Juggling photography, french invasion, Jandek

We got an article in the local paper about our juggling festival a couple weeks ago. I figured that might get us a few more people at the festival or our weekly meetings, but the main result so far has been that we get lots more requests to volunteer work.

None of us really performs, though. I don't think any of us have anything against the idea--it just takes work to put together something entertaining and original, and nobody seems to have the energy. Maybe some day. But occasionally if someone doesn't mind our just showing up, fooling around, maybe doing some one-on-one juggling instruction with passerby--basically the same stuff we do for fun on the diag every week anyway--then we'll show up. So this Saturday a few of us made it out to Chelsea's "Relay For Life", some sort of American Cancer Society benefit. It wasn't that interesting, and we didn't stay very long. I never understood that kind of fundraiser--isn't there some simpler way to get people to write checks?

Before that we had our regular Saturday afternoon juggling thing. There were a couple French students--Arnauld, who'd been before, and Ariel, but who I'd met briefly at Sweetwater's before. Some random passerby that were friends of Dave's also turned out to be French speakers, so hung around and talked to Arnauld for a while.

Then there was also a photographer from the UM alumni magazine--someone at the magazine saw that the Ann Arbor News had run juggling pictures, and figured, hey, maybe they could do that too.

Later in the evening Sara, Paul, Steve S., and I saw a free Jandek concert. Wikipedia can fill you on the details of the whole Jandek mystique; or see this NPR article. Nobody really tries to describe the music, though. So what was it like? This is what I wrote Dave, who decided to skip the concert at the last minute but was still curious:

So there was a harpsichordist, a trumpeter, a dancer/singer, and Jandek.

Jandek had a guitar (was it some kind of bass guitar? I couldn't see from where I was). He'd often start songs playing notes that went up and down a bit and didn't have a regular rhythm, but by the middle he settled in to this very regular thump-thump-thump on the lowest string. It was always about 180 beats per minute, I think. So there was almost always this deep bass drone going on, and every piece had pretty much the same medium-slow tempo.

You can go find his singing on youtube. It varies between just speaking and chanting. He'd start a sentence sliding up to a note, hang around on that note, then drift back down at the end.

The dancer would start sitting up straight in her chair, then stand up, walk a careful circle or two around the stage, or maybe stand in one place and make sort of jerky movements with her arms and stuff. Occasionally she'd stand at the microphone and sing wordlessly, mostly longer notes.

The trumpeter would sort of listen along a while, then join in with an atonal jazzy little solo, and fill in between Jandek's singing.

A lot of the time the harpsichordist was just jabbing out these occasional little chords, like a jazz pianist comping behind a solo. Sometimes he'd do more complicated stuff with some syncopation and multiple lines going on at once.

So how was it? Who knows? I think I napped a little during the first few songs. By the end, once I'd resigned myself to the thump-thump-thump and the unchanging tempo, I actually decided some of the music was kind of pretty, and that the harpsichord was doing some interesting stuff.

The harpsichordist and trumpeter were clearly very proficient musicians. I thought the dancer had a good voice too, and liked her singing. I know nothing about dance, but suspect she's pretty good at what she does. As for Jandek himself? I just have no idea. Anyone could have done that stuff, I suppose, but, hey, I've never heard anyone else do it, so if you were into that kind of stuff, I guess he's the guy to go to. Personally I thought we could have replaced him by a machine that went thump-thump-thump and not missed much.

A lot of people left between songs. Some songs would have a particularly large exodus at the end--we could never figure out why--they mostly sounded pretty much the same, so it's not like you could say that the song that a lot of people left after was any more annoying than the previous ones.

There was a standing ovation at the end (assuming it wasn't just people anxious to leave), yet another data point in support of our hypothesis that Ann Arbor audiences give standing ovations to anyone.

San Jose to Ann Arbor

The flight back to Ann Arbor was long--we changed planes in Atlanta. It was almost uneventful, except that--well, I must have had something bad to eat at some point along the way, because I started getting slight cramps just as we were boarding the plan from Atlanta. By the time we'd taxied out they were getting painful. I asked the attendant behind me if I could get up, and the answer was more or less: yes, but we'd have to stop the plane. So I had a couple more agonized minutes (we weren't first in line for the runway), then made a dash for the bathroom, and all was well for the rest of the trip.

Caltrain schedules

I volunteered to give a Connectathon talk on using git to track nfs development work, so spent a lot of time trying to put together some notes and a visual aid or two. It still ended up a little rough, but maybe it could be polished into something useful one day.

