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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Day Three, Ryokan

Done with Tokyo for a bit, we hopped a subway to a train to another train.

Sony P7

That took us into the Mt Fuji region. It's quite a different scene from the big-city chaos of Tokyo. The people lost that city vibe and the clothes toned down a bit. The buildings, while still small by American standards, got a little bigger, they spread out from each other and it started to look like rural anywhere - and mountains sprang up all around us - small ones, a few hundreds or maybe a couple-thousand feet for the big ones, but all with very steep sides. Rivers, rice fields and tea plantations lined the valleys. Very scenic.

Then, gradually, the sides of a gigantic mountain appeared in the haze. And then we arrived at our inn, in a tiny little resort town of Kawaguchiko, at the end of a lake, at the base of the northern side of Mt Fuji.

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

It's a little town that reminds me of Lake George, NY - there are tour boats, boat rentals, ice cream and souvenier shops, some touristy restaraunts, and nothing much else. End of March probably isn't high tourist season for that part of the country, so it was mostly empty.

Our inn was a traditional Japanese inn, called a "ryokan", with public baths, very sparse rooms, etc:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

The housekeeping staff would come and pull out the little futon-style matresses while you were at dinner. Nobody spoke any English. Our Japanese is limited to single words and a couple of complex phrases like "thank you very much" and "beer please". It was an adventure. The hot baths were great - public nudity! Same sex, though - so it was a bit like a gym, not like a scene out of Caligula. I'm pretty sure we got all the protocol wrong. Nobody yelled at us - and we wouldn't understand them even if they did. But, imagine taking a scalding hot bath in a giant hot tub with a view of Mt Fuji... ah.

Speaking of dinner:

Sony P7

Top-left to bottom-right: hot broth; beef and veggies on a little sterno-powered skillet; raw squid and veggies to cook in the hot broth (shabu-shabu!); a plate with dried fish (?) a snail, jello on a stick, some kind of root; a bowl of sashimi (raw fish); a cube of tofu; three pickled fish; sauce; pickled veggies; peach wine.

Except for the sashimi, this was nothing like the Japanese food we'd ever had in the States. We did our best, but left a lot of it merely tasted, if at all. Then they brought out a whole fish that had been filleted, then deep fried along with the fillets, presented with the fried fish carcass making a little bowl for the fillets to sit in. Luckily it was tasty. Then some soup...

Sony P7

That's a mushroom, a dumpling of some kind, a whole baby octopus and an okra.

The breakfast was more of the same thing.

It was still a good time. And, it was nice to see the countryside, and get a feel for what a traditional Japanese inn is like. And best of all, here's the view from our balcony:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

And in the morning:

Nikon D100, 75-240mm

Next day: Kyoto by bus, bus and bullet train.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Upon waking, we opened the curtains of our hotel window and saw...

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Mmm... metropolicious. It's the Ginza district.

Then we went to the Fish Market! There we saw...
Dried squids!

Sony P7

Live crabs neatly packed in a cooler !

Sony P7

... and many other live, dried, chopped, ground, flaked or fried sea creatures. Very interesting... as a science project.

Someone there likes the Carolina Hurricanes... ?

Sony P7

Then we wandered around the Ginza district trying to find my wife a jacket, since I left her's in the car at the airport on the other side of the world. We went into some big department stores where we found floor after floor of expensive clothes - not just expensive by US standards, but high-end designer stuff that we couldn't afford anywhere. Apparently, the Japanese love to buy expensive clothes - and it shows; most of the people on the street are very sharply dressed, head to toe. And every mall we went to was packed full of these stores - they just can't get enough $200 blue jeans and $300 jackets.

Eventually we found an Eddie Bauer on the 6th floor of some department store / mall, where all the women's clothes were petite-sized. In fact, Eddie Bauer only sells women's petite sizes in Japan, as confirmed by the staff. That would be great news, if my wife wore petite sizes. Luckily, she found a jacket.

That problem solved, it was back to the hotel for a drink at the hotel bar before dinner. Here's the view from the top:

Sony P7

We had dinner our first two nights at the Ginza Lion - helpful staff, English menus, good food, inexpensive, with huge beers:

Sony P7

Get the bacon, spring onion and egg stir-fry !

Tomorrow, off to the countryside...


Look down there! It's land!

It's northern Honshu, Japan's big island.

Nikon D100

It's surprisingly mountainous and unpopulated.

And here we have some farm land, about 100 miles north of Tokyo.

