Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Next Phase

Ironically, we have just relocated to a new address on our last 'business day' in Japan. My new apartment is now located in Kasukabe City (still in Saitama prefecture). Our business trip was more of an evaluation period for us by our client. Now that we have been approved, this new address would be our 'permanent' one.

I'm going to live in a 'mansion' (マンション), which is actually a Japanese glorified term for an apartment. I guess its equivalent in Philippine setting would be the condo units. Definitely, this one's bigger, better, cooler (etc.) than our previous apartment (アパート). The city is also a better location because it has a good number of stores to buy from, unlike the previous one in Satte wherein the Supermarket was always out of our way.

Anyway, I won't have to 'enjoy' our apartment just yet, since my flight back to the Philippines is already scheduled the next morning. Geez, we have to wake up early since our taxi will arrive at 4:45am going to Kasukabe station. Then from Kasukabe to Shin Koshigaya via train (with all our luggages). Shin Koshigaya is the nearest place for us to board the airport limousine bus. Following the 2-hour rule, we should be at Narita airport terminal II 2 hours before (7:30am) the scheduled flight (9:30am). By 1:30pm, I should be in Manila already, and I do plan to go straight to Baguio this weekend. Well, good thing I have my uncle to fetch me and perhaps drop me off at Victory Liner Cubao.

I do hope the storm (that came from the Philippines) wouldn't reach Japan just yet, and be out of the plane's way. Funny (or scary) thing though is the recent brouhaha happening in the Philippines. Because of the '2nd time' mutiny attempt in Makati, the Philippines had been in some sort of mini-Martial Law already (curfew? reporters being screwed up?). What good timing! Speaking of 'good', perhaps the exchange rate for the yen would rise (in time for my currency conversion) and it could be a good reason for our extended 'vacation'.

Anyway, since I'm going home these are the things I'd definitely do:
  • Have a haircut. haha! 3 months, that's a feat for me. I usually have my hair cut once a month. I never knew how to let it grow properly. But because Japan's haircut are too pricy (imagine going to SC barber shop and paying Php400 for it), there was no choice but to wait. I'm thinking of going to some hair salon with all those hair solutions and all. I'm also going to buy those barber shaves as backup.
  • Be with my family. When I go back to Japan, it's going to be one year before I'm going home again. I'm going to treat them out, since I'm also going home for the first time as a self-supporting employed individual. Too bad, I can only do this in just about 2 days (hopefully I won't be summoned back to work on a Monday).
  • Manage my finances. It's hard earning as an expat because of the currency fluctuation. And so, I have been planning on ways to help curb those conversion losses and perhaps have a better return on investment from other sources.
  • Unlock my PSP's potential. hehehehe. It's hard to find english games in Japan, you know? And most of the time, they're expensive, hehe.
  • Meet some friends. Well, okay, to give out some 'raffle' items. What's the latest buzz?
  • Work. Well basically it's to process my Japan engineer visa. I hope we're not required to report at the Philippine office daily (9-6pm) or else I might not be able to do all of those written above.
Ano pa ba? Ewan, basta enjoy enjoy na lang. Hopefully when I go back to Japan, my enjoyment shall continue at work.

posted by ScIoN 6:06 PM |

Saturday, November 24, 2007

PSP vs. DS

I started planning on buying a game console 2 months ago as part of my having fun in Japan. I initially wanted to buy a Nintendo Wii because of its unique interactive gameplay (tennis! golf!) and also because it is relatively cheaper compared to rival Sony's PS3. However I realized that the Wii is more of a party console, something to play with your family and friends. Since it's just me and my flatmate here, I decided to go for a more personal console instead.

Today's portable systems seem to have significantly evolved from the former systems we had before (think: Brick games and Game&Watch during the early 90's). Portability would mean I can play anywhere inside and outside of the house; also, I can use it while on travel (trip to Tokyo coming from my place would take about an hour via train).

