Whew! I’m back home from Japan and settled back in. What an amazing trip that was! Before it becomes too much of a distant memory, I figured I’d write a wind-down blog post on it.
So late last year, I was invited by Natasha Murashev (Better known as @NatashaTheRobot) on recommendation of my colleague JP Simard, to come and present at a conference she was organizing in Japan for March of 2016. The conference, known as try! Swift was going to be a 3 day conference consisting of a stream of 25 minute talks, specializing in Swift, Apple’s new programming language but also including iOS development in general.
A trip to Japan (one of my favorite places), to hang out with iOS developers and talk about app development (one of my favourite things)? I couldn’t say ‘hell yes’ fast enough!
Since I still consider myself very new to Swift (A lot of my work still involves Objective-C, Apple’s previous language. Like an animal. XD), I elected to do a presentation around Core Animation, the system framework on iOS responsible for basically all of the on-screen graphics. I’ve spent a lot of time playing with different settings and effects with Core Animation while developing iComics so I was relatively confident I might have some little tidbits of information that would be useful to share with others. Additionally… as three quarters of the conference attendees were Japanese, I decided to try delivering the presentation in Japanese as well. No pressure.
The trip to Japan was very relaxing, and some of the views I managed to see from the plane were amazing.
I touched down in Haneda Airport in the early hours of Friday, happy to be back in Japan!
The very first thing I did was go and pick up my rental SIM card. Like I’ve written in many of my previous blogs, I still use JCR Corp for my Japanese 4G data/telephone needs which includes a convenient mail service straight to the airport. Times have changed a little bit since the last time I was in Japan; I ran into some trouble getting my rental SIM to work because it wouldn’t let me input the APN settings for it (The menu just straight up disappeared from Settings.app when I inserted it!). Thankfully JCR Corp provided a solution in the manual they provided me (tl;dr: use http://unlockit.co.nz to install a custom APN profile) that ended up working great in the end. I think I might need to write a new blog post about that.
For my first leg of the trip, I travelled to Kyoto via Shinkansen (The Japanese bullet trains) to catch up with a Perth friend who had moved there for work. This time around, I decided to try out the ‘Green Car’ (First class) option of the Shinkansen. It’s only marginally more than a standard ticket, and it is soooo nice. With larger chairs, THAT ALSO RECLINE as well as a dedicated spot for luggage, it felt like a dream straight after traveling in a plan for 10 hours. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
A photo posted by Tim Oliver (@timoliver) on
I had an absolutely fantastic time in Kyoto. My friend was doing really well, and it was great to visit his company for their monthly gaming meetup. I met a lot of different types of people I totally wasn’t expecting, including a freelance iOS developer, and a visual effects artist from Sydney!
Kyoto itself is incredibly beautiful. Nestled within the hills, with its very traditional architecture, it gives off a much more quiet, relaxing vibe than Tokyo. The weather was also crazy this time of year, staying mostly under 0 degrees Celsius for the entire time I was there. Coming straight out of Perth summer, that was a bit of a shock to the old system.
A photo posted by Tim Oliver (@timoliver) on
While down in the area, I also popped into the Osaka Pokémon Center with my friends to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pokémon, and to pick up the re-releases of the original games!
So, I didn't actually realise until later that today was THE ACTUAL 20th anniversary of Pokémon's original release date. Blimey! As amazing as that is, that also makes me feel SO OLD right now. Happy birthday Pokémon! Here's to another 20 years. Cheers! (P.S Pretty sure Jigglypuff is my spirit guide there. XD)
On the final day, I caught up with some old friends from when I travelled to Japan on behalf of the Australian Government in 2006. We had a great lunch together and reminisced on how quickly time flies (10 years already! XD). After that, we went and checked out a nearby optical illusions mueseum, which was hilarious fun.
After that, it was back to Tokyo! After checking into a hotel in Shinagawa, I started meeting up with a lot of the other attendees and other presenters! I had been a long time follower on Twitter of a lot of the other presenters, so it was an absolutely awesome feeling to actually meet them in person. The day before the conference, a group of us met up and climbed Roppongi Hills to watch the sunset over Tokyo:
I definitely have to say, watching the sun set over Tokyo was definitely one of the highlights of my year so far. That was absolutely stunning.
The next day was the first day of try! Swift. After only catching some random tweets and Slack messages, I didn’t have a proper idea of what it was going to look like. When I stepped through the doors, I was absolutely blown away.
The conference was being held in the seminar room of CyberAgent Inc, located right next to Shibuya station. While I’d heard the number of attendees was around 500, I still wasn’t properly fathoming HOW MANY PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY WAS until I saw the seat layout. Absolutely epic!
The structure of the conference was very straightforward. There was a single-track of presentations, each one 25 minutes long. Each attendee was given a ‘receiver’ device, in which during each presentation, a team of interpreters in the back of the room would provide a live translation between Japanese and English depending on the speaker. The emcee of the event was my colleague Katsumi Kishikawa who did a fantastic job in managing the flow of the conference and performing announcments in both English and Japanese. To keep everything running smoothly, after their presentation, each speaker would move to a separate room where they could handle Q&A with a dedicated interpreter present. The logistics that went into everything behind this conference was mind-boggling.
The talks were all fascniating, all including a variety of topics, not just encompassing writing code in Swift, but the entire build process for creating great apps for iOS. In the morning of the first day, my colleague JP presented on his research on compiling Swift on other platforms beyond OS X and iOS.
