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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....

parents, food

Thursday my parents arrived from DC, picked us up after work, and took us to Madras Masala. I satisfied long-standing curiosity by ordering the chili cheese dosa. The chili in question was hot green peppers. There wasn't anything wrong with it, but I didn't like it particularly either--back to the masala dosa next time.

Afterwards we went to north campus to the music school for a couple student recitals--we split up, so my mom and I saw a pianist and my dad and Sara a basoonist.

Friday I did a half day at work, then we had lunch at Jefferson Market, filled our afternoon with a tour of Motawi Tileworks--well worth the trip and the $5 a person--and then had dinner at Pilar's. I was feeling a little run down by the end of the day, so I stayed home, napped, and did some minor chores, while Sara and my folks did a shopping trip to Meijer's.

Saturday we walked around Park Lyndon, northwest of Ann Arbor. The most interesting thing we saw was these little bundles of sticks--at first we thought that's all they were, but after seeing too many, and moving in ways that couldn't be explained by the current, it was obvious there was something living in them. Every now and then you could see it point a little insect-like head out. Presumably it's something like a hermit crab, that builds a little twig-based body around itself and lives in lakes. I'd love to know what it was. How do you google for something like that?

Sara recently discovered that the Bloomfield Hills house her grandfather built, and her mother grew up in, is for sale. It's out of our range. But she wanted to go take a look, so we did. We knocked on the door, and the couple living there were delighted to show us around--it turns out he's a carpenter, had made a hobby out of some impressive additions to the house over the years, and both were interested in the house's history.

We had a huge dinner at Cederland in Dearborn, then browsed the impressive pastry selection at Shatila, before returning home by way of Randazzo Joe's, which is just like the produce section at your local supermarket, at about 4 times the scale. The selection wasn't even all that great, given the size, but the quality and prices seemed good.

Sunday my folks took off in the early afternoon, and we stayed home, except for another brief grocery expedition (this time, to Hiller's). It was a lovely day out, but Sara was coming down with something, and I wasn't feeling too energetic myself. In the evening we tried executing a big freezer-stuffing plan of Sara's that involved doing the prep for 20 meals at once. It turned out to be more involved than expected, so we probably won't try it again. But we sure do have huge quantities of food now.

Work has been very busy. I'm frustrated by all of the things I'm having to put off.

cloud atlas

I finished "Cloud Atlas" this weekend. It consists of six stories, each divided in half, and then the halves nested within each other: 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a, 5a, 6a, 6b, 5b, 4b, 3b, 2b, 1b. You could get that structure from a bunch of frame stories--say, somebody in story 1 reads story 2, then a character in story 2 tells story 3, etc., till you get all the way down to the sixth story and then pop back out, finishing in each story. In this case, though, it was the reverse--story number 2 refers to story number 1, and story number 3 to story number 2. The effect is disorienting--1a breaks off in mid-sentence, and 2a starts with totally different characters, in a different style, and doesn't even refer back to number 1 till it's been going on for a while. And you don't actually get any hint that you'll ever see any sequels until you get to 6b and 5b and see the stories start ending. There also other, more mysterious, connections between the stories.

"Cloud Atlas" won't change my life. But I love that kind of formal experimentation, and the stories were engrossing. If I felt like I had the time, I wouldn't mind starting over from the start to find what patterns I missed the first time through.

Work today was slow--I have a ton of work to do to put my current project to rest, and didn't accomplish much of it today. I need to really get the remaining work broken down into little pieces.

It was sunny and warm today. I wore shorts for the first time this year, and rode my bike home.

busy weekend

My aunt and cousin drove down from Waterloo on Friday. They picked me and Sara up around 6, and we spent a little time at Eastern Accents and then went to Zola's for dinner. Sara was a little disappointed by her pumpkin ravioli, but my wild mushroom pasta thing was really tasty. The weather was nice enough that we were comfortable at a table on the sidewalk even though it was well past dark by the time we left.

Saturday I went in to work before juggling. I took a step back from the details of the project I've been mainly working on this last week, to think about whether we were really actually going to meet the original requirements, and managed to convince myself that not only was our current code wrong, but that the whole thing was mis-designed from the start. This was really depressing, all the more so since the design in this case was basically all mine, so I'd been wasting the time of the coworkers that had actually done most of the implementation.

But I left to go to juggling, had a good time--more great weather, so we were out on the diag--then ate a little at Eastern Accents before going to the Smithees.

The Smithees were pretty good this year. One favorite of mine was a scene featuring a ninja being stalked by a tree, from "Vampire Raiders: Ninja Queen".

Sunday morning, a little panicked by my discovery of the day before, I spent another hour or so thinking about the problem and looking up previous email exchanges about alternate designs, and managed to convince myself that, no, I was mistaken, the current design is probably still the right one, it just needs a few more small fixes. Phew.

At four we met Helen, Ruth, a couple of their friends, and Paul for a concert of folk music by "Los Folkloristas". It wasn't something I would have thought of to go to, but it was fun. It was a large-ish group (7 people) with a lot of percussion, so I could entertain myself by trying to figure out how all the little interlocking bits of rhythm fit together, a challenge far enough beyond my musical skills to keep me endlessly entertained.

My relatives treated Sara, Paul, and I to a nice dinner with their friends and family (10 of us altogether) at Vinology.

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