An anime comedy called Love Kome: We Love Rice might tell us more than we think

I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that a new Japanese anime called Love Kome: We Love Rice was airing in Japan. The title is a pun on the Japanese term for rice (kome) and “love comedy,” and here is a synopsis:

“The anime project anthropomorphizes rice (kome in Japanese) into schoolboys. At the Kokuritsu Inaho Academy (“Rice Ear Academy,” a wordplay on national schools), five new rice-inspired students attempt to supplant bread as the popular grain at the school. The new students form the “Love Rice” unit and challenge themselves to perform at the “Harvest Show” to show the delicious appeal of rice grains. The “heartwarming ‘kome’dy with laughs and passion” promises to let audiences rediscover the virtues of rice (“Japan’s soul food”)” (from MyAnimeList)

Looking a little deeper, the characters and settings hint that the anime creators may have really done their homework.

First, the characters in Love Kome are named after actual varieties of rice that would be well-known among people in Japan. In North America, people might be familiar with white rice, brown rice, or Jasmine rice, but in Japan, people often speak of finer differences between strains of white rice. Some rice strains represent a brand of the region where it is grown – such as Akita Komachi from Akita prefecture – and each of these rice strains have differences in taste, texture, and quality.

I grew up knowing Koshihikari rice as top quality, and sure enough, in Episode 1 of the anime, all the “rice” schoolboys attending the Kokuritsu Inaho Academy revere Koshihikari as their “senpai” (respectful way to call a senior) and strive to become like Koshihikari. Generation-wise, the Koshihikari variety is also a parent strain to four of the five main characters in Love Kome – Hinohikari, Hitomebore, Akitakomachi, and Nikomaru – as all of these rice varieties were cultivated from cross-breeding Koshihikari with other rice strains.

Perhaps the anime will be a battle of the new generation Koshihikari cross-breed descendants, but it leaves one odd one out: Sasanishiki. To Sasanishiki, Koshihikari is more like an uncle (see the rice strain lineage diagram here *in Japanese), as well as a rival since Sasanishiki and Koshihikari used to be the top two varieties dominating rice crop areas in Japan. The rivalry ended in 1993 when Sasanishiki crops were hit severely by an extreme cold year and was replaced by hardier varieties such as Hitomebore (more on the history of Sasanishiki is explained here *in Japanese). Maybe Sasanishiki’s old days in the spotlight explains the official Love Kome character synopsis (*in Japanese) that describes Sasanishiki as: prideful, confident and stubborn […, and] tends to make condescending expressions that he has trouble making friends. It’s pleasantly surprising if creators had really thought this out to incorporate the history of rice strains.

At the end of the first four-minute episode, Love Kome introduces a rice croquette recipe, demonstrating that rice is not only about having a bowl of plain white rice. When bread and pasta continue to be popular in Japan, I would like to see how the anime tries to make rice the main staple food in Japan again.

The writer and the technical expert

Last fall, I joined a discussion co-presented by a professional scientist and a technical writer from Golder Associates. In this leading firm in environmental consulting, design, and construction sector, technical experts in science and engineering will often work with an expert technical writer to prepare reports that are clear, accurate, and often lawyer-proof.

A technical writer who comes across a word such as “glory hole” while editing a technical document might pause with a smirk to wonder if it is a typo until an engineer confirms it is actually a technical term in underground mining.

Focused technical writers can contribute their eye for grammar and fluency with language to edit typos and wording, and also possibly revise syntax and structure. The fresh pair eyes from off-site can also help keep a document on track. Meanwhile, a senior engineer or scientist with years of education and experience in the field can focus on reviewing the technical content of important reports. Together, they will prepare documents to be ready for clients, lawyers, or the public.

I related very much to the role of the writer, thinking of my own moments reviewing post-graduates’ and professors’ research manuscripts, staring at an abbreviation or jargon in chemistry whether it is an accepted wording or not, and giving feedback with the right balance of knowing grammar as rules but style as choices. The collaboration between the writers and the technical experts is also something I found crucial for me to publish my work in a scientific publication, where the editorial team (technical writers) provided input on text editing, and reviewers (technical experts) checked for content and structure.

10 Selected Talks from 2015 – Part 2: Communication

In my previous post, I listed five discoveries and inventions from research presentations I encountered in 2015. For the remaining five presentations I cover in this post, I focus on the speakers who provided me with inspiration for communicating and writing about science topics. These speakers include a museum curator, public speaking professional, book author on engineering materials, researcher on atmospheric aerosols, and a game writer.


Ceiling-high black cabinet doors line the aisles of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Visitors are peering in through glass windows to see beautifully mounted specimens.

