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Miyajima [May. 15th, 2019|10:22 pm]
We discovered that there was a high-speed ferry to Miyajima that departed from the pier right next to the hotel, so we took it easy in the morning, enjoying the fancy breakfast buffet and the view from the top floor of the hotel, then taking our time packing up.

We took the 10:30 ferry and arrived at Miyajima a little before 11. The island is home to many tame deer that we said hello to as we trundled over to our ryokan. It took us a little while to find it, but eventually we got our luggage dropped off and went off sight-seeing.

The big thing on Miyajima is O-Torii, a great big gate out on the water. (You have probably seen a picture of it.) At low tide, you can walk right out to it, and at high tide it looks like it's floating. Low tide was getting pretty close, so we ventured out onto the sand and said hello up close and personal.

Afterward we wandered along the shopping arcade, which Jerry wanted to see since he came to Miyajima in the off-season ten years ago and it was mostly closed. It was definitely busy this time of year! Lots of tourist-y shops and lots of oysters.

Then we took ourselves off to Daishoin temple on the east end of town. I found it pleasingly eclectic; it appealed to my hoarding genes. Some neat statues, beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the main temple building, a garden of little statues of saints all wearing knitted hats, and a whole bunch of prayer wheels on the handrail of the stairs. There was also an unlit underground passage with a whole bunch of icons on glass lit from behind with colored auras. It was weird and disorienting and really cool.

We had a late lunch, then went back to the ryokan and checked in. Then we made our way to the "ropeway": a two-part gondola / tramway that takes you up to the top of the island. When Jerry was here before, he took a wrong turn ended up accidentally hiking 3 hours all the way up to the top looking for it. We avoided that and just rode up. It's a very picturesque ride (though a little vertiginous if you spend too much time looking down), and the view at the top is amazing. It doesn't take you to the very top, but to a secondary peak; to get to the actual peak and the shrine near it is an additional hike, which we didn't have the time (or legs, on my part) for. But it was still worth going up.

By now the tide had come in, so we took another look at O-Torii and walked along the beach for a bit. Repaired to the ryokan to rest for a little, then went to get dinner. By 5:30, all the tourists have left on the last ferry and the town just shuts down. There was only one restaurant open after 6:30, but it had good food, so that was fine.

We didn't see any monkeys or peril-snakes (the warning signs about snakes all had the kanji for "peril!" all over them) while we were up on the mountain, but we did see a lot of other wildlife. In addition to the deer, we saw (living) barnacles on O-Torii, a little tiny crab, some isopods (aka sea slaters / wharf roaches / beach louses, which we'd also seen walking around the hotel island the day before), great big koi, a big fat hover-fly pretending to be a bumblebee, a couple doggies, lots of little tiny fishies, some cranes, and a great big spider in the ryokan. Like, the size of the palm of your hand. (We chased him outside after we realized it was an actual spider and not some kind of plastic model.)
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Hiroshima: downtime [May. 14th, 2019|08:08 am]
Today was mostly a rest and downtime day, so we slept in and didn't go sightseeing.

The Hiroshima Grand Prince Hotel is actually on an island separate from the rest of the city. It's kind of resort-ish, although there are apartment buildings and various industrial marine businesses on the island, also.

The breakfast buffet was served in the restaurant at the top of the hotel, which has a fairly spectacular view. We had planned not to go anywhere today, but we kinda failed when we went for a walk along the water and ended up circumnavigating the island. I got a chance to take my shoes off and go wading along a little bit of beach, which made me happy. (There was no surf and the water was cold, so I didn't regret not having packed a swimsuit.) We saw more cats! I think yesterday was the first day we didn't see any.

For dinner, we ate at the VERY fancy Japanese restaurant on the 20th floor of the hotel. It was a kaiseki 7-course meal: appetizer, sashimi, soup, simmered dish, sashimi, tempura, rice with vegetables and miso soup, and dessert. I frankly have no idea what most of the things I ate actually were, but they were all tasty, and the view and the sunset were gorgeous.

