Thursday, September 28, 2023

Friday Links!

Many interesting links today. 

This is terrific: The history of syphilis is being rewritten by a medieval skeleton

Crows are fantastic: For the first time, research reveals crows use statistical logic.

A fascinating read: How a Worm Gave the South a Bad Name

From Wally, and it's a selection of the best wargames in a unique category: best three games with...small boxes! This seems fantastically unlikely: Japanese researchers say they used AI to try and translate the noises of clucking chickens and learn whether they're excited, hungry, or scared. A useful read, sadly: The FBI's guide to LARPing and violent extremism

From C. Lee, and it's quite the infographic: How Much Does it Take to Be Wealthy in America? This is odd: Who Knew So Many Celebrities Wanted to Design Wallpaper. An unstoppable force: At 97, the First Lady of Fitness Is Still Shaping the Industry. A bizarre story: This car was stolen from a driveway in Canada. We found it in West Africa. This is amazing: What Became of the Ancient Greek City they Found in Afghanistan. I've never heard of this: The Lost Art of Roasting Eggs in Ash. Very clever: Starfield player tricks AI with 'unbeatable ship' made only of corners. Oops! I've finally figured out the answer to Starfield's greatest mystery: why my spaceship's cargo hold is always full of misc items. Incredibly strange: Pencils with teeth: meet the tiny cookiecutter shark that attacked a catamaran off Cairns.

The Chopsticks Wrangler

I told Eli 22.1 a story years ago (when he was probably version 10.0) about the time I went fishing for striped bass, and every time someone hooked up, they'd yell "Fish on!" That phrase makes an appearance every two or three years now, which is very on-brand for us, because almost everything we say is connected to something we've said before.

We stayed at a monastery for two nights in Minobu, which is a very small area not far away from Mount Fuji. It was beautiful, of course. Here's the view from our room:


In our time in Japan, everything--even the smallest thing--was beautifully presented. This was our dinner:

And this was the view at dinner:

I practiced with chopsticks before we left, and I was self-sufficient, but I struggled with some of he larger foods. I was trying to wrangle a big piece of something, and Eli was getting more and more amused (so was I), until finally he looked at me and said "Fish on!" 

Then, of course, I couldn't use chopsticks at all, because I couldn't stop laughing.

Here's a picture of us (I know, I never put up pictures of myself, but this is an exception):

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Murakami Museum

On day four, we went to the Murakami library.

In a typhoon. 

"This isn't that bad," Eli 22.1 said, as rain pelted him. This was right before the umbrella thoughtfully left for us by our host turned inside out from the wind. "Maybe I can fix it," he said, looking at the snarled metal rods that used to provide support. "I mean, once you're wet, you're wet. It doesn't get any worse. It's all a matter of perspective."

"My perspective is that we are literally walking through a typhoon," I said. He laughed.

We made it to the bus stop, then rode for half an hour to the library, which is on the campus of a University. We were greeted by a spectacularly enthusiastic woman who spoke only Japanese but seemed delighted to see us. 

The museum was beautiful and immaculately designed, and here are a few pictures. 

This was one of the most beautiful staircases I've ever seen. Well, everything above the staircase, technically.

This is a faithful recreation of Murakami's office where so many wonderful books have been written. In the background is a listening room where you can listen to albums from Murakami's jazz collection on god-level speakers.

If you look closely, you can see little human figures on the empty shelves, which is entirely in keeping with Murakami's whimsical nature.

It was all incredibly inspiring, and I slowly accumulated ideas during the trip that will greatly strengthen the new book. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

More Japan

Here's a little more general information on Japan, mostly focused on Tokyo, and starting tomorrow, I'll tell some specific stories of what happened while we were there. 

