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Woke up at about 5:30AM local Tokyo time and out the hotel window I see

The window doesn't open and the security glass wires are a distraction but I decide to see what I can do with my new camera.

sunrise playing pix...Collapse )
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One more thing to add to my re-introduction to Japan.   I experienced this when I first visited 28 years ago.  Damn,  Stuff is expensive here.   At that time I was looking forward to buying records which I had seen as imports in the US and was surprised that they were no cheaper in Japan.  Even now.  A CD is 2000 to 3500 Yen.  With the Yen slightly depreciated against the dollar (recent years it has been where a Yen was more than a penny, it is now about .89 penny) that is like $18 to $31 for a CD. When I first came to Japan in 1987 it was 125 to 135 Yen to the dollar but still no bargain with LP 1200 to 2000 Yen.

Well my main camera got wet as walking in the rain from the train station to the hotel.  I was slightly lost (meaning I had realized I took a wrong turn and had sorta figured out what direction I should then go) and gave in to a taxi as the rain was getting heavier (was a light sprinkle when I had started out).  So the lens was a bit clouded on top of that for a couple of years the zoom dial has been only working one way (will zoom in but have to power off / on to reset to full zoom out) and I figured might as well go to the famed Akihabara area and check camera prices.

While I was shopping I heard announcement in Yodobashi Camera (which is more like department store, though they do sell cameras) that if you came to the tax free counter you could register to get free wifi while in Japan.   The young lady who waited on me there, a few minutes later found me in the store and asked me to proof read some signs in English she was preparing.  After we finished, she asked me if she could help me with my shopping and in return for my assistance she would give me extra discount.

I was thinking of Nikon CoolPix S9900 and had already looked at a couple of other stores.  I had taken phone pic of the price at one store, and was planning to check a couple of stores and then check Amazon and then decide about purchasing.

The Yodobashi published prices was 2,000 yen (so roughly $20) cheaper than the lowest I had found at the other stores so with the promise of additional discount I made the purchase without further research.  She gave me 4000 off the price of 30200.  I got an extra battery which was about 4000, so I felt good about the deal.  Then I check Amazon and find the price for the camera there is $296 and extra battery is $20.  So, without the discount for the bit of sign writing help, I would have been paying more than Amazon.

Though, if I had a VISA card to make my purchase, I would have got an additional 6%  discount (the subject of the sign I proof read).

Background for this is that Akihabara long ago evolved from electrical parts and appliance shopping area to include all manner of electronics and also all things geek/otaku.  It is generally felt to be best place to find a bargain for those items.

But I realize that one should only purchase in Japan that which you cannot find anywhere else.

Such as:

Oh, and the main place the free wifi is found is in McDonald's.  Thousands of McDonald's around the country but even for free wifi I don't think I'll indulge.
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Have seen some shrine places

Ueno Koen

Have eaten some supersized gyoza (note nearly same size as normal sized beer bottle)

gyoza combo

Have gone to Ultra shopping mall

Skytree Mall

A place with a couple of department stores and then hundreds of shops dedicated to relics of Japanese culture (only photo of one but believe me, if a anime or manga exists for the character, they are represented in this mall).  Making this post I realize that there are Hello Kitty stores in the US but this is only about one quarter of this store.  I should have chosen a more rare example to photo but honestly, as I walked along the mall my brain clouded and I fled.

Hello Kitty

nano nano

nano nano

nano nano

nano nano

nano nano

Icon past

Maneki Neko

Icon present (which represents the evolution of Japanese integration of English -- from Tokyo Tower to Tokyo SkyTree)



The pilgrimage continues....
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First time for me to cross post something but the more I think about the New Horizons Pluto expedition the more marvelous it seems.

Originally posted by kylecassidy at These People Shot a Freaking Rocket to Pluto
Scientists, engineers, rock stars.

Click here to see the photo essay on Slate.com

Friday evening I got a text from Kate McKinnon asking if I'd be interested in coming to Maryland and photographing the scientists behind the New Horizons Pluto expedition, essentially, immediately. At the time I was out at dinner with trillian_stars. "Do you want to go?" Trillian asked. "No," I said, "I'm really tired. But I know I'll want to have gone when I get back." I've learned that over the years. It's not how you feel about it at the time, it's how you think you'll feel about it next week.

We raced home and I threw a bunch of stuff in camera bag and jumped on a train. On the train I called Jordan Teicher from SLATE and asked if they'd be interested in running it if I could get a series of portraits. He said they's push everything out of the way for it, and then there was no turning back.

