I got the bug letter from Air Canada in response to my complaint about the Typhoon Roke aftermath. They say they "regret" what happened, but they very noticeably do not acknowledge any wrongdoing at all on the part of any of their employees; they claim what was done was in accordance with their policy. They spend a few sentences chiding me for not giving them a cellular phone number - as if it were somehow my fault that they didn't keep me informed, and as if that had any relevance to the lack of announcements in the actual airport terminal - in the same paragraph where they explain that they would only have phoned me anyway if the cancellation were announced at least three hours in advance of the scheduled departure, which was not the case here. They conclude by offering me a discount code good for 15% off on a future booking. This isn't an apology because it lacks the critical defining features of an apology: it doesn't acknowledge that what was done was wrong, and it leaves open the possibility of doing it again.
In my coverage of the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, I mentioned the Billiken shrine at the top. Wikipedia's article on Billiken is of some interest. Note that they refer to him consistently as "the Billiken," although the basis for doing so seems to be flimsy (some sources do it, and Wikipedians think that is the last word). He was always referred to without a "the" in the English-language materials I saw in Osaka, just with "Billiken" used in the normal fashion for a name, so I'm not going to add a "the" here.
Billiken apparently originated in St. Louis, Missouri, with a woman named Florence Pretz, who saw his image in a dream and designed and patented a doll based on it in 1908, predating Kewpies, which came out in December of 1909. Wikipedia claims (with a "citation needed" note) that he "sprang from the height of the \"Mind-Cure\" craze" and links "Mind-Cure" to New Thought, though I'm not sure how legitimate that link is. But it's certainly interesting to know that anybody thinks there's a New Thought connection.
Note that Pretz is also the name of a Japanese snack food made by Glico; it's basically a long pretzel stick, somewhat similar to the popular Pocky but without the frosting and salty instead of sweet.
I'm in Vancouver now. The typhoon aftermath was somewhat nightmarish. Air Canada dumped me and my luggage in the lobby of Narita Airport (which does NOT operate 24 hours a day like pretty much all other major-city airports in the world), telling me to go away and come back the next day. That was the first point at which I really realized that not only were they not planning to pay for my hotel, but they also washed their hands of actually finding me an hotel. And hotel rooms were unobtainable in Narita, because of the large number of other people who had found out much sooner than I did that their flights were cancelled; and the trains out of Narita were about to stop running.
I'm writing this over Narita Airport's atrocious free wireless service, so I won't write much, but: due to Typhoon Roke, my plane out of here is delayed "indefinitely." So far, it has been 80 minutes. I believe there are some planes flying out of here, just at a much lower rate than normal. I've heard that JR has stopped the trains; when I left Tokyo there were a couple of shinkansen lines cancelling service, and my train to the airport was delayed about 15 minutes, but otherwise the trains were running normally.
If everything were on schedule, I would have 3 hours 10 minutes to make my connection in Vancouver for the plane to Winnipeg, so at the moment, I'm in no danger of missing that. But it remains to be seen how long the delay will actually be.
ETA: The flight has been cancelled. That in itself is not the airline's fault. If it's unsafe to land a plane here, I obviously don't want them to try. However, I do think it is the airline's fault that in the hour and a half since the cancellation, there have been no announcements about it whatsoever on the loudspeakers or the departures screens. I had to figure out for myself that my flight was mysteriously no longer listed on the departures screens (not listed at all - not just listed as "cancelled" like other cancelled flights) and then I had to have the wherewithal to get on the Web, check the airline's Web site, see that the flight was cancelled, figure out where to go to ask for more information (which was a gate OTHER than the one that had most recently been listed as the gate for my flight, before it disappeared from the list) and wait in line to be told what to do - and even then I was not REALLY told what to do. There's a failure to provide sufficient information to passengers here, and that's a problem.
