Monday, September 30, 2013

Leaving Basho - many thanks!

I will resign from Basho. 30-SEP-2013 will be the last day.

I'd like to thank everyone in Basho, especially Basho Japan KK members. Having been a part of the teams will be an unforgettable experience.

I will continue supporting Riak and Erlang/OTP after leaving Basho, as I've been doing so since long before I joined the company.

My next step is yet unclear for the time being, but I'm sure I will still be a part of computer and internet professional dev and op communities. There will be a lot of challenges, but I will take them.

Thanks again to the people who supported me during my Basho days.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good! (a review)

Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good! (LYSE) is one of the best books to learn about the programming language and the system Erlang/OTP. This article includes a brief review about LYSE of No Starch Press version, my impression about the author Fred Hébert (Fred), and related miscellaneous things.

Fred is a young person. I assume he was born in the late 1980s. That itself makes LYSE extraordinary. The writing style of LYSE is purely casual and conversational; it's quite different from other Erlang classics, such as Joe Armstrong's Programming Erlang (I'm eagerly waiting for the Second Edition!) and Erlang Programming of Francesco Cesarini and Simon Thompson (I'm also eagerly waiting for a new book from the authors with Robert Virding this time!), let alone the first book of Erlang called Concurrent Programming in Erlang published in the 1990s. Those classic books are written by much older people, and they follow the traditional textbook format. LYSE does not. You will also be surprised by the illustrations drawn by Fred. Those drawings are so creative that I've even got distracted with them while reading the otherwise very technical and detailed contents. Maybe I've got too old. Nevertheless, you need to know LYSE is not an ordinary textbook.

I've seen no book on Erlang about the complete coverage of the language and the OTP library other than the online manual at and the source code repository at GitHub. LYSE is not a manual either; it is rather a collection of live stories and practical examples of Erlang based on the hard-earned experience of Fred himself. It's written for those who actually write the code, develop the packages, and release the products. For those who want to study from the very beginning, I recommend Simon St. Laurent's Introducing Erlang.

I will avoid digging into explaining the whole contents of LYSE, because the explanation will take the same amount of words the book has. LYSE is a thick book which has approximately 600 pages, so it's not something for an easy reading. I have to confess there are many things I didn't know and I haven't tested yet in the book. The book hyper-comprehensively covers the necessary topics for dealing with the day-to-day tasks on Erlang/OTP development, from the language basics to gen_server, (the rage against the) finite state machines, package release, Mnesia and the OTP internal database modules, and a proposal of how to read all the Erlang punctuations in English.

In LYSE, the semantic details of the language and system elements of Erlang/OTP are meticulously well-written. One of the most impressive contents is about the intentional avoidance of tail-call optimization in the try-catch exception handling; Fred simply writes:

The protected part of an exception can't be tail recursive.
(Chapter 7, “Protecting The Right Thing")

I will not explain the reason here, but this sort of caremad attitude in the details makes LYSE a professional handbook, if not a textbook (and it is not, I repeat.)

Fred is a very talkative and energetic person. I really admire the level of his English fluency especially when he makes a thunderstorm-like (real) lightning talk. He is also helpful and has assisted a lot of newcomers as his erlang-questions mailing list articles show. The book represents his personality very well. If you are an experienced programmer, LYSE is also an interesting book as a general reading, because the book will remind you of how you have been self-teaching yourself.

I recommend LYSE to all those who want to learn Erlang and OTP, especially to those who want to experiment and self-learn the language and system. If you want to know the contents first, check out the free online version.

Appendix: about the book title

When I saw the title of LYSE first time, and when I saw the title of the cousin book of LYSE about Haskell called Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! (LYAH), I thought there was something severely wrong with the grammar, even from a speaker of English as a second language. I've learned at school that the verb learn will not take a person as the object, and so does my New Oxford American Dictionary built into OS X say. I had a hard time to explain the meaning of this sentence to some Japanese experts who are not familiar with this type of non-standard English sentence. And I have to confess the phrase “Great Good” looked non-standard to me too.

On the other hand, the title of LYSE looks much more understandable to me if I see it as a literal translation of a non-English Indo-European language. Fred is a proud francophone Quebecker, and he is also an excellent English speaker and writer. I can imagine Fred reads and understands the title of LYSE in a complete different manner than I do. So I will complain no more about the title of LYSE or LYAH.


I've been sent a review copy of LYSE from No Starch Press on January 2013. In this article I mostly refer to the No Starch Press version, though I also have read the online free version. Note well: I have ordered and purchased my own copy of LYSE from No Starch by myself before receiving the review copy!

I should also note that I've met Fred at least three times at Erlang Factory SF Bay Area 2011, 2012, and 2013, so this review may be heavily biased. (I hope this review is not too late, Fred!)


Thanks to Jessica Miller of No Starch Press for sending me a copy of LYSE and helping me about what to do with the 600 pages of paper :)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

AM Radio: No Longer Practical?