Camera Geekery: Leica M9, 50mm Canon Serenar, 28mm Voigtlander f2, 35mm Voigtlander f1.7, Panasonic GX7 (backup), Pocket Wizards, Lastolite triple-fold umbrella flash, batteries, two lights stands, Kindle, Paper notebook, Monteverde Intima fountain pen, card reader, collapsable backdrop. Kitten optional. I used everything but the two extra Leica lenses. You may clickenzee to embiggen.

I took an Amtrak to Washington DC and met up with Kate and some of the scientists for dinner and was able to get in a quick set of portraits after -- this made me feel much less apprehensive -- I'm always a wreck until things get underway and with five portraits taken care of ... things had started so I felt I could relax. (I was also pleased to discover that a table full of proverbial rocket scientists has the exact same level of difficulty splitting a check that the rest of the Earth has.)

I went to bed late and got up early. Everybody else got up early too. For the scientists at the Applied Physics Laboratory the day starts with an early morning briefing where each of the five teams discuss what they've learned the night before. After the meeting, they go off to work on all the things they have to do and in between, Kate would catch people and bring them over to the small studio the Laboratory was kind enough to let me set up near the lobby. Everybody, in fact, was super nice.

Behind the scenes, photographing Dr. Hal Weaver.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Kate did interviews, I grabbed portraits while people scurried from one place to another. I had usually between a minute and two minutes with everybody. Kate did quick interviews. It's a very simple setup with a single shoot-thru umbrella and a Leica M9 rangefinder camera.

Later in the day there was a recap for the public about the most recent findings (if you've been watching on TV or the Internet, this is likely what you've seen.) Kate and I sat down in the front row in the press section and I started working on processing the morning's images. About 15 minutes after it started, Brian May (aka Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist, AKA Brian May guitar player from Queen) and Casey Michael Lewis from the Applied Physics Lab sat down next to us. That's just how things happen.

Plutopalooza with Brian May & Kate McKinnon.
Photo by Casey Lewis

The Applied Physics Lab let me set up another studio in a classroom and Kate went out and found all the key scientists and brought them in.

They're all amazing people, and that's -- I mean, that's nonsense talk to say "amazing" it's like calling a mountain "big" -- it's just the only thing I can think of because my brain overloaded thinking about the scope of what they'd done. These people, starting 15 years ago with an idea, built a space probe, built a rocket, figured out where a planet nobody had ever seen a full orbit of was going to be in a decade, shot this thing into space and it hit it's target and -- it sent back data to Earth, from three billion miles away. I don't know what to call it -- I'm just dumbstruck. But in any event, they're all amazing, but my brain melted when I met Yanping Guo, the "trajectory designer", which is a really elegant phrase for the most elegant job I've ever heard of. She's the one who figured out where to shoot the rocket to hit Pluto ten years later, and not in a straight line.

You can see the trajectory of New Horizons here in this animation -- it uses the gravity of Jupiter to help give it more speed and fling it into space.

While she was talking about what she did my jaw just kept dropping further down. One of the things she had to factor in was the time dilation caused by fact that New Horizons was traveling 36,000 miles an hour, so time actually goes slower on the spaceship. At the end of it all, after nine years and three billion miles and one whip around Jupiter (which added 9,000 mph to it's speed) New Horizons arrived 70 seconds faster than Yanping predicted, but not through any fault of her own, but because Pluto was bigger than they expected it to be. You turn on the TV and someone says "blah blah, scientists shot a rocket to Pluto" and you're like "oh, that's nice, pretty photos, ice, cool ..." but it doesn't sink in ... scientists (and engineers) shot a freaking ROCKET TO PLUTO.

The scenes, you are behind them! My Leica was a point of continual interest among the scientists and engineers. One asked if I built it. The optics team discussed, at great length, how modern lenses are built to disperse less light in the rear optics of because of the digital sensors. On the left Dr. Henry Thoop plays with my camera (and is carrying some big glass of his own.) Center Dr. Brian May discuss Dr. Alex Parker's animations., and on the right, Dr. Alex Parker himself. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

You may also see some of Dr. Alex Parker's celebrated animations here.

My photography deals a lot with contexts, seeing people in or out of their contexts and for me, seeing these people not in mission control doing what they do, but seeing them in the really neutral environment of a studio with a simple backdrop and one light made me realize that there are very concrete individual components to "scientists (and engineers) shot a rocket to Pluto" -- individual people solving individual parts of a problem that's too big for any of them to solve alone.

There are all sorts of accomplishments -- from "I got out of bed this morning" to "I worked my way through college" but when confronted with "I shot a piano sized computer three billion miles and hit a really small moving target" just pushed the needle into "there be dragons" -- I had no words. I still have no words and I've been thinking about it for two days now.

