ICICE Presentation

I gave my presentation today at the ICICE conference being held at the Yuanshan hotel here in Taipei.

To be honest, it was a spectacular failure, and I record the story of it here for posterity. From the time I arrived, well before the conference formally opened with smoke, flashing lights, and Las Vegas boxing match intro-music and drums I was memorizing various notes I had taken in Chinese and working out the exact minute by minute allocation for my presentation. I slipped out a little early from the last morning session and ran down to the lunch area where downed a boxed lunch in about 5 minutes in order to use the lunch hour to make final preparations for my presentation.

Almost an hour before I presented, I confirmed my Power Point presentation was working on the conference supplied laptop, and tried to open the web pages of the OWLS software that I had developed. We soon discovered that their whole wireless network was down (a room nearby with dozens of laptops for conference participants to use were all also being scanned for viruses and reconfigured by a group of techies, which is never a good sign). I explained that I was presenting on some software and giving a demonstration that was online and would need to know if the network was going to be down during my presentation. If so, I could use various snapshots of OWLS and Sutaitai.com which I had brought on a CD. I was assured the net was going to be working by 13:30 and indeed, they resolved the problem within 15 minutes. I then tested the network every ten minutes or so until my presentation started. I also made a change to the order of my presentation file.

I estimate there were between 50-100 Chinese instructors and other conference participants in the audience for my presentation. As I approached the podium to begin my presentation, while they were introducing me, there were suddenly two conference employees hovering about the computer I was to use. I looked at the screen – the Windows XP machine had crashed and she was restarting the computer. Meanwhile, my 20 minutes for the presentation were already ticking and the audience was waiting while I was surrounded by conference employees whispering Chinese SOS signals into the CIA style radio sets attached to their uniforms.

I lost all composure. I completely lost all the stuff I had memorized and, between trying to work with the staff on the technical problem, tried to start a presentation by just casually introducing software and features that I had neither a Power Point presentation or a working computer to demonstrate. It was a nightmare. My Chinese totally failed me in this desperate moment of required spontaneity.

Half way through, the computer was up and running and I quickly tried to demonstrate the Sutaitai.com site. After finishing this, with again horrible Chinese, I then moved to my climax: trying to show the instructors how simply anyone with OWLS can create interactive exercises. Of course, just that moment, the whole wireless network of the conference hall died again and was I faced with a beautiful white Microsoft IE connection failure screen.

Again losing all my composure I fumbled for words for a minute or two while hoping the network would revive itself, again finding myself swarmed by conference employees who had no technical ability but who decided to stand around me and whisper into their radio sets. My time quickly came to an end.

There were two comments and two questions. A Chinese instructor teaching in South Africa was kind enough to be blunt, “Your software isn’t useful” (没有用).

Another Chinese instructor who teaches US military personnel caught me in the elevator as I was trying to flee the conference in despair. She tried to be polite by saying the same thing in about 15 minutes of indirect criticism.. From what she said, I realized how completely I had failed to communicate some of the most basic features of the software and the limited applications for which it can truly be useful.

There was one technical question about the software and the other question was simply a request for the password to be removed from Sutaitai.com so the teachers can evaluate for themselves how effectively the software can been used.

I learnt a few things from today’s complete humiliation: 1) When I panic, anything stored in short-term memory gets fried, especially when it is in a foreign language. 2) Try at all costs to avoid doing presentations which heavily depend on technology or computers not under your direct control. If you can’t, make sure emergency plans (like my snapshots) are available for fast and immediate implementation. 3) When you are giving a presentation, make sure you front load and heavily emphasize points which can funnel constructive criticism into the areas where it is most useful and relevant. 4) My Chinese, and especially technical Chinese, still needs a lot of work. 5) When measuring time for parts of a talk, double the time it takes you when you practice your presentation. 6) Know your audience well. Preferably speak their language fluently.

A Diabolical B-Tree Crash

It has been quite busy since I arrived in Taipei. I have been trying to pack paper research, PhD applications and rewrites of my statement of purpose, spending some time with Sayaka and preparations for next week’s conference all into my limited two weeks here.

Last night I began working on the powerpoint presentation (due today) for my talk at the conference this Friday when I got an email with some brutal, but much needed and appreciated comments back from my friend Jai on an early draft of my PhD statement of purpose and was just moving between Microsoft’s email application for Mac, Entourage, and Word when everything froze up and I couldn’t force quit anything. My computer is a Mac, this is not supposed to happen. We don’t have crashes anymore.