We also sorted out some logistics for the last few days of our trip that we hadn't dealt with yet, so we didn't manage to do nothing today, but it was still relaxing, which we needed.
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Kyoto to Hiroshima [May. 13th, 2019|06:00 am]
Sunday was our last full day in Kyoto, so after (a lot of) repacking, we said farewell to our delightful ryokan and readied to relocate to Hiroshima.

We had no particular timetable to adhere to, so we left our luggage there and hopped on a bus across town to go see Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, before we left. There were a LOT of other sightseers there, but we still were able to have a good viewing. The pavilion itself is pretty darn beautiful and impressive, plus there were a bunch of purple iris in bloom, which felt like a special gift.

(Lots of this stuff would be better conveyed by images than words, and I've been very bad at remembering to take pictures of anything, plus the battery on my phone is dying, but happily Jerry has been taking lots of pictures and video for the both of us.)

On the way back, I accidentally got us off the bus several blocks too early, but we did get to walk by Higashihonganji temple because of it. I was still whiny because my feet were tired, but then we got lunch and everything was no longer terrible. (Third strike for that one place, though.)

We collected our luggage and took the express train from Kyoto back to Shin-Osaka Station. We weathered some confusion on both ends trying to catch the shinkansen because there are multiple train companies that run shinkansen and because the JR rail pass is only good for some of them (not the super-limited-express). Plus all the shinkansen were suspended for a couple hours because they needed to inspect some overhead wires. So we just cooled our heels in the train station for an hour or so until they were done and the delayed crowds had cleared out, and then we were able to get on the correct train with very minimal fuss.

In Hiroshima, we are staying at the Grand Prince Hotel, which is very swanky. We just barely missed the free shuttle bus from the train station, so instead of waiting or taking the regular city bus, we got a taxi, because this is the part of the trip where we get to be fancy. (A bellhop carried our bags to our room for us! And there's no tipping in Japan; it's just part of the hotel service!)

We got dinner at an okonomiyaki joint in the mini-mall attached to the hotel, one of the few options available, so I suppose it's good that the place in Kyoto never panned out.

Before bed, I decided I was sore and took a hot bath! It was mostly good; the bathtubs in Japanese hotels are typically quite deep, enough to easily submerge yourself, but too narrow for gaijin shoulders to really fit properly. But it was still nice.
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Kyoto: monkeys and owls and cats, oh my! [May. 12th, 2019|04:00 am]
Arashiyama Monkey Park is up a mountain on the western edge of Kyoto, in the Arashiyama district. You buy a ticket a the bottom, and then hike up a long steep trail to the top, and at the top: SNOW MONKEYS!

The monkeys just roam around free; the whole hill is their territory. There's a visitor station where you can go inside and buy food to give to them through the chain-link fence covering the windows. And you can wander around outside and watch them. (But don't stare or point cameras at them too blatantly! That makes them grumpy.)

When we visited last time we were here (almost a decade ago!) we were in a rush to get up there before things closed at the end of the day; it's much more pleasant to do it in the morning when you can take your time.

After that we went back down the hill and went to an Owl/Cat Cafe! Well, forest. It had an area you could walk through with a bunch of trees and owls that you could say hello to and pet (gently, on the back, using the back of your hand)! They were very soft. And then it had a separate section with a bunch of bengal cats (domestic cats with jaguar-like fur coloring) you could hang out with. They weren't super-friendly kitties, though they were very interested in Jerry's backpack, which I'm sure smelled like our kitties at home, but we got to get some scritches in. Yay!

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant afterwards, then went a block to Tenryuji temple to see the gigantic heavenly dragon painted on the ceiling of the dharma hall. As we were leaving, an elderly lady asked if we were friends. "Good friends?" she asked, and we showed her our wedding rings, and she cheered and high-fived us. :)

That was a lot, so we decided we didn't need to see the main set of buildings (which needed a separate ticket), but we stopped by a little side temple that wasn't normally open to see a statue of Bishamonten, a patron god of martial arts; a very pretty "dry" garden (no pond) and a bunch of excellent paintings.