Anyway, I posted a selfie with Yanping and people agreed.

I've met a lot of interesting people, but not many who impressed me as much as she did.

Me and Yanping Guo. Within an hour of me posting it to Twitter
it had been retweeted hundreds of times.
You may click here to make this larger!

A Tumblr post of it is at the moment rapidly approaching 150,000 notes.

Brian May also came down and was perfectly charming. He's been really interested in three dimensional photography and has a huge collection of Victorian sterioscopic images and so we did his portrait in 3d. I've no idea if Brian May is interested at all in talking about whether or not he'll ever get around to remixing Under Pressure the way he thought it should have been done, but I know he'll talk endlessly about 3d victorian photography and how mind bendingly spectacular astronomy and space exploration are. Guitar-shirt and all, he was geektastically indistinguishable from all the rest of the scientists and engineers down there.


After I posted my original 3d photo of Brian May he fixed it up in
Photoshop and as his version is much better than mine, I reproduce that one here.

Scientists make the rockin' world go round.

Kate and I met up with shadowcaptain and we went off to a restaurant where I worked on picking photos and Kate typed up interview transcripts, then I got on a train and kept working on photos. Got home at midnight and fell asleep so fast I don't even remember making it to the bed (though I do remember checking on Emily the Spider who was enjoying a fly). This afternoon I talked to Slate, sent them the photos and text and did an interview. Now I'm off to bed again.

It's been a crazy, wonderful weekend.

I'm so glad to have been able to spend a small amount of time with some of the most brilliant people on Earth and use whatever skills I have to amplify their voice. These people are doing the most important thing that humans can do, they're trying to answer the biggest questions -- what is everything and how does it work? And they're doing it to make us all better, and it's long, hard work and the answers don't come easily. I don't know how to properly say "thank you."

This is all I can do.

You can see all of the scientists & engineers I photographed here.

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File this under the "so old that" category.

Sitting in my office chair. Trimming my finger nails, with head phones on listening to recently downloaded (bittorrent) music.

With the resurgence of interest in vinyl, which I've still kept all my vinyl, I've just experienced one distinct advantage of digital music. Just now when "the good part" kicked in on one of my childhood favorites ("I've Got Levitation") I got all dancing wild in my chair. My leg, shoulder, head and hip shaking rocking chair action suddenly caused the desk to bounce a bit. I froze myself immediately fearing that I would cause the record to skip. LOL.

Old instinct deeply held.
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Nearly two weeks in Japan and spent most of the time with family, mostly meeting with them one at a time.

Two high points of trip were meeting with The Wife and her mother.

One was an amazing birthday celebration meal for The Wife's mother paid for by The Wife's brothers with the brothers and their wives and the one niece in attendance. The courses were all between delicious and amazing. The assembled family friendly and jovial for the celebration day. I was happy to be able to join them and gave lots of chocolates with whiskey in them to everyone as my contribution to the day. No pictures worth sharing. Too overwhelmed by the food and the day.

A week later, near end of time of the stay, The Wife and I had dinner with her mother. Pleasant meal, very nice time visiting, but I'm growing more and more conscious at my lack of progress learning Japanese.



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Started writing this on night arrived in Japan on 9/30.

In Tokyo. I've come here a few times over the last six, seven years. Just enough that I can say that I am starting to have a pattern, a routine. Maybe. I have a ryokan (Japanese style inn) that I where I have stayed at least three times. It feels like four because on at least one trip I would stay here and then goes to another city for a couple of days and then return here.

So about fours hours ago I arrived at the airport and I write some notes about the trip before I go to sleep feeling cozy in a familiar space.

The flight was exhausting. One factor, I worked all night and morning before leaving from a customer site for the airport at about 10:30AM. Departure scheduled for 2:50PM.

The customer is in Jersey City. I'm flying out of JFK. Went on PATH train from Exchange Place in NJ to World Trade Center stop and walked to E subway World Trade Center platform. Took the E all the way to the Air Train connection at Supthin Blvd in Queens, with a very fast (trotted with my suitcase) stop at my apartment to pick up about 40,000 Yen (about $400) that I had forgotten the night before.

Although I did have time to make the quick stop at the apartment, and so hadn't needed to bring my suitcase with me to work the night before, I didn't feel I had time to stop at 52nd Street and Park Avenue CITI bank to get more Yen for the trip (40,000 yen wasn't going to be enough). Made the transfer from the subway to the to Air Train that goes into JFK airport at about 11:48AM. Get to terminal and get checked in and through security and bought more Yen from young lady at exchange place who said that my birthday is the same day and year as her father. When I walked up to the the booth she had been in process of shutting everything down to go on lunch break. Another minute and she would had been gone or telling me she was closed. My exchange receipt says 12:39PM.

