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Category: Personal

Realizing Why I’m Doing What I’m Doing

This week I was back in my hometown Shiga, where I usually spend Obon break (お盆休み, aka Buddhist vacation) with my family every year.

Since my grandmother just passed away a couple of weeks ago, it was natural for my family members to talk about how she lived 95 years of her life.

My family background is a little bit complicated. I have 3 grandmothers, 2 biologically related and 1 non-related, and 2 grandfathers. I met all of them when I was a child but it was too difficult for me to understand why there are more than 4 grandparents in my family back then.

I never heard of the complete story about how she met my grandfather so it was a good opportunity for me to listen to her whole life story. Thanks to my dad for digging the story at the last moment she passed away.

In 1943 when my grandmother was 19 years old,  she was sent to Dong’an First Army Hospital near the Russian border (called Soviet at that time) as a rescue team member together with 23 nurses of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

On August 9th, 1945, Russia declared war against Japan. While thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed due to the attack by tank and fighter machine gun sweep, she took an escape route from Dong’an to Dunhua which she was told the only secure route. To avoid exposure to Russian soldiers, she had to move during night time only and she kept moving on foot for 2 months.

She and other nurses had their head shaved, painted their face with Chinese ink (墨, which is sort of mud), and made them look like a man soldier. They kept running away in the mountain with military doctors, medics, army nurses, red cross nurses and about 100 patients who were injured.

During the escape, she caught typhus and had a near-death experience. The person who took care of her was my grandfather. He was serving as a medic during the war.

Later they found that Japan was defeated, and became hostages of Russia. They were sent to different prisoner’s camps many times, transferred to Eighth Route Army (八路軍, Group of the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China) and forced to work at the hospitals while looking for an opportunity to go back to Japan.

In November 1946, my grandmother and grandfather came back to Japan. Luckily, they did not die. They got married and my father was born.

Below items were discovered when organizing my grandmother’s belongings. These are the photos of the nurses sent to the battlefield and handwritten notes about the entire rescue team activities, including the escaping part.

Long story short, my father is a by-product of the war in a sense so am I. Without war, my grandmother and grandfather never met and I don’t exist today.

I have lots of relatives who work in the medical field. I did not choose to be a doctor, but here I am. Instead, I studied computer science and now running a startup that provides AI for doctors and hospitals.

If there is something that interests you unconsciously, maybe it’s part of your family history.

Power of GPU: 20 Years Ago and Now

When I got my first job at Sony, I was assigned to work on the graphics library development of PlayStation2 gaming system.

My job at that time consisted of writing code with assembly-like programming language called microcode, packing that code together with polygon and texture data, sending them to Vector Units (aka GPU) via DMA, and letting GPU do the rest of work while minimizing involvement of CPU.

I had to adopt every technical tweak in order to get the best performance and achieve the highest frame rate out of that gaming machine and GPU. That’s simply because the library was intended to be used by so many developers that make blockbuster game titles and they relied on it.

Time passes and now GPU is used for more generic purposes including computation of neural network. If I were a software engineer who just graduated from university today, I would jump straight into the world of neural-network-on-chip bandwagon without thinking much.

I didn’t realize that my knowledge and experience of GPU programming had to do anything with AI back then. I believe NVIDIA didn’t realize it neither.

To me, it’s quite interesting to see young software engineers learning how to write code against GPU without CUDA these days, especially ones trying to use Raspberry Pi as a deep learning accelerator. Special thanks to Broadcom for making its VideoCore specification public.

At the same time, it’s sad to see that Japan is a bit behind of this movement. The country used to host many GPU engineers. We had Sony, Sega and Nintendo. Every gaming system had such a sophisticated graphic library that pulled nearly 100% performance from its GPU.

I cannot stop wondering what if the engineers behind these gaming machines were given a chance to work on today’s neural network chip development. Maybe Japan could be in different position in AI industry by now.

The Best Movie of 2018

Most of my blog posts are about startup and entrepreneurship, but this one is slightly different. Let me introduce my personal best movie of 2018 called ALPHA.

The reason why I liked this movie so much is that it’s a story about father & son, what it takes to be a leader (or losing one), and how a dog (a wolf, ALPHA) became a long lasting human’s companion animal. Somehow I felt it’s about entrepreneurship too.

Without further ado, just watch the trailer below.

A little disclaimer: I have a Miniature Schnauzer at home so this is a definitely another reason to like the movie.

I watched this movie almost by accident while I was on the flight to Germany. Then, I bought a Blu-ray version and had it shipped from United States since the movie is not available via both download and disc here in Japan.

I watched it again at home (with my own dog shitting right next to me), and it still struck at my heart. This is really good movie.

Before this one, Seven Samurai and 300 are the ones that I related with the spirits of entrepreneurship and leadership although they are not exactly made for that purpose. ALPHA is now my new addition to the list.