USA/Japan diary, day 3

10 March, 2016

Monday, 15 February, 2016. 21:13

Today was the first day of the Electronic Imaging conference. I set the alarm for 07:00 again, to give us time to get some breakfast and then allow me to register for the conference before the first talks began at 08:40.

Last night on our way in we’d stopped to look at the cafe in the hotel lobby, and they had a good breakfast selection, including take away cups of yoghurt, fresh fruit, and muesli, so we went down and bought one of those each. It looked like a lot of yoghurt and not enough muesli, so we also got an extra small tub of muesli to share. This was a significantly cheaper and healthier breakfast than yesterday, and tasted good. For tomorrow we’re doing one better, since they sell small tubs of yoghurt and cartons of milk, so we bought a large packet of Grape Nuts cereal from Walgreens to have with those. Previously we thought we couldn’t easily do this as the hotel room has no mini fridge, so we couldn’t keep milk or yoghurt cool. They also have paper bowls and plastic spoons in the cafe, so we’re all set.

After breakfast I helped M. sort out the trains she needed to catch to go visit Berkeley during the day, then I went down to attend the conference. Registration was quick, with no queues, and I ran into Nicolas (who used to work with me but left to go to Apple in Cupertino) there.

The first batch of talks I attended was in the Image Quality and System Performance conference. There was an interesting talk on developing a single perceptually based measure of image quality which encompassed a range of different image artefacts, such as blurriness, poor exposure, and so on. The presenter said that to calibrate the scale between different artefacts they had volunteer observers judge, for example, how blurry a sample image had to be made until it was equal in “image quality” to a second poorly exposed image. She said at first the observers complained that they couldn’t make a blurry image the same quality as a badly exposed image. So she showed them a nice sharp image and asked if that was better or worse than the badly exposed image. The volunteers said it was better. Then she used a blur slider to make the sharp image really really blurry and asked which was better, the badly exposed image, or the blurry image where you couldn’t see anything. They said the badly exposed image was better. Then she said, “Well, at this sharp end the first image is better than the badly exposed image, but when you blur it out completely then it’s worse. So somewhere in the middle it must be the same!” And after this pep talk the observers could do the task. I’m not entirely convinced that two different image quality axes can be forced to map on to a single axis like this in a consistent way – and indeed she had to throw out three of her observers as their results didn’t agree with the others.

After a brief coffee break, the late morning session began, which was the first of Digital Photography and Mobile Imaging conference, for which I am on the organising committee. This was also a joint session with the IQSP conference, and the talks were all about measuring various aspects of image quality: image stabilisation performance, image flare, MTF of ultra wide angle lenses, chromatic flare (or “purple fringing“), and using standardised illuminants to characterise sensors.

John's Grill
The historic John’s Grill.

Following these talks was the lunch for the DPMI conference committee, so I was invited. It was held in John’s Grill, a famous San Francisco restaurant which opened in 1908 and was apparently featured as a significant location in the novel The Maltese Falcon (though I’m not sure if it made it into the film). The food was of the steaks and seafood variety, and I chose a broiled salmon, which came with mashed potatoes, broccolini, yellow squash, and hollandaise sauce on the side. Over lunch, the attending committee members, a good 18 or so of us, discussed details for organising next year’s conference, which Jackson Roland from Imatest is going to chair.

Read more: conference stuff, followed by dinner in North Beach – pizza!

USA/Japan diary, day 2

5 March, 2016

Sunday, 14 February, 2016. 11:46

We are sitting on a tour bus in Muir Woods, waiting for the last stragglers to return to our guided tour. We decided to book this tour for today, to get out of the city a bit and see some new things.

We got up with the alarm at 07:00, dressed quickly and went for breakfast. Before we left, I phoned the tour operator to confirm our pickup time from the hotel. The website said they were open from 07:00 on Sunday, but there was nobody there and I had to leave a message.

