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long weekend

I had all sorts of plans for my weekend, but none really materialized. Instead I read some Wodehouse--"Jeeves and the Tie that Binds"--and some Pinkwater--"The Education of Robert Nifkin", and "Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars". OK, the latter I didn't need to reread. I liked "Robert Nifkin", though. It reminds me of what I miss living in Ann Arbor. I miss the sense that I have wandering around some big cities, that there could always be something strange and wonderful around the next corner.

I made a library trip yesterday and got a couple Fred Astaire movies. Last night we watched "The Gay Divorcée". It has basically the same actors playing the same parts as in "Top Hat", but maybe not as much dancing. Oh well. We got a kick out of it anyway.

Toronto to Ann Arbor

Friday morning I hung out at the B&B and did some work while Sara went to a few final sessions, then we met Janet at the train station for our noon train to Windsor. The train ride went fine. And they had power and network--what else could a travelling geek need? The wireless service actually wasn't too bad, if maybe a little pricey.

Janet's husband met us at the Windsor station and dropped us off at home.

music garden, linux café

In a further departure from my usual refusal to plan anything while on vacation, I did a little looking around with Google and my guidebook in the morning after the usual breakfast routine.

I was delighted to find out about the "music garden". It's just a few blocks south of the B&B, was designed in part by Yo-Yo Ma, and consists of six little subareas, one for each part of the first Bach Cello suites. So I loaded the suite off my laptop onto my music player and headed there first. I spent enough time there to walk through the six gardens twice, and listen to each piece three times or so. They've found a way to trick me into looking at gardens! Usually my patience for them is more limited.

I'd also noticed the existence of a "Linux Café" well North of there, so I'd decided to go camp out there for lunch. It was a funky little coffeeshop, with a counter in front and tables full of people at laptops off to the side. Most of them seemed to actually be running Windows or OS X, but there was a guy showing off a prototype from the "One Laptop per Child" program to another patron. Neat-o. I listened in for a while and ask some questions. I ended up getting to play with it for half an hour or so.

The OLPC machine is small, light, and totally adorable. Unfortunately, it's also nearly unusable for someone with adult-sized hands--the keyboard is definitely meant for kids. The user interface is OK when running a single program, but very sluggish when switching tasks. That and the fact that it's a completely novel interface makes it a little confusing to work with. But it's a really impressive bit of technology.

I walked back to the convention center to meet Sara for dinner. We had a hard time figuring out where to eat, but eventually ended up some place a couple blocks from there that was a little overprice, but good, and fast--important because Sara had another meeting to go to after dinner.

Bookstores

Another breakfast like yesterday's, with Sara off for her conference at nine.

Determined to solve my Phillip K. Dick problem, I tried a google search that found me a science fiction bookstore well West of us on Queen street. They didn't open till 11, so I hung out at the B&B for a while, then took a roundabout route there. I enjoyed looking at the nearby neighborhoods. A lot of them are these old duplexes, with a fine line up the center (often splitting a little peaked roof down the center) dividing the two halves. Often the two halves had been painted two different colors. I found the effect kind of comical.

The bookstore was small and their selection had some odd gaps, but they rashly shelved their Phillip K. Dick right there where anybody could get to it. The price for my book was a little steep--the Canadian prices seem more appropriate for exchange rates of a few years ago--but I took a copy anyway.

My next "plan" for the day was to walk to a French-language bookstore across town and get lunch along the way. I don't think I'd realized quite how far it was. But I stopped in several parks along the way, read several chapters of "Flow my Tears", and enjoyed the sight of a statue of a grumpy Winston Churchill with a seagull perfectly perched on top and droppings running down his forehead.

There first part of the walk was stuffed full of restaurants, and I was kind of picky, assuming there'd be many more choices, but then they thinned out dramatically. The downtown part of Queen is a little sterile, and east of there it seems a little economically depressed. But then a few blocks from my destination I saw a little place called the "Berkeley Café" on a side street. It had a few contented-looking customers but wasn't too busy, so ordered a sandwich and settled in with my book. The sandwich was yummy and came with a nice salad, and I had an even more yummy pecan tart for desert. Nobody seemed to be in a rush, so I stretched the whole thing out over at least an hour and got a lot of "Flow my Tears" read.

The French bookstore was large but had kind of an odd selection. Among other things it shared the dismal publisher-based arrangement of fiction that I saw in bookstores in Paris. Does anyone actually walk into a bookstore saying "I think I'd like a little something from Gallimard today?" Am I supposed to know who published Queneau's "Dimanche de la Vie"?