Noise from modern electronic devices are killing the media

This is a popular article among my pieces of writing at

(Photo by Patrick Fitzgerald/Barelyfitz)

History tells the pollution has been the repeating problem which the civilization must solve. The radio airwaves are getting polluted too. I fear that AM radio broadcast will no longer be practical if modern electronic devices with the switching power supplies and computers become ubiquitous and necessary to maintain our lifestyle. Conversion or migration from AM to the FM radio will be an easiest way to solve this problem, at least for the dense population areas.

I’ve been struggling to listen to the AM radio inside my house for many years. I think the listening condition in my house might be still better than that of the other people. If I tolerate the buzzing tones,I will still be able to enjoy the programs. I have to keep the small radio receiver away from the cell phone units or anything running computers or other wireless devices, though.

I can no longer listen to the radio near my LCD displays, the laptop computers, and the tablet devices, without proper shielding of the radio and the external antenna outside the house in the open space. I can’t listen to the radio when I’m in the restroom equipped with a Washlet; the water spraying unit is driven with a switching power supply, which generates the noise effectively blocking the radio station signals.

AM radio, or the medium wave frequency broadcasting on 540-1710kHz in the Americas (531-1611kHz in the rest of the world including Japan), has been popular for more than a hundred years. The transmitter often requires nearly a few hundred kilowatts to cover the entire nation, but it works very well, especially during the nighttime when the ionospheric propagation enables the airwaves to reach much further than that in the daytime. For example, in Japan, NHK Radio Two Tokyo at 693kHz transmits 500kW from the antenna site in Kawaguchi City, Saitama, covers nearly twenty million households even during the daylight hours, and is heard very well regularly in Osaka and the other regions nationwide.

The AM in the AM radio stands for Amplitude Modulation. AM radio listeners only needs a simple equipment to convert the radio signals into the sounds. Crystal radio receivers, which have been widely used since the beginning of the 20th Century, are the simplest form of radio. They still work well when the transmission site is near enough. Most of the modern radio receivers convert the frequency of the received signals to the audio frequency range signals, however; superheterodyne receivers is the de facto standard since the transistors got commoditized in 1960s. You can even listen to the AM radio through the digital signal processing technology, on the software-defined radio receivers. So the technology is still alive and thriving very well.

The problem is, however, that more and more electronic devices emit various type of noises on the same frequency spectrum which is used for the AM radio, from the power suppies. It’s not just Washlet; it’s everywhere from the laptop computers to the LED ceiling lamps.

Modern power supplies use the technology called switching voltage regulation; the power supply acts as a high-frequency automatic switch to control the energy flowing into itself,and sends the energy to the devices. The output voltage is controlled by the ratio of the periods of turning the switch on and off. The switch is rapidly controlled to maintain the stable output voltage in the frequency of many hundred thousands times per second. This rapid-switching technology is essential to maintain high power conversion efficiency and low power loss, which cannot be achieved by the legacy power regulation technology called series voltage regulation, which does not use the rapid and abrupt switching, but generates considerably more heat and is much less efficient energy-wise for continuous voltage regulation.

Unfortunately, power switching causes generation of strong electromagnetic noise of the very wide spectrum, and the switching frequency itself is close to the one for the AM radio. The first switching power supply I saw was that built into Apple II computer in 1979. It was large, but still much smaller than the equivalent legacy series-regulated one. I immediately noticed that the sound coming out from the radio near the Apple II suggested how the CPU was working; computers then were not shielded well. I could also hear the power switching sound, emitted from the small voltage transformer inside.

The switching voltage regulation technology is so pervasive that now I see virtually all digital device around me are attached to the switching power supplies; the USB wall warts, laptop PC AC adapters, and the units built into various appliances from computers and even to the commercial and amateur radio transceivers, for more efficiency with less energy consumption. Reverting back to the age of series voltage regulation is simply impractical; no one will want to carry around a power supply which weighs many kilograms for a small laptop or a smartphone.


Modern radio modulation schemes are robust against various sources of noise. AM radio uses the voltage level, or the amplitude, of the airwaves to carry the information, and there’s no effective way to prevent the noise coming into the received signal. On the other hand, FM radio, whose FM stands for the Frequency Modulation, uses the pitch or frequency of the airwaves to carry the information, and the level of the signal is irrelevant unless it is very weak. So FM radio is more robust against the airwave noise than the AM radio and far less affected by the digital devices such as computers.

Then why don’t we convert or migrate from AM radio to FM radio? FM radio consumes much wider frequency spectrum to broadcast, and much higher frequency to broadcast about a hundred times of the AM radio (88~108MHz in most parts of the world; in Japan it’s 76~90MHz). Airwaves of that frequency range cannot use the ionospheric propagation, so FM radio stations do not reach as farther as AM radio stations do, and require considerably higher cost for the simultaneous nationwide coverage.