And so, a portable one would be a good buy for me; but, which one? At this point, I got stuck on choosing between Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. I'm not an impulsive buyer when it comes to electronic gadgets since these things easily depreciate and go obsolete. However, it would take forever for the 'perfect' product to come out. Everything has its pitfall. That is why it takes at least a month of 'research' before I buy a specific gadget. Another good reason for 'delaying' a purchase is to be able to buy it at the convenient price. Electronic products start off with a high price then settle lower according to market demand.

Sony PlayStation Portable Slim vs. Nintendo DS Lite:


(photos courtesy of wikipedia)

I have tried searching through the internet for answers regarding on which is the better portable console system. Consequently, all I got were mixed reviews. It's a draw based on my internet reads. To summarize, the major selling point of each system is between graphics and gameplay.

Hardware Comparisons:

- 32-bits MIPS32 R4k-based with FPU and VFPU (main processor)
- 32-bits MIPS32 R4k-based (for hardware multimedia decoding)
(both clocked at max 333Mhz)
-ARM946E-S (main CPU) @67Mhz
-ARM7TDMI (coprocessor)@33Mhz
- (main) 64MB
- (Embedded DRAM) 4MB
- 4MB

- 4.3 inch, 16:9 Wide screen TFT LCD
-480 x 272 pixel, 16.7 million colors
- 3inch , 0.24mm dot pitch, TFT color LCD screens
-256x192 pixel, 260,000 colors
-of the 2 screens, 1 is a touch screen

Obviously, the PSP wins in the hardware category delivering better graphics and multimedia support. Though the DS lacks in hardware power, it fights back with its unique gameplay through the use of two screens (DS originally meant dual-screen) wherein one is a touch screen. The DS packs with various software which widened its age market. In Japan, there are softwares that make your DS act like an electronic dictionary (Nihonggo), map finder, and various educational tools for the young population. Some even claim that they use it like a PDA.

Basically, the answer on which is the better console varies from person to person. It is good to ask for feedback from current owners but beware of fanboys (and girls) from their biased views. You can get the most balanced views from people who own both consoles but be sure to take note of their preferences because it might differ from yours.

Why I Chose the PSP Over the DS
If I haven't bought an electronic dictionary beforehand, I could have considered buying a DS instead. But still, DS is a toy. Whatever are its added capabilities it can never replace the real thing, a toy's a toy. I have been using my elec. dictionary during our weekly meetings (I need to decipher what they're saying), and imagine what I would look like if I bring in a DS instead. I already have a PDA phone (company issued) and PDA phone is also better than PDA toy.

From the start, I wanted to buy a game console and so it follows that I wanted to maximize game output. With PSP's superior hardware, I could get all the visual candy I want which is just next to PS2 level. Some games really need good graphics to bring out the beauty of the game (i.e. NBA) while others don't (puzzle games). Not to mention the PSP's video capabilities which is highlighted by its widescreen. It's a good way to view portable movies (also good for tv tuning) as compared to my 5th Generation Ipod Video. I recently saw a speaker set capable of mounting both PSP and Ipod Video. What a combo! I think I'm going to buy that thing (5K yen ~ Php2K @HardOff).

When it comes to software, I guess I do have to sacrifice some Mario and Pokemon, in exchange for PS titles like GTA and Tekken. I haven't owned any Playstation unit and so PSP is perfect for me (especially when it is modded, can play PSX games). I have noticed that PSP and DS games have the same price range (2Kyen-6Kyen) even when PSP has larger filesizes than DS'. Value for money, it's the PSP.

There are some distinct hardware specs that I also have to patronize in the PSP. For all those who took CoE113, they should be familiar with PSP's CPU which is MIPS-based. Our thesis project, which was the dual-core DLX microprocessor is also MIPS-based. The other thing I patronize is due to the PSP's LCD which was produced by Sharp. Specifically with Sharp's LCDs, they use color filters produced by Toppan -- and that's where I work now.