We went for breakfast to Cafe Bellini on Powell Street. This was a very shiny and red place, with all the surfaces either mirrors or dark red. I ordered a breakfast bagel, which had ham, egg, provolone cheese, cream cheese, and tomato. It came with crispy fried chunks of potato on the side. M. had a bowl of muesli with yoghurt and fruit. This, plus M.’s coffee, added up to nearly $30!

Breakfast bagel
Breakfast bagel at Cafe Bellini.

Read more: Muir Woods, Sausalito, ferry ride, diner in The Mission

USA/Japan diary: day 1

2 March, 2016

Yes, this is a different travel diary to the previous Japan/USA one! Last year I flew to Sapporo and Boston; this year it was to San Francisco and Yokohama. Without further ado:

Saturday, 13 February, 2016. 22:01 San Francisco time

We departed Sydney on a flight at 14:30, arriving in San Francisco around 09:30 on the same day, thanks to crossing the date line. With no checked luggage, our passage through immigration and customs was very fast, as there were no queues of people waiting except at the baggage claim. We caught a BART train from the airport and were at our hotel by about 11:00.

After checking in, we immediately left for a brisk walk to keep ourselves awake against jet lag. We walked up Grant Avenue through Chinatown, then across to Powell through North Beach until we arrived at Pier 39. By now it was after midday and we stopped at Boudin Bakery for soup in sourdough bowls, as we did last time we were here. M. had tomato, while I had beef chilli. After the early breakfast on the plane, it was good and filling and hit the spot.

Fire escape mural
Mural in Chinatown.

We wandered through Pier 39, amazed at how busy it was, probably because it was such a lovely sunny Saturday and there were hordes of tourists around. After browsing a few souvenir shops we stopped to look at the sea lions for a bit, before walking around past Fisherman’s Wharf and to Ghirardelli Square. There we stopped for an afternoon tea, M. having a hot chocolate, while I had a mint bliss sundae, which consisted of mint ice cream, hot chocolate fudge sauce, and whipped cream. It was large and very filling, but delicious. There was a bit of a queue waiting to order at the Ghirardelli cafe, which was a second one in the square, different to the one we visited last time two years ago. As we left, we walked past that one as well – so there are two Ghirardelli chocolate shops and cafes in the square! The queue at this one was enormous, running well outside the shop, so we were glad we’d stopped in the other one.

Read more: Lombard Street, Grace Cathedral, Burger Bar

The problem with phrasebooks

9 January, 2016

I’m going back through my travel diary of my 2007 holiday to Germany, enlarging and adding photos, adding hyperlinks, and generally cleaning it up a bit.

I found a bit where we went into a chocolate shop and my wife wanted to get just a bar of chocolate. But we could only see fancy truffles and pralines and chocolates with various nuts and other fillings. The woman in the shop didn’t speak any English, so I checked my phrasebook for a word meaning “plain”, so I could ask if she had any plain chocolate. The book gave me ebene, so I asked, “Haben Sie ebene Schokolade?”

She gave me a very strange look, and had no idea what I was talking about. Despite further attempts, I had no success in explaining to her what we wanted, and we ended up buying some chocolate with nuts in.

It’s only now, nine years later, that I’ve looked up “ebene“. It turns out I wasn’t asking for “ordinary, unadorned” chocolate. I was asking for “large region of flat land” chocolate!

Parkes Radiotelescope diary 1989

4 January, 2016

I was cleaning out the garage and found some old stuff, including a written account of a trip I took to observe at the Parkes Observatory radiotelescope as a summer student in 1989. So, without further ado:

Hooray! I’d been accepted for a summer vacation scholarship at the Australia Telescope National Facility. This means a wonderful opportunity to engage in some scientific research and to gain experience in working in professional astronomy. There’s also the small matter of earning three hundred bucks a week…

It was all set. I was to begin working on Monday, the 4th of December. That gave me a week off after my last exam at uni. Whoah, a holiday! When was the last time I had one of those?