Monday night I got to see Scott U., a high school friend who I probably hadn't seen in 15 years or so. We had a nice conversation, and he seemed to be doing well, but the more interesting story is the trip there.

We'd arranged to meet at a restaurant next to the Redwood City Caltrain station. I was just a few blocks from the San Jose station, and Caltrain just has the one track (which goes from Gilroy to San Francisco, with a lot of stops in between). So this was a very simple, convenient plan from my point of view.

The catch is that Caltrain has a rather complicated system of express trains. There's no simple choice between "local" or "limited" trains--there are actually 5 or 6 different patterns of skipped versus not-skipped stops.

The San Jose station doesn't, as far as I can tell, have any clear signs telling you which platform to go to, and thanks in part to that I'd just missed the 5:05 train, an express which I knew would stop at Redwood City. No big deal, as I'd allowed some extra time. Another train was waiting. There also weren't any signs to tell which train this was, so I asked the uniformed guy sitting on the platform if that'd take me to Redwood City; he said yes, and I got on.

After a twenty to thirty minute wait, it pulled out of the station, at which point the conductor announced that it *didn't* stop at Redwood City. So I found the conductor, who turned out to be the guy from the platform. He was very apologetic, and advised I get off at Palo Alto ("much more interesting place anyway", he said) and then take the train that'd be right behind us.

Of course I double-checked against the schedule posted in the Palo Alto and saw that the next column of the schedule was for a 6:16 train that did indeed stop at Redwood City.

I was suspicious when the next train that pulled up was a few minutes early, but since the schedule and the previous conductor seemed to agree that the next train went to Redwood City, and since everybody *else* on the platform was getting on, and since there weren't any signs to tell me what else to do, I figured I'd try it.

There was an announcement after I got on, but I didn't hear it all. After watching the train woosh along for what seemed like too long, I asked a neighbor if they had a schedule I could borrow. At which point I realized what had happened: the columns of the schedule were not actually in strict chronological order. Or rather, they were in order for the originating station (San Jose), but the mixture of fast and slow trains meant they weren't necessarily in order for later stations (like Palo Alto) any more. I'd gotten on the train which left Palo Alto at 6:06 (listed on the schedule just to the right of the 6:16 train), which didn't stop till 3 stops after Redwood City, at Hillsdale.

This time I checked the schedule extremely carefully, and caught a train from Hillsdale that got back to Redwood City a little over a half-hour from when I'd said I'd arrive. I had a phone with me and was able to warn Scott, so it all worked out.

So I ended up taking three trains to do the job of one.

The trip back, fortunately, was much more straightforward.

On Sara's suggestion I mailed the above story, plus a little bonus whining, to Caltrain. I wonder whether they'll respond. I mean, it was partly all down to me being an idiot, no doubt, and a freak wrong answer from a conductor, but the occasional sign might have helped.

airplanes, hotels, restaurants

There's a bus now that goes between Ann Arbor and the airport, so I figured I'd try it just out of curiosity. The bus itself is fast, but only comes every three hours or so, and only to one location well outside downtown Ann Arbor, so the whole trip ends up taking a while. They've got free wireless, which I tried and it was OK. I wonder how it works? It seemed to keep working through the tunnels, but gave out when we got to the parking garage area across from the terminal.

There was about an hour's delay leaving Minneapolis, but other than that both flights were routine.

At Connectathon I've found one good Linux bug, and a bunch of bugs in other people's stuff. Virtualization has been a big help--thanks to kvm I've essentially got four little virtual test machines running on my laptop that I can run experiments with without disturbing the rest of my work. There were some minor hassles getting it all set up, but it's worth it.

It's weird eating out all the time. I quickly find myself looking for the smallest things on every menu; it's easy to forget how rich restaurant food is, and how large the portions are.

Time passes

I'm not cut out for this. Every now and then I think it'd be nice to write a paragraph every day, but then when it comes to the end of the day, I say "eh, I can write about that tomorrow", and by the time I get around to it I've forgotten what's happened.

This weekend was the annual local juggling festival. We got some coverage from the Ann Arbor News this year, but attendance seemed about the same as usual. For me the most fun coverage is from Homeless Dave, who brought his teeter totter for us to play with in the morning and did a few interviews.

I ran the games this year. I didn't have the time to prepare the week before, so it was a bit rough, but people seemed to have fun.