Bought liquor filled chocolate for gift for in-laws; nut filled chocolate as gift for son's co-workers and niece.

Bought Shake Shack basic hot dog and burger and 6 Point Crisp beer. The beer was pricy. Consumed quickly and had a few moments to take a deep breath before boarding flight at about 210PM for our 2:50PM departure.

Somehow I'm in boarding Group 1 (maybe I paid for it when buying the ticket?), so after the first class and other priviledged passengers I was about the 20th person to board. Easily get to seat and stow the gift chocolates (big shopping bag with 10 little boxes inside) and backpack overhead. Aisle seat, all seats filled in my row and pretty much all the airplane. I'm getting too old and frumpy to travel comfortably but getting all my stuff in the overhead and an aisle seat is the best I can expect.

To pass the time (12 hours) instead of my usual practice of sleeping as much as possible on flights, I watched movies (the two meals and the small sandwich snack are best forgotten), mostly in Japanese with sub-titles:

"Apology King" - comedy, comedian Sadao Abe is character who does free lance consultation helping individuals succeed giving life changing apology. New Japanese word: dogeza; formal showing respect and sincerity by kneeling and bowing forehead to the ground.

"A boy called H" (original: "Shonen H") - WWII as experienced by a young boy in Kobe who enters Jr. High in the spring following the Pearl Harbor attack. The movie starts well before the war, showing a Japan where European things are increasing to be held in suspicion as the fascist nationalists gets their grip on Japanese society. The family has extra pressure because the father is a tailor specializing in western men's clothing with many westerner's for customers and the mother is a devout Christian. Movie ends as H (Hajime) sets off to find his own trade in the shattered post war country.

"Eternal Zero" - WWII movie again. This time from point of view of 26 year old man who after his grandmother's funeral is roused from lethargy (he has failed law bar examination a few times and is wondering what he should do with his life) when his sister presses him to find out about their true grandfather (they grew up only knowing their step-grandfather). Movie is mostly a series of flashbacks illustrating the recollections of various retired-Zero (Japan's WWII fighter plane) pilots who re-call with either digust (majority) or ultimate respect (two key characters in their grandfather's past) the highly skilled pilot who had never blindly accepted Japan's call for soldiers to gladly give their life in sacrifice to the empire but did finally volunteer to be a kamikaze pilot and thus provide the plot and inspiration for these times that this movie (based on a book) intends.

"Edge of Tomorrow" - recent Tom Cruise film which I'd heard about and which I enjoyed more than I expected.

"Homeland" - Family drama with radiation contaminated Fukushima as the setting for two brothers long separated after younger brother took responsibilty for vandalism done by the "hot headed" older brother. Movie ends with younger brother having chosen, despite official evacuation still being enforced, to return to work the family rice farm, taking their mother whose age and trama induced dementia seems is helped by being back in familiar surroundings. As for the older brother, he finally gets on with his life to farm alternative land outside the radiation zone with his wife (who had been supporting the family and getting out of the claustrophic temporary refugee housing by doing hostess work, which she claimed despite meeting clients in hotels did not include doing "IT".)

After the fifth movie there was less than 2 hours of flight time left. Breakfast was served and then I tried to Sleep during the last hour.

Did not fill out my forms on the airplane so I was the very last person from my flight to pick up my suitcase. My encounters with immigration and with customs were smooth. A mumbled Japanese polite word from me. Many Japanese words I cannot understand (worse than my usual minimal comprehension due to my exhaustion) and smilingly be waved through, my forms apparently answering any question they might have. I wish I could have a copy of my entry photo. The glance I got, I was very red faced and glaringly trying to focus my eyes on the machine that was scanning my index fingers.

Found the ticket booth for SkyLiner, a reserved express train from Narita to my stop in Tokyo: Nippori. My few words in Japanese to ask for my ticket were sufficent that the clerk spoke to me in Japanese at a speed I could not comprehend but she pointed to the key information (time, car and seat number) on my ticket and I realized the next train was just minutes away.

The trip is about 50 minutes. When more than half the way there, I fell asleep, waking when arriving at the end of the line, Ueno. One stop past the station near my destination. At the exit I showed my ticket to a worker and mumble fragmented Japanese: "I am sorry"; "I am a bit sleepy" and I am smilingly waved through. Walked the block to the local train that would bring me back to the Nippori station. Very slow working with the vending machine to buy SUICA, a card I can put money on for riding subways and trains. There are enough machines that other customers don't have to wait for me. Get to the train platform. Let one train go because I didn't yet have time to verify I had picked the platform with train going the direction I needed. I was on the correct side, so got on the next train about 8 minutes later.