Let us get back to the original question: can we stick to the AM radio for direct broadcasting to indoor radio receivers, even under the condition that the number of devices emitting noise will be continuously increasing? My answer is no. AM radio will still be useful for serving outdoor and rural area listeners, and in case of disasters and emergencies, because the receiver cost is relatively low. For the urban areas, however, people will no longer be able to listen to the AM radio in adequate quality without erecting the external antennas; conversion or migration to the FM radio will be a practical and feasible plan.

Note that the AM-to-FM conversion is nothing new, especially for people in North America; many stations there have AM and FM simulcasting stations. And in Japan, especially on a coverage of important events, simulcasting between AM, FM and TV stations is frequently conducted. I am talking about the conversion, however, simply from the listening quality perspective, under the noise-bombarded radio spectrum environment in modern houses and buildings.

I’d like to propose providing simulcast in at least one FM radio channel for each AM radio stations in the urban areas. I think this is one of the most practical way to raise the listening quality of radio programs.


Note 1: some may claim internet radio stations will completely substitute the radio services over airwaves. I do not buy that idea because internet radio stations usually suffer a lot of delay of tens of seconds, which renders them useless for emergency or disaster warnings, unless another dedicated side channel is provided.

Note 2: some other people will also claim FM radio is very hard to listen to without an external antenna, which is unfortunately true. I think listening to the FM radio of quality sound is still much easier than to the AM radio based on my experience; FM radio antenna is smaller and less prone to electromagnetic noise inside the house, and is easier to erect.

Exported from Medium on August 7, 2013.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Professors in the wasteland

(Photo: Wasteland by Denis Defreyne)

Becoming a professor no longer guarantees academic freedom

I had been a non-tenure professor of Kyoto University from April 2010 to January 2013. The life was unfortunately not so happy one, and I’ve already written a part of my story as a blog article. In this essay I’ll write about another part of the story.

My father Tsuneji Rikitake was a prestigious professor. He devoted his life for the geophysics and seismic research. He also went abroad to study Earthquakes, in Turkey, Canada, and at University of Colorado Boulder. He officially retired in 1991 when he became 70 years old. I owe him a lot on getting myself familiarized with mathematics, physics, and computers, from an early stage of my life. I often thought I would like to become a “professor” if I could in my childhood.

My expectation on the academic lifestyle, however, was shattered during my life at University of Tokyo from 1984 to 1990. I was quite disappointed with the huge bureaucracy prevailing in the organization; one of the example of the inefficiency was the university had two trans-Pacific TCP/IP links already in 1988, though the one was only for some dedicated science research projects which ordinary students including me at that time was not permitted to use at all. And you had to show up to the lab even if you could telecommute with the terminals and modems. I was so disillusioned and decided to leave the university after barely getting a degree of Master of Engineering.

I’ve seen a lot of unhappy people in the academics too. Many of them suffered (and still suffer) a long period of years even after getting the PhD as Joshu (or now Jokyo), the words which stand for the educational staff who have no budget privilege by themselves and have to obey the commandments of Koushi (or the lecturers), Jokyoju (or now Junkyoju), and Kyoju. It’s more like the military; Koushi and Junkyoju professors are with some budget privileges, but still under the control of their bosses aka the Kyoju (full professor).

Even in 1989 I thought those Joshu/Jokyo people were not really well respected because many of them often had to work overtime to help the private part of lives of the Koushi, Junkyoju or Kyoju, of higher-ranked members. I know at least a couple of people who got sick and tired of this near-slavery treatment against Josyu and got permanently left from the academic society and got successful life in the business world. So I didn’t want to take a job as a postdoc with Josyu (now Jokyo) position. I thought I would rather want to be a software engineer working for a corporation, under a proper governance abiding the labor laws and the corporate policies and procedures.

When I decided to take a job offer as a non-tenured time-limited (max 4.5 years) professor or Kyoju of Kyoto University, my primary assignment was far different from the one which my father would have taken; I was expected to work at least 70% of the “working effort rate” (I still don’t understand what this actually means) as an administrative work of the university. I was not allowed to take my own student or perform educational activities except for doing my own research. And the job offer statement even included that the candidate accepted the job would be reassigned as a full-time administrative staff. This was a terrible condition comparing to the other Kyoju people who were only doing the research activities. I didn’t have much choice though, because my employment contract was due March 31, 2010, and there was no other offer available at that time.

I was lured by the illusion of becoming a full professor, even without tenure. I could be something like my dad. At least people would call me so.

I made a terrible mistake.

Eventually I realized the hard cold fact of working as a pseudo-research professor. My position was in continuous professional and bureaucratic limbo; I was neither a full administrative staff nor an educational staff. I was physically alone even during the lunch hours; I intentionally or unintentionally had the lunches alone. Very few people talked to me for something other than work-related issues. I had some financial freedom of my own research budget (within the 30% working effort rate hours), and people were polite, but I realized I was working in somewhere which I least wanted to be.

