Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blogging on the go

My poor blog. I haven't had the time to write anything recently, apart from my thesis... Which I am not even sure I can finish or not. I've totally lost enthusiasm towards it (my thesis), and I'm dragging myself to the finish line. 

But anyway, I'm going to try to start writing on this blog again. Not so sure about the quality though, as I'll be doing it on the go, on the train, with my iPhone, using the blogger app. Hope it can be a step forward...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Getting a Japanese driver's license from scratch


I have recently been trying to get a Japanese drivers license in Kyoto from scratch, and it is exactly how others have written about it, an extremely time consuming and tedious process. It has been a frustrating yet humbling experience, and I am grateful for all that I have learned from it. Most Japanese enroll in a driving school, and only need to take a written test at the driver’s license test center. The caveat is that it takes a huge amount of money (around 300.000 yens = 3000 USD) and quite an amount of time (2 to 6 months). Most foreigners convert their country’s driver’s license to a Japanese one, where they only need to pass a 10 question test and a practical test on the test center’s track.

Unfortunately, when I first came in 2005, I had no plans whatsoever to drive in Japan, and let my Indonesian driver’s license expire (in 2007). Now, in 2013, I need to drive, and thus I am required to either enroll in a driving school (too expensive and time consuming for me) or try to get a Japanese driver’s license from scratch. Obviously, I chose the latter.

The process, as also mentioned here and here consists of:
1. Tests for the provisional driver’s license (kari menkyo/仮免許)
a. Written test (50 true or false questions)
b. Practical test (practical test on the course at the drivers license center)

2. Practicing on the road (with the provisional driver’s license) tutored by a person who is holding a drivers license for more than 3 years (for at least five days)

3. Test for the driver’s license (本運転免許)
a. Written test (90 true or false questions, 5 multiple answer questions)
b. Practical test (on the road near the drivers license center)

Praise to God, I have passed all the tests and am just waiting for the first aid class to be held on the 14th of August. After that I will be given my drivers license. But nevertheless, I would like to share my experiences for it may have some benefits.

In preparation for the written test, I studied from JAF’s rules of the road handbook. The handbook can be had for 1000 yens. You only need to call the closest regional office, and ask them to send a copy. Another book that was helpful for me was the English workbook from Koyama driving school. The workbook cost me 3150 yens, but it was well worth it. With these two resources, I was able to pass both written tests (for the provisional driver’s license and the driver’s license) on my first try. This alone saved me time and money.

What drove me crazy however, was the practical test for the provisional license. It took me five attempts to finally pass. In other prefectures, some need to make a reservation from 1 to 3 weeks prior to the test. But thank God it’s not the case for Kyoto. In Kyoto, we can take the provisional driver’s license practical test every odd day of the month (holidays excluded), without restrictions. On my first try, I boldly (and foolishly) took the test right after I passed the written test without any real practice or theoretical study. My only provision was from reading blog posts and my driving experience back in my home country (the last time I drove a car was several years ago). Rest assured that I utterly failed. The proctor didn't even let me finish the course. 

On my second try, after two lessons at a driving practice (which is also owned by the driver's license center), I did better. My only big mistake was to shave the curb after the “crank”. The proctor said that I would have passed if I hadn’t.

On my third try, I went too fast in an intersection where the view was obstructed. Bear in mind that I checked right and left prior to the intersection and went slow through it, just not slow enough (I was supposed to stop and drive walking speed slow). The proctor immediately told me to stop and go back to the starting point.

On my fourth attempt, I failed because I didn’t do things “decisively” enough. For example, when changing lanes, after signaling and checking my blind spot, I was supposed to quickly change to the destined lane and not do it slowly (as shown in Figure 1).

 Figure 1. Do things decisively!

I finally passed on my fifth attempt. One of the important keys to pass in Kyoto is to be confident and decisive. ALWAYS check your blind spot after signaling for changing lanes or turning. ALWAYS signal 30 meters before turning. Basic principles can be found here and here. What helped me a lot in passing the practical test was watching the DVD in this book. Even though I could not 100% understand the language, the videos and illustrations are very clear.

The “real” practical test took me two attempts. This is done on the road near to the driver’s license test center. In Kyoto, the practical test takes around 20 – 30 minutes per person. Be extra careful with pedestrians and bicycles, because those were what failed me on my first attempt. STOP at pedestrian crossings if there are pedestrians standing there, even when they are having a chat there. Bicycles often ride on the wrong side of the road, and they will be coming towards you on your side of the road. My fault was that I didn't signal to go wide (crossing the center line to leave space for the bicycle to pass). Whenever it’s necessary to go past the centerline, ALWAYS make a signal and check our blind spots.