Sony P7

And here's us. Well, sorta. we're up near the front of that plane - first class, baby. Don't fly to Tokyo any other way! It might cost you 250,000 frequent flyer miles to do it, but you'll appreciate being able to turn your seat into a bed and drink as much free booze as you want - not that you want to start a 14 hour time difference with a hangover... but it's nice to know you have the option.

Nikon D100

So, we started the day at 5:45AM EST, in Raleigh NC. There, I left my wife's jacket in the car at the airport. We flew to NYC. Then caught a flight that went north up the Hudson River (flying directly over my home town), into Canada, out over the Hudson Bay, across northern Canada, Alaska, the Bering Straight, grazing Kamchatka and finally into Tokyo, Japan - 14 hour flight. I slept a couple hours over Canada, but not much. I love flying too much - I'd rather stare out the window than sleep and miss anything.

When we got there, we found that one of our bags didn't make the flight - the one with our medicines. Yay! Then another hour train ride to Tokyo from the airport. It was 5:00PM Tokyo time, or 3:00AM EST, before we got to our hotel. Then we stayed up another 4 hours, to try to force ourselves onto Japan time. So, 25 hours of being awake. Whew. What a day.

But, in the morning (Tokyo morning), we were all rested and ready to go. Cause, hey - we were (still are, in fact) in Japan!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bye bye, USA

Here's a glacier:

Nikon D100, 75-240mm

Here's some sea ice along Alaska's western coast:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

It goes on forever:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Here's some unidentified island, wrapped in ice, with a few thin clouds overhead:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

But how do I know that's Alaska? This is how:

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Soon, we will arrive (8 hours of flight time down, 6 to go).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What's that?

Nikon D100, 18-35mm's just some squiggly thing (a river ? ) ... in uninhabited central Alaska.

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

More squiggly things and a runway of some kind ... also in uninhabited central Alaska.

Say, what's the weather like outside?

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Brrr... chilly.

Where You At?

No posting for a week? Something must be going on.

Here's a hint. This is what I was looking at last Monday morning at 11:00 am:

Sony p100

Recognize that skyline? It's NYC.

Here's what I was looking at about 2 hours later.

Sony p100

Recognize that? I know, the clouds make it difficult. Here's a hint: it's named after the same guy as that big river that runs around Manhattan island...

It's the Hudson Bay, partially frozen. It's in Canada. That's the 30,000 foot view.

More to come.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Start Your iPods

This week, we begin with:

  1. Radiohead - Planet Telex
  2. Replacements - Unsatisfied
  3. Lilys - Generator
  4. Replacements - Raised In The City
  5. Dave Holland Quintet - Shifting Sands
  6. Throwing Muses - Portia
  7. David Bowie - Velvet Goldmine
  8. Rolling Stones - The Spider And The Fly
  9. Coctails - It's All Right
  10. Horse Flies - Link Of Chain

No Robyn Hitchcock, Yo La Tengo or Cure! Something big is must be about to happen...

Monday Cat Blogging

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Sunday, March 19, 2006

J&J Living The Bowel

This is too fucking funny.

Man fruit braise the north almond. And don't you forget it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Memory Lane

Via that somewhat popular blogger, TBogg

    Yeah, there has been a lot of pro-war gloating. And I guess that Dawn Olsen's cautionary advice about gloating is appropriate. So maybe we shouldn't rub in just how wrong, and morally corrupt the antiwar case was. Maybe we should rise above the temptation to point out that claims of a 'quagmire' were wrong -- again! -- how efforts at moral equivalence were obscenely wrong -- again! -- how the antiwar folks are still, far too often, trying to move the goalposts rather than admit their error -- again -- and how an awful lot of the very same people who spoke lugubriously about 'civilian casualties' now seem almost disappointed that there weren't more -- again -- and how many people who spoke darkly about the Arab Street and citizens rising up against American 'liberators' were proven wrong -- again -- as the liberators were seen as just that by the people they were liberating. And I suppose we shouldn't stress so much that the antiwar folks were really just defending the interests of French oil companies and Russian arms-deal creditors. It's probably a bad idea to keep rubbing that point in over and over again.


    Glenn Reynolds April 11, 2003

Gloat away, dickhead. Slather yourself in blood, rub ash on your face. Dance around the fire like a little warrior. You've earned it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Happy, Pappy?