What I saw in the year 2010 was a wasteland with the corpses of poor soldiers virtually (or some even actually) deceased due to the worst workplace condition or systematic bullying towards newcomers. And that was the scene exactly I had seen during my early years of life in 1989.

I see quite a few articles on Medium and elsewhere about staying out of the graduate school by all means and not taking the academic postdoc jobs even if you could endure all the burdens of becoming a PhD. Reading the itself will let you understand how the life of the graduate school is surreal and unbearable without a lot of humor (though I’ve never been a professor like this person.) And I have to warn you that things are always getting worse and worse every year. The workplace condition in the universities (at least in Japan but maybe also in many other places of the world) are no longer bareable if you want to be treated as a real person.

At the University of Tokyo, my father became a Josyu in 1942, Jokyoju in 1949, and Kyoju or a full professor in 1962. Maybe the 50 years of time changed the whole academic landscape, from a fertile source of the joy of research and education, to the wasteland of cheap labor provided by second-class newcomers for feeding the old landlords.

Exported from Medium on July 17, 2013 / updated on July 25, 2013.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Setup

(Photo: Kenji Rikitake, taken by himself, at his home workstation, 30-MAY-2013, while watching Joe Armstrong's article of The Setup)

Disclaimer: this post has been inspired by the following website: The Setup.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Kenji Rikitake, network and software engineer. I'm a developer at Basho Japan KK, a group company of Basho Technologies, since February 2013. People expect me to write Erlang code and I like doing it, but I also write programs in C, Python, and other languages, documents, corporate blog articles, and doing almost everything I can to help my coworkers, and of course for helping our customers and friends.

I've been working on computer networking, internet, and the distributed systems since 1988, from VAX/VMS SMGRTL screen management library development, to the campus network security management as a full professor at Kyoto University. I decided to get back to where the action is on November 2012, when I experienced a mental breakdown, after spending 12 years at the research and academic ivory towers. I became a professor dropout spending unrewarded time of 2-year-and-10-month non-tenured full professor from April 2010 to January 2013.

I am also an amateur radio enthusiast and electronic device builder since 1976. My Twitter handle @jj1bdx is the Japanese primary callsign. I also have the US FCC amateur radio license with the callsign N6BDX. Morse code telegraphy and shortwave long-distance contacts (DXing) are my favorites, and I'm also interested in digital radio communications technologies, as I did in the late 1980s with UHF TCP/IP links.

What hardware do you use?

Since February 2013, Apple MacBook Air 11" on the move and Mac Mini at home, both with SSD, are my workstations. Before then I hadn't owned any Apple Macintosh computer since 1980 for myself. My first computer was Apple ][ in 1979 which I abandoned in 1982; I now realize many things have changed. I have even bought an Apple TV for my living room display and it's quite entertaining.

I've been solely using PFU's Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) and the family products since 1997. Prof. Eiiti Wada, who was my advisor when I barely got out of University of Tokyo Graduate School of Computer Engineering, designed the keyboard. Currently I use both HHKB Pro and HHKB Pro 2. I'm a conservative guy and still stick to my Logitech/Logicool Anywhere MX wireless mice, both on the move and at home, while I'm quite satisfied with MacBook Air's trackpad with a click.

Recent addition to my desk is Ergotron's Workfit-S Sit-Stand Workstation, combined with EIZO EV2436W 1920x1200 pixel monitor. Being able to work both on standing and sitting positions, with adjustable keyboard and display heights, makes my legs and shoulders much confortable and reduces a lot of stress. While this desk attachment is not the perfect solution, this is definitely worth trying. I also add a small Home Erecta metal rack to change a sitting desk to a standing writing desk; this is also good when you want to write on a paper at the standing position.

I still have Windows 7 and Ubuntu 13.04 dual-OS notebook client PC, which was the main workstation before I joined Basho. For the software experiments and development of both work and play, I rely on FreeBSD PCs since 1990s; now I run two 9-STABLE machines. I've got rid of tower PCs, and the recent Intel DC3217IYE micro desktop is working smoothly with the FreeBSD OS.

I'm not an audiophile fanatic, but I like good sounds and music. Styleaudio's CARAT-PERIDOT is one of my favorite USB headphone amplifiers. AKG K240 Studio is so far the finest headphones I mostly use at home, with a custom cable from Oyaide in Akihabara. I also use Sennheiser HD580 and Etymotic Research ER-4P. My spouse Kyoko wants to play her Super-Audio CD (SACD) disks, so I also set up a Pioneer D6 SACD player at our living room. Mackie 1202-VLZ3 is also one of my favorite audio mixers.

While on the move, a 6th gen iPod Nano, and Audio-Technica ATH-CKS90NC noise-cancelling earphones (available only from Japan) are the must, both in the airplanes and train cars. Recently I start storing music without compression, that is, with plain WAV files. The sound has got far better than those encoded in 320kbps MP3. I was carrying around a CD Walkman in 1987, and technology has made a lot of progress.

