This post originated as a comment to this entry on the eminently readable blog of a scientist living in Osaka. Midway through writing it, I remembered I had my own soapbox for that sort of drivel: better than crowding some innocent bystander’s comment section.

Usual limited-interest-topic disclaimer applies: unless you are have a vested interest in getting your PhD (in Japan), you are better off skipping this entry and waiting for more pictures of awesome Shanghainese moped-riding cats.

By and large, I agree with everything Jan wrote. The operative quote, I think, is that it depends more on university/faculty [and advisor] than anything else.

As a freshly-graduated PhD student (from a Japanese university), I figured I could offer some extra pointers, gleaned from personal experience and that of close friends in similar situations at a couple “major” Japanese universities:

If like me you deal with your typical Japanese administration office on a regular basis, you probably receive your fair share of documents, some of them occasionally packaged as a Zip archive

If also like me, you are not using a Windows machine, but a Mac running OS X or some flavour of Linux, you routinely end up with files bearing such poetic names as “Åuäwà ò_ï∂ä÷åWèëófiíÒèoìÕ.pdf”, “äwà ê\êøìÕÅyÉfÅ[É^Åz.xls” etc. This is due to some incompatibility between the way each system stores Japanese characters1 and the fact the Zip format was never conceived to handle such differences. Not a big problem if you have one file, bit tedious if the archive contains 300 of them.

In the spirit of sharing the fruit of my last productivity-sink effort to fix that problem, I present you with a small script that takes such a Zip archive as input and correctly extract all the files (with their properly encoded filenames):

  1. To be specific: Windows seems to be using good-old antiquated Japanese-only SJIS, whereas OS X and others prefer spiffy universal encodings like UTF-8. []

A very nifty trick I discovered while working on making KanjiBox accessible to blind users.

I previously mused that an iPhone/iPod made a much better and more cost-efficient language-studying tool than any dedicated electronic gizmo out there. This is now a thousand times truer…

One of the coolest features brought by version 4 of iOS (the software that runs on all iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) is also one of the least known and used: VoiceOver is a built-in screen-reader geared at making Apple devices accessible to blind and visually impaired users. If you are such a user, you know about it already and will learn nothing here. For everyone else, this feature still has much to offer!

VoiceOver supports a dizzying collection of languages: from English to Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese, most European languages, hell, even regional accents (English comes in US-, Brit- and Aussie-accented variants… Canadian-French as well). While the quality for English is about what you would expect from late-90s speech synthesis, the quality of some other languages is vastly superior. This is particularly true of the Japanese and French voices. To my very limited ear, Mandarin and Mexican-Spannish also sound quite close to human quality (Spain-Spanish, on the other hand, is pretty robotic).

As it turns out, your iPhone (/iPad/iPod Touch) comes with a native pronunciation teacher, out of the box. For hard-to-read languages like Japanese or Chinese, it can be a life-saver: helping you decipher SMS, emails or web pages, instead of relying on clunky, time-consuming, copy-pasting to a dictionary app.

Below are detailed instructions on how to enable VoiceOver and use it to read any text in any language on your iPhone (setup should be near-identical for iPads and iPod Touchs):

Free Wifi in Shijo It is quite hard finding free-access wifi anywhere in Japan, let alone access that does not require you to sit and purchase a drink (most often at such exciting local eateries as McDonald’s or Starbucks)…

Which is why I figured I’d commit this tidbit of info to Google (and the occasional Kyoto-bound reader of this blog):

I just noticed some new banners have been put up along Shijo dori, announcing free wifi in the street. This is apparently courtesy of the neighbourhood’s shopkeeper association. Only small catch is that the wifi is password-protected1… and nobody seems to have realised that the primary target for such an offer (foreign tourists without 3G cell phones and limitless data plans) might have a hard time reading the katakana spelling of “password” on the banners. Ahem.

Anyway, the free wifi network info are:
Access point: shijo-0123456789
Password: 0123456789

  1. I have no doubt there is a suitably pointless bureaucratic reason for that. []

After spending 30 minutes figuring out what needed fixing on a friend’s freshly updated (and no longer working) Softbank iPhone, I figured I would commit the instructions to this blog, for all the hapless gaijin out there, trying to figure out why their iPhone suddenly stopped working.

This post is purely intended for a Google audience, so please skip if you are a regular reader with none of the aforementioned iPhone issues.

Personal Health Update

I wasn’t exactly handed a winning ticket at the Genetic Lottery. As a kid, it would have taken less time to list the parts that did work as they should have. But things got under control and I am generally fine these days1.

However, God personally hates me and wants to make sure I know it. Which is why I belong to the statistically improbable demographic of young people with recurring kidney stone problems despite relatively healthy dietary habits2.

On a nearly regular basis, about once every two years, I get to enjoy the pain of childbirth, minus naming process and postpartum hormones rush.

On the plus side, with the years, the routine has started to take the edge off (or I am developing a much higher tolerance to pain): when a stone episode strikes, nowadays, I just casually recoil in a fetal position for a couple hours at a time while waiting for it to pass after a week or so; years ago: I would longingly stare at a kitchen knife while considering my options for self-surgery on the spot.

The other good thing is that I have learned to recognise early symptoms (as well as the time they are likely to occur: mine always happen in Winter, for no reason any specialist has ever been able to explain satisfyingly), which helps preventing me from making bad decisions… such as embarking on a 15 hour trip home to San Francisco from Paris via London (aka: the Story of my First Stone). Testament to the good old pre-911 days: when some security guy at Heathrow noticed the sweaty, grimacing guy waiting for his plane, went and asked “Sir, I must ask you: have you been consuming any drugs?” and got a near-hysterical answer of “No, but if you have any, I’ll take them!” through gritted teeth… he just walked away as he came.

These days, once the chest pain shows up, I would know better than trying to lob it with, for sole comfort, 2 aspirins and a cup of boiling hot tea purchased on the Eurostar.

Three days into the current episode, I finally went for a consultation at my nearby hospital: a CT scan confirmed the obvious and I was sent on my way with the usual advices and a couple prescription drugs.

Incidentally: I paid ¥5,000 (less than $50) for a full consultation and a CT scan, both of which took a grand total of 40 minutes, from the moment I stepped into my neighbourhood clinic. The actual cost, pre-universal-coverage, was ¥19,000, or about $200 (for that money, a US CT technician won’t even spit on you): dear US readers, aren’t you glad you live in a country gloriously free of such pesky Universal Healthcare and reasonable health costs.

Anyway, all that to say that I am slightly incapacitated at the moment, and lagging on communication (although oddly productive on whatever I manage to put my mind to, in between two bouts of holding my abdomen, wondering if downing a bottle of Draino might help). It will get better and I’ll catch up on email and everything, soon (i.e. anywhere from next week to next year).

That’s it for the immediate personal health update. Everybody with a normally working pair of kidneys and zero interest in the practice of hobbyist medicine at home can (and should) stop reading right now. Trust me, there’s nothing interesting under the fold.

  1. beside that violent twitching on the left side of my face and the regular furball coughing, that is []
  2. people in their twenties who barely drink a can of coke a month aren’t supposed to get kidney stones, let alone chronic ones []