The only things I found that I was really interested in were a few comics which were on the expensive side, so I chose just two of them and started the leisurely walk back. This time my main reading stop was a little park in front of a church that had a nice carillon concert going on and a bunch of marginal-looking characters intent on their chess games.

I went into a big mall downtown on Yonghe for a bathroom break and a drink, then admired a little plaza with a nice labyrinth in the pattern on the stone--a simple, circular, and (to the extent possible) relatively symmetric pattern that nevertheless managed to be just a single line with one entrance and exit. I copied down the pattern in a notebook. Then I went and sat at a bigger public square across the street, read some more, and did some work on my laptop.

I got some crêpes on Queen street for dinner. On my way back to the B&B I lingered outside a jazz club with some lovely-sounding big-band music and thought darn, I should have gone there. But my crêpes were pretty good, so I couldn't really complain.

Sara was already at the B&B when I got back.

Libraries

Left to my own devices, I don't tend to read guidebooks or look for sights. That seems more like work than vacation to me. But that's probably kind of a dumb attitude, and I feel sort of self-conscious about it, so I usually try to give myself some minor goals for the day anyway.

The guidebook Sara checked out of the library had two public libraries listed in downtown Toronto, so I set those as my sort-of-goals for the day.

So, after breakfast--assorted fruit, yogurt, then a plate of hot food with a couple fried eggs, bacon, toast, and tomato wedges--I made my slow way up Spadina to a library branch across from the University of Toronto campus on College street. It wasn't open yet, so I wandered on a little further, found an intersection a few blocks down with a nutty-looking traffic pattern, and sat and watched for over half an hour.

Toronto has many more cyclists than Ann Arbor--at this particular intersection there were often 8-10 cyclists lined up from one direction when the light turned green. The street had two lanes of car (and streetcar) traffic each way, and a bike lane on each side. The bike lane stayed on the right throughout. There was also a lot of right-turning car traffic. If I were riding straight through that intersection, I'd merge left into the rightmost car lane before going through the intersection, and if I were driving and turning right, I'd merge over to the right to block the bike lane first. But with a couple exceptions everyone was waiting till the last minute to cross each other's path.

But interestingly, the only bike/car conflicts I saw were between straight-through cyclists and left-turning drivers facing them. I think what happened was that straight-through car drivers hung back as the lane ahead of them filled up (traffic was that backed up), and then the left-turners facing them assumed no-one was coming and cut across the path of a cyclist emerging from behind the rightmost car lane on the other side of the street. Either that, or some cyclists were just running red lights.

The library had a special science fiction collection upstairs, and I spent a few minutes looking at some of the stuff they had out on display. It would've been more interesting if I'd had some old edition in mind from the closed stacks that I wanted a look at, but I didn't.

So I found a nice spot at a table downstairs, forked over for a city-wide wireless network, wrote a couple patches, sent them in, and handled some email before moving on. It was fun.

I roamed around and looked at odd buildings on the campus for a while (it has lots), got a sandwich at a Tim Horton's, then visited the reference library on Yonghe, which has a really impressive building. It looked like a nice place to hang out and work, too, though their network seemed a little dodgy.

Then it was back down Yonghe to meet Sara at the convention center.

Another side project for my day had been to find an electronic shaver to replace one I broke recently. I found something at a Sears. I was less succesful at finding a copy of Dick's "Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said", our next book group book. One bookstore had just a few Dick books, two used bookstores had none at all on the shelves--one of them had a single book behind the counter, but the wrong one. Is there an anti-Dick conspiracy?

On our way to find dinner, Sara and I got an explanation from the guys behind the information counter at a big chain bookstore, where we were surprised to discover a little marker on the shelf saying "ask at the information desk for books by this author." We asked. They explained that Dick (along with, for some reason, Murukami), was one of the most shoplifted authors. Apparently they have high resale value. Anyway, "Flow My Tears" wasn't among the few books they had behind the counter.

We ended up at a place called "Hungary Thai", thanks to the interesting (Hungarian-Thai) menu and the pun. It was pretty bad--may we should have noticed that there weren't any customers. Sara's beef paprakish was good but ordinary, and my Thai curry was unusually tasteless and came with underdone rice.

Ann Arbor to Toronto

I'm writing these from notes a week later. I don't normally backdate my entries. Oh well.

"Today" Carl picked us up from home at 9am, then picked up Janet, then we were off. We stopped noonish sometime after crossing the Port Huron/Sarnia border, at a place advertising Chinese and Canadian food. I got a BLT, Sara got some Chinese dish I forget, and the others got club sandwiches. No complaints. It's a holiday (Victoria day?) and lots of businesses were closed.