Of course there are dozens of hacks and mods for the PSP and DS in which I am not going to discuss here. But when you want to bring out the geek in you and tweak with the PSP, you can turn this gaming machine into a nifty linux machine complete with a keyboard. Well better if you get a smaller keyboard then your setup would look like the small laptops being sold commercially.

Again, the choice is yours. Both are light(PSP slim: 189g; DSLite:200g). If you're not too demanding on the graphical quality of some games, then perhaps the DS is for you. DS units are relatively cheaper (DS: 16200Yen ; PSP:19800Yen ~Php6200)The stylus format of the DS may give you a unique experience compared from the usual controller stick, although only a select few games are able to maximize its use.

Well, if money's not a problem for you, why not buy the 2 consoles and get the best of both worlds.

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posted by ScIoN 2:55 PM |

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mr. [o]Miyagi

Okay, this post shall be about omiyage (Jap term for pasalubong), and not about Mr. Miyagi (of The Karate Kid fame).

There is no finalized date yet of our departure here in Japan though tentatively it was set on the 28th. We're still waiting for announcements from our Director about our new apartment, since we will be transferring our things before going back home to the Philippines.

I can't wait, even hoping that our flight be moved earlier than Nov28 (while target return date remain the same or better if moved on a later date). I do wish that my 'vacation' in the Philippines could be stretched wider.

Being the typical balikbayan, one is expected to bring home some goodies coming from the foreign land. The more people who know about your trip, the more the demand of omiyage. Last Saturday, I went to Akihabara to buy some of the required pasalubongs. It's not exactly the perfect place to buy cultural omiyage in terms of prices. Akiba is popularly known as a major electronics district in the world, constantly flocked by so many foreigners and Japanese people alike that the created atmosphere is being taken advantage by the businessmen.

Aside from electronics, Akihabara is also known for being a melting pot for otaku culture (read: geeks/fanatics). Japan is famous for its anime and high tech gadgets, and Akihabara seem to have it all. Since I really was not prepared with a list of things to buy and of the people to give omiyage with, this was the place that first came to my mind because of its wide range of selection. I bought most of my omiyage at one of the Laox shops. They were really good items although I can sense that it's a bit overpriced. I wanted to buy the fushigi towel, it's a towel having a print of a lady in a kimono, wherein when heat is applied (example: hair blower), the kimono will vanish and so the lady would be on her birthday suit. Japanese are so cool. My frugal self told me not to buy it since I still have more spending to do.

The first time I went to Akiba, I went out of the JR train station through the Electronic Town exit, thereby walked only thru the Chuo dori (main avenue). This time, I tried the Showa Dori exit and for the first time, was able to look inside the huge Yodobashi Camera (store). [pic on right: Yodobashi Camera's facade]

One other reason why I chose to shop at Akihabara was to check out the DSLR cameras I plan on buying (Canon EOS 400D vs. Nikon D40x). I was able to compare prices of those being sold at Akky and Laox (2 famous Akiba Duty Free stores) with Yodobashi, and so far the latter sells the cheapest (plus the 10% point card). And so I've learned that you don't have to go to Akihabara to buy cheap electronic gadgets. Yodobashi, along with some other stores (e.g. BIC Camera, Kojima) have branches all over Japan.

And finally before I went home, I bought a Playstation Portable. I have thought of buying a game console ever since my first month here in Japan but I got stuck deciding between a Sony PSP or a Nintendo DS. I should have bought the DSLR before going home but because of the short stay in the Philippines, I chose a game console instead (it would benefit me more than using a camera in the Philippines --i.e. while waiting on queue in several government agencies).
I chose the PSP because:
  • superior hardware than DS --> corresponds to superior graphics
  • backwards compatibility with PS games (mod needed)
  • a good sized screen --> I had tried watching on my ipod video. So small and uncomfortable to carry while watching (one hand). Wow factor for me with the PSP.
  • The looks. The DS seemed like a Kid's toy.
  • etc.
Uh oh... I think I'm attracting some PSP bashers out there, hehehehe ;) The above mentioned are true anyway and the battle between DS vs. PSP had been narrowed down to gameplay vs. graphics, and obviously I wanted the eye candy one.