I am starting this draft sitting on a bench in the Kyu-Shiba Gardens, near the Hamamatsuchou train station, Tokyo. This is my last full day in Japan - I leave tomorrow morning - and I have no really specific plans for the day, though in the evening I'll be meeting up with some friends who are Westerners living here (one Canadian, one British). This will probably be my last update posted before I leave. It's been quite a trip.
Lots of photo galleries:
I'm titling this entry "Kanazawa" but in fact that's just my base of operations; much of what I've done in the last few days has been in the surrounding region.
Full report later, but I had a good time visiting Keta Taisha and the space museum in the Hakui area, and didn't get lost nor abducted by space aliens despite nobody in the town understanding any English at all. I bought a charm labelled 「心むすび」 and am about 95% sure it's the one I wanted, rather than "protection from hemorrhoids" or something, though I'm sure they were selling charms for that too. The food is good in Kanazawa.
My office computer in Winnipeg, which I was using in place of the home computer that crashed, now seems to have crashed also. At least this one has other people with access to the room who can go reboot it if that's what it needs. An email has been sent; and even if that doesn't get fixed, I have further backup options. On the plus side, I tried my debit card in another bank machine and it worked, so maybe it wasn't locked out after all, or they unlocked it.
I am starting this draft in the Osaka train station, though I'll probably be well on my way to Kanazawa by the time I finish it. Sorry about the delay in posting - I've been too busy having adventures to write about them. I think last update I had made it as far as Abeno Seimei Jinja.
As I sit down to start writing this, it is 8:40pm in Osaka, which is where I am right now. But it's 7:40am in Waterloo, which is where I was at this time ten years ago. I had just arrived a few days earlier in the city where I planned to live for four years while I did my PhD. I'm not sure where I thought I'd be today. If you told me then that on this day in 2011 I'd be writing this from Osaka, that in itself wouldn't have surprised me - it was certainly my expectation that the kind of work I would do would involve occasional travel of this nature. If you told me I'd have finished my PhD by now, I'd have said, of course, that's the plan. If you told me I'd only be three years out of the PhD, having taken seven instead of four to complete it, and in 2011 I'd still be doing "postdocs," that part would have surprised me; it sure wasn't the plan. And neither was still being alone in 2011. Indeed, very much of my life as of this day ten years ago was carefully planned around the fact that my top priority was to not still be alone after even one more year. My plan for my life had already failed because I was still alone in 2001. And my last chance to salvage it, in the early 2000s, failed too.
But just a couple hours from now my ten-years-younger self will (if I can use the future tense for what happened a decade ago) find something else to think about for a while. I found out about the historic events of September 11 sooner than most people around me did because shortly after the first plane struck I tuned into a "talker" MUD where people were discussing it, including one member who was in downtown New York and actually seeing the events first-hand. At the time I found out, I was in a small computer lab on one of the upper floors of the Math and Computer Science building at Waterloo, because I had only just had my computer account activated, I had no computer in my office yet and I didn't yet have my home computer linked to the Net, and so that was where I had to go to get on the Net at all. I remember turning away from the computer and addressing the only other person in the lab: "Listen, there's something important you should probably know about." I told him what I'd just read, and then I went down to the pay phones in the Davis Centre atrium and phoned my parents on the West Coast, even though it was 6:something am for them.
September 11 photo gallery (photos on first page are actually from the afternoon/evening of September 10).
Writing this on September 10. I've been working very hard for the last few days, as well as struggling with technology issues (as mentioned, my computer in Canada seems to be kaput), so here are just a few notes.
Looks like my home computer has stopped working. Most likely it's some kind of thermal-related hardware flakiness, and it'll be basically okay once rebooted. But since I am literally on the other side of the world from the machine in question, and it's not accepting network connections, there's not really anything that can be done about this situation until I return to Canada almost two weeks from now. Fortunately, I have enough other computing resources elsewhere on the Net that I can still do my email and Web log updates and the other things I really need to do during my trip; and all the data was backed up before I left, so even if the machine is dead in some more spectacular and permanent way, there'll be little if any really permanent damage. Some reference information that would be nice to have access to, is locked up on that computer and inaccessible with it not accepting network connections. Axel, sorry, but it looks unlikely that the astro charts will work until I'm back in Canada.