You'll find a lot of these in Tokyo:
--restaurants. So, so many restaurants. It seemed like there was one very fifty feet, at least.
--employees. Every store was fully staffed, and everyone seemed to know their job extremely well. 
--long pants and shirts. Even when it's boiling hot, and a lot of black pants/white shirt ensembles as well.
--cheerfulness. People were unbelievably nice, even to us. Big smiles, super helpful, and usually very patient.
--stairs. Good God, there are a lot of stairs. 
--vending machines. Like I said previously, they're everywhere.
--french fries, churros, and snow cones. Shockingly popular everywhere we went, and we went to plenty of non-tourist places.
--napkins. You get a little wet nap before a meal that you use to clean your hands, but very few restaurants gave you napkins to use during the meal. 

You won't find many of these :
--trash cans/bins. They just don't seem to exist, unless you go to 7-11, which always has a trash can. 
--people carrying water bottles. It's just not a thing. We joked that everyone was so thin because they were dehydrated.
--dirty toilets. Nope. They're almost all pristine.
--potholes. Not one in two weeks, not even in the country. It was great to go to a country that actually invests in infrastructure and enjoy the benefits.
--overweight people, at least in Tokyo. I don't think more than 1-2% of people in Tokyo are overweight. 
--that one asshole. You know how in the U.S., there's always one person being rude or loud or just being an asshole in general, and it ruins everything for everyone else, whether it's a movie or a restaurant or a subway train? That one asshole doesn't seem to exist in Japan, which was both relaxing and refreshing.
--menace. None of that, either. It was incredibly relaxing. 
--freezing air conditioning. It was never cold inside a restaurant, even with the air conditioning on.
--big city smell. Tokyo has no smell at all because it's so clean.

I know I mentioned a few of those previously, but I included them anyway.

On our first full day in Tokyo, Eli 22.1 was flying through the subway, looking at signs in Japanese and deciphering them almost instantly (I don't even know how), and a few times, I lagged behind a bit coming down stairs. He'd told me at the start of the trip that all I had to do was follow him (which was true, and it was great), and he looked back at me once and said, "I need to attach a little leash to you so we don't get separated."

I laughed and agreed wholeheartedly.

Monday, September 25, 2023

A One-Day Pause in Japan Stories

I drove Eli 22.1 to the Detroit airport this morning for him to go back to the UK for graduate school. 

We left at 4:15 this morning, so there wasn't much talking. He slept for a while on the way down. It would have been easier to just leave from the GR airport, which is only 20 minutes from home, but it was going to be $600 more (seriously, airlines, WTF is wrong with you?), so we drove 2+ hours instead. It was 3+ hours on the way back, but that's a different story.

Because he's been to England for a year before, this didn't seem like a hugely momentous moment, even though it's the start of the next chapter in his life. We were just trying to make sure he had everything he needed. 

On the way back, I stopped to get gas at a convenience store and saw this in the window:

That seems super-solid and not concerning in the least. 

I also saw a sign for "HENRY VIII TOPLESS GO-GO." It's a "lounge." Kudos for the awkward historical reference.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Friday Links!

A bleary Friday Links post, to be sure. Still trying to get past jet lag.

This is incredible: A bird’s eye view of quantum entanglement.

From Wally, and I've always wondered about this: Why McDonald's Ice Cream Machines Are Always Broken and How To Fix Them. This is astonishing: The R. Bradley Lathe - Home-made in a Prisoner of War Camp. A terrific read: Interview with the last man standing in the floppy disk business.

From Jonathon W., and there are some amazing images and stories here: “What Working On The Same Spot For 41 Years Does To The Floor”: 50 Pics Of Worn-Down Things

From David Gloier, and it's quite a find: The largest dinosaur footprint on Earth discovered by archaeologists in the United States

From C. Lee, and there's a huge scandal in tennis (three parts, all Washington Post): 
The Maestro: the man who built the biggest match-fixing ring in tennis
THE UNRAVELING: How a small-town police officer took down the largest match-fixing ring in tennis.  
Five key findings from The Post’s investigation of match-fixing in tennis

Also from C. Lee, and it's fascinating: Humans Have a Third Set of Teeth. New Medicine May Help Them Grow. An excellent read: How to Destroy a Creative Industry (And How to Save It). This is no surprise: OpenAI confirms that AI writing detectors don’t work. This is terrific: The Revolutionary Influence of the First English Children’s Novel

Initial Information

I've been asked a few questions in terms of getting started when you land in Japan.