By the way, I have done some random shopping regarding the omiyage as I also plan on doing some random giving, in a raffle sort of way. It's hard to give in to the specific requests of people (kimono$, hard-to-find items, japanese girl, etc). I've decided that a raffle would be a fun and fair thing to do.

For now, I'm not reserving any omiyage to specific friends. Anyone's eligible, but it's a first come first served basis, 'til stocks last. Of course priority would be given to those who I am able to meet. Tricky part is that my stay in the Philippines would be short and I may be in Baguio for some time or maybe busy processing my papers. And so I would prefer to give it away during meet ups with you guys. I don't have much time and have enough souvenirs to give for everybody. gomen ne. I hope you guys understand. :)

Sa mga mauubusan, don't worry, just setup your facebook accounts and I promise I'd send you gifts from there. ;)

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posted by ScIoN 7:29 PM |

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm Going Home This December(!!!)...

... and back again.

My 3 months business trip here in Japan is finally nearing its end as my visa shall expire on the 2nd of December. My main assignment is to work under the client company. After our first week in Japan, we had relocated from Kanagawa prefecture (where our head office is located) to Saitama (client's location).

For these 2 months and running, we eat at the company canteen, wear the standard top-bottom uniform and report to work daily. Basically, our stay was like an immersion stage for us to get used to a Japanese company's way of life. Also, to observe and have an idea about our client company's operations. Within these 3 months, we are to be evaluated by the client company. Our tenure here in Japan is dependent on their decision about the finalization of the project agreement between them and our company.

And so, the good news is... we have been approved. Time lines had been set and the action at work shall at least commence next year, 2008. Because of this, I shall be transferred to the Japan side. My Certificate of Eligibility coming from the Japanese embassy had already been processed. This is to be used for my Engineer visa application.

I'm coming home to the Philippines to process the required papers (visa, poea, etc). The sad news is... my stay would not be fit enough for some kind of 'vacation'. The ideal date of my return here in Japan is on Dec 16. So that gives me barely 2 weeks stay in the Philippines.

Originally, we (together with my work partner) hoped that we could be saved by the Xmas break. Thinking that our impending return would be scheduled at the start of next year, meaning more time with family and friends in the Philippines.

I intend to go home to Baguio City. The last time I went home was in May, prior to my first day at work. 2 weeks 'vacation' wouldn't be enough not to mention the slow government processing (poea, owwa), and I might still be required to report to work daily at our Philippine office. That means my only chance of going home would be on a weekend. Once I go back to Japan, that would already be one year before I would be able to go home again. So there. I have to make the most out of my stay in the Philippines.


posted by ScIoN 7:02 PM |

Thursday, November 08, 2007

DCC DLX Goes to Tencon 2007 (Taipei, Taiwan)!

Our undergraduate special project (aka thesis) had just been poster- presented at the 2007 IEEE Region 10 Conference (IEEE TenCon 2007) held at Taipei. It's an honor to have your research be presented at international conferences like this. Also to include last year, our project had been 1 of 4 nominated for Best Paper in the 7th National ECE Conference.

Being a student under UP EEE is not easy, and one of the courses' major milestones is to finish the EEE 190-198 course (aka research project). It takes at least a year for the research to be designed and implemented, not to mention the series of defense presentations (at least 3) one has to face.

In order to help facilitate students' research, one has to join an in-house research laboratory. I belonged to the UP-Intel Microprocessors Lab and had been grouped with 4 other Computer Engineering students. Our output was the Dual Core Capable 32-Bit DLX Microprocessor (DCC DLX).

The final layout. A Fabrication-ready Dual-Core Capable 5-Stage Pipelined DLX Microprocessor.