In the middle of the day, I met and hung out with a few of my Twitter heroes.
— Novall Khan (@novallkhan) March 3, 2016
The rest of the first day was a blur for me. I was going to present my talk in the middle of the afternoon. While I’ve done quite a few presentations before (Including several in Japanese in the past), this was easily the most nervous I’d ever been, on account of both the complexity of the content and the number of people I was talking to. To say I was nervous as hell was an understatment.
The process for presenting from the backstage perspective was very interesting. Each presenter went to a meeting room before their presentation where they had a 30 minute consultation with the interpreters. Here the interpreters would bring out a copy of your slides and transcript and ask for clarification on any particular words or phrases they didn’t quite understand. The goal wasn’t to have an absolute 1-to-1 translation of what you were planning to say, but to have a ‘general gist’ of what you were thinking of saying at hand to make their work easier. Seriously, I have a mad level of respect for people in the interpreting industry. It’s a skill unlike no ever. Even if you’re completelyt bilingual, it’s still something that requires a lot of training and experience.
In any case, I went out there and delivered my presentation in Japanese as best as I could, and hoped like hell it would actually make sense. Most thankfully, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Twitter lit up with people talking about all of the new things they learned from my talk, and many people also tweeted at me asking additional questions.
Awesome talk by @TimOliverAU on advanced hacks with Core Animation!
Currently reverse engineering the lock screen! pic.twitter.com/4FVup8NvYZ
— Adam Bell (@b3ll) March 2, 2016
— Natasha Godwin (@natashasgodwin) March 2, 2016
— JP Simard (@simjp) March 2, 2016
Also judging from the tweets, the ‘spectacle’ of a caucasian person speaking Japanese was apparently VERY entertaining.
— Phill Farrugia (@phillfarrugia) March 2, 2016
— NatashaTheRobot (@NatashaTheRobot) March 2, 2016
@TimOliverAU I think she’s having trouble understanding you
— Sean Woodhouse (@seanwoodhouse) March 2, 2016
In any case, I’m really REALLY happy that the talk went down well and I heard from so many people that they learned something new out of it.
With my talk out of the way, I enjoyed the hell out of the rest of try! Swift. The content and the people I talked to were absolutely fascinating, and I managed to take away a whole bunch of useful information for my work with both Realm and iComics.
One of the other major ‘highlights’ was that one of the other presenters referenced my talk in their own presentation, but forgot my name and called me Tom instead. And that somehow stuck and became a meme for the rest of the time.
— Tim Oliver (@TimOliverAU) March 3, 2016
On the second night, I attended a joint dinner between the sponsors and the presenters.
Crazily enough, I ran into my old team leader from pixiv at that party! It was great to see him again, and we both totally rocked out at karaoke afterward!
In any case, the conference came to a close way too quickly. We had a fanstistic closing talk, and an absolutely jam-packed, but amazing after-party afterwards.
The last few days were then basically spent catching up on all of the stuff I wanted to do in Japan but hadn’t had the time yet.
Having absolutely not lost any momentum for iOS learning, the very next day, I also managed to make it to the Tokyo iOS Meetup, something I wanted to do the last time I was in Japan, but missed out!
Awesomely enough, I managed to get in touch with one of my classmates from when I attended elementary school in Japan in 1996. It was absolutely surreal meeting someone who hadn’t seen in 20 years! We reflected and/or lamented on what the hell has happened in that time.
I FINALLY went and checked out the Gundam statue in Odaiba with some of the other conference folks.
I met up with the man responsible with hooking up my dad with the job that moved us all to Japan in 1996. He was doing well and looking forward to being a grandfather for a second time. Absolutely fantastic to hear.
I went to Akihabara multiple times, of course, and did my usual lap of the main street sussing out discount games and manga in the various second-hand stores.
I popped into the pixiv office. Since my time there, they’d bought a whole second floor and moved my old division to that one, which now looks just as crazy (The Evangelion tables were a nice new addition!)
Popped briefly into the pixiv office to see how everyone's going/wish my former boss a happy birthday. Soooo much has changed since the time I was working there. This was the first time I've seen the new office on the second floor of the building. I also got to hear a little on what's coming up with pixiv's iOS apps. Exciting times ahead!
And JUST before I went home, I did my usual crazy thing of going to a CoCo Ichibanya and ordering the spiciest level on their menu. In hindsight, that was a ridiculously stupid thing to do before jumping on a plane…
And before I even realised it, my trip had come to an end, and I was back at Haneda Airport, ready to head home.
Blimey. And that's my trip to Japan over and done with! What a ridiculously wild week and a half that was! I've never felt so busy in that short amount of time before! It was absolutely fantastic making so many new friends and catching up with old ones. Thanks for everything! Hopefully I can come back again soon! See you in Perth!
The trip was amzing. Holy crap, it was amazing. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been more busy in a single trip to Japan than that before, but it was worth it a thousand times over. I made so many new friends, and I learnt so much more about iOS development that the whole trip was invaluable to both my career and what I love doing in my free time. It was also somewhat ironic that in a single conference trip, I learned more about the iOS scene in Japan than a year living there (Granted, Meetup.com wasn’t a thing in Japan back then so it was harder!).
Words cannot express how grateful I am for that oppurtunity. Absolute mad props need to go to Natasha for setting up the conference, Katsumi for making sure it ran with total perfection and to everyone else who helped make it happen. That was easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.
Would I do it all again? Absolutely. Here’s to try! Swift 2017!