On amateur radio, ICOM IC-7200 has been my favorite shortwave transceiver, rock-solid to stably pump out 100W to the antenna. I also use Idiom Press K-5 keyer for sending Morse Code with the paddles. I sometime hand-send the code with a Czech Morse Straight Key made in 1950s. I only use a temporary antenna system at the balcony of my house, with a 6.5m-length vertical telescopic fiber pole with the antenna wire attached, and ICOM AH-4 antenna tuner. I can still work the six continents and many remote places in the world. The ionosphere is always amazing.

And I also have a Sony Ericsson Android smartphone (but not used as a voice telephone in Japan due to the subscription clumsiness and legal hyper-restriction towards SIM-card-only sales), and a Sony Ericsson feature phone for the carrier au (by KDDI). They have replaced most of the needs for a dedicated camera, but I still have a compact digital camera called Nikon COOLPIX P310.

I like pens, pencils, and papers, too. Moleskine is good, though not so good for writing with fountain pens. LAMY ballpoint pens and fountain pens are very good. Pentel's PRESS MAN 0.9mm mechanical/sharp pencils are robust and my favorite since 1980s, with JIS 2B-grade lead refills.

And what software?

I've been a BSD UNIX fan since 1986. Some of the real BSD-based UNIXes I've used are VAX 4.2/4.3BSD, DEC ULTRIX, SunOS 4, BSD/OS, and FreeBSD. BSD always rocks and rules, especially since AT&T finally loosened up the license for the general public (and accepted what they stole from the Berkeley CSRG team) in 1990s. I really admire FreeBSD core developers and the port maintainers. While I do not register myself as a committer, I still occasionally help maintaining Erlang/OTP port for FreeBSD.

Linux is not bad, and Ubuntu is a nice distro, but I think the kernel is cluttered with too many drivers, though this is inevitable when thinking about how many devices it has to support. And the lack of usable man pages is the primary reason why I don't want to use Linux for programming unless absolutely needed.

I had long been a serious hater of Macintosh computers before Apple decided to introduce Mach/UNIX kernel onto it. I believe Mac OS 9 and older kernels were practically useless for any real-world production systems. And I also had long been a hater of Windows, before the multi-tasking stability was realized in Windows 2000. Having said those rants, I have very little problems on using Windows XP and Windows 7, and Mac OS X Mountain Lion (10.8.3), so long as I don't write native programs on those machines. I intentionally stayed away from Windows Vista and I'm very happy I didn't have to touch it at all. And I will not touch Windows 8 either, because Mac and the OS X look much better as a desktop.

I still have some nostalgia towards OpenVMS, which has a very consistent and rigid command line interface and internal system service architecture. I would get one if Hewlett-Packard would make it an Open Source operating system, which I also believe what would never happen.

About editors, I use both vim and Emacs. I don't want to commit to the meaningless wars of editor preferences. Currently I don't use other dedicated programming editors, though for writing this article, I solely use a web application called Writebox, which is nicely designed to avoid distraction as possible. Windows' Notepad is not bad either, provided choosing the appropriate font and screen size.

For Japanese input system, I solely use SKK, since 1990s. OS X has AquaSKK, and Windows has SKKIME. Emacs has DDSKK, and vim has skk.vim. Until recently I was using EUC/Japanese for the internal encoding system; I decided to convert to UTF-8 finally after I decided to leave Kyoto University on November 2012.

On web browsers and services: Chrome is almost always used at any time on OS X, Windows, and Ubuntu. Or even Chromium on FreeBSD if needed. Diigo has been my primary bookmarking service. GitHub is extensively used for both work and play. Also Google Drive, Calendar, and Mail, though I still maintain a primitive mail processing environment at home. Recently I'm using Feedly as an RSS reader. Music services: Soma FM and SoundCloud. (YouTube and the Amazon sites are intentionally excluded from this list :))

Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) are necessary evil. I install them on my Windows 7 machine and the Macs. I believe you cannot substitute by non-MS products, if you have to deal with the Japanese governmental agencies and large corporations, who are solely dependent on the MS products (and know virtually nothing about anything else.)

I still feel LaTeX does much better than MS Word.

Apple stuff: iTunes is not bad, especially for OS X. Keynote looks very good and easy to use.

Adobe stuff: Acrobat is installed on my Windows 7 machine, to proofread/check the PDF document structure and embedded fonts. I once used to play around with the Photoshop Elements, but now I feel OS X's Preview software is enough for playing around with the photo files.

Social services: Twitter: @jj1bdx - no need to explain, isn't it? Tweetdeck is also nice. I quit Facebook and LinkedIn because those two services were too socially demanding (and attracting too many spammers.) HipChat and Yammer are two nice things at work, and I feel those services should be outsourced as much as possible, because the providers are almost always doing better than us. And about blogging: Blogger and Tumblr.

