2 days of ideas, hacks, and pufferfish in Tokyo

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | 9:21 PM

I am never one to turn down a trip to Japan. Firstly, because a friend of mine has become entirely dependent on a constantly flowing supply of authentic Pocky (a surprisingly addictive chocolate-covered pretzel snack that I once ate for breakfast every day for 2 weeks). Secondly, because the Japanese developer community has a creativity and energy that both infects and inspires me.

I stopped by Japan on my way back to Australia, for 2 days of Google Wave developer events. I arrived on the first night in a strangely alert jet-lagged state to find myself amidst what they called an "Idea-a-thon". This was basically a pre-party for the hackathon the next day, where groups of developers would brainstorm ideas and then present them. I didn't understand much of what they said, but luckily, they sketched out logos and diagrams on sheets of paper. I saw a Wave/Twitter logo, where the "w" was Wave's "w", and a diagram involving a flow between Eclipse and SVN... enough info to get me excited.

After the idea-a-thon, we all headed upstairs to a real party (beer = party, right?), where a mix of developers and journalists gathered to hear the latest about Google Wave. Ando Yasushi started off the night with an introduction of the APIs, and a demo of his own Animal Chess ("Dobutsu Shogi") gadget (which is now near and dear to my heart, as I was actually able to win the game.. that never happens). I then showed off a series of my favorite demos - using Napkin Gadget to collaboratively draw a demon love-child, AJAX Animator to show my flight across the Pacific, and AmazonBot to aid my purchase of an inflatable castle and a pony (childhood dreams never die). Googler Hiroshi Ichikawa demo'd his own extensions - an HTML5 drawing gadget and a Kanjy robot, and then blazed through a wave of Japanese-created games, like Donpachi, Reversi, Tetris, Tictactoe, and yet another Shogi implementaton. After a few more talks and rounds of beer, we headed home to rest up for a full day of hacking the next day (well, that would have been the plan, if I hadn't sold my soul to the jet lag devil).

Bright and early, at 10am, I kicked off the hackathon with several debugging tips, and presented "Making Wave-y Extensions", a talk about how to make gadgets and robots that take full advantage of the collaborative & real-time experience of Google Wave. For the next 8 hours, the developers dilligently worked together to make their idea come to life, each group huddled around a 30inch monitor.

Finally, my favorite part: demos! The first team showed "Weclipse", a plugin for Eclipse that embedded the Google Wave client as a tab in the IDE, with the hope of making coding more social. In that embedded wave, they also showed a robot that received messages from an Android and posted them as blips. Then, Maripo Goda, author of the Brainstorming gadget and tDiary plug-in, showed her team's project: an end-to-end message translation system. One of her team members is on the Debian JP project, and wanted an extension to expedite translations for the operating system. The extension starts with a gadget that loads in translation files, lets the participants set the translations, and then it commits them to an SVN repository. There have been multiple translation helper extensions created by international developers over the last few months, but this is the first I've seen that tackles the software message translation problem.

Atsushi Nakamura, who also attended the Tokyo Chrome Extensions hackathon the week before, then demo'd his Chrome+Google Wave hack, a bookmarklet which pops down an embedded Wave - "ChroMemo." I can see that being really useful for storing little notes, a to-do list, or a schedule. Ando Yasushi demoed his own prototype of operational transforms - in JavaScript. Well, that's certainly one way of learning how Wave works. :)

My trip ended with a dinner of traditional "Fugu" - pufferfish, cooked (and not cooked) in every way possible: sashimi, grilled, boiled, and my favorite: deep fried. I learnt over dinner that a dish of pufferfish can cause instantaneous death, if the internal organs aren't plucked out properly. Well, luckily, my new Japanese friends took me to a properly licensed restaurant, and I'm alive now to tell you about the trip and enjoy my souvenirs - 10 flavors of Pocky and 3 flavors of Mochi.

The Japanese developers are going full speed ahead into Wave development, with another two events planned in the next month: Kyoto GTUG Wave Hackathon, and a Tokyo "Demo Tournament". I'm too bloated on my pocky to make it out there for those events, but I expect to hear about more innovative ideas and exciting extensions coming from my new developer friends in Japan. Until next time, Tokyo!