I sure don't seem to be having good luck with technology these last few days.
Something changed in the already-flaky conference wireless system, and I haven't been able to get online from the conference (only from my hotel room) for a while. That has limited my ability to update. But here goes.
September 7, Wednesday: day 2 of MOL 12, notably including the guided walking tour of tourist sites around Nara. I had mixed feelings about that: I got a lot of interesting information from the tour and visited some places I might not have done under my own power, but it was also at times frustrating.
Okay, the update for September 7 probably will take a while, because there are a lot of pictures and things to describe - that was the day of the conference-sponsored walking tour. However, I did look up the unknown Shinto shrine with the sign saying 「えんむすび采女神社」 shown in the photo gallery, so here's a quick note about that.
September 6 was the first day of MOL 12 - the workshop that is my excuse for coming to Japan in the first place. I'm not going to go into much detail on the conference itself, at least not right here; I did record the audio from my talk but I'm not even sure if I'll post it. I think it went okay, but I'm not sure I was really at the top of my game; some of my other conference talks have been better.
I'm writing this from the 12th Meeting on Mathematics of Language, on the morning of September 7. Wireless bandwidth is poor here, and there are only 8 IP addresses shared between me and all other delegates, so I am writing offline and then uploading so as to tie up one of those addresses for as short a time as possible.
Last entry ended a bit suddenly because I hadn't been paying close attention to the time, and so I was surprised by the shinkansen's arrival in Kyoto. I thought I made the connection to the train from there to Nara pretty well, but it turned out that the train I was on, although it was the Nara line, did not actually go as far as Nara. It went out of service at Jouyou. So I had to wait there for the next train, which would take me the rest of the way. At least waiting at the station gave me the chance to take a few more photos of infrastructure.
At Nara station, I was greeting by this improbable figure.
At a glance, it seems to be a Buddhist/Wiccan syncretic deity, the Horned Buddha.
I am writing this draft on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, though I probably won't have a chance to upload it until I reach Nara later this afternoon. Oy, such an adventure I am having.
Wrote an entry here, and hotel's wireless authentication system ate the submit transaction. Don't really have time to rewrite, so I'll do it up properly during the shinkansen ride this afternoon and edit the new content in. To summarize: It's Monday morning here. I didn't activate Meredith's Law about what happens if you barf on a date; I have a lead on a replacement camera, though of course the lowest-end camera I can buy in Shinjuku is fancier than the one I'm replacing; and things seem more or less under control for my being able to reach the next save point.
I got off the Narita Express at the wrong station - Shibuya instead of Shinjuku. Resolving that should have been easy: get on the local train from Shibuya to Shinjuku, at no cost except the lost time because I have a pass. But somewhere in the process of figuring that out, I lost my camera. This could have been predicted because I was making a conscious effort to keep it in my hand, not in my pocket, the better to make quick snapshots, and the consequence is that it was easy to set down somewhere. My name and email address are stored on it, so it's quite possible it may find its way back to me again eventually, but it appears I had better buy another one because I need one immediately. Gee, I wish I happened to be visiting the consumer electronics capital of the world right now...
It is worth mentioning that although losing the camera is annoying, there are many other things I could well have lost that would have gotten me in Big Trouble - like my passport, for instance, or my rail pass. I can buy a new camera quite easily; it wasn't an expensive one.
Then once I got to Shinjuku station I got lost looking for my hotel. I think I owe an offering to the kami of Hanazono Shrine, because that was the landmark that worked. Once I found the shrine, the rest of my route was right where I expected it to be. Nothing else in Shinjuku looks the way I expected it to at night.