Sara and I went out to dinner with a group to a Korean restaurant named Seoul Garden. I had some bibimbop. I felt like they skimped a little on the side dishes (always my favorite part), but it was otherwise great.

Then to complete the already long day there was a party at Fred and Deanna's.

They had a puzzle in the form of a dodecahedron with a lit-up button on each face. It starts with a random configuration of lit and unlit buttons. Pressing a button toggles the lights on the five neighboring buttons. The goal is to light all the buttons.

My math is getting sadly rusty, but I still recognize when something is linear, hence easy, so I fooled around a little, and eventually realized the nice way to look at it: given a button, call it "odd" if an odd number of its five neighbors are lit, and "even" if an even number of them are lit. In the winning configuration, for example, all twelve buttons are odd, since all 5 (an odd number) of each button's neighbors are lit up.

Then the trick is to notice that pushing a button changes the parity of the button you pushed (because if n of the 5 neighbors were lit before, 5-n are lit now, and n is odd iff 5-n is even), but doesn't change the parity of any others (it's easy to check that every other button borders on either zero or two of the buttons that are being toggled, and that toggling two neighbors can't change a button's parity). It follows that you can produce any desired pattern of odd and even buttons. And that there's a very simple algorithm which always produces the shortest possible solution: just find an even button, press it, and keep going until no buttons are even.

Anyway. Today we were pretty tired out. We both napped some, and I did a grocery run in the afternoon.

Wednesday I leave with Fred and David for Connectathon. I've been using kvm to set up virtual machines on my laptop to use for testing. It's been working really well. Effectively it means I'll have all the test machines I could want without having to carry more than the one laptop.

holds, pastis, niagara falls

The public library no longer keeps holds behind the desk; so if something comes in, you look for your name on a shelf and pick it up yourself. The checkout is (optionally) self-serve at this point too, so you can do the whole thing yourself.

Today I got to the bus stop (across from the library) about 4 minutes before it was due to leave, and figured I'd try to go pick up a hold. And I was impressed by how fast it was--I picked up the book, scanned my library card and the book, and I was done. So, I'm a convert to the new system. I even had time for a quick bathroom stop before catching my bus.

Yesterday was a fondue party with the French conversation group. I borrowed the equipment from a juggling friend, read instructions on the web, picked up ingredients at Bello Vino, and it went fine. The food and the company were good, and the place was just a few minutes' walk from home, but though the people were nice, I was a little tired and not really in the mood to make an effort, so as a social event (or French exercise) it was pretty minor.

They had pastis, which is weird stuff, but neat.

Saturday night we played a game called "Niagara Falls" at Fred and Deanna's. The board and pieces are lovely, and the game seemed pretty fun too, though we only started to really figure it out at the end.

Sleeping on the train, working during talks

The recent departure of a coworker brought me an unexpected trip to Denver this week. So I took the California Zephyr again--I haven't gotten sick of the train yet, and on short notice it was quite a bit cheaper than the plane.

Amazingly, I actually slept pretty well. I woke up a lot more often than I normally would, but I also got some good swaths of real sleep (with the bizarre dreams to prove it), and felt pretty normal the next day. I don't know whether it's because I've finally learned how to sleep on a train, or whether I just lucked out and got no obnoxious fellow passengers, or something else.

I remembered to bring a pillowcase (stuffed with my clothes) this time, which helped. Earplugs and a hat to pull down over my eyes were also good. And I kept a book close at hand--so instead of thinking on each reawakening "oh no, I'll never get to sleep again", I could think "maybe I should just flick on my overhead light and read a page or two"... and that would be enough to send me straight back to sleep.

My reading for the trip was Robert Sawyer's "Rollback", which disappointed me. A lot of the plot and dialog was transparently contrived to raise various issues.

I also had a copy of Brent Welch's thesis dissertation for some reason, but only made it through a dozen pages or so. I'm sure I'll make it through after I've put a few thousand more miles on it.

I got to Denver Sunday, which by coincidence was my dad's last day in Boulder. So he met me at the station, and we spent the day together. We did a little shopping in the morning, and then saw the Kirkland museum in the afternoon, well worth the visit. Every corner overflows with stuff. As I was looking through some ceramics in the basement, the director passed by with a dolly, explaining that he'd fell in love with a radio the other day, and, well, they obviously just didn't have enough, did they? Sure enough, a few minutes later he was back with a huge old-fashioned radio, which he wheeled off to storage, stopping to point out a bowl he was particularly pleased with on the way.