The next aisle down, one of the the black cabinet doors are open with a museum staff standing by it halfway up a ladder. He shuffles through furry animal specimens where squirrels and chipmunks are lined up belly down in perfect rows, showing off their stripes and long tails. Many visitors are surprised to see that what they see in the displays are only part of the two million specimens housed at this museum and the Biodiversity Research Centre.
Each specimen is a piece frozen in time and thus also a gateway to stories that make the animals come alive. Someone who seems to have no end to such stories is Chris Stinson, Assistant Curator of the Beaty Museum’s tetrapod collection. He is a walking encyclopedia of head-turning facts. Follow him through the rodents collection to see a Giant Flying Squirrel with a body as long as your forearm, smaller flying squirrels with the softest fur you can imagine, and pocket gophers with cheeks twice as wide as their face — Chris would be offering fun tidbits and commentary to give character to each type of animal, leaving you curious to delve into more.

Link to original image on flickr
Public speaking. Photo by Pete


You’re standing in front of a microphone and a huge audience. You have a great project idea and you know your research, but you’re unsure whether you’re going to tell that funny joke right, and whether you’d manage to convince people to like you and your idea.

It takes skill and practice to make a convincing and memorable talk. In a recent full day public speaking workshop, Ivan Waniz Ruiz took a group of 15 graduate students through ways to rethink the structure, language, and visuals used in presentations. Many students who were told to explain their research topic started sounding as if they were reciting their thesis title, and this rarely resonated with those outside their field. By the end of the workshop, however, the student speakers were engaging the entire class full of students who had no background in the presentation topic.

Ivan trained students to analyze people’s body language the way police interrogators would analyze a criminal’s lie or lack of confidence. By applying brain hacking tips to public speaking and practicing over and over again, presenters began to notice their own body language and use that to achieve a confident look to grab their audience’s attention and leave a lasting impression.

Ivan does what he preaches–in many past talks, I relied on notes I scribbled to remember what was said, but with Ivan, the take home messages for the students in this workshop have stayed in my head even months afterwards.


It was like going in to read a book for fun and coming out feeling incredibly smart and educated.

In the book Stuff Matters, a single, seemingly serene and plain photo of author Mark Miodownik sitting on the rooftop garden is the basis of his book on the great material inventions in our world. Each chapter picks up an item captured in the picture – steel, paper, concrete, chocolate, foam, plastic, glass, graphite, porcelain, and an implant.

In the very first chapter of the book, a knife stabbing incident throws you into a story of Mark’s fascination with steel, and in another chapter, his creativity flows in explaining plastic through a five-act play script. A dictionary or manual could tell you what each material is and maybe what it is made from, and an encyclopedia may tell you the history. But authors with creative writing like Mark Miodownik shows that truly everything around you has a story to tell.


Link to original image on wikipedia
A U.S. Air Force KC-135E Stratotanker aircraft trailing black smoke from its exhaust, by USAF pilot


Mechanical engineering professor Dr. Steve Rogak faced a mixed audience as he began his seminar talk.

The talk entitled “The Structure of Aerosol Nanoparticles” was of interest not only to his fellow mechanical engineers but also to students and faculty in chemistry, medicine, geography, and resource management. We are surrounded by tiny particles floating in the air which we call atmospheric aerosols, and researchers from various fields study how those aerosols – in the form of smog, engine exhaust, pollen, SO2, and others – affect our climate and health.

A talk full of jargon could have easily lost all the non-engineers, but Steve’s careful language, pace through tables and figures, and strong transitions walked the audience through the stories of his research on the structure of soot particles, which are typically emitted as a product of incomplete engine combustion. By the end of the talk, a non-expert audience like myself was able to appreciate the novel insight on proposing a new model for soot formation and structure.

As demonstrated in this seminar, when a topic like climate change has to be tackled with an understanding of chemical and physical reactions, geographical transport of air and clouds around the globe, health effects, and engineering that help mitigate emissions, many researchers in this field will have to learn how to speak to an interdisciplinary audience.

Link to original image on flickr
Assassin’s Creed IV by Rob Obsidian


Each video game has its own world, set of characters, and narrative that takes you through a story. In the game making industry, all these elements start from a concept developed by a writer.

Take characters: someone telling you to draw “a male character wearing a hooded coat and weapons” likely won’t inspire much creativity, whereas a writer elaborating a concept of “an 18th century pirate in the Caribbean islands who disguises himself as a rogue assassin, using his pistol and dual blades to navigate the islands and fight his way through to an assassin’s guild,” may inspire a character with a hooded coat and weapons, but with a much richer backstory.

Writers develop the backstory, the colors of the world and characters, the features, the clothes, the behaviors, the voice and attitude–everything required to paint a picture in the minds of collaborating concept artists, modelers, animators, sound techs, and directors. Game writer Sean Smillie, in a recent talk at the launch of the Game Academy at UBC, showed how to approach writing from this creative perspective, from a writer’s role to how writers can use the power of their words to communicate ideas that materialize into a visual game.