Finally on programming languages and environment: Erlang/OTP for the obvious reason - Riak runs on it. kerl is a good stuff to switch between different Erlang/OTP execution environments. Python (with virtualenvwrapper), Perl, and awk are my favorites too. And of course, C, for fixing the FreeBSD kernel code. Programming tools: rebar, git, make, and other trivial ones (e.g., GNU Autotools). Shells: /bin/sh (NO bash assumption please though I use it too) and zsh.

What would be your dream setup?

Systems that don't need regular human intervention for maintenance. Period.

Frankly speaking, I don't want to provide unpaid support or even paid support regardless of the price, especially to my spouse Kyoko, and other relatives, for broken computer and electronic systems. It takes too much time, very interruptive and distracting, and it is indeed a very stressful work. Of course this doesn't mean I want to leave them alone in panic - I want to help them, but doing so simply makes me weary. I believe the supplier and vendor of those products should also take the responsibility to build the systems self-recover, self-restart and self-fix, at least for the software.

While I'm OK with fixing systems and I think I like doing so by referring to my professional records of being a system administrator for more than 20 years, most of the so-called appliances are quite badly designed and have to have a lot of insider skills and expertise just to use them, let alone to fix them.

I believe in the hacker movement and I think hackers should be well respected in the society and that the status quo is quite against the well-behaved hackers by assuming all hackers are malicious which is absolutely incorrect, but this does not mean everybody has to be assumed to have necessary skills to repair a broken machine or system. Risk dumping of technologies or incomplete systems towards users by the manufacturers is not an ethically right thing to do.

I hope Erlang/OTP and the philosophy/perspectives on the general programming will make the world a better place, for building a robust system, not only for the servers but all software-based products.

On amateur radio: I want to have an unlimited time and access to a legal-limit transmission system and a broadcasting-station-grade shortwave antenna, at a place with the least man-made noise. I want to listen to my voice bounced back from the moon too.

About my disability: I've lost my right eye's lens for more than 30 years. I wish I can connect the mostly-working retina of my right eye to the computers so that I don't have to tolerate the optical blurriness. The Google Glass in May 2013 is not enough yet. And I hope things will get better soon.

Update: Fixing typo and adding product URLs (last update 1-JUN-2013)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Marunage - a dark side of omakase

If Rails is omakase, Japanese construction and IT projects are marunage.

When I first heard about the popular readout and the written article of Rails is Omakase, I immediately thought about another common Japanese word called marunage 丸投げ (pronounced mah-rue-nah-gay), which literally means passing everything onto someone else and completely getting rid of the things which you passed onto.

The actual usage of the word marunage is more vicious and exploiting; large corporations and government organizations often do the marunage to their contractors. When you do the marunage of a project, it means you are getting rid of all the responsibilities and liabilities from the project and letting someone else take care of the mess and the aftermath. In this sense, marunage is a form of risk dumping, or simply a bad form of delegation. The analogy of marunage is also quite common for the national projects. For example, the ministries do the marunage to the research subsidiaries.

I believe the word marunage originally comes from the construction industry, which is very popular in Japan for multi-level delegation from a large general contractor aka zenekon ゼネコン (pronounced zeh-neh-con) to the smaller and powerless contractors aka shitauke 下請け (pronounced shi-tah-ooh-keh). The business model here is that the shitauke companies do the most if not all the actual tasks, and the zenecon does little things other than taking brokerage fees. Multi-level sub-contracts are also popular; for example, in Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant cleanup project after the meltdown incident on March 2011, ten levels of sub-contracts were revealed.

The mindset of zenekons enslaving the shitauke companies is also common in IT industry in Japan. The IT zenekons, also known as shisutemu integureitaa ("systems integrator" aka "SIer"), have been historically accused of making questionable practices on winning large-scale project contract bids, such as winning a contract by proposing unrealistically budget. For example, in 1989, there was a case of major SIer repetitively tried to win bids by proposing one (1) yen (JPY) as the budget for a whole project of municipal governmental systems. Also, those large SIers or IT zenekons maintain strong relationships with the large-scale customers, and gain profits by doing the marunage of the projects to the shitauke companies. I won't dig deeper in this dark side of Japanese IT history here, but you may find many similar cases.

Getting back to the definition of marunage, I believe that the mindset of marunage represents the feverish risk-aversion towards everything among Japanese people. Still many if not most workers in Japan think a single failure means the professional death which cannot be recovered later, and the legal and economic systems are very harsh against people who have the failure records, for example, a bankruptcy. This kind of culture forces the decision makers to do the marunage to avoid risks. And I see the culture of marunage shows how Japan is more and more closely like the former Soviet Union, one of the most bureaucratic and stagnated nations, disbanded by the economic failure.

So when you hear about marunage, you've got to be very careful; don't become the victim, and try your best to avoid becoming an oppressor by doing the marunage to the powerless subordinates, colleagues, coworkers, or even your family members or bosses.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Computing with only one eye

My right eye has not been really functioning since 1982, when I was 17.

