Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

New York diary: Day 2

Thursday, 23 June, 2016

Sunday, 12 June, 2016. 23:34

It’s been a very busy and full day, beginning just after 06:30 when we went down to breakfast at the hotel, having woken fairly early due to the jet lag. We spent the day exploring Brooklyn with David D., who I’ve known for maybe 25 years or so, and who had moved to New York to live with his American wife nearly 20 years ago. David is a keen photographer, and has published two photo collection books on New York: As Seen in Brooklyn, and Manhattan: Top to Bottom.

Being a keen photographer myself, I explained to him that I had not brought a digital SLR camera with me on the trip, but had elected instead to bring a 35mm film SLR, loaded with old black and white film which expired some time back in the 1970s. I figured if any place was suited to retro black and white photography, it was New York. (For colour photos I relied solely on my iPhone.)

Written later

I woke up before 04:00 with jet lag and couldn’t get back to sleep, but M. slept until about 06:00. We went down to breakfast at the hotel soon after it began at 06:30. The buffet selection included cereal (corn flakes and raisin bran), bread for toasting, bagels, pancakes, boiled eggs, sweet pastries and doughnuts, yoghurt, and bananas and apples. We stuck to cereal and bagels and fresh fruit. M. tried another coffee from the automated machine in the lobby but after one sip decided to stick to a hot chocolate instead.

We walked over to a subway station near Times Square to get some tickets and then catch a number 3 train to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. We tried to buy Metrocard tickets from a machine, but it wouldn’t take my Amex card because I couldn’t enter a valid US ZIP code. So we had to pay cash to a lady in the booth. Don’t they think of foreign visitors when designing the ticket machines?

Brooklyn jogger
Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

We arrived a bit early, but David was there waiting for us. He took us out and past the Grand Army monument towards Prospect Park. Along the way he informed us of a lot of the history of Brooklyn, which was interesting and a great way to understand the area a bit better. I felt a bit like we were Anthony Bourdain or someone from a travel show, getting the inside story about the place from a local.

Read more: Brooklyn’s Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Coney Island, then dinner in Manhattan’s Little Italy

New York diary: Day 1

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016

(I haven’t finished posting all of my Yokohama adventures in the last diary yet – that will come eventually. Meanwhile, I’ve also been to New York!)

Saturday, 11 June, 2016. 08:23. Los Angeles

We are sitting on a Qantas Boeing 747, waiting to take off for JFK Airport in New York. We left Sydney a bit after 10:00, also on Saturday, flying out on an Airbus A380. I thought we’d be on the same plane all the way to New York, as we had one boarding pass for the whole flight with the same seat number on both legs. But when we negotiated the maze of LAX, clearing customs and immigration to emerge on the groundside of the airport before re-entering through security to find our gate, we found ourselves boarding the 747 we’d seen next to us our incoming flight pulled into the terminal.

My view for the next 20 hours.
On board the Airbus A380.

We got up at 06:00 this morning, showering and having a quick breakfast before calling a taxi for the airport. The sun was rising over Sydney as we drove, painting the CBD a beautiful orange and marking the start of another lovely winter day.

At the airport, we were amazed by how much the terminal had changed since we’d last been there in February. Much of it was unfamiliar with the ongoing redevelopment work. M. got a coffee and an almond croissant for a snack before we boarded, and split the croissant with me. Our flight out was delayed a bit because the pilot had been caught in traffic getting to the airport!

Read more: arrival in NYC, Times Square, burgers in an Irish pub, Bryant Park

USA/Japan diary, day 12

Monday, 18 April, 2016

Wednesday, 24 February, 2016. 22:02

I woke up even earlier this morning, at 05:30. I puttered around a bit, checking email and news and so on, before heading out at about 06:30 to find some breakfast. I planned to go to the same Sunkus convenience store in the Queen’s Square again, but when I walked over there the plaza building was locked. Coming back over the footbridge, I saw a promisingly illuminated store on the ground floor of the main Pacifico Yokohama convention centre building. I went to investigate and found it to be another convenience store, but it too was closed, with a sign saying it opened at 07:00.

Yokohama dawn
Dawn over Yokohama Harbour, from my hotel room window.