During my exams, I received a phone call from my ATNF supervisor, Dick Manchester (the man who was once heard to say, “There are more things in life than pulsars.” This is a second hand account, so its veracity is to be questioned).

“How would you like to go to Parkes?” he asks.

“Great, when?”

“November 27.”

There goes the holiday! But wait, I have already planned to do things with friends nearly every day of that week. The last thing was an ice skating trip on the Friday, the 1st of December. I said I was busy until at least then.

“Well, do you want to fly up on Friday evening?”

I’m not one to knock back a free plane trip, so on the appointed Friday there I was, sitting in a minute ten-seater plane with blistered feet and aching legs from the skating and almost falling asleep due to the several late nights just gone. (I’d just made the plane by a mere ten minutes, but that’s another story.)

An hour later and the plane had touched down at Parkes. There were about six cars and a dozen or so people waiting for their friends and relatives. I hadn’t the foggiest who would meet me and take me out to the telescope. Walking across the tarmac, I noticed one guy whose sloppy joe was emblazoned with a star-field and a radiotelescope dish. Okay, that was easy enough.

The Parkes Observatory radiotelescope

Read the rest of this entry »

Japan/USA diary, day 15

7 November, 2015

Monday, 15 June, 2015. 18:41

We are sitting on our flight from Boston to Dallas, taxiing to take off an hour late. It looks unlikely that we will make our connecting flight, and will probably have to spend a full day in Dallas. To make matters worse for our chances, we are seated in the very last row of the plane and will be the last people to get off.

South-West Bagel
Breakfast bagel at Bruegger’s Bagels, Brookline, Boston. Brilliant!

We slept in a little this morning, then got up and went to Bruegger’s for a bagel breakfast again. M. had a whole wheat bagel with a thin scrape of peanut butter on it. I tried the south-west breakfast bagel, which had egg, cheese, peppers, and a chipotle sauce. When we emerged from the hotel, expecting a warm day similar to yesterday, we were shocked to find it raining and cold. I went back in to get my umbrella and jacket, though M. declined to get her jacket.

Read more: We visit the Museum of Fine Arts before heading to the airport for our long flight home.

Japan/USA diary, day 14

7 November, 2015

Sunday, 14 June, 2015. 10:41

We slept in this morning. Although I woke and was restless from about 03:30, I think I must have fallen asleep again around 05:00, because the next thing I knew it was close to 08:30. It took a day of not having to get up early to let me sleep more. It’s a shame today is our last full day in Boston!

We got some change from the front desk for my T ride this morning, as my weekly pass ticket had expired. Then we went to Bruegger’s to get bagels for breakfast again. M. had a pumpernickel with a bit of cream cheese, while I tried the “everything” bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese. It was really good, though a touch salty in places from the salt crystals used as part of the coating.

Boston castle
Castle at Park Plaza, on the walk to the market.

From there we caught the train in to Arlington station, where we exited to walk to the South End Open Market at SoWa (“south of Washington”). This was a fair walk, and the day had begun warm already, but at least it was partly cloudy. This didn’t help much once we arrived, as the stalls were in a very exposed area and the sun beat heavily through gaps in the patchy cloud as we walked around. We ended up a bit reddened by the sun by the end of the day, but fortunately not to the point of painful burns.

Read more: A day at the market, lunch from a food truck, walking through Boston’s South End, afternoon tea at a French bakery, and fancy dinner for our last night in Boston.

Japan/USA diary, day 13

7 November, 2015

Saturday, 13 June, 2015. 19:30

We are on the ferry from Provincetown to Boston, after spending a full day over here at the tip of Cape Cod.

