Tuesday, August 19, 2008

About myself: 1965-2000

This self introduction is a reprint of an article once posted to my own website http://www.k2r.org/kenji/ as a part of my self introduction.

I was born in 1965. I grew up in a Japanese urban community in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. The whole things changed in 1974 when my father decided to go to Boulder, CO, USA for a visiting professor job at Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences of University of Colorado at Boulder.

For the first 6 months of my American life, I didn't speak English at all. We lived there for 15 months, so I was a lousy kid speaking broken English just before when we returned to Japan. I still think the life in the USA was the best of my times. I've never lived abroad since then. I've been keeping up my English proficiency by listening to and watching English-speaking broadcasts, and reading English Web articles.

After coming back to Tokyo, I found out myself I was fatally incompatible with and just way too outspoken than other kids around.The totalitarian and socialist society and elementary schools of Japan did not and still do not accept me. They told and still tell me that I was and I am so-called contaminated with individualism and American way of thoughts. So I had to make a difference to survive.

I didn't have much advantage from the other kids, except for hacking around the radio and audio devices, writing some code on the papers (no desktop PC existed in 1975 in Japan), playing around with electronic circuits, and having no fear for speaking English. I was just a geek. My father Tsuneji bought me a FORTRAN book and a shortwave radio in 1973, the slide rules and electronic calculators in 1974, and a bunch of math books. I learned them mostly by myself.

I went to Musashi high school, a private school well-known for the liberalism. Soon I became a programmer of Apple II in 1979. My programming experience was mostly on 6502 assembly language, 6K Integer Basic, and the GAME programming language. ASCII Magazine bought my GAME-APPLE compiler in 1980 and I earned about JPY200,000 by the sales.During that time I met a lot of talented hackers. Many of them are active in the Japanese Internet R&D scene.

In 1982, my right eye was badly damaged with the retina detachment so I had to stay away from computers. I started to make techno music instead of computer programs, using later well-known techno gears such as TB-303 and TR-909, until 1986. I loved making music, but I didn't feel I belonged to the music industry. I think I made the right decision,after discovering the whole mess of the ripping-off business models.

I went to University of Tokyo in 1984 and there I experienced the harshest part of Japanese career competition. I managed to be accepted by the faculty of Engineering to learn instrumentation physics. I later studied information engineering for my Master's degree. Life in the university was no fun; hanging around with real hackers and real systems were much better.

In 1985 after NTT finally opened up the phone lines to public, I discovered international computer networks and online systems. I soon became an e-mail and BBS junkie. In 1987, I started working with Jeffrey Shapard, who was running an English-speaking system called TWICS, for the VAX/VMS system administration, until 1989. During the TWICS days I met Joichi "Joi" Ito, an English-speaking multi-talented Japanese activist.

Many hackers went for UNIX, BSD, VAX and Sun in 1980s. I was also one of the root-privileged users of a packet-radio UNIX systems, learning vi and hacking with the code. Having an account on an UNIX system was a cool thing. What made my difference was that I ported the UUPC/Extended software package for NEC's PC-9801 computers. It was a version of UUCP software,which performed automatic file exchange and email address relay between computers. And I was a licensed radio amateur (as JJ1BDX since 1976), so I made some gateway software packages linking ham radio TCP/IP mail/NetNews systems and the UUCP-based systems.

In 1990, I joined Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) Japan, to write the core software of VAX/VMS. During that period, I had a chance to exchange messages to many Internet gurus, including Paul Vixie, a DNS guru and Internet leading technologist, who was working for DEC then. It was really nice to learn the philosophy and principles of Internet from those hard-core hackers.

During my 2 years of Digital career, I was struggling with the corporate bureaucrats, and too many overworking and commuting hours which were eventually killing me. I met Kyoko in 1991, and we decided to get together and married. She told me she had a new job in Osaka from April 1992, so I decided to move to Osaka too. I was looking for an Internet job there, and Kazuo Hirono hired me for one of his research team at TDI Co., Ltd., a Japanese software service firm. We started to build a research lab in Kyoto and the lab was operational from 1993 to 2000, also as a part of WIDE Project Kyoto NOC (POP). Hirono-san taught me a lot of things, and he was very tolerate on my rather individualistic and outspoken communication style. (Hirono-san passed away on June 2007. RIP.)

(Originally written in March 2008)