the previous year. Finally, another fire was lit at new year itself.
It was an amazing experience and very different from how I usually celebrate new year. I'm glad I could witness it.
So what will 2009 hold? I don't know of course. I do know that the first part will involve lots of bureaucracy as my first two years in Japan come to an end. This means I have to renew my visa (made more complicated by the fact that my passport will also expire this year), and move out of the international house. I've already started looking (online only at the moment) at apartments in the area. I plan to visit a housing agent (which a lot of the international students use because of their low fee and English speaking abilities) next week. Then I'll have to notify everybody like the insurance to the city hall of my address change. So I've certainly got my work cut out for me. Besides my actual research work, that is. :)
As some of you know, I play Flight Simulator. I tend to go for the serious, realistic simulation.
This video shows you can also have fun with Flight Simulator when you relax realism a bit. :)