When I restarted the machine in “verbose” mode to read what was going on in the background as the machine starts up, I find that I have been hit with the infamous B-Tree corruption, and in all likelhood, my hard drive, and all of its contents are lost…As far as I can remember, this is about the 4th time I have had B-Tree corruption destroy my hard drive’s contents in as many years and every time it happened just as I was using Microsoft’s email application. The demons of Microsoft must, of course, be responsible for my ills, trying desperately to get me to abandon the outlaw world of Apple for the imperial XP operating system. Jai, who is a Windows user, is of course their agent, and was instructed to deliver the order to strike via the trojan Microsoft application on my machine…
Continue reading A Diabolical B-Tree Crash

Off to Taiwan

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the conference I was to present at in Taiwan was postponed because of SARS. Well, in about an hour I’m finally heading for Taipei both for this conference and to do a some research for a paper I’m working on. It doesn’t hurt of course, that Sayaka is living and studying in Taipei and I will definitely try to spend some time with her even as I continue my various other projects (including PhD applications, which I’m in the middle of). I’ll be back on the 28th but expect to have fairly regular email access while in Taipei.


A big box was waiting for me this afternoon when I came home. On the mailing label it just said, “Rice”

My friend Hiroshi came back to Japan after working for a time in Central America for a charity, setting up a small school in rural Guatemala. While he is currently studying Spanish on the beaches of Thailand (all I can say is, that’s Hiroshi), he stays at my place whenever he is homeless in Tokyo. I remember he asked me if I like rice when he was on the phone with his parents somewhere in rural Japan and that his parents would send me some in thanks for housing him…

I didn’t imagine a box of close to 20kg of his family’s own harvest of rice (judging it roughly by comparison to my half eaten 2kg bag in the kitchen) would arrive on my doorstep, covered only by a large paper bag and a cardboard box!

Thanks Hiroshi! You have guaranteed that I can’t possibly go hungry here during my last 6 months here in Japan. I’m now accepting recipes for some good rice dishes!

Fun Weekend

The last three days I was able to enjoy some wonderful sun in a Japan where the summer was already supposed to have ended. Friday was spent with my friends Jaehwan, Sayaka, Lars, and Lars’ bicycling partner Tamara going to see an exhibition of a North Korean spy ship that had been sunk by Japan. Its rusting carcass had been raised an put on display for a host of curious mostly older Japanese. It was a nice extra touch to see a collection of flowers put there in honor of the dead North Korean spies. They also put on display a host of objects found on the boat, including weapons, clothes, Kim Jong Il badges, a “self-destruct” button (the presentation claims that after being shot at, the ship exploded itself), and various Japanese electronics they had with them.

On Saturday Sayaka and I rented bicycles for the ridiculously cheap price of 200 yen. Musashino city, apparently famous for programs like this, offers rental of bicycles at one of its bicycle parking centers for less than $2 a day. We hopped on our bikes and randomly wandered north, ending up in Wako city in Saitama before wandering back again for a full afternoon of random bike riding.

Yesterday I joined some of my friends from SIPA for a BBQ on a beach near Enoshima (鵠沼海岸, a stop on the 小田急 line) south of Tokyo. The beach was very nice, and we were able to enjoy swimming, great food, and some beach ball throughout the hot afternoon. It was partly to celebrate our friend Shuji Inatomi’s publishing of a book. It was also excellent to see other friends there, including Suguru, who was back for a short time from Thailand.

No Taiwan in June, Going to New York

I have successfully reversed the nocturnal existence I have been leading ever since I recovered from jetlag in October and have been an early riser for almost a week now. Zheesh, it was like kicking cocaine or something. Of course, I don’t know why I bothered given that I’m leaving for New York on Sunday.

The Taiwan conference was postponed until October. I lost my ticket but hopefully can afford another one by October. Also, let us all hope that SARS has been successfully contained by that time. It would be sad indeed if China steaming economy were truly derailed by the fear of the disease.
Continue reading No Taiwan in June, Going to New York

Immigration Office

Together with my friends Lee and Lars, I went to get a “Re-entry Permit” from the new Tokyo regional Immigration office in Shinagawa.

I will be heading back to New York for about 10 days or so from the 17th of February. I’m looking forward to seeing friends (and Sayaka!), and taking care of a few things at Columbia.

Getting the permit, which allows me to re-enter Japan using the same visa, was, as best I can remember it from my stay in Yokohama in 97-98, a really miserable process involving hours of waiting and multiple forms. I have nasty cold and was not in any mood to deal with a bureaucracy…
Continue reading Immigration Office

Back to everything

Sayaka just returned after visiting me in Tokyo for almost a month. The new year is here and I have lots of projects for this year. I’m going to try to be more skillful at balancing my time between them instead of my usual practice which is to attack them in bursts of enthusiastic effort…
Continue reading Back to everything


After enjoying a delicious assortment of vegetable tempura at my local Tenya tempura shop, I went grocery shopping across the street at Seiyu.

When I was packing my groceries I couldn’t help noticing that the middle-aged woman standing next to me was staring at my groceries and smiling in a most peculiar way.

It wasn’t that she was pleased to see a (male/foreigner) doing groceries since she wasn’t at all staring at me. After she left I paused for a moment to figure out what it could have been.

I suddenly realized that the assortment of items that I had purchased could not have been more stereotypical Western if I had tried: Three liters of drinkable yoghurt, a bag of potatoes, a loaf of bread, and a pack of raw beef chunks.