When we arrived in Toronto they first dropped off Sara and I at our bed and breakfast, which was in a frumpy row of cute old row houses lining either side of two-thirds of one block in a neighborhood that seemed otherwise pretty industrial. They then left to find their hotels.

After we were settled in we took the ten-minute walk downtown to the convention center. The expected attendance at the ASM meeting was over 10,000, and the crowd was impressive. Sara registered, then we parted ways. We tried to figure out whether I should meet her at the end of her opening reception, but it turned out to be at a science museum across town someplace that they were all being shuttled to.

I roamed for a while poking in bookstores and looking at restaurant menus, finally settling on a Korean place somewhere east of the convention center, which had the usual complement of excellent veggie side dishes. Satisfied, I walked back to the bed and breakfast and read "Riddley Walker" until Sara got back.

Packing

Sara has a conference in Toronto this week, and I'm tagging along. So tonight's for packing.

The Lenovo saga plods slowly towards a resolution. It looks like a box should arrive next week, which I can use to return the laptop when I get back the week after. And presumably they'll mail us a refund check after that.

I've been looking around for a replacement without much luck. For now I've restored my old laptop.

Work's been busy, in a good way for the most part--there seems to be hope of finishing some long-delayed projects.

computer nerd

I finally managed to get in touch with someone sympathetic at Lenovo on Thursday. The solution seems to be to contact the Lenovo sales people and not the IBM repair people. So it looks like I'll end up with either a replacement or a refund. Given how long everything has taken, I think I'll have to give up and take the refund. I need something I can get some actual work done on.

The student interns are settling in. They seem like they'll be happy here. We got a big delivery of the components for five new desktops this week, which everybody put together. The only problem I've heard of so far is a faulty fan sensor, so one machine runs the fan at full speed all the time. If that's the only problem, I figure we did OK.

The weather's been lovely, so this was a two-juggling-day-week--in addition to juggling today, we spent a half-hour or so on the diag Tuesday night.

We watched "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge", which required a little more than the average suspension of disbelief (their idea of what a student's European holiday would look like is bizarre), but has some good moments. The plot holes are odd--people travel long distances without any explanation, and the ending leaves all sorts of loose ends. Does it matter? I don't know, honestly, it's not that hard to fill in those blanks for yourself, and I suppose I'd rather have another song-and-dance than boring plot mechanics.

juggling festival

This weekend is the annual juggling festival, which I ran a few years ago, but don't any more. The main event was Saturday, at the usual place--a private sports center on the edge of town. Their main business appears to be soccer camps for kids, and we're only there because an ex-Ann Arbor juggler used to work there and was friends with the previous manager.

Friday and Sunday we had a little juggling on the diag, and Saturday night there was a party afterwards in the clubhouse at a nearby condo. We played a game of spoons--one of those spectacularly simple games that can still be fun every time. It's a tradition in Fred's family, and they like to tell the story that his family knew Deanna was OK when she not only joined in the family game, but actually drew blood on a particularly aggressive dive for a spoon.

I've got one or two juggling tricks that I've been learning off and on for a long time now, without seeming to make a great deal of progress. I should find easier stuff to work on; I just don't seem to have the singlemindedness required to learn really hard tricks these days.

chopin, work, laptop

Wednesday night I went to a student piano recital. The first half was all Chopin, including the B flat minor scherzo, which I played in college (though only after a long struggle--and I can't play it anymore). The student was big on dramatic contrasts, full of technique, and could play louder, softer, faster, and slower, than I could ever hope to. But he was also kind of sloppy--not just isolated missed notes, but one or two places where he seemed about to go off the rails completely--and the logic of the music got lost in the blur sometimes. Still, I enjoyed it.

We're in a little two-week window that comes about every two months where new changes are accepted into the kernel, and it looks like I'm almost certainly going to miss it for the project I've been spending most of my time on recently. And the second project I had in mind for this time around also isn't proceeding very smoothly--I haven't been able to get the kind of review I think we really need before it goes in, and just as I was going to give up and try just sending it straight to Linus anyway, I found another last-minute problem today. So now I can't quite decide what to do.

My laptop finally came back to me today, after over 3 weeks at the IBM repair center, to fix a problem they'd caused themselves the week before. Given that record I examined it a little more closely than I might have otherwise, and noticed they managed to strip the heads of one of the screws completely smooth. But I guess I don't want to send it back now just for that. At this point, if it's going back again, I want it to be for a refund. I'm not normally one to make a fuss, but for once I think I should write an angry letter to somebody at a company. Oh well. Hopefully it'll just work from now on....

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