I wore cataract first in May 1982 while I frequently hit my right eye due to the strong itchiness caused by chronic skin allergy. Eventually I lost my sight from the right eye, and after a few eye check the retina detachment was discovered. I was immediately thrown into a hospital room, locked onto the bed with keeping my face up against the gravity (so that the gravitational force helped preventing further detachment) for three weeks, in June 1982. It was an awful experience for a young teenage boy.

I had to have another surgery on September 1982 because of the unfixed detachment again. Later I had another surgery to fix the squint in 1983, caused by the previous surgeries. And finally in March 1986, the swollen and white-colored lens cell (yes, the lens is a single cell) which had lost the transparency in my right eye finally got taken away.

Fortunately, the retina (not the Apple's high-resolution display) in my right eye is mostly functioning OK, though I really can't read anything with it, and I can no longer accurately identify the 3D depth any more. I usually ignore the sight coming from my right eye other than the level of the light.

I've been with the usability problem caused by the broken right eye for many years, long before I started professional programming. Fortunately I've learned how things get large and small when their distance changes, so I can sway to avoid getting hit from most of the things. I still can enjoy 3D movies, though I won't accurately focus anymore.

Things coming towards me from the right side, however, are hard to recognize. I've stopped operating any vehicles including bicycles; I don't have a driver's license either. You don't want to get into a trouble which you can easily expect, especially where the driver's seat is on the left side of the car, like in the USA or Canada. Japan is not, but that doesn't alleviate the problem.

During the age of 80x25 character terminals when DEC VT100 or VT220 terminals were popular in 1980s, my right eye disability didn't cause much trouble, because the whole screen fit very well in the visual space I could recognize. Even in the age of where 14" or 17" CRT or LCD displays, where the default aspect radio was 4:3 or 5:4, I didn't have much problem. I've written a lot of document and many pieces of code; fortunately none of them mandated me to tackle the three-dimensional loss of perception.

I have a few problems regarding my sight disability since the beginning of the 21st century, unfortunately. One of them is the color design; most web sites choose white as the background color, which interferes the black foreground characters I read. I try to choose darker background colors and brighter foreground colors as possible, but not all web applications allow to do so.

Another one of the 21st century problems is the change of default aspect ratio of the screen to 16:9; this is too wide for my rather narrow sight space. If you are watching a movie this wouldn't be a problem. I welcome high-resolution displays with crispier pixels and accurate positions. But when you write a text, this will be a serious problem, because you can't see everything at once. I always choose narrower horizontal size to keep the screen in my left eye's sight range.

So far I can manage the environmental change of computing in the past 31 years. I expect, however, the future computing models, including those require wearing glasses or assume three-dimensional recognition ability, may eventually reject me from the cutting edge of computing. Maybe I can ask Google to make a special Google Glass to compensate the loss of my right eye's lens and focus directly into my right eye's retina, with proper size adjustment so that I can see the things in two eyes again.

And I can assure everyone that you can write the code with sight disabilities; I know a professional programmer who has completely lost the sight too.

(Thanks Tyler Hannan, who suggested me to write this. I had been hesitating to write about my weakness on the web, but I thought this would be helpful to others.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I've joined Basho Japan from February 2013

I've started my new career as a Senior Software Engineer at Basho Japan KK, a 100% subsidiary of Basho Technologies, Inc., effective 1-FEB-2013. I'm very happy that my colleagues are all very much supportive for my startup as a new developer. I will try my best to catch up the lean software development process and to get the most out of both the elementary and advanced technologies for contributing to the company.

Basho is a wolf pack of the bleeding-edge Erlang/OTP and distributed system engineers, who have made Riak as an open source standard of highly-distributed and fault-tolerant databases. Catching up with the skilled engineers is a really tough job, but it's also very exciting to take the new challenges for making the actual software products to the customers. This is completely different from what I've experienced in the past 12 years as an academic/government researcher.

Basho's customers have a lot of demands for Riak already, and the company including myself has to meet the expectation while shipping the products on time and maintaining the high product standard. I will contribute my 22-year skills of network engineer, sysadmin, and an OS developer to the software development process, in the most effective way.

My participation to Erlang/OTP activities and ACM Erlang Workshop will remain the same.

So stay tuned for my pull requests and pieces of code!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lost in transportation

I will resign from my full professor position at Kyoto University. The employment contract will terminate by 31-JAN-2013.

I've got killed by commuting, again. Yes, again. I should have learned from my past dreadful experience from 1990 to 1992. I know regular long-distance commuting is hazardous to my health. And being forced to synchronously work with other people from 9am to 5pm simply does not work for me. But I had to take the job for my paycheck, because no other practical job offer was available on Spring 2010. And I have to admit that I did not survive the tough working condition.