First, get a SIM card for your phone if you won't have service otherwise. You'll need to look things up frequently, and you'll need constant access to Google Maps and Google Translate. It should only cost you $20-30. Trying to survive on wi-fi is very tough during the day. 

Second, stop at a bank branch in the airport and get yen. I thought Japan would be a mostly cashless economy, but boy, I was wrong. Many places don't have cash registers and only accept cash, and these are some of the most interesting places you'll visit. You'll also see a ton of handheld calculators and your purchase will be totaled up and shown to you before you pay. Also, if you need cash via debit card, the only bank that accepts non-domestic debit cards is 7-11. That's right, 7-11 is both a convenience store and a bank in Japan, and their ATM machines work with non-Japanese debit cards (although I don't know if they work with all of them).

Third, people aren't going to speak much English. I knew that English is taught as a compulsory subject, so I was surprised by how little English people actually spoke. We only met one or two people on our entire trip who spoke English well, and the vast majority spoke almost none at all. There will be certain situations where Google Translate is a real lifesaver. You just tap your message into your phone in English, and it will translate the message (into Kanji, I believe). The other party can do the same thing, only from Kanji to English. I believe you can even do this via voice. It's amazing and indispensable.

Fourth, Japan has a procedure for everything, and when something goes wrong, you need to take care of it immediately instead of assuming it's fine. As an example, I had a card for using the trains, and one time when I was leaving a station, I got a red light instead of a green one when I swiped the card, but I was still allowed to exit. If I'd been smart, I would have gone to the help desk immediately and clarified the situation, because there's always plenty of staff everywhere, but I didn't, and it turned into a more complicated mess the next day. In Japan, things don't "just happen."

Here are a few other, less important, notes.

Be ready for bicycles on the sidewalk. Lots of bicycles, and they'll be swerving around like Olympic skiers. They ride fast, too. Somehow, it all works out, but you need to pay attention. 

Remember how in America you hate to use public restrooms because they're filthy? Not here. Public restrooms are unbelievably clean. Also, bidets are one of mankind's greatest inventions. You don't need to hesitate at all when you see a bathroom anywhere. Restaurants, department stores, bars, etc.--they're all clean.

The subway will be very quiet, so if you're talking to companions, keep it down. There will be many cars on trains where no one is speaking at all. And even though the trains can be very crowded at times, they're still entirely orderly.

More on Monday and I hope everyone has a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Revenge of Jet Lag

I thought I was in the clear after sleeping six hours on Monday night, but no. Only two hours last night, we played golf at 7:20 this morning, and I'm dragging.

Let me give you a little trip background today. Eli 22.1 made everything as easy as possible, because he planned everything. He was basically the trip manager/tour guide, and all I had to do was follow him. He navigated the train system flawlessly, which totally blew me away, because it looks like this:

That's the rail lines of just one company, too. There are six others. He unerringly navigated all of them. 

We averaged about ten miles walking a day, with a top day of fifteen miles. Lots of those miles were up and down, either climbing to temples (one had 289 steps, and they were steeper than regular steps) or going into the train station (almost every train station is 2-3 flights down, then back up when you exit). We probably averaged 30 flights a day, if not more.

We stayed in an apartment (four nights), monasteries (one night), an Airbnb (three nights) a private home (one night), a capsule hotel (three nights), and a hotel (one night). I'm missing one night and can't remember because my brain is fogged.

We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Minobu, Fujinomiya, and Osaka. Minobu and Fujinomiya are rural, while the rest are big cities (even Kyoto has almost two million people now). We basically went east from Tokyo, then came back to Tokyo from Osaka on the bullet train.

Every city we went had a different feel. People dressed differently in each. The noise level was different (Tokyo, surprisingly, was far quieter than Kyoto or Osaka). The vibe was very different. Of the cities, Eli preferred Osaka (which was more vibrant and diverse), while I far preferred Tokyo (it was just so quiet and peaceful in comparison). Neither one of us thought Kyoto was particularly interesting.