So I went for a bit of a walk, around the hotel to the waterfront and along there a bit. The weather was bitingly cold, but there were the odd walker or two, with a dog, and a jogger. I didn’t dawdle, but instead sought shelter from the cold back inside the hotel lobby for ten minutes or so until the convenience store opened. Then I dashed across, bought a couple of prepacked rice snacks, a fresh hot croissant, and a tub of blueberry yoghurt, which I took back to my room to eat for breakfast.

Read more: ISO meetings, hot stew lunch, shabu-shabu for dinner, and the chance to win dessert

USA/Japan diary, day 11

Sunday, 17 April, 2016

Tuesday, 23 February, 2016. 21:20

Today was the first day of the ISO meetings here in Yokohama. I tried to sleep to 07:30, but woke up irretrievably a bit before 06:00. So I ate the banana muffin I’d bought last night, then did some stretching exercises, before heading out around 07:00 to find something else for breakfast. I found a Sunkus convenience store in Queen’s Square, where I bought some prepacked sushi rice things. The nori wrapped ones from 7-11 have pictures on them so you can take at least a good guess as to what fillings they have, but these Sunkus ones only have Japanese characters on them, so it’s a complete gamble picking one. The random one I chose had salmon in it, which was kind of a jackpot. I also got one with no nori, where I could see the rice had bits of egg in it, and was coated in sesame seeds.

After eating, it was down to the adjoining conference centre to begin the ISO meetings. The first session was all the preliminary administration type stuff, which ended early at about 11:40. I went to lunch with Margaret, Jonathan, and Scott Geffert. Margaret said that the hotel concierge had told her about a good Japanese restaurant in Queen’s Square, so she led us there, after a bit of confusion over which lift to take. When we sat at a table and saw the menus, we realised they were only offering a lunch special at this time, with a very limited and uninspiring selection of meals, so we decided to leave right away and go try something else.

Sushi special
Sushi special lunch.

Read more: mostly food really, since the rest of the day was technical meetings

USA/Japan diary, day 10

Friday, 15 April, 2016

Monday, 22 February, 2016. 20:27

I slept well, but woke just after 06:00, with the dim grey dawn light just poking through the window curtains. The view from my window is quite spectacular, looking north-east over Yokohama harbour from the ninth floor. I tried to sleep in a bit more, but actually started waking up, so I got up and began preparing for the day. I had to find my way to Kamata, and asked at the front desk again how to get there. The man gave me a very useful map of the local area, including Minatomirai station, the nearest one to walk to, and Yokohama station, where I had to change to a JR train to Kamata. I also asked if I could buy a Suica card at Minatomirai, and the guy said yes.

So I rugged up in my coat and the scarf M. had left behind in San Francisco, to brave the cold morning air and walk to the station. The temperature here was much colder than it had been in San Francisco, hovering around the 5°C mark. It took a few minutes to get my bearings, but I eventually found the right street to walk down and then found the station. I bought a Suica card at a ticket machine, then hopped on the train to Yokohama. This first train was fairly empty, and I thought maybe I’d be lucky and avoid any crowds. But Yokohama station was big and frantic with thousands of people rushing to and fro in their morning commutes. My main worry was that the Suica card came with just 500 yen on it and I had used 180 of that on the two-station trip from Minatomirai to Yokohama. I wasn’t sure if the remainder was even enough to get me to Kamata, let alone on to Shimomaruko.

Shimomaruko station
Shimomaruko station.

Read more: Shimomaruko and back, riding a giant Ferris wheel, sushi lunch, Cup Noodles Museum, a guy making omelettes, the Yokohama Museum of Art, and German wurst and beer for dinner!

USA/Japan diary, day 9

Monday, 4 April, 2016

Sunday, 21 February, 2016. (Written next day)

The flight was okay, with a bit of bumpy turbulence near the beginning. I stayed awake the whole time, to force myself into the new time zone of Yokohama. During the flight I watched two movies: the recent remake of Poltergeist (not as good as the original, although the creepy clown doll scene was very well done), and Max Max: Fury Road, which I thought did not live up to the hype my friends have given it. Then I watched four episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and an episode of the new Muppets show.