Meanwhile, I skipped exchanging my money at the airport because I thought it would be better to find a bank machine and withdraw fresh money rather than trying to exchange Canadian, but finding a bank machine that would take my Canadian ATM card was harder than I thought. It also didn't help that the Japan Rail staff were so incredibly efficient - I had thought to exchange money in between getting my train ticket and getting on the train, but that was not what happened. I just sort of vaguely waved my JR Pass Exchange Order at the staff and really before I knew it I was on the Narita Express to Shinjuku with all the rest of my reserved tickets for the entire trip in hand and triple-checked. I didn't have to speak Japanese to them because they didn't let me get a word in edgewise. Of course, it may have helped that I did have all my paperwork in order (and in Japanese) beforehand. Maybe a really clueless tourist would be processed at a more leisurely pace.
They have ATMs that handle foreign cards in Seven Elevens, right? And Google Maps shows roughly one Seven Eleven per three residents of Japan, even in podunk rural towns. But, like cops, where's one when you need one? By the time I figured out that it would be better to just cave and change the Canadian dollars, it was too late. I did find a Seven Eleven on my way from Hanazono Shrine to the hotel. Not having money had secondary consequences like not being able to phone my local contact. Even now that I have some cash, it's in 10000-yen bills, roughly equivalent to $100 each, and I'm pretty sure the vending machines won't take those. But I could be surprised.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, something went wrong in the colo facility that hosts this Web site. Fortunately, one of the services I pay for is having someone else resolve such things. It seems to be up now. I'm sure that when I have time to read it, the story will be interesting. Right now I have no idea what happened.
Now I've been awake way too long, and still have things to do before I sleep.
I'm writing this from the Vancouver airport. It's 9:20 on Saturday, local time, but I'm trying to shift my brain to JST, so for me, it's 1:20 (am) on Sunday. This'll be the first of probably many updates during my trip.
I'm posting photos in my gallery, and you should look there regularly because I will sometimes post stuff there without posting commentary or links here. I think there's an RSS feed you can subscribe to if you want up-to-the-minute photos. Do come back and look at pictures you've seen before, too, because I may post comments or annotations on existing pictures. Uploading photos to the gallery is fast and easy; posting comments there takes more time, and posting entries here even more than that.
These are mostly collected for my own reference, so that I can quickly find them during my trip, but they may be of interest to readers as well. Inclusion of a site on this list (or on the linked maps) doesn't necessarily mean that I will visit it - some I'm just recording for reference, and my itinerary will be at least partly decided spur-of-the-moment. See also my earlier posting. I will probably continue updating this entry rather than writing new entries for additional links; but reports when I'm actually on my trip will go in new entries.
In September I'm going to Japan for three weeks, and one of the things I'm planning to do there is visit Shinto shrines. Here are some links on that, which may be of interest to Western pagans among my readers.
Here are a few notes on the current state of my life.
I checked out of my apartment. That involved fewer formalities than I expected - nothing to sign, just handed back the keys, and the superintendent took the smell of bleach as evidence I'd left the place clean, and thanked me - apparently not having expected it. I get the impression that expected condition for rental units on departure varies a lot province to province and maybe even city to city. I remember the place I stayed in Burnaby, which charged me a fee for not having cleaned the oven even though I did clean the oven, dammit, and what could I do, I can't exactly take them to court in a city I no longer live in over $40; and more than one where (and this was a requirement I agreed to in the lease, so it offended me much less) I had to show them a receipt for carpet steam-cleaning when I left. For me I guess how I feel about it partly depends on how I feel about the place I'm leaving - this management company in Toronto treated me well, so I was inclined to put in some effort, though I didn't go to the level of moving, and cleaning under, the stove and refrigerator, and I have the impression nobody has cleaned the top of the kitchen cupboards since the building was built 90 years ago. By the way, why do people build kitchen cupboards that neither go all the way to the ceiling, nor have enough space to put objects on top? I can see reasons for either of those designs, but not for the usual case of a few centimetres' gap.