We got green tea ice cream on the way back to the train station and headed home. For dinner, after a second unsuccessful attempt to eat at a well-recommended okonomiyaki place, we ate at a tonkatsu place on the dining floor of the Yodobashi building.

To finish off the evening, we did karaoke! Which means a private booth with fancy lighting and a minimum order of one drink per person plus one food item. Kinda weird from an American perspective, but we had fun. And sang very badly.
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Kyoto: torii, trains, towers [May. 11th, 2019|04:16 pm]
The ryokan stay includes breakfast, and not needing to make decisions about food before you've had food in the morning is a big plus in my book. It included a little salad, some fruit, a couple bites of sliced deli meat, a couple bites of a frittata-type thing with corn and pistachios, two slices of toast, a roll, and a roll pretending to be a bagel. Unusual for the western palate, but I think it works.

After we were suitably fortified, we took the train three stops to Inari and spent the morning at Fushimi-Inari, which is... well, I was going to say temple, but it's kind of the whole mountainside, with a temple complex at the bottom and a bunch of shrines all up and down the hillside, and most importantly, literally thousands of torii, the iconic vermilion gates. You start off with a couple huge ones at the bottom, then there's a trail up the hill with big ones, and after a bit it gets to a section where they're smaller and spaced so closely that they form a tunnel. I started off trying to count them, but when we got to the tunnel part I realized it was a foolish ambition and gave up.

We got there around 10 am, and there were many, many other sightseers, but they thinned out as you went uphill. A surprising number of them were dressed up all fancy to go hiking up a mountain. You can climb all the way to the summit, and we got about halfway of the way up (about 3 miles walking) before we decide that our legs were tired, we'd seen some good vistas, poked into lots of nooks and crannies, and that was far enough. On the way back down we managed to get off the main trail and onto some back way, where we saw even more out of the way shrines, so that was all good. (And kitties! Probably feral, but totally acclimated to humans.)

We took the train back to Kyoto Station, got lunch (curry udon) at a place in the underground mall, and then came back to the ryokan to rest a little.

Afterwards, we went back to Kyoto Station and poked around the station itself a bit -- it's an impressively large structure with some interesting architecture -- and then Jerry wanted to do some clothes shopping, so we went to the Uniqlo in the Yodobashi-Kyoto building, most of which is a gigantic department store that sells sensory overload. Oh, and speaking of sensory overload, we also walked through a pachinko parlor and arcade looking for a photo booth. Wow.

So anyway, then we decided to take the elevator up to the top of Kyoto Tower to see the city. It's an architectural oddity from the '60s and kinda kitschy, but we were up there at sunset and the view was really nice, and it was only 770¥, so what the heck. It was fun.

The couple places we looked at for dinner were full and we were both pretty pooped and not super-hungry, so we grabbed some stuff from a convenience store (Lawson) and called it a day.
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To Kyoto [May. 10th, 2019|04:03 pm]
Got a pretty decent night's sleep at the Hotel Nikko. The breakfast buffet was large, varied, and tasty, and a nice indulgence to start things off with. We took our time getting ready, but having woken up around 6, we were still ready to head out by mid-morning.

We have J-Rail passes for the trip, but we had to stop by the office at the train station (which is also right there at the airport) to turn in our vouchers for actual tickets. After that, we made our way into the station -- oops, no, it's the other side of the station, because there are multiple train systems here -- and discovered that the limited express to Kyoto was leaving in just 3 minutes. Hooray! Also, it's a Hello Kitty themed train. Double hooray!

We didn't have reserved seats, so we had to stand for the first couple stops, but happily some seats opened up as people got off, so we were able to sit for most of the way. I enjoyed watching the city go by until my eyes got tired, and then I went back to reading my book. Japan has a very distinctive architectural style, which I recognize more than anything from playing EDF (the video game where you blow up giant bugs with a rocket launcher), so there was a part of my brain going "okay, that building is probably three boost jumps to get up on top of, and would make a good vantage point for dealing with a big wave of enemies"...