I was taking a sick leave from November 2012 to January 2013. I got mentally crashed due to chronic and accumulated fatigue, presumably caused by spending nearly four hours every day during commuting from home. Fortunately at the end of January 2013 my mental and physical health conditions have been back to the normal ones, but at the end of October 2012 I was very weak and mentally disorganized.

I once experienced a similar situation of chronic fatigue when I was working in Tokyo, commuting to a Yokohama office, with four train line transits every day, taking nearly two hours for each direction, from 1990 to 1992. I was young enough to tough it out for two years, but I collapsed on Autumn 1991. I had to quit the job on April 1992.

Commuting from Northern Osaka including Toyonaka to Kyoto is relatively less stressful than commuting from Setagaya in Tokyo to Hodogaya in Yokohama. It takes three train lines for each direction, much less crowded than that of Tokyo. I have to walk a lot though in Kyoto and Osaka, so the time I have to consume is approximately two hours for each direction, virtually the same as the one I experienced in Tokyo.

I tried to reduce commuting by doing my job from home, but the nature of my missions eventually changed to mandate daily commuting, and my physical and mental health conditions got deteriorated. What was worse was that I also had to work from home. I was simply spending too much time on my working hours, and in the end my productivity turned into nil.

I took my personal records of working hours spent on each task at the workplace simply for my own curiousity, measured by the unit of Pomodori, which is plural of Pomodoro. Each Pomodoro in my case means 30 minutes. I take this definition of Pomodoro/Pomodori from a popular book called Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, by Steffan Nöteberg. Note that Steffan suggests that you have to take at least a five-minute break for each Pomodoro, which takes 25 minutes. This is unfortunately virtually impossible in the corporate life.

I think the worst time wasting events at the workplace were regular meetings. Many of the meetings take at least two Pomodori, and some of them even take six or more, which means three hours or more. Locked onto a chair for such a long time without a break makes you feel very sick, and will surely hurt your back. I also have to write that commuting only for attending face-to-face meetings is simply a waste of time and the physical energy. And I've found that for many days I had to work more than 20 Pomodori at the workplace, which suggested lower productivity.

I think allowing telecommuting, teleworking, working from home, or whatever frees the employees or managers from the physical office or being forcefully bound onto an unnecessary face-to-face meeting, is a must for a modern organization to boost the productivity of each organizational member. Some people may argue this is not for everyone, but I strongly believe this option should be available for all people, unless the person deliberately want to dedicate a fixed window of time to a fixed place with prior consent. I also think that the number of meetings should be minimized, and that the time spent on the dedicated meetings should be kept as small as possible.

I understand that occasional or sometime less frequent (for example per month or bi-weekly) business trips will be necessary, and I usually accept them. Face-to-face meetings are indeed necessary for some decision makers, which I also consider logical. But I think daily long-distance (more than 30 minutes or even one hour) commuting should not be used as a piece of litmus paper test of the royalty to an organization.

Unfortunately people at most of the organizations in Japan still think physical commuting and daily or weekly face-to-face meetings are critical and mandatory, and that there's no other way. I think this sort of thinking will no longer work well, regarding the increasing population density and train network failure rate, especially in Tokyo and the Kanto plain, and also in Osaka/Kansai, Nagoya, and less crowded regions. And people in Japan are now struggling to allocate their scarce resource of time to taking care of their family members, of their children, or of their elderly parents, which no one else will take it as the primary role. The time and physical energy management gets even more important for each individual than ever.

So I've decided to choose another way of living, before getting lost in transportation. Getting back to the days of working from home and telecommuting/teleworking is nothing new to me, because that's what I've done from 1992 to 2010. Leaving the career track of academic research is sad. But I need to live and survive. And I want to use my time and physical energy wisely. I'll take this new challenge again.

Update 7-JUL-2013: A followup post is here in Medium.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Coming change in 2013

(Photo by Kenji Rikitake, with a book cover of "Concurrent Programming in Erlang", which is an on-demand printed version via

I've been away from this blog for quite a long time. This will be a short entry, though I'm writing this to make a mark at the beginning of the year 2013.

I'll be on a big transition in this year 2013. I'll write about the details when available. I can promise that I'll keep focusing on Erlang/OTP and distributed systems, as I have been for the past 5 years. Stay tuned for the details.

Lots of things happened last year. A good news is that I joined the 11th ACM SIGPLAN Erlang Workshop held at Copenhagen on September 2012. Meeting a lot of great people and nice friends there was a precious experience.

A bad news is that I have been taking a long sick leave since November 2012. I will write about the details later when I feel I should, but for the time being I can only conclude that a long-distance commuting literally killed me again, as it had done during 1990 to 1992. I definitely have to change my lifestyle.

On new year's resolution: I won't declare it this year, because I need to drastically restructure my professional life anyway. Of course I've got to get myself into a good shape. And I need to spend more time on code writing and development, which I could not for the past three years.

I hope things will work out in a good way this year; it's a year of Snake in Japanese/Chinese 12-year holoscope, and it's my year too.