My brain is fried, so that's enough for today. I'll just mention that the hype around vending machines in Japan is totally justified. They're everywhere, and they're inexpensive (water is about $1 a bottle, and so is a 12 oz. Coke).

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

An Initial Foray

I'm back.

In the same way as when we went to Tokyo, we stayed up for about 28 hours, then went to bed based on local time. We left Tokyo at 6:20 p.m. yesterday, and through date lines and time zones and other kinds of wizardry, arrived at 10:30 p.m. on the same day. 

Came home, took everything out of my backpack and sorted it, then finally went to bed about 1 a.m. Slept 6 hours. I'm a little bleary, but functional.

I'm going to write about this trip for weeks, because we saw and did so much. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We went to Tokyo, Minobu, Kyoto, and Osaka, and every place was distinct and fascinating in its own way. 

For me, there were four defining elements of Tokyo (where we started). First, it's incredibly safe. To walk down any street at any time and not have a care in the world is such a staggering feeling. You don't have to wonder if someone has a gun. You don't have to wonder if someone is sizing you up as a target. It was incredibly relaxing. 

Second, it's quiet. It's the biggest city in the world, but it's quieter than my neighborhood in the U.S. No one is loud talking on the subway. No one talks on their cellphones in public. No one has loud motorcycles or cars, with only very rare exceptions. No leaf blowers (that was just great). Everything is geared around the environment being peaceful. It was wonderful.

Third, it's unbelievably clean. You almost never see a piece of trash on the street. Most big cities have some combination of foul smells, but Tokyo has no foul smells at all. It's cleaner, by far, than any city I've ever been to in the U.S., no matter the size.

Here's the fourth element, and it blew my mind: it's cheap. I don't mean cheap in terms of quality, because the quality of everything is staggeringly high. I mean how little everything costs. The YEN-USD exchange rate is at it's best level in over forty years. 

Bottle of water from a vending machine? 80 cents. Nice t-shirt? Ten dollars. Nice pair of jeans? Twenty dollars. Great meal at a nice restaurant for two? Twenty-five dollars (and no tipping). Nice hotel? A hundred dollars. Everything is so inexpensive that I struggled to wrap my head around it the entire trip. I Googled costs of various cities and Tokyo is 30% cheaper than GRAND RAPIDS, for God's sake. It's unreal. I thought we were going to break the bank on the trip, because I expected Tokyo to be as expensive as San Francisco, but I was totally wrong.

Even our flight was cheap, because Eli 22.1 checked every day for months and we wound up getting round-trip tickets from Grand Rapids for $1200 each. 

Like I said, I'm a little bleary, so I'm still trying to organize my thoughts, but I'll have more tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023


 Of course I forgot to write any content for today, and using my phone is almost impossible, but enjoy this view from the Tokyo bar featured in Lost in Translation.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Friday Links!

We're back on Monday, theoretically, but since I haven't had my laptop, who knows what's been happening while we were gone? I found some long, interesting reads before I left, though.

This is an excellent article with additional information on LLM's: How ChatGPT turned generative AI into an “anything tool”. As a random aside, I'd enjoy seeing someone compose an excuse note for school in the style of David Foster Wallace.

This is a fascinating read: Leveling Up Or Leveling Off? Understanding The Science Behind Skill Plateaus

This is a terrific article, and the site seems outstanding: Large Language Models will be Great for Censorship

It's remarkable how cynical and synthetic this all is: TripleS And The Rise Of K-Pop Girls’ Crypto-Capitalism

From C. Lee, and it seems like a growing market, for sure: Market for sun umbrellas for men increases as summer heats up. This really needs to be solved: California allows robo-taxis to expand and emergency responders aren't happy. Also: Cruise robotaxis blocked San Francisco traffic again as company blames network congestion. This is interesting technology: Can this battery-swapping electric scooter help clean up cities? We take a ride. I have no idea why some things are popular: ‘Vanishing ninja’ ice stick becomes hot commodity in U.S. bar market

Art (part two)

Beside the bubbles were these odd looking structures:

Inside the inner ring were mirrors, and so we turned them and watched the colors change. Then we realized that when you spun the outer ring, it generated music, and each one generated a different tone. It was ingenious, and if you had enough people in your group, you could have your own orchestra. 