We arrived in Kyoto around lunchtime, where we're staying at Dozen Ryokan, which is a medium-short walk from the train station. (That's not "do-zen", it's dozen as in twelve, the number of guest rooms.) We dropped our luggage off, then decided to get lunch at the little attached restaurant. Jerry had curry and I had a salmon poke bowl, and they were both very tasty. And then we discovered that the restaurant was cash-only, and we had forgotten to change any money. Whoops!

So we wandered off to do some sightseeing and find an ATM. We found a little shrine next to the river and an unused playground with a slide made out of concrete (that might have something to do with it). Found the ATM at a convenience store, and it turns out the ATM fee was 100 yen (less than a dollar) plus a very small (~1%?) international visa fee, which is a way better deal than you'll find at any currency exchange, so just pulling the money straight out is definitely the way to go.

The train station across the river turned out to be the wrong rail line, so we headed back and stopped at Shoseien Gardens, which is all of a block away from the ryokan. It's a little run-down, but still pretty. There were several cranes, and the azaleas and water lilies are in bloom. Got back to the ryokan and paid off our tab, and by now our room was ready and we were able to get settled in.

We still had a couple hours of day and now we had cash for the bus and suchlike, so we decided to go visit Kiyomizu-dera. I'm pretty sure I saw it with my Dad when we visited Japan when I was in middle school, but we didn't actually go in, we just had a look at the outside front parts. (Which there are a lot of, and they're pretty nifty.)

This time we went inside and had time to go check out all the different buildings and sites. It's a big tourist site, but it's also a functioning temple, so there are lots of places to make a donation and write down your wish and have the priest pray for it to come true on the first and third Sunday of the month, and stuff like that.

At the entrance to the main hall they have a pair of iron shoes and two big iron staffs that legend says an arrogant monk was cursed to wear/carry. Some people can manage to lift the smaller staff, but not the big one. We did, because we lifted it together. :) We also stopped by the shrine of achievement and did the walk from one stone to another that gives you a happy love life if you do it with your eyes closed. Then we went along the trail to go see the pavilion that you can see across the little valley and managed to miss the turn and walk off the temple property along a dirt road a quarter mile toward some entirely different temple that was closed. ("This is how I accidentally climbed a mountain last time," says Jerry.) But we saw some kitties, so it was okay. We also ran across a fox spirit shrine behind one of the temple buildings on our way back. I like being on a lax enough timetable that we can just poke around all the interesting nooks and crannies we come across.

For dinner we decided to just stop by a supermarket and get some prepared stuff to take back to the room, and that turned out to be entirely satisfying. Took showers, lounged around the room, caught up on internet, found out that we walked 9 miles according to Jerry's phone, and went to bed.
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DEN - LAX - KIX [May. 9th, 2019|05:21 am]
Okay, so here is where I try to figure out how long this day has been and probably get it wrong both because the math is hard and because I'm really tired.

My computer says that it's 5:22 in the morning, and my phone says it's 8:22 in the evening. So that's... 15 hours ahead? Yes. Because that's equal to "9 hours behind but tomorrow", which is what I find easier to remember, and what I had to keep track of when Jerry was an exchange student a decade ago.

So... Tuesday was a normal day schedule-wise. I spent it finishing up travel prep (mostly copying things onto and off of computers and phones, plus putting things in organized piles to go into suitcases once Jerry got home) and we went to bed around 10:30 or 11.

And then we got up at 2:30 in the morning.

And then traveled a lot.Collapse )

At the moment, in a reversal of our usual roles, Jerry is off exploring the little shopping center that occupies the zone between the outer part of the terminal and the train station, while I'm sitting in the hotel room enjoying the quiet and lack of people. (Also trying to stay awake until after 10 pm local time, so as not to wake up in the middle of the night with jet lag.) I realize that I like to settle in and get things put away after I've done a lot of traveling; putting all the toiletries in the bathroom and setting up APAPs and so on makes me feel like I'm finished and can relax.

So that's... okay, 12 and a half plus 12 hours plus 3 is 27 and a half hours since we got up yesterday morning. On about 5 hours of sleep since I got up the day before. Wooo! I feel like I'm remarkably lucid, considering.
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Honeymoon [May. 7th, 2019|05:33 pm]
Oh my god! We're going to Japan! For our honeymoon!