We got up early at 06:30 and quickly left the hotel to get some breakfast at Bruegger’s Bagels. M. had a pumpernickel bagel with peanut butter, while I had one with egg, cheese, and ham, which was pretty good. Then we got M. a coffee from Starbucks and went to the station to catch a train in to Park Street. There we changed to the red line for two stops to South Station, and then changed again to the silver line buses to take us out to World Trade Center, where the ferry wharf was located. I’d calculated a maximal trip time if we had bad connections to make sure we got there in time, but we had very good connections at each place, so arrived with plenty of time to spare.

We wandered over to the waterfront and located the ferry ticket office, where we picked up the tickets I’d bought last night. There was already a queue of people waiting to board the ferry, but there was so much time left that we took a walk out to the end of the wharf to see the view, before returning and joining the queue. More people arrived and the queue quickly doubled in length or more behind us. Lots of people had large luggage, much of it still labelled with airport tags.

Arrival in Provincetown.

Read more: A lot more… it was a busy day in Provincetown, shopping, eating, drinking, looking at the sights.

Japan/USA diary, day 12

6 November, 2015

Friday, 12 June, 2015. 24:00

We have had a full day and evening, having just got back from the Boston Red Sox vs Toronto Blue Jays game at Fenway Park.

The day began getting up in a slightly more leisurely manner, not having to get to the conference venue early for breakfast. Instead, M. and I left the hotel together about 07:30 to get some bagels for breakfast Bruegger’s near Coolidge Corner, a short walk away. M. got a whole wheat bagel with a scraping of cream cheese, while I got a pumpernickel bagel with the smoked salmon cream cheese. We ate these at a table inside the shop, then left to get a coffee for M. at the Starbucks nearby on Harvard Street. While at Starbucks I used the WiFi to check messages and found Elena confirming they could make the meeting at 09:00 as planned.

We caught the train to Park St station and exited at the corner of Park and Tremont Streets, on the corner of Boston Common. We were a few minutes early, so wandered a short distance to have a look at the Common before moving back and spotting Elena and her daughter just arriving. The girl hopped out of her stroller and remained on her own feet for the entire day, leaving Elena to lug the stroller around, though it provided a useful platform for bags of stuff. She got a coffee in a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as some jam donuts for the girl.

We decided to go to the Museum of Science, as I wanted something that wouldn’t bore the girl, and M. and I were both keen on science museums. It was maybe a twenty minute walk away, but Elena didn’t know the directions from where we were, so I navigated using the map on my phone. It took us a bit longer because of dealing with distractions and walking speed of the girl, but we eventually arrived a bit before 10:00.

Cliff, the Triceratops
Cliff, the Triceratops.

Read more: Fun in the Museum of Science, dessert before dinner, and Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park!

Japan/USA diary, day 11

5 November, 2015

Thursday, 11 June, 2015. 21:46

I had yet another lousy sleep. But it was up again and dressed to go shortly after 07:00 for my last breakfast at the conference. There were bagels, fresh fruit, and different types of breakfast cereals. I had an onion bagel with some cream cheese, and a lot of fruit.

Today’s conference sessions were workshops on specific topics, held in small rooms, with several different topics in parallel. I attended a morning session on “Vision meets Cognition”, about the various similarities and differences between computer vision algorithms and a psychophysical understanding of what happens in our vision and brain systems, and how we can learn to adapt how our minds interpret vision to produce better computer algorithms. The speakers were quite entertaining, but this was more a general overview of the topic than any specific new work.

I left to meet Elena at 12:00 at a Thai place called Bangkok Blue. We hadn’t seen each other for over 20 years, so there was a lot to catch up on. She had a tofu noodle dish, while I tried the special of the day, which was curly yellow egg noodles in a broth of coconut milk and spices, with chicken pieces. It was really delicious.

The Raven
Edgar Allan Poe statue.

After lunch, we walked back to her work at Emerson College. We passed the Edgar Allan Poe statue and I took some photos. The we said bye, having arranged to meet tomorrow morning with her daughter and M. at 09:00 at Park Street station to have a day out together.

Read more: I walk across the Charles River to MIT and the Canon medical imaging research centre, and have dinner at a good Mexican place.