At Nippori, took an escalator which brought me to a station exit away from the direction of the ryokan. Minimal understanding of signs mixed with vague memories and I headed in the direction that I hoped would lead me to the ryokan. I walk pulling the suit case and carrying the big bag of gifts wondering if I am remembering the neighborhood streets correctly or if I deceived by my superficial, all-these-little-streets-around-the-station-look-alike, awareness of my surroundings. A couple of blocks later I see definite familiar landmark and am relieved that despite taking the wrong exit out of the station that I am on my way to the ryokan that will be my base for my first week in Japan.

Drop my stuff in my room and go out to buy some food and drink to bring back and eat in the room.
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A few bangs just went off. This time of year, normally assume that it is fireworks. The bangs that we've been hearing are louder, more resonant (there went another one) than I recall for a firecracker going off on the ground. Don't know if they've got something with more power or they are sticking it inside something that gives the more resonant sound. Still I assume that the same errant youths that tag garage walls along the street are also responsible for the fireworks.

Last weekend, of course, we heard a lot. The Wife questioned one singular loud pop/bang that we heard at about 9:30 last Saturday morning: "Could that be a gun shot?" she quizzed me. It was very loud, a single pop. 9:30 in the morning... Looking out the window we could see pedestrians (we live a block from a major subway station, so there are people walking on the street here 24/7) looking around for the source of the sound.

I must admit that right after I proclaim "youths playing with fireworks" I wonder to myself if there are youths practicing bomb making. I worry about becoming xenophobic toward my Muslim neighbors (probably at least 20-30% of this neighborhood) with all the fear of Islamic extremism in the air.

Last Saturday, the day we heard the big pop in the morning; that night just as the Wife and I began to get cozy in bed, there is a series of bang/pops/explosions. A series of 6 to 10. Then there is a series of sounds that would be at home in a Star Trek battle. "Put phasers on high. Fire to stun or disable". I decided to get out of bed and look out the window. While I am fumbling for my glasses there is crescendo of three to five pops/explosions followed by loud clank of metal object hitting the street. When I look out I see a few people who were frozen / stunned begin to run. From one spot on the street about 20 yards away I think I see smoke coming from the street. There is a manhole cover around there and I assume it was the manhole cover that caused the clank sound. Several more pops and "phaser" sounds follow. A car comes along and in its headlights I can see for sure that there is smoke coming from the street, I assume from the manhole. I wonder if the youths had dropped their explosives into hole in the street and it has affected whatever is down there or just deterioration of the infrastructure.

Firetrucks arrive first. They inspect the house closest to the disruption beneath the street. From what I see their power is out. Firemen put up accident scene tape blocking the street and sidewalk. Minor traffic (it is now about 12AM) but major pedestrian jam backs up in front of the house. Police arrive to keep people from going across the street near the disruption. Mixed success since the few police wander around talking to the firemen and looking at the disruption for their own curiosity.

Finally CON-ED shows up and they put up their cones and police take down the tape blocking traffic. At that time I realize that while the smoke was coming from the manhole by my neighbor's house that the clank was caused by two two-feet by 4-feet sections of street coverings that were displaced leaving a 4' x 4' square hole at the corner of our lot.

The wife and I drift back to bed. The next morning CON-ED is still at work, we see them pull out about 30' of thick charred cable from beneath the street.

It is a shame that along with careless / thrill seeking youth I now consider youth playing a more deadly game as possible source of disruption to life here in the neighborhood. All the while the most concerning issue is the crumbling infrastructure.
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Using live journal to make Facebook post about the absurdity of delta air sponsored iPad at airport Biergarten where you place your order via the iPad but can't do Facebook because Facebook sees it is iPad and wants to install app but locked down iPad won't install but why should I want to tell my Facebook friends about my Biergarten adventures when I should just order a third beer before boarding.
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But can't help but note that when I saw that my computer has been on for about 8 hours and recalled that I turned it one when I got home and it was just half past noon. Just saying.

And it has been a productive Saturday so far. Laundry done. Weekend soba lunch with lots and lots and lots of shredded ginger into the dipping sauce. This afternoon some grocery shopping, detritus of life sorting.

For tomorrow a film featuring life and music of James Booker, New Orleanian extraordinaire. If only I can keep the wolves of work at bay until Monday.

"Showing in New York on Sunday and Monday."

general info here... "click" and here... "click2"

Yeah, keep in touch. (private joke).
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