The plane landed at Tokyo Haneda Airport on time at 22:35 on Sunday night (since I’d crossed the date line during the flight), but there was a long line at the immigration clearance area, and I didn’t get through until nearly 23:30. I spotted Margaret Belska behind me in the queue; she’d been on the same flight as me from San Francisco. I’d been planning to get the train to the hotel, screenshotting a few timetable options, but I didn’t figure on waiting an hour to clear immigration, so had no idea when the trains were running, and wasn’t looking forward to navigating the unfamiliar stations either. So when Margaret said she was getting a taxi if I wanted to split the fair, I jumped at the chance. Even better, we were staying at the same hotel.

We arrived at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand hotel right on midnight after a lengthy ride through the empty freeways and streets of Yokohama late on a Sunday night. We checked in, and I went to my room for a quick shower before tumbling into bed. I set my alarm for 07:30, after asking the reception guy how much time I’d need in the morning to get to Kamata station, which I know is the transfer point to get to Shimomaruko and the Canon headquarters, where I have a meeting tomorrow.

USA/Japan diary, day 8

Sunday, 3 April, 2016

Saturday, 20 February, 2016. 16:30

I slept in lazily this morning, getting up about 08:30, then going down to get some yoghurt to have with the last of the Grape Nuts for breakfast. I packed my luggage, making room for some of M.’s stuff that she’d left behind by leaving out my coat to wear on the plane. I searched for something to do quickly this morning before checking out, and found the Children’s Creativity Museum, just a few blocks away. This sounded good, and it opened at 10:00, letting me have a bit over an hour there before heading back to check out.

I walked over through the brisk morning air, glad to have my coat on, through Yerba Buena Gardens, to the museum. It turned out to be a fairly small affair, over two storeys, and dedicated to interactive activities for kids, roughly categorised as for under 5s and over 5s. The woman who took my $12 entry fee suggested trying the animation studio, which was upstairs, so I headed there first.

Plasticine studio
Stop motion animation studio at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

Since the place had just opened, it was still mostly empty, and a couple of staff greeted me as the first visitor to the animation studio today. There were several tables laid out with uniformly cut lumps of multicolour streaked modelling clay, and crude wire figures of people. A guy showed me the instruction sheet, which had photos showing the process of moulding the multicoloured clay around the wire to form a figure, then getting specific coloured clay pieces from the staff to roll thin and layer over the top to create skin and clothing. At one end of the room were a few tables set up with cameras for making stop motion movies using the clay figures. This looked fun, so I grabbed some tools and started making a human figure, then got some dark green, light brown, and dark brown clay to make a rough Steve Irwin type of figure, in khaki shorts and with a floppy hat. This took quite some time, so I passed on the animation so that I could look around the rest of the museum.

Read more: the rest of the museum, lunch at the Ferry Building, heading to the airport to fly to Tokyo

USA/Japan diary, day 7

Thursday, 31 March, 2016

Friday, 19 February, 2016. 16:45

We set no alarm this morning, which resulted in us sleeping in until about 8:30. M. showered and then I went down to get some milk and yoghurt for breakfast. We took it easy preparing for the day, and didn’t leave the room until just after 10:00. While getting the breakfast things, I stopped at the concierge desk to ask if Coit Tower had reopened after the renovations it was undergoing a couple of years ago. He said yes, and when I said I’d been to San Francisco several times but never gone to Coit Tower, he said, “Oh, you have to!” He scribbled on a tourist map the best way to walk up Telegraph Hill, via the relatively gently slope of Lombard Street, and then to go down the hill via the Filbert Street steps, which he said went through some beautiful gardens.

Mara's Italian Pastry
Mara’s Italian Pastry.

So we left to walk there, via North Beach to pop into Mara’s Italian Bakery again for a morning pastry and a coffee for M. She chose an almond biscotto and a cappuccino, while I noticed that they had something very much like a vanilla slice in the display cabinet, so I got one of those. The man behind the counter called it a Napolitana when M. asked for one, and it was pretty good. (I have a detailed review here on my vanilla slice review blog.)