I wasn't really confident on my second attempt, because I went too fast when passing by a stopping truck. But I got enough points to continue to the parking test (there are two parts in the “real” practical test. The road test, and if we do well enough, we will need to do a parking test). On that day, the parking test was to back up into a space, and change the direction of the car (figure 2).  Thank God I passed the test with 75 points (the minimum passing grade is 70 points).

Figure 2. A type of parking test in practical driver’s license test in Kyoto (car image from here)

Amazingly, even after we pass all of the tests, we are still not eligible for a driver’s license. We need to follow a seven-hour first aid class at a driving school. What I didn't expect is that the schools only hold these classes once a month and there is a limit in the number of people who can participate. I called more that 10 schools, and the earliest class was 3 weeks from the time I called. At the time this post was written, I was waiting for that class, and thus I have yet to receive my driver’s license.  

Nevertheless, all that is left is just formality and bureaucracy, in a couple of weeks, I will have my driver’s license (God willing). 

It took me a total of 2 months to finish the entire process and 90.000 yens, which is certainly much cheaper and faster than enrolling in a driving school. The breakdown of the cost of my experience is shown in figure 3.

Figure 3. Cost breakdown of my experience in obtaining a Japanese driver’s license

As mentioned in this blog post, this method might not work for everyone, as you need to take half a day off whenever you take an exam. And dealing with the frustration of failing several times is not for everyone. As there is a sense of uncertainty whether you will ever pass the test. To be frank, I must admit that at times, I also felt like quitting. But thanks to my wife’s support, I was able to man up and finish what I started. And eventually it worked out for me. Another thing that helped me is perhaps because I drove in my home country. Nevertheless, I would have never even considered shelling out 300.000 yens to attend a driving school, so I am quite satisfied with the results. I hope that this post can encourage everyone hopeful of obtaining a Japanese driver’s license from scratch. It’s certainly doable and not impossible.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

They would indeed shed blood

It can be really depressing witnessing the bloodshed that is currently happening. The killings in Myanmar, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and most recently in Egypt are all examples of how evil and morally bankrupt can human beings become. Why are these things happening? How people could kill others in cold blood and how they are comfortable in oppressing others is just beyond my comprehension. Why do these kind of people exist? Why did God create them?


Well, I guess that was just how the Angels felt when our father, Adam AS*, was created. The Angels knew that humanity would shed blood. The Angels knew that humanity would create unimaginable destruction on earth. God’s reply was: “I know that which you don’t know.”

Along with the potency for destruction, humanity also has the potency of much good. So much so that the Angels were ordered to bow to Adam AS. Granted we will also make mistakes, just as our father Adam AS did when he ate from the tree. But we also have in ourselves remorse and the ability to repent, realize our mistakes, learn from them, and in turn become better human beings.


Going back to the oppressions that we see in our times. We condemn them. That’s the least we can do. Normal human beings will condemn injustice. Normal human beings will condemn oppression of their kin. After all, we are all brothers and sisters from the lineage of our father Adam AS aren’t we? 

There are certain times, many times in fact, where we will feel helpless to help those we want to help. Thus, there are things we need to try to remind ourselves. We will always shed blood. We will always disagree. There will always be oppression and injustice, until the end of time. While doing our best, within our own capacity to eradicate them, know that EVERYTHING is under control. From the rotation of the smallest particles, the leaves that fall, to the expansion of the universe, God is in control. Humanity will continue to shed blood, yet He knows that which we don't know.

Reflections from Al Baqarah, ayah 30 ~

*AS: Alayhissalaam (peace be upon him)
Images are free stock pictures from here and here

Friday, December 28, 2012

The celebration of a mother’s mercy


So it has been 32 years since God brought me into this world through my beautiful mother. I only remember bits and pieces of what happened before today, but among the strongest memories that stay with me is the mercy and love of my parents.

I don’t really know when people started celebrating their birthdays, but as with every event that God gives to us, it’s a good time to reflect and be grateful. Obviously, I have been blessed with so many things. And if I try to enumerate them, no doubt I will not be able to do so. Yet O so often have I forgotten about them and set my focus only on things that I don’t have instead. Shame on me!

But anyway, as with any birthday, the credit and congratulation should go to the one who deserves it the most, which in this case is the mother.