I'm a huge admirer of interactive art, particularly something like this, where it's just displayed in a park and people come by and play. I think it makes people appreciate art more, and it adds an element of play that is irresistible. Everyone who stopped while we were there seemed as delighted as we were.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Art (part one)

I was walking with a friend in downtown GR and saw giant bubbles across the river. That tends to get your attention.

We crossed the river and checked them out, and they were beautiful. Here's a picture: 

The sun lighting them up produced the rainbow colors, and they were quite large, as you can see. 

Here's one more:

The bubbles were part of an art installation, and I'll show you the rest of it tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

I Guess You Need Wine There, Too


I don't know about you, but the only thing that comes to mind when I see "DMZ" is "Demilitarized Zone."

Monday, September 11, 2023

Remarkably Unlikely

This was the day before we left.

"I know you' went to Liberia, and spent a month in Colombia, and traveled all through Southeast Asia," I said, "but if you take me through these two weeks and get me back home, you'll have legitimately earned the hero designation."

"It's a test of everything I learned," Eli 22.1 said, laughing. "A crowning achievement."

"Hey, I'm doing all right," I said. "I just get anxious."

"Again, my friend, you are in the trunk," he said. "I'm driving."

I think I speak for both of us when I say thank goodness for that.

Later, I tried to check in and the American Airlines website was throwing all kinds of strange errors, along with distinctly unhelpful help. He laughed and said, "This has literally never happened to anyone. It could only happen to you."

Which is probably very, very true.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Friday Links!

Happy Friday and greetings from somewhere.

This comes as no surprise: Study: Carbon offsets aren’t doing their job, overstate impact.

One of television's greatest comics: Enjoy this treasure trove of TV pioneer Ernie Kovacs

This will eventually be very, very powerful: 10X coders beware: Meta’s new AI model boosts coding and debugging for free

From David G., and it's quite an unlikely find: Texas drought exposes resting place of five sunken World War I ships in Neches River.

This is both terrifying and great: Kmart in-store reel-to-reel soundtrack great for your next cocktail party.

From C. Lee, and it's a great example of the complexities of global policy: The Taliban’s Opium Ban Has Become an Existential Problem for the West. Related: Narcan Is Headed to Stores: What You Need to Know. A bizarre historical footnote: The Little-Known Land Fraud That Changed American History. This is fascinating: The Usefulness of a Memory Guides Where the Brain Saves It. An excellent read: Why Mathematical Proof Is a Social Compact. This is terrific: Meet Quentin Tarantino’s Secret Muse, the Queen of Vintage Japanese B-Movies. A fantastic bit of music history: Forget Versailles, Tune into the Forgotten Château that Became France’s Abbey Road. I'll get to try this someday, I hope: How South Korea Fell in Love With Norway’s Unique Cheese

End of Eras

It feels strange for Eli 22.1 to be leaving soon.

He's left before, many times, since we moved to Grand Rapids, but this time, he's not coming back. He'll be in England for years. Even if he did come back, there would be nothing to come back to, because I'll be leaving as well (next summer, most probably). 

When he does come back, it will be to an entirely new home, wherever I am.

I didn't think about this much, but in the last few weeks, I've become more and more aware of what's happening. When we left Austin, it was definitely the end of the first era of his life. Now, it's the end of his second.

I have so many conflicting feelings about Grand Rapids, and so does he, because of Gloria's passing. The sudden, shocking nature of her death left a deep imprint. So we both have some very happy memories of being here, but most of those memories are overwhelmed by other, darker ones.

He'll have a fresh start in Oxford, because he's leaving almost everything behind. I can't store it, because I won't be here, and wherever I do go, I'll be in an apartment. That means things he's accumulated during his life will mostly be discarded now. We'll have a small storage unit, probably, for both of us, but that will be all.