Hey friend, do you want to be happy? Well, of course you do. Only poets want to be unhappy. So, let Ol' Cleek give you the five secrets to happiness:

  1. Move down South
  2. Go to church regularly
  3. Join the Republican party
  4. Get yourself a spouse
  5. Boost your income over $100K

Follow those five steps and I'll personally guarantee you a happy life. Act now!

via Pew.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cheat Sheet

Katherine, at Obsidian Wings, writes:
    The current debates over the Feingold resolution and the NSA surveillance program & the ongoing debate over the torture scandals involve a lot of convoluted legal arguments about executive power. It can get really difficult and frustrating for non-lawyers to sort them all out. (Actually it can be that way for lawyers too, but lawyers get three years of instruction in legalese & then get paid to read and write it for a living, It's a lot worse for everyone else.)

    To make this a little easier, I've prepared a handy-dandy little guide for decoding the administration's arguments and reassurances on these topics.

Go read: Understanding the Bush Administration's Statements About Executive Power And Treatment of Prisoners in Nine Easy Steps.

Update: And I put together a handy on-line automated version of it, here.

Twins ?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chef quits 'South Park'

Cites "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

    Soul singer Isaac Hayes said Monday he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park," citing the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

    But series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes is an outspoken follower.

    "In ten years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim, Mormons or Jews," Stone said in a statement issued by the Comedy Central network.

    "He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."


Start Your iPods

Starting this work week, with my new Shure E2c's:

  1. Spoon - I Summon You
  2. Beck - Side of the Road
  3. Jimi Hendrix - Castles Made of Sand
  4. Cowboy Junkies - Someone Out There
  5. The Cure - A Thousand Hours
  6. Sonic Youth - I Love Her All The Time
  7. The Cure - The Hanging Garden
  8. Steely Dan - Hey Nineteen
  9. Apollo Sunshine - A Finger Pointing At The Moon
  10. Iron And Wine - Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
  11. (bonus - since that Apollo Sunshine song was only 30 seconds long) : Pixies - Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf mix)

The "sound-isolating" aspect of these earphones works really well. The standard iPod earphones let a lot of sound through. But with these, I can't hear a damned thing besides the music (which really does sound excellent) and my own breathing. It's a bit like being underwater. Since I can't even hear typing, I'm making more typos. This will take some getting used to.

Monday Cat Blogging

Nikon D100, 18-35mm

Look out behind you!

Sunday, March 12, 2006


My day job is "Senior Programmer". That means I have at least 5 years of professional programming experience (14 actually). So, bascially, I know what I'm doing when it comes to programming. Sure, the young kids are going to have a better grasp of the nuances of C# or MSIL or whatever Microsoft has decided we all need to know this month. But programming isn't really about the programming language you use; programming is really about knowing what you need to do with whatever language you have to use, in order to satisfy your customers. And after a while, you hit a point where you realize they're not really asking for anything new, they're just asking for it in different ways or with slight variations on a common theme. And there are dozens of books on this - written well before I figured it out for myself. So, at one level, my day jobs have been all pretty much the same kind of thing.

I imagine it's something like house-building: the plans say a wall goes here, and there's a window here and it might have a strange angle for a dormer or something. But people who have a lot of experience building houses know how to build the kinds of walls that go into standard 2x4 and sheet-rock houses. And if a given plan mixes walls and ceilings in new and unusual ways, it's not a huge problem - it's just a matter of working it through using techniques you know like the back of your hand. Sure. maybe some new guy will show up with a tool that can cut wood like an Exacto knife through paper - but that doesn't tell him how to build a wall, and it can't teach him. That knowledge comes from practice. In many ways, like house building, programming is a craft.

My side job is also as a programmer. But I write image processing tools - a fun little niche, in my opinion. Of course I can do all the basics: read a JPG, rotate it, resize it, filter it, put text on it, etc.. But that kind of stuff has been understood for decades. I didn't invent any of it, I just learned from looking at what other people have done. Image processing is very technical at its foundations, but there has been so much research and development done on this stuff over the years that, at this point, a lot of it is like following a cookbook: need to know how to rotate an image? there are a million places to look for good ways to do it; so pick your algorithm and type it in. The only thing left for much of it is to make your implementation as fast as you possibly can. Because besides accuracy, image processing users want their image to rotate as fast as fucking possible, and not a millisecond slower. But, it's still pretty much cookbook stuff at heart. So, at that level, it's just like my day job - the standard problems have already been solved, it's up to you to adapt the well-known solutions to the task at hand. The fun for me is in the optimization (the speed improvements - an art form of its own).

