Monday, 4 June 2007

A.I. Lab (RCAST) - first day at the office

Today was a very welcoming first day at the AI Lab. Naturally the smoothness, neatness, organisation and workful enthusiasm were impressive. Mondays, Professor Hori's AI Lab group of Master's and Ph.D students and academics all collect for lunch together, something like the KCDC (Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition) Friday lunch gatherings we have back home. We wandered through the neighbourhood, past the very street of my abode, to buy bento lunchboxes of contents selected from a traditional array of buffet dishes, including tofu, teriyaki chicken, white fish, salmon, pickles, with rice and miso, which we then took back to the office. My induction included introductions to everybody, a desk, entry swipe card, email address and networking, printing, access to any equipment or stationery supplies I need and generous, hospitable familiarisation all round. My former acquaintance, 'Jo' is still completing his Ph.D on various topics relating to my own work and of great interest - haptic interaction, Wii controllers, music, interaction design and as well he is a musician and sonic event organiser, so it was very comforting to see a familiar face, as well as Professor Hori and Associate Professor Mina. Jo's work includes The Sine Wave Orchestra and Sine Wave Quartet as performer/creator, Mona Lisa blog, including facts pertaining to interaction design and Max/MSP, DorkBot Tokyo, and a Cycling News Navigator and the Teething Ring Sound Instrument (TSI) as well as very serious research stuff at KID Knowledge Interaction Design lab at RCAST (the new face of AI?). Despite a tropical afternoon, I worked for hours on my journal paper at the lab and eventually left, one of the first to do so, at 8pm. The Japanese are famous for the unique phenomenon of dying from overwork. I was amused to stumble across a mattress surrounded by comic books tucked behind a cluster of bookshelves. I think the steady environment will be very conducive to working, research writing and creativity. While most of the students herald from undergraduate degrees in engineering or computer science, it is still a bit surprising for me, after Sydney, to find myself being the only woman there (apart from the Associate Professor). It was also interesting to shuffle up and down the corridor in borrowed slippers because one's own shoes are lockered for the day. In the mobile keitai denwa culture of Japan, greater precedence and dependence seems to be attributed to the humble phone, though the thumb-pressing sms (Sky Mail) and Long Mail (thousands of characters) varieties of little flip-phones with customary dangly things, stickers and other appendages clearly appeal more than PDA phones or smartphones. One of the ubiquitous features that is wonderfully applied is the QR-code, a digital tag, used to code products in supermarkets or your visa in the passport, resembling the purpose of an RFID tag in producing a quick-scan digitally unique identity, these little matrices can be scanned with the camera in the contemporary mobile phone and encoded data and a map about an event (see image) is immediately downloaded to the telephone. Convenient.