The movers have most of my worldly goods in their care, but I took my remaining luggage down to the bus station and locked it in a locker. Then I returned my cable modem to the ISP, and headed for the U of T campus. The campus is locked down for the winter break now, but as expected, I was able to get into my office anyway, and I've been camped out here for the last few hours. In the near future I'll be putting my key under someone's door (haven't decided whose yet), collecting my luggage, and going to a friend's place for a Solstice ritual. That will use up much of the night; then I plan to nap for a few more hours, and then I'll be off to Winnipeg, thence Calgary and Victoria.
It meant I got just under four hours sleep, but I succeeded in finishing my packing a whole hour before the movers will be due to arrive. Now I just have to wait for them.
Nice eclipse last night, wasn't it? I guess being up late packing had the side benefit that I was awake to look at the sky.
ETA: The movers showed up and it only took them an hour to remove all my stuff. So now I have almost the whole day in which to do my last-minute errands, make my donations, and maybe even think about some holiday gift shopping.
Very soon I'll be taking down and packing my main desktop computer. Although I'll still be able to read and write plain text email and make Web log postings after that, I won't really have full connectivity again until early January. In particular, you should not expect me to be able to see anything sent as an attached file, such as photos or video clips. That means you, Mom.
Starting to feel panicky about my move. The movers are coming for my stuff on the 21st. I have about half of it fully packed and sealed, and really, that does leave enough time, because most of the rest is already in boxes that just have to be checked, redistributed a bit, and sealed. My last full day in TO is the 22nd and I'm off on an early plane on the morning of the 23rd. Around the 21st will be when I take down and pack up my desktop machine. After that point I'll still have some access to the Net, but it will be limited, until the first week of January when I hope to have my desktop machine up and running in Winnipeg.
I have to put in the final version of a journal paper on the 16th - fortunately, most of the work for that is being done by my co-authors - and the initial submission of a conference paper on the 17th. That's going to be an adventure. The text is about half written; the experiments whose results will make up most of the rest are not yet complete; and there is little enough time now that it's not clear we will have enough CPU cycles in the remaining days, to actually finish those experiments. I have one co-author on that paper but he's also a co-author of several other papers for the same conference, and it looks like I have to carry the ball on the writing side. I'm due to attend a Christmas party on the evening of the 17th - can't skip, it's career-related - and expect to spend part of it sitting in the corner with my laptop making final edits and submissions. At least the weather has gotten colder. The cold is good for my experiments because it means I can lower the temperature in my apartment and that makes the computer (which is working at its limit without rest) a bit happier. I was having some thermal reliability problems earlier.
I decided the thing to do with the old clothes is to take them to Winnipeg and donate them there. I have the definite feeling that people in Winnipeg are poorer than in Toronto, and a quick check on the Net shows that there are a lot more ways to donate clothing on that end. It means doing the work of packing them, and paying for the shipping, but it also means I don't have to do the work of finding recipients on this end, which would be a type of work I particularly dislike, and would have to be done in a time-frame when my available effort is in very short supply. So once I saw it in those terms the answer became clear.
The dead computer hardware goes out with tonight's garbage. Not sure yet about the scrap aluminum - the city said they'd take it but I have my doubts about whether they'll really recycle it.
I posted a new version of the Tsukurimashou demo. I've added lowercase Latin, numerals, some tomoe ornaments, some punctuation (though Latin punctuation has a way to go), small caps, fractions, and some adjustments to existing characters. Genjimon and I Ching hexagrams are in the code but not in the demo file. Probably no more progress on this until the New Year. I've been putting off doing the katakana, but they are the logical next step.
I sent my novel, Shining Path, to the beta readers and got back comments from some of them. I've been working on the editing, and hope to have it in shape to start querying agents early in the new year.
I just got back from a week in Sweden at ACL 2010. It went pretty well. I presented my paper, which you can read online as a PDF; I didn't get a lot of response or questions right at the presentation, but I said what I wanted to say and at least they didn't throw things, and I'm told there was a lot of interest in it offline. In one of the workshops I actually found several people who wanted to talk to me about my dissertation research, and it'd be really cool if I could somehow redeem some of the years of work I put into that, so that's good. I took photos and some may end up posted here eventually.