But, unlike my typical day-job stuff (ask the database for the data, put it in a list, tell the buttons what to do, etc) there's also a cutting-edge to image processing. There's a pretty substantial number of real scientists working on new things all the time. They work in things like computer vision, 3D rendering, and morphological processing (the intersection of set theory and image processing) - esoteric stuff, by most standards. The things they come up with are useful, exciting and often almost magical. But they are also so far ahead of the mainstream that the professional programmer community hasn't had time to come up with ways of implementing them - think of a set of cutting edge architects who keep inventing buildings made out of exotic materials and using techniques that the average subdivision home builder couldn't possibly use and still get that job done on schedule and budget. It's nice to look at in drawings, but how the hell can the average crew build that kind of thing?

Still, my customers will read about this stuff in a magazine and ask me if I can do it; "This is cool! I need this now!" I hate to say "No", so I always try to see what I can do. And it's always fun to be able to find new things to work on. Most of the time, I can Google around enough to find recipe I can use, and that's that. But sometimes, the thing the customer has asked about is something that is so new and esoteric that the only information I can find are technical papers, submitted to conferences or academic journals by professors and grad students who approach the problem from a mathmatical or theoretical viewpoint, written for an audience of academics, scientists, and theoreticians. There is rarely a plain-English explanation of what they're doing; there's always a bunch of long horrible equations written in terse notation where every variable has multiple super- and sub-scripts, lots of summations, glossing over details and "... this is as explained by Xhiao Lung and Frederic Grimenschtrudel in their 1986 paper, Techinques for invariant monological comprendium derivatitions and tri-quadrant bi-noodling"; and there are always graphs comparing the results of their idea to some other academics' idea - whose work I don't understand either. Once in a while I find a paper written by a student of these professors who has implemented what the professor described, but only describes a high-level sumamry of results (a picture of the finished house - never a description of how they actually built it). Tease.

So, my latest attempt is to do something called "tone mapping". It's basically an attempt to automatically adjust the brightness of an image so that previously invisible details in light and dark areas are made visible without horribly distorting the overall brightness of the image - ex. given an image of a dark room with a bright window, it would bring out details in the shadows and details in the bright areas at the same time (and in a way that looks natural) but wouldn't affect the middle tones much. Try that in Photoshop sometime, to see how difficult it is using standard tools. Well, the heart of the trick lies in knowing what constitues a "detail", and the latest techniques for this rely heavily on something called a "bilateral filter". Roughly, this is a blurring filter that can recognize abrupt changes in image intensity - and if it sees a sharp change in intensity in a group of neighboring pixels, it assumes that it's looking at a detail and tones down the blur effect in that area. Incidentally, this reminds me of how automatic focus works in cameras: they look at a small part of the image (usually the center) and adjust the focus in and out in order to find the spot that maximizes the intensity differences between pixels - higher intensity difference = higher contrast = sharper focus. Squint your eyes, contrast goes down, image gets blurry.

Now, blurring an image happens to be a cookbook technique. It's very basic; a simple blur is one of the first things a budding image programmer is likely to learn. The typical bi-lateral filter is done with a "Gaussian" filter (a well-known cookbook filter) but with a twist. And that twist is the key to the whole thing. Now, I spent a week over Christmas playing with my Gaussian filter to try to improve its performance; I certainly understand how it works in practice (it's just a simple weighted average), but I'm not sure about the mathematical theory behind it (the weightings used are what makes it a "Gaussian", and I don't know why you need those particular weights or why they do what they do). And when the academic papers talk about modifying their Gaussian filters, they're doing it from the deeper mathematical viewpoint, which I don't understand, and can't seem to make heads nor tails of. And, of course, no cookbook has caught up to what they're talking about. So I suffer through these papers, hoping one will offer me a plain-English explanation - sometimes I never find it.

It's unfortunate for me that you need a post-grad degree in mathematics to understand the state-of-the-art in computer imaging. But, that's the way it is.

Too much typing for a Saturday night.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How Much Does An Adult, Male, African Elephant Weight?

defective yeti did a little research. He asked his readers: How Much Does An Adult, Male, African Elephant Weight? Then made a little graph of their guesses. So, does the average defective yeti reader know much about elephants ?

Short answer: no.

Vital Information

The actress Mare Winningham is Straight.

Good to know.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

One one hand...