The two-and-half-day meeting itself was really dull. I mostly sat in the back and tried to do some work. But it's hard to do work that requires real concentration in that situation.

All my life I've been terrible at paying attention to lectures, so it's hard to be sure whether it's me or the speakers. If they start out wrong then I tend to tune out very quickly and never return. So the fact that the very first talk started with a good 10 minutes of organizational charts probably didn't help.

1 pint limit, heron, late snowfall, I want a circus

I had a good time with fellow linux-nfs people at the Arbor Brewing Company Thursday night, but forgot that 2 pints before bedtime seems to be 1 to many for me--on this occasion, at least, it was enough to wake me up sometime after 2 am Friday morning. I laid around a few more hours before giving up and going for an early start at work.

That made it a good day for menial work, so among other things I updated my laptop's Ubuntu Linux distribution to the beta release of their next version ("Hardy Heron") and debugged a couple small problems. It has lovely heron-themed artwork, and a wide variety of amusing new 3d desktop effects. In a few more days maybe I'll notice whether there've been more substantive improvements.

After a relatively warm week we got a big snowfall yesterday. I walked home, as the buses didn't look like they'd be keeping any sort of sane schedule. For 10 minutes or so of my walk (the broadway bridges up to Broadway) I was passing long lines of cars crawling along on their way home.

This morning Sara's uncle Ulrich stopped by on his way back from a conference. We had breakfast at Café Marie, toured Sara's lab, then got him an "Ulrich's" branded notebook at Ulrich's bookstore before seeing him off. The bookstore was a disappointment--the textbook section was closed off (is that normal or just a seasonal thing? I like browsing textbooks!), and they didn't have the small math or computer sections, or the big Dover collection, that I seem to recall them having before.

We watched a men's gymnastic meet with some friends in the evening. It's impressive for a while, but after I've seen a few people run through minor variations on the same few tricks, I start fantasizing about someone breaking the rules a little.

I think what the university really needs is a good circus school: something requiring just as much physical skill, but with real performance, creativity, and ideas mixed in.


My head started emerging from its fog Wednesday and Thursday, so I finally started feeling like I was getting some stuff done. Though the major thing I got done today was actually fixing a rather awful mistake I'd made a couple months ago.

It was in the 50's today. Of course, out of inertia I was still wearing my warmest down jacket.

California, Denver, and back

I caught my first train early Friday morning in Ann Arbor; it arrived on time in Chicago, where I found power and network and hung out for a while until it was time to catch the Southwest Chief to LA. There was about an hour delay leaving Chicago, but it made up the time overnight, and it was on time or early for the rest of the trip.

The trip across the country was nice. I'm not much of a scenery watcher, but the mountain crossing was dramatic. I passed the time reading magazines (I like to stockpile New Yorkers and National Geographics for travel, discarding them as I go), writing patches (mainly some cleanup of our nfs lock manager code), and watching some Buffy episodes dubbed in French. Like most of the Superliners Amtrak uses on their long-distance routes (but unlike the trains on the local route to Chicago), there are only 2 or 3 outlets, all in the café/observation car. So when my laptop's running low I camp out in the observation car in the one seat from which a power cable can reach an outlet without crossing the aisle and creating an obvious tripping hazard.

I got breakfast Saturday and Sunday morning in the dining car--it's a little overpriced, but pretty good--and ate the rest of the time from the café car. The food there isn't much more than what you'd get out of a high-end vending machine, but they have a few things I like.

Sunday we arrived in LA. Their train station is (like Chicago's, unlike Ann Arbor's) an interesting relic of a time when train travel was a much bigger deal. After a couple hours sitting in their awesome waiting room, it was time to board the Coast Starlight to San José. Another trip with big scenery: at times the train seems about to fall into the ocean. We got to San José on time, after dark, and I walked to my hotel. (One of the cool things about train stations is that they're almost always right downtown, so it's quite common to be able to walk out on either end.) I was pretty tired at this point, and as I had some vague idea that my reservation was at the same hotel as last year, I didn't learn my mistake until the receptionist caught sight of my handwritten note with the reservation information. She sent me on my way with a helpful map to my real hotel (just a couple blocks away), and after a few more formalities I got to take a dearly needed shower. Next time I do this maybe I should book one night in a sleeper if only to get access to the showers.