Read more: hat shopping, Coit Tower sightseeing, Filbert Street steps, wine and cheese at a wine bar, Thai food for dinner

USA/Japan diary, day 6

Saturday, 26 March, 2016

Thursday, 18 February, 2016. 23:44

It’s been a long day, but fun. This morning we allowed ourselves a sleep in until 08:00, since the first conference talks I wanted to attend didn’t start until 09:10. We did the breakfast routine with Grape Nuts and milk and yoghurt from the hotel cafeteria. Then I went to my talks while M. hung around in the room a bit before leaving to drop off a bag of laundry at Pete’s Cleaners, a place near the Stockton Tunnel which we’d used last time we were here. They charged $15 for a bag wash of everything we’ve worn so far this week. Then she walked down Market Street west towards Hayes Street to explore some of the shops along that street.

The morning sessions of the conference began with talks on 3D scanning. One was about fixing intermediate depth assignments for pixels on the edges of foreground objects in front of a more distant background. One was generating a deformable 3D model template from video of moving non-rigid objects, such as people or animals. And one was about integrating scans from multiple Microsoft Kinect 3D sensors into a single 3D colour model.

After the coffee break I attended another session of the Colour conference, this one about printing. There was a talk about choosing optimal compression algorithms for printing, followed by one about predicting how much toner a page would take to print (apparently not a straightforward problem). Then there was one about dithering of colours in 3D printing, which is much more complicated than in 2D printing, because surfaces can appear at any angle in three dimensions, and the dithering patterns can produce visible moiré effects if they’re not optimised properly for all viewing angles. The last two talks were essentially two parts of one long talk about a project to construct and program a robot to take a given image, then convert the image to a set of brush strokes, then paint it using an actual paintbrush and paints. This was by the same woman who had talked about cadmium red yesterday. The system worked with oil paints and took account of the layering and the textures created by applying paint thickly. It was quite interesting, but I think it has a lot of unfulfilled potential yet, like mixing paint colours on the canvas.

Robotic oil painter
Oil painting robot.

Read more: a farmer’s market at lunch, talks on colour and human perception, dinner at an Afghani restaurant with friends

USA/Japan diary, day 5

Wednesday, 16 March, 2016

Wednesday, 17 February, 2016. 20:50

The weather has turned, with San Francisco blessing us with a bit of rainfall this evening. The forecast for today was morning showers, becoming steady rain in the afternoon and possible thunderstorms in the evening. The temperature was to be a slightly chilly 19°C, not too much cooler than the 23s and 24s of the past few days. The morning dawned with a patchy overcast which didn’t look particularly rainy, and indeed the rain held off completely until late afternoon, with a few showers around 17:00, before settling into steady rain only after about 18:00.

After breakfast repeating the routine of yesterday, M. went out for a day exploring the Mission across to Castro, then over to Haight-Ashbury, before catching a bus back to the hotel. Her first planned stop was ImagiKnit, a shop Lisa suggested for buying knitting yarn, on the corner of 18th and Sanchez Streets. Here she bought a large ball of fancy multicoloured yarn for her mum to knit a beanie. She got back to the hotel about 15:30, not seeing a drop of rain all day.

Red rime
It definitely rained later in the evening.

Meanwhile, I attended day three of the conference. The first Digital Photography talks began at 09:30, so I had time before them to attend a couple of talks in the Stereoscopic Displays and Applications session, which were fairly industry oriented and non researchy talks about applications of 3D displays. Then I moved to the Digital Photography room for a talk on photo editing on mobile phones. The speaker pointed out that some processing algorithms are so computationally intensive that it’s hard to run them on a phone, so people thought cloud computing was the answer – upload your photos, process on a server, and download the result. The problem is uploading a full resolution image and downloading the result takes much longer than running the algorithms! So he proposed a solution where the phone compresses the photo heavily, to a hundredth or less the file size, using low quality JPEG at full resolution, upload that, have the server do a computationally heavy optimisation to produce a processing algorithm “recipe” for the photo based on this compressed version, and download this recipe to the phone for the phone to run on the high quality full resolution image. Although the recipe is optimised for the low quality JPEG, it works fine on the full quality image. This seems like a pretty clever idea to me.

Read more: colour naming, kosher lunch, the Dark Side of colour, Indian food for dinner