The In-Craig-able Journey

by Ken Rosenberg

Craig and his girlfriend, Tiffany

Craig Harkness, a gaming-production M.S. student in our department, had an epic summer. He visited the Kansai region of Japan, spent a couple of weeks in Taiwan, and went to Los Angeles to assist at an international conference that focuses on graphics and interaction technology.

Golden Buddha at Nara

For about ten days, Craig journeyed through Japan. Starting in Osaka, he then traveled to Nara, where he saw the giant golden Buddha atop the Todai-ji Temple. Then, from Nara to Kobe, where he tried the world-famous Kobe beef, raised in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The cows are raised on special diets; they are also given massages, to help create the renowned marbled texture of the resultant meat – they even play classical music to soothe the animals! Living up to its status as a delicacy, it was “the best beef, hands down, that I’ve ever tasted,” Craig said. At a sake brewery, Craig happily finished his girlfriend Tiffany’s leftover taste-test samples. In Kyoto, he saw some of the ancient parts of the city and visited several temples amidst a backdrop of ravines and bamboo forests. At one temple in particular, Craig guided Tiffany, with her eyes closed, across a series of stones; tradition states that a successful run makes for a happy marriage.

Japanese temple, surrounded by nature.

In Taiwan, most outings revolved around food. “Basically,” Craig explained, “if you go more than half an hour without being offered food, then something is wrong. If you don’t accept, then you’ve done something wrong.” Traditional Taiwanese dishes involve plenty of seafood, including oysters and squid, and many ingredients are boiled. In both Japan and Taiwan, Craig also tried fugu, the infamously-poisonous blowfish that must be properly cooked by a trained expert. Interestingly, though, a bit of residual poison is the mark of a master chef, as it implies control and mastery, leaving “an ever-so-slight numbness in your lips,” Craig said. Even more unconventional were the pig’s feet and tongue. “I ate a lot of things,” Craig said, “that, otherwise, I normally wouldn’t.”

Enter the Dragon…

…Exit the Tiger

Craig went to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and saw the world’s biggest skyscraper, Taipei 101 – so named for its 101 stories. To keep it flexible during earthquakes – and, therefore, still upright – there is a large counterweight inside the building that allows it to sway. He stayed at the Grand Hotel, a famous landmark that used to cater exclusively to dignitaries. At Lotus Lake, he visited the Confucian Temple, as well as the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. On the walls of the path that connects the two pagodas is the story of Buddha.

After a typhoon struck Taiwan and essentially disabled the Taipei airport, Craig almost missed his connection from Japan to L.A. – but, at the last minute, he hopped on a plane after someone on the airline’s helpline told him, “’just get on, we’ll figure it out while you’re in the air.’” They debated sending him through China but, without a visa, he would be turned around at the gate. Finally, as he landed in Tokyo, a representative held up a sign with his name on it. As they walked, he learned that he would be going to Honolulu – leaving him about 14 hours late, not the two or three days of tardiness he anticipated, had he not gotten on that first plane. In Honolulu, he even met someone else bound for the same conference. Craig took a chance and, fortunately, events were agreeable.

SIGGRAPH, or the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, is an annual event held by ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery. Designers, developers, and other tech-minded people from academia and private industry gather as presenters and attendees alike. Craig reprised his years-old role as a volunteer. As one of 22 team leaders, he was responsible for helping to supervise over 300 volunteers; his group, at the reception area, checked in more than 23,000 people over the course of the entire conference. Though it is hard work wrangling that many people, volunteers – particularly the team leaders – earn many cool perks. There is usually a tour around a prolific local studio. This year, they went to Dreamworks’ campus and toured their studios. He also received a couple of deluxe video games, including a copy of Gears of War 3, signed by the development team.

Craig at Dreamworks Studios

The fringe benefits of networking far exceed the immediate tangible benefits, however. It was at his first SIGGRAPH that Craig learned about the industry, decided to go to graduate school, learned about IUB Telecom, and met Tiffany … who took him on a trip to Japan and Taiwan. Craig encourages anyone who is interested to attend. Who knows – it might change your life, too!

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