Things have a strange power over our lives, because stories are attached to them, and we don't want those stories to fade. 

I'd like for the next place I go to be the place I stay. Eli doesn't expect this, because once he leaves university (in five years and with a doctorate, if all goes according to plan), he'll be working all over the world. I'd like more certainty, though. I'd like for life to feel more solid, with fewer moving pieces. 

It's funny. I always think about physical fatigue as I get older, because damn, it's much harder to do things that it used to be, but I usually give short shrift to the mental fatigue. It's there, though, and one of the challenges of life as you age is learning how to relieve that fatigue and maintain your enthusiasm for new opportunities. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Nobody Said It Was Logical

"What are you doing?" Eli 22.1 asked me as he walked into the living room. It was on the Saturday before we left, and college football was on television.

"Just sitting here feeling a little stressed about the trip," I said, "which I know is ridiculous, because I don't have to do anything except follow you."

He laughed. "What are you stressed about? I'm doing literally everything so you don't have to be stressed."

"I'll be stressed until we get through security," I said. 

"Why?" He laughed harder. "It's not like you're packing a bomb."

I laughed. "I have problems with authority."

"We're literally paying an airline to take us to Japan. It's a service. We're the customers."

"And when we're in Japan, I'll remember that and wonder why I was worried," I said.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

The Coastal Paradox And Its Application To Life

I'm not sure how I wound up in the coastal paradox rabbit hole, but I did. 

Here's a brief description (from Wikipedia);
The coastline paradox is the counterintuitive observation that the coastline of a landmass does not have a well-defined length. This results from the fractal curve–like properties of coastlines; i.e., the fact that a coastline typically has a fractal dimension. Although the "paradox of length" was previously noted by Hugo Steinhaus, the first systematic study of this phenomenon was by Lewis Fry Richardson, and it was expanded upon by Benoit Mandelbrot.

The measured length of the coastline depends on the method used to measure it and the degree of cartographic generalization. Since a landmass has features at all scales, from hundreds of kilometers in size to tiny fractions of a millimeter and below, there is no obvious size of the smallest feature that should be taken into consideration when measuring, and hence no single well-defined perimeter to the landmass. Various approximations exist when specific assumptions are made about minimum feature size.

That's interesting, just by itself, and how this was "discovered" was fascinating:
Shortly before 1951, Lewis Fry Richardson, in researching the possible effect of border lengths on the probability of war, noticed that the Portuguese reported their measured border with Spain to be 987 km, but the Spanish reported it as 1214 km. This was the beginning of the coastline problem, which is a mathematical uncertainty inherent in the measurement of boundaries that are irregular.

Investigating the discrepancies in border estimation, Richardson discovered what is now termed the "Richardson effect": the sum of the segments is monotonically increasing when the common length of the segments is decreased. In effect, the shorter the ruler, the longer the measured border; the Spanish and Portuguese geographers were simply using different-length rulers.

As I often do, I see this as a metaphor for something in life; in particular, how people's view of obstacles depends on their personality type.

As an introvert, I tend to use a smaller length of measurement when I'm considering whether to do something. Very small, actually, and it tends to make every prospective trip (whether it's to Japan or just to a restaurant downtown) seem much, much longer. That length symbolically represents the obstacles in my way, and because I use such a small ruler, doing anything can sometimes seem like more trouble than it's worth.

Eli 22.1, though, uses a much larger length when he measures. It's not that he doesn't see obstacles, but rather that has a more appropriate method of measuring real difficulty instead of personality-induced difficulty. I add my own difficulty to anything because of my unit of measurement, creating my own, unnecessary problems. 

Like I've often said before, I've learned much more from my son than I've taught him.

Monday, September 04, 2023


Walking in downtown GR near the end of the day produced some beautiful lighting for photographs.

On the right day, with the right light, at the right time of year, GR can be quite beautiful. I'd just like to live somewhere beautiful with fewer qualifiers.

A Note

It's all pre-recorded content from now until I let you know I'm back. I worked hard to keep it entertaining (well, ymmv), and there will of course be lots to write about when I'm back.

Site Meter