February 18, 2016Permalink Leave a comment

5 odd and funny moments in questionable academic publishing

If you open up your inbox and see:

Dear Customer,

Due to a recent upgrade, your account must be reactivated […] Click on this link–



I might not even get to the end of the message before hitting the delete button. It’s the same email patterns screaming red flags for scam: asking to click a link to your bank account or a package waiting for you, or offering an interesting business product or job offer where you need to reply with your personal information. It’s so simple, but such phishing attempts have been around for so long that you guess it has to be working.

Something similar has spread in academic publishing. I receive unsolicited emails from scientific journals with a “call for papers.” Given that it came soon after my first publication, the first time it seemed flattering that they invited me to submit to their journal, but wait… do I believe it when an automated voice says on the phone “Congratulations! You won [insert prize]. Claim your prize by calling us now…”? Nope, I’d stop and hang up.

There are suspicious publishers and academic journals that trick researchers into paying high costs to publish their paper quickly, only later to reveal that the authors had handed off copyrights to their hard research work to a journal or publisher with no credibility. Given the variety of academic journals, it might not be as straight forward as those general scam emails to single out a journal as illegitimate — or a “predatory journal” as we call it — but once you start looking closely, you’ll recognize some recurring warning signs.

Using guidelines to identify predatory journals suggested by Scientific Writing instructor Dr. Nelson-McDermott*, here’s my selection of 5 examples I came across recently where odd – and even entertaining – warning signs made me suspect predatory journals:


#1. Spelling its own name wrong


Spelling mistakes or grammar mistakes in official communications are just some initial signs that you may not want your written work to be published through them…but can it get any better than a careless typo in the title, and in the very first word?


#2. The look-alike

Some predatory journals will call themselves a name incredibly similar to an existing reputable journal. It may only differ from the original by a few words, or it may share an abbreviation like the International Journal of Information Research and Review (IJIRR) and another journal called International Journal of Information Retrieval Research (IJIRR), a subscription journal based in the UK.

However, the potentially predatory IJIRR goes a step further. I took a look at some of their published articles, and the format of the paper looked very familiar, but slightly “off”. I looked up a paper from a major publisher Elsevier, and it confirmed my suspicions. Here is just the header, and the near-identical tree logo and formatting: 

Access Elsevier website and sample articles for this journal

On a quick look, IJIRR may look like it is one of Elsevier’s journals, adding some extra credibility (though being with a credible publisher doesn’t necessarily mean a journal is not predatory).


#3. The jack of all trades (master of none)

Usually, an academic journal has a clearly defined scope that focuses its subject matter. This attracts researchers in that field to contribute articles to help advance the academic discourse within their field. It also reflects the expertise of the editors who would lead a critical peer review of submitted works. However, the extreme opposite case is here – the link speaks for itself:

When this journal says they will accept papers for 100 subjects and “etc.” (an indefinite number of topics) and have only a handful of editors to cover all those subjects, does the journal get the “best of all,” or just the worst of all, best of none?


#4. Editor-in-Chief profile image is taken from someone else’s

One journal was caught modifying a professors’s profile image to pose as their Editor-in-Chief with a completely different name. This was covered in the Beall’s List: a compilation of potentially predatory journals and publishers, maintained by a dedicated librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, and one of several key references to evaluate possibly predatory journals.

I revisited this questionable journal‘s editorial board page to find that now the profile photo has been replaced to a photo of 4 people together, the Editor-in-Chief unidentified in the photo and lacking an affiliation. When looking at a journal, you want to be able to identify the Editor-in-Chief or other editorial board members to a legitimate affiliation and address.


#5. Journal accepts an absurd article

There was once a crazy news that an article titled “Get me off Your F**king Mailing List” got accepted to a journal. Regardless of the hype and unlikeliness of seeing such an absurd paper in another journal, when the journal publishes questionable papers and claims “fast publication” within a few days to 2 weeks, you really question the quality of peer review and research presented by that journal.



Note about the current situation of open access

*Recently, a course in Scientific Writing challenged me to evaluate the growing trend towards “open-access”, which refers to academic papers that are freely available to the public (instead of subscription-based). When executed well, the shift to open access have their benefits for fast and broadly accessible research. However, unfortunately predatory journals like the ones discussed above have taken advantage of open access online publications and have spread an impression of low quality research and an unethical academic environment. Open access also poses new challenges for financial and behavioral adaptations required by authors (researchers), publishing conglomerates, funding agencies, institutional libraries who pay for subscription, and public readers of research. It is intriguing to follow how open access is developing in different regions, most recently in Canada.