... there's the remastered version of Megadeth's "Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?" It's a classic of 80's speed metal - blazing fast, intricate, visceral, bombastic. Reportedly, Dave Mustaine, the snarling singer and leader of the band recently suffered some nerve damage in his left hand and can't play guitar anymore - so he went to work remastering all the old albums. He did a great job. The album sounds better today in iTunes format than it ever did on the cassette I wore out back in high school - brighter, sharper, heavier. And even though I'm no longer the metalhead I was 20(!?) years ago, for sheer technical brilliance, there are few better, and they really can rock when they want. So, yay for them.

On the other hand, there's the Talking Heads' double live record "The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads", recently released for the first time on CD, and in expanded form, by Rhino. Tons of good stuff here - including the "Remain In Light" tour, which is my favorite Heads' album and one of my all-time favorites from any band. As a bonus, you get to hear Adrian Belew playing on the R.I.L. tour - elephant noises and crazy modal solos. Ahhhh. Still good after 24 years.

And on the other hand, there's The New Pornographers', "Twin Cinema". I bought this because I could no longer stand to see them mentioned everywhere while not knowing what they sound like. I looove it. They have a definite Guided By Voices vibe: poppy songs that are just rough or carefree enough in construction and execution to ensure they won't make the radio, but are nonetheless catchy and interesting. Besides the G.B.V. influence, there are bits that sound like old (really old) Pink Floyd, or Robyn Hitchcock (who also sounds like really old Pink Floyd) - ie. psyechedelic pop; bits that sound like Sufjan Stevens (quirky little orchestrated incidental things), and a couple of other things I noticed but can't remember right now. Loooove it - after two playings.

On the other hand, since it's playing on my iPod right now, the lyrics to Junior Brown's "Holding Pattern" are a masterpiece of over-the-top country-style extended metaphor and pun:

    She's startin a holding pattern
    Holding someone else thinking it don't matter
    She's flying around leaving me on the ground
    And holding everyone she can

    She's startin a holding pattern
    And I'm sorry for the fool that tries to land her
    She's always in flight and I'm wondering tonight
    When she's gonna take off again

    I'm doing my downtime due to bad weather
    But I won't stay for long
    I'm gonna find somebody to treat me better
    And start a holding pattern of my own

    I'm up to here with departure and arrival time
    I'm gonna start riding on a new airline
    I'm tired of her flying those friendly skies
    While I'm sitting here wondering why

    (repeat v 1,2)

    She's drifting way off course trying to cover the field
    She'll never straighten up and fly right
    I should've known she was on a holding pattern
    When I saw her hanger empty most every night

    I won't be the one to try to clip her wings
    To make reservations on a wedding ring
    She's excess baggage that I don't want to claim
    And I might as well forget her name

    (repeat v 1,2)

Hardly a line without a pun. Outstanding.

Monday, March 06, 2006

My cat stole the precious

Amusingly, our cat is on top of the Google search for "Tricksey". She even beat those after whom she was named: the "tricksey Hobbitses" - as she should, for they are wicked and false.

Monday Cat Blogging

Nikon D100, 18-35m

Start Your iPods

This work week we start with:

  1. Nirvana - Drain You
  2. The Cure - Caterpillar
  3. The Doors - Money (live)
  4. Radiohead - Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong
  5. Blonde Redhead - Mama Cita
  6. David Bowie - Tears
  7. Van Halen - I'm The One
  8. Marshall Tucker Band - A New Life
  9. Lilys - Coby
  10. The Sea And Cake - For Minor Sky
  11. Neutral Milk Hotel - Where You'll Find Me Now

Hmmm... fair to middling.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Watchin the Oscars

Dolly Parton - time to lay off the surgery. You're a little scary-looking.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Ha Ha Ha America

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

All hail the new

Started a new job today. Instead of a huge four-man cubicle (each facing into a corner), I have my own office, with a door! There's a huge floor-to-ceiling window, and OK, it faces into the hallway so the view is 6 feet of blue carpet and then a wall of cubicle sides, but there's a door! Implied privacy!

I left my old job Friday, after lunch. Before lunch, I hopped on LimeWire, downloaded an MP3 of Take This Job and Shove It (yeah an unforgivable cliche, but I couldn't think of anything better), created a scheduled task to launch that MP3 at 1:30 repeating forever. Then I turned off my monitor and went to lunch, never to return. Due to their security policy, the computer would put up a password box and lock everyone out after 10 minutes of no activity, so they'd have to unplug it and take out the battery (it was a laptop) to get it to stop. What can I say... I was feeling twelve. But, I got an email from my former manager this morning; he says everyone got a good laugh out of it. So, mission accomplished.

Time to finish the Employee Workplace Harrasment Training Course!

All images Copyright 2004-2005, cleek.