Work


June 1st, 1:00 pm: So I finally made my way to Yongsan station. I had a general map of the area that I had printed out from google maps, but I had difficulty orienting myself inside the station, so I just followed the largest group of people, assuming they would heading towards the same destination as me. Well, it turned out that assumption was wrong. It took me a while, but I finally made my way to the big electronics department stores. The biggest surprise? There were hardly any customers. Maybe it’s because it was still early Friday afternoon or something, but there just weren’t a lot of shoppers. Also making things difficult was that although everything was in the same building, it was in actuality a whole bunch of very little shops all lined up together. They were at least grouped by genre though: all the stores selling cameras were together, all the stores selling PC’s were together, etc., so it wasn’t too hard to navigate.
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And by short, I mean short. I’ve been in in Kumamoto, Japan on an extended business trip for most of the summer (since mid-May, in fact), working on a project here. In fact the trip is so long that I had a problem: one week before I left my wife pointed out to me that my scheduled stay was about 95 days, and I can only stay in Japan 90 days without a visa. Unfortunately the travel office for my company didn’t realize it either: I guess they generally deal with people going to Japan for a week or two, or a year or two, but not around 3 months.

It was too late to apply for a visa, so the alternative plan was for me to briefly leave Japan for a day or two while I was there, and when I get back my 90 days should reset. So I ended up with a ticket to go to Seoul, South Korea on July 1st and then fly back to Japan on July 2nd. I asked some Korean friends of mine for suggestions as to what I should do while I’m in Seoul for a whopping 24 hours. So here was how my trip began:

June 1st: 10:30 am: Leave from Fukuoaka airport on Korean airlines flight. The stewardesses (or flight attendants, if you insist on PC), were without exception, young, friendly, and very attractive. I reminded me a bit of Singapore airlines, although I don’t think anything comes close to those dresses the Singapore airlines stewardesses wear. All the Korea Air stewardesses had very good English, and impeccable Japanese that was so good I had trouble distinguishing it from native fluency.

June 1st: 11:30 am: (Just a 1 hour flight, and they still served a meal and drinks!) Arrive at Incheon airport. No problems with customs and immigration, I just have the clothes on my back and a backpack with a change of clothes. As soon as I leave customs and enter the public area of the airport, I must have had an unmistakable ‘wide-eyed lost foreigner’ look, because I’m immediately accosted by an older unkempt man with broken English asking if I need help getting a bus or taxi. It was tempting, since I was there as part of a business trip I could probably expense it, but I wanted to do it the hard way.

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Friday night I got back from a two-week trip to Japan, my first business trip for my new job. It was an interesting experience, I’ll do my best to blog about it without revealing too many details about specifics, since my job is very sensitive about IP issues.

I work for a Japanese semiconductor company that makes various tools used by the major chip-making companies: Intel, Samsumg, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, etc. In this case ‘tool’ generally means a huge machine that’s 10’x20′ or larger and performs various processes on hundreds of wafers per hour. To put in perspective, a single tool can cost millions of dollars. One thing that has been consistent in the semiconductor industry over the past decades is that they are continually trying to make things smaller, faster, and cheaper. This requires constant innovation, which means that there are never a shortage of new and difficult problems to work on. My company has all of its production facilities in Japan, several large factories where it makes the tools that are then sold to the various companies. It also has a few research facilities and such too, where they try and work out problems with current of future tool implementations.

A lot of the various processes that our tools perform involve transport phenomena: coating, baking, drying, spinning, cleaning, etc. Some of these processes can get very complicated, and understanding all the pertinent physics at play can be a bit too complicated for a regular engineer with a B.S. Add to that the fact that Japanese industry traditionally does not hire a lot of people with advanced degrees, and you end up with a shortage of knowledge that could be helpful in solving many of these problems.

That’s where my group comes in. My boss had built/nurtured a group of researchers in America, most of us with PhD’s and/or years of experience working in the semiconductor industry, and we essentially work on the most difficult problems they are dealing with in the factories or research facilities back in Japan. When I started in September my boss gave me two introductory projects to start on, and for me to report my progress in Japan in October.
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