Our plane departs tomorrow morning at 6 am, and we arrive in Osaka at 6:30 pm on Thursday. (There's a long layover at LAX.) A 6 am flight means we have to check in at 4, which means we have to leave the house at 3, which means get up at, like, 2:30. Yuck.

But on the other hand, it'll make it that much easier to sleep on the plane, and our circadian rhythms will be disrupted from the get-go, so hopefully it'll make it that much easier to get past the jet lag.

Last week and the week before I was workin' workin' workin' to get everything with a deadline done before I left, and happily I did, so I had the weekend to rest and was able to take yesterday and today off to prepare for the trip. (Much of which has been setting up the brand new laptop I got that, unlike the old laptop, doesn't have loose connections inside that cause it to shut off if you jostle it. Or look at it sideways.)

(Aside: Windows 10. Wow. It's definitely got some feature improvements, but I find it just baffling that the UI designers are so gung-ho on flat design that they decided to eschew skeuomorphism to the point of not even including basic usability affordances like putting borders on things so you can tell where one window ends and other begins or that a given chunk of text is actually a button you can click on. Needless to say, there was a lot of setup to get things to a point of acceptability.)

There was a flurry of buying other things, too, and signing up for a new credit card for backup (since Citibank went and canceled the card I'd had for a couple decades but never used because it was the backup), and I had time this afternoon to go get a massage because I have a jacked-up trapezius muscle (not totally fixed, but a lot better), and now... yeah, I think all that's left is actually packing everything into the suitcases. Woot!
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47 [Apr. 23rd, 2019|11:43 pm]
Not a lot to report for my birthday. Much like the number: 47 is a prime and otherwise not very interesting. I do find it aesthetically pleasing number, though.

Lovely well-wishes from folks near and far all day today, which was cheersome. Thanks, everyone!

We went out for dinner to the local pho place and picked up a couple slices of cake at the grocery store. Otherwise, I've just been busy at work and at home trying to get everything done that needs to get done before we head off in two weeks for (at last!) our honeymoon in Japan. So that'll be good.

The weather has turned kind of nice, but also in that range where it's hard to decide what to wear, and you'd better check the forecast. But the amount of sunlight each day is back up to a reasonable level, and that's nice. Things are starting to turn green and flower. Probably time for one last snowstorm sometime soon...

I'm playing BaHothH Legacy with Chris and some others, and last week my character turned traitor for the first time. I came very close to winning, too; I had the creepy porcelain doll ("Mister Fwuffles!") fully powered-up and ready to do the thing, but alas, one combat roll went badly against me and the heroes triumphed. But I felt good about playing it well enough to get that close; up to this point thing have been pretty lopsided the other way.
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Work accomplishments [Apr. 16th, 2019|10:26 pm]
I spent last week at an in-house software engineering conference, and I learned a lot of interesting stuff about machine learning. I think I know how you would use ML techniques to do bias correction, which is pretty neat. (You'd use the same technique they use to teach a system how to make pictures of horses look like pictures of zebras.) The question is, what happens when you start to extrapolate a little bit? If you start giving it pictures of ponies and mules instead of horses, does it still behave sensibly? Or does it go completely off the rails?

At the same time, I managed to push my entire dataset through the multivariate bias-correction machinery and get it published, so that yesterday I could go into the reporting app for one of our grants and tick the "complete" box on that task by the due date. So that made me feel pretty accomplished. And now I can stop thinking about it and get my brain back!

I was able to pull it off because the conference was a very mixed bag in terms of my interest levels in the different talks, so I had plenty of time when I could focus on the bias correction work. Plus, I already had the machinery built, and there are a number of steps that take a while, so there was a lot of "okay, start step 3 running then wait 20 minutes to see if it worked." I did also spend a decent chunk of time working on it this last weekend, too.

Now I don't have any looming deadlines and I hardly know what to do with myself. Time to update the to-do list, I guess.
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