In labor, every mother risks her life to deliver a human being into this world. It started with 9 months of difficulties and exhaustion, which in many cases deter many parts of her body. After birth, the baby will need to be nurtured and taken care of until he/she reaches independence, which takes many years and immense effort. But the mother (and father) will never yield, and will continue to support the person who was once her little baby, even though she doesn't get the gratitude that she deserves.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that after God and His messenger, the mother is whom we must respect the most. She has done so much for us, that nothing we do will ever repay her mercy. Even the best deed that we do for her will not even recompense the pain of giving labor.

So I take this opportunity to express gratitude for one of the most immense blessings that He has given me.

Thank you mama and papa, for showering your mercy upon me. I most definitely did many bad things. Yet you continued to support and care for me. May God also shower mercy upon you as you showered mercy upon me when I was feeble and weak. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Installing DOCK 6.1 on mint linux

For people who are new to the UNIX system, installing programs manually can be a daunting task. This was indeed the case for me anyway. I needed to install some molecular modeling softwares such as GROMACS and DOCK from UCSF, and I had a hard time doing so.

For GROMACS, it was a straight forward task, as it was available in the mint linux repository, and other important components for the installation was automatically added. It wasn't so for DOCK 6.1, because I needed to install it manually and prepare the prerequisites as well, and I had to go through many trial and errors.

After googling and looking into several forums, I finally got DOCK 6.1 to work on my virtual mint linux (installed in windows 7). The summary of the procedures that I did, from unpacking to installing DOCK is as follows:


     tar -zxvf dock.6.1_source.tar.gz
     cd dock6
     cd install
     su
     --> input root password

In order to install the required compilers and other prerequisites, I needed to run apt-get. Unfortunately, because I am behind a campus proxy, I wasn't able to do it normally, so I had to find a way around it.

     -->(in su mode)
     export http_proxy=http://proxy.campus.net:8080
     apt-get install build-essential flex bison gfortran

     --> change g77 to gfortran
     --> go to the /usr/bin/ directory
     cd /usr/bin/
     ln -s gfortran g77

     --> go to the dock6/install/ directory
     ./configure gnu
     make all

--> in case of any "error: 'strlen' was not declared in this scope" errors, insert following lines in the mentioned .cpp files using a text editor:
     #include "cstdlib"
     #include "string.h"

--> Finish the DOCK installation

This did the trick for me, and thank God, I am now able to run docking simulations using DOCK with no hassle.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Adding PATH of directory in mint linux

I spent several hours trying to figure this out. There are so many resources in the internet that it is often difficult to get what we really need. I am writing it down here in case I forget again one day (or if anybody is experiencing the same problem).

Some suggested modifying the .bashrc files, some suggested to modify the etc/profile file, but what worked for me was by modifying the "environment" file. I just searched for the environment file using the search facility of mint linux's finder, then modify it by adding my directory path. 

From PATH="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games" 

to 

PATH="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games:/home/fendrri/modeling/dock6/bin"

 Logged out, logged back in, and I was able to execute all the files within my target directory. Nothing fancy, but it worked out for me.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Insulting other people’s deities / gods


As human beings, we will always differ amongst ourselves, from small things to the big, likewise. This is true, including when it comes to what we believe in. All of us have a degree of certainty in what we believe in, based on what we know and understand, despite it having the possibility of being right or wrong.

At times, our differences can cause friction and tension between us. It’s natural, as long we don't go overboard with it. But unfortunately, we often do (go overboard with it). In the name of freedom of speech, we often disrespect and insult the party that we differ with. So much so we curse that what is most sacred to our opposition.

We see this all the time. As a Muslim, I often feel angry, sad and depressed when people mock at what I believe in. This feeling is perhaps mutual amongst Muslims everywhere. And unfortunately, instead of giving a noble response (to explain clearly why we are offended and try to build bridges to eradicate the misunderstanding), we often get trapped into becoming as bad as the people who insulted us, i.e. we also insult what is sacred to them.

It is a common sight where burning or abusing the national flag becomes a form of retaliation towards insults by a person of a certain nationality. I remember a couple of years ago when the infamous comics from Denmark came out. Muslims were understandably angry and hurt by the incident. But it still doesn't justify acts of flag burnings and the sorts.

We are strictly ordered to not insult or mock what other people deem as sacred, and the national flag is one example. Many people still deem the national flag as a kind of deity that they worship (consciously or not). The Olympics that is taking place is a testimony of this.

What is most important is to try and build bridges and introduce Islam to people who are misinformed. But this is an impossible task to accomplish if we ourselves are ignorant of what we say is our way of life.