The Linux storage and filesystem summit started the next day, Monday. It went OK--I had some useful conversations, and got to meet some people I'd previously only emailed or known by name. I was very poorly prepared for my talk Tuesday. I'm not sure if it really mattered much--we got to talk about what we needed to, I think--but I was a little embarassed.

I once again had less patience for FAST; it's partly a deficiency on my part, but I find slide-driven presentations to big groups a really hard way to learn anything. So I went to a few presentations, but mostly sat outside and hacked and talked to Linux folks, which was way more fun.

Friday night I had a pleasant dinner with recent citi graduate Dean and his wife, and got to see their baby, still much too new to interact with.

Saturday morning I took Caltrain to San Francisco. I really didn't feel like doing anything more than just sitting around, eating a little, and maybe catching up on some email, but I was assuming it would be a simple matter to just walk until I found some pleasant place to sit with easy access to food, power, and some kind of decent network. That didn't really work out--I spent entirely too much time just wandering around aimlessly.

So I eventually just hopped on the BART to my next destination, Berkeley, where I planned to meet Marc, who I was staying with that night. Marc has these periods of a couple times a year where he has access to whatever expensive equipment his experiments depend on, and he and his collaborators seem to work till they drop every day for a couple weeks at a time. As he was in the middle of one of these big experimental binges, I wasn't sure whether I'd get to see much of him at all; but he managed to take a quick break for a nice meal of Dosas a few blocks from the train station before handing me some keys and directions to his apartment. I was still up when he came stumbling in from work around 11 or midnight, so we talked for a while before I went to bed.

The next morning I left while it was still dark and caught a bus for the Emeryville Amtrak station, where I caught the California Zephyr. Also a nice trip, with some impressive scenery, but it ran into some delays and arrived a couple hours late into Denver. My parents were there waiting, and drove me up to the place they're house-sitting in Boulder. The next morning we drove back down to Denver to pick up Sara, arriving on the train from Chicago. It was also late, but the estimate they had online was accurate enough that we were able to show up just a few minutes before she arrived.

Sara and I both had low-grade colds, so I wasn't sure how the visit in general, and the skiing in particular, was going to work out. But it was OK. Wednesday and Friday we went up to the nearby Eldora ski resort and puttered around on their easiest cross-country trails. I was in better shape than I expected.

I enjoy the slightly-out-of-control downhill bits more than the climbing, so next time I do something like this maybe I should go over to the dark side and just try downhill. Though I would probably be just as bad at it as the last time I tried that, some 20 years ago.

We also visited the local public library (a really neat building), toured the Celestial Seasonings factory, saw about half of the 1999 film "Temps Retrouvé" (very confusing, but possibly worth another try some day), and ate plenty of good food (the food at Boulder's Dushanbe Tea House, in particular, was fantastic).

On the way to catch the California Zephyr back to Chicago, we had just enough time to stop by REI's impressive Denver flagship store for me to pick up some new shoes (exactly the same model and size as the shoes I picked up at an REI in Tempe just over a year ago, and the only shoes I've been wearing for that time).

The train arrived on time, and we had a (second!) late dinner in the dining car before going to sleep in our roomette--we decided we should try a sleeper for once. The roomettes are tiny--just enough room for two seats, facing each other, which convert into a bed at night (a second bunk swivels down from above). It was comfortable enough, but I had trouble sleeping anyway. And it's awkward climbing in and out if you need to use the bathroom at night. But I might do it again if only for the access to a shower.

The roomette fare included dining car meals for both of us, so we also had a big breakfast and lunch the next day. The food wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but I enjoyed it all. (The service seemed a little odd; the person who brought me my order of polenta seemed to regard it as a great novelty. But the polenta turned out to be pretty good, so who cares?)

Our train was late coming into Chicago Sunday afternoon, partly I think thanks to the fact that their schedule, bizarrely, doesn't seem to take into account daylight savings time. But we caught the train to Ann Arbor with time to spare. It was crowded, mainly with college students, and again arrived a little late (mainly due to having to stop to transfer a patient to an ambulance--no idea why). Our apartment is a reasonable walk from the train station, but it was after midnight, we were tired, and we had some luggage to carry, so we splurged on six dollars for a taxi.

By this morning, unfortunately, I seemed to have developed a full-blown cold, so my first day at work was spent in sort of a pleasant haze. Hopefully I'll be able to get some real work done tommorow.


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