Read summary here.

posted by ScIoN 9:05 PM |

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Saturday at Chuo University

中央大学 Chūō Daigaku
Last Saturday, I met up with Boom and Klao at Tachikawa station then together, proceeded to Chuo University (Tama-Hachioji campus) to meet up with Karen. The 3 UP undergrads are currently enjoying 1 year scholarships here in Japan, sponsored by different universities. Boom and Karen had been my classmates in Hapon 12-13 while Klao is a co-member in TennisUP. (click to enlarge pic - frm. Wikipedia)

Chuo University was having its school festival and so there were food booths almost everywhere. The Tama campus is very much close to nature. It is located along the mountain side and has a park or something that has a good line of autumn trees. Damn, I'm not good in describing things and I regret not being able to take lots of pictures around the campus.

Anyway, here is a few shots I took using my PDA camera. The left pic shows the Chuo cheering squad (Ret's go tse-oh!). On the right is a pic of the school's flowing fish pond (people are watching the pep performance in the far background).

Karen actually extended for another sem with Chuo, since her term should have ended last Sept. Although tuition and other miscellaneous fees have still been waived, she no longer receives the usual monthly stipend given to her during her first year here in Japan.

She is currently self-supporting as she had started taking part-time jobs (arubaito) since Dec 2006. Aside from her course works in Japanese policies and language subjects, she works as an English tutor and also at a yakitori as some sort of a waitress. I admire her independency, as she's able to survive here on her own. Without a monthly stipend, daily meals and rent comes from her own pockets. Imagine, her flat costs about Jpy40,000/month (~Php15,000). Japan gives reasonable wages anyway, so I guess it's really ok. She claims that working at the yakitori helped her improve her Nihonggo, and yes she is indeed fluent already. She already have lots of Japanese and foreign friends, no wonder her stay here in Japan had been a fruitful one.

Flea market (フリア)
Probably most Filipinos think that the ukay-ukay/wag-wag (used clothings market) is onli in da Pilipins (Only in the Philippines) or only probable in other third world countries. But in Japan, flea markets are famous because of bargain prices where most of the items are in used conditions. A flea market was set up in Chuo University's central plaza and since living in Japan is generally expensive, this was the perfect opportunity for my companions to buy some goods. There were a lot of good buys such as 2 mint condition Harry Potter books (for Jpy600 ~ Php200), "Hard Gay" keychain (Jpy100 ~ Php40) and some winter clothes for my companions. I didn't buy anything since I still have a chance to go back to the Philippines this December.
Ukay-ukay in Japan

Filipino Store at Hachioji
Karen brought us to a Filipino store which is a 5-minute walk from JR-Hachioji station. Filipino store, meaning a store selling Philippine goods. It is very hard to notice the existence of this Filipino store since the sign outside is only labeled as "Friend Mart" and is actually located in the 2nd floor. (Right pic)The store sells VHS tapes of recorded tv programs (The Buzz, Kokey, drama stuffs, et al).

Since you are in Japan and the Philippine goods are actually imported, one can not expect the prices to be cheap. It's quite fun to see the typical pinoy goods being sold here. Boy Bawang, Chocnut, tocino, purefoods hotdog, etc. Your favorite Ma-Ling Bilog costs about Jpy300 (~Php100) apiece and a whole buko pie, Jpy1200 (~Php450). I just wonder how they were able to import such products. Is it worth the profit? They even have Goldilocks cakes here.

This day (sat) was my very first 'outing' and I regret not being able to take quality pictures. In fact, WE don't even have pictures of ourselves around the places we had gone to. Initially, I thought my PDA cam would suffice for some travel point and shoots, but the quality is quite unsatisfactory to me. I believe I should make the most out of my stay in Japan. I am thinking of buying a DSLR camera. It would definitely make traveling fun and exciting! deshou?


posted by ScIoN 4:50 PM |

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

ScIoN is a former Systems Engineer in Japan who specialized in industrial imaging and digital hardware design. He is now back in the Philippines pursuing graduate studies in Finance at the University of the Philippines - Diliman.



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