Monday, January 31, 2011

japan tale from the deep past

Found this on a floppy disk in my desk drawer and it brought back vivid memories.

Japan 1995:

Went to Tokyo. Found the hotel. Fell asleep. Woke up Tuesday morning and walked around the 400-year old garden on the grounds of the hotel. Observed the giant mega-carp swimming in the ponds -- these carp were big enough to eat Cleveland if not Tokyo.

The cherry blossoms fell and the government fell. Very symbolic. It was very windy and cherry blossoms were swirling around like snow. A blizzard of blossoms.

Worked hard. Survived traditional Japanese business dinner.  Ate unusual foods such as baby octopus (not the same as squid). Liked almost everything.

Day off. Walked around the Imperial Palace. Checked out the gardens. Observed joggers ALL go counterclockwise around the palace. There were no nonconformists on this. All joggers stretch in this ancient little courtyard under one of the historic gates. Hordes of people having their picture taken in front of famous bridge. Me too. Many bridges. Also swans in the moat. Amusing that the swans live in the outer moat and do not go to the inner moat, which is named the Swan Moat even though there are no swans in it.

Went shopping in the Ginza district. Couldn't afford anything. Ate dinner at a little hole in the wall restaurant where we were the only foreigners. Good food (found some vegetarian stuff on the menu and liked it). Walked through back alleys full of tiny yakitori joints full of the locals sitting on milk crates eating their yakitori with clouds of smoke curling around them. It looked like something out of a James Bond movie.

Friday morning before departure I set out to visit the Hie Jin shrine near the hotel. I got lost in the back alleys and stumbled into a crowd of tv news crews, hordes of police, etc. waiting outside one of the government buildings for some big official or other. It looked major, whatever it was. Eventually found the shrine and felt like I had stepped back in time 400 years. It was peaceful and serene with live chickens wandering about the courtyard. There was a Shinto wedding just starting. The bride looked lovely in traditional dress. Her kimono must have cost a fortune! I watched the wedding from a discreet distance and even photographed the wedding party (also from a discreet distance). When they went inside for the reception or whatever, I went into the shrine itself and and made an offering (one yen -- someone previous to me had made an offering of a can of Blendy--this awful iced coffee that comes in cans in vending machines on every street corner). I rang the bell and asked the oracle for my fortune. The wedding party came back so I removed myself to a discreet distance and watched them in procession to the sound of the traditional taiko drum. I imagine they could hear that drum several blocks away at the National Diet building where the government was in turmoil.

I walked back to the hotel. Public works crews were everywhere in their blue jumpsuits sweeping up the fallen cherry blossoms with their traditional twig brooms.

Oh, the oracle's answer to me: "You will be happy with her."

upside down icicles

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Sunset with Blowing Snow

The sun did indeed come out this afternoon after the morning's snow. The snow is light and fluffy and the wind is blowing it around so it looks and feels like it's still snowing even with the sun blazing. I was in the Staples parking lot when I spotted the gorgeous sunset behind the trees. I stopped to take a photo and the wind whipped up, making for nice little droplets in the foreground.

Monday, January 17, 2011

windy day on narragansett bay

It was windy at Colt State Park in Bristol this afternoon. Bird activity was mostly on the water or on the ground, not a lot of flying. The herring gulls were mostly clustered in one spot on the snow just kind of loafing like they do on the sand in summer. Many rock pigeons were huddled in among the herring gulls. Horned larks, tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and snow buntings were foraging along the edges of the parking lots and the road and sometimes even on the snow. A flock of a few hundred brant surfed the waves close to shore.

I wonder what horned larks did before parking lots.

Horned lark walking around on the snow
Every once in awhile a herring gull would leave the main flock.

Antisocial gull
A tanker went by.

Headed for Providence Harbor

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


This post duplicates what I wrote in my professional blog.

I observed a couple of interesting things during the course of the 25 hour reading event. Also, I just saw the results of the Book Industry Study Group survey that showed that 75 percent of college students prefer print textbooks over electronic versions.

Observation 1: books outnumbered Kindle/Nook/iPad reading devices by about the same proportion as last year. Everywhere I looked, I saw folks with well-thumbed paperback or hardcover copies of Moby Dick. iPad and Kindle seemed to be the leaders among the devices this year rather than Nook. That most likely has to do with the fact that last year's event featured the Nook, with four of them on loan from Barnes & Noble.  Where last year there were people wandering around looking for outlets to charge the Nooks, I seemed to be the only outlet seeker this year and that was for my iPod touch, which I used more for Twitter access than for reading along, although I did alternate between my beloved Modern Library edition and the Project Gutenberg e-text in Stanza (Hmm, there's another subject for an entry -- why I like Stanza better than iBooks, Bluefire, and Google Reader).

Reading along during Cetology chapter in the Sperm Whale gallery

Observation 2: Most of the folks using ereader devices were older. They had gray hair. This doesn't fit with's representation of people over 50.

Following along while waiting his turn to read in the Jacobs Family Gallery
Some people, besides me with my iPod Touch, were using both types of reading platforms. One guy was even using both at once.  I'm not sure what that added, but it was interesting to see.

Cetology chapter on paper and e-book at once

Observation 3: There was a strong social media component to the marathon this year with live streaming on the web and a designated hashtag (#mdm15) for tweeting during the event. One thing I tried was tweeting from within Stanza while reading. Alas, Stanza and my Twitter account were not getting along. However, I was able to share passages on Facebook directly from Stanza.  My iPod Touch battery was not up to the endurance test of the marathon, but my battered Modern Library edition (with the Rockwell Kent illustrations) held up just fine.

I don't know why Kindle and iPad haven't made more inroads into the Melville afficionado community anymore than I know why college students still prefer books.

My observations at the Moby Dick Marathon fit with observations I made last fall on a walk in India Point Park on Columbus Day. People are still reading paper books. Somebody needs to do more research on why this is.


Monday, January 10, 2011

pictures from the Moby Dick Marathon

Call Me Ishmael
Cetology Chapter
The crowd in the Jacobs Family Gallery
Reading along
Only saw a few iPads and Kindles
After the reading

Friday, January 7, 2011

of a whale

It's that time again. Time for the Moby Dick Marathon in New Bedford. We're off to New Bedford ahead of the snow (at least I hope we're ahead of the snow) to spend 25 hours with my favorite novel. We'll check on how the oil is dripping from KOBO's bones, have coffee at Cafe Arpeggio and Celtic Coffee House, follow along until we fall asleep, keep an eye out for the rabbi who davens when he reads, listen to favorite passages in languages we don't speak, and all that cool stuff for the 15th year.

To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Moby Dick Marathon, I've gathered some of my accounts of marathons past for your reading pleasure.

January 4, 1997 Call Me Ishmael
January 5, 1997 Moby Dick - The Marathon
January 3, 1998 logbook of the whaling ship Lagoda
January 3, 1999 marine mammal as allegory
January 5, 1999 allegory as marine mammal
January 6, 1999 mammal as marine allegory (scroll down for pictures of KOBO the blue whale's vertebrae waiting to be reassembled)
January 3, 2001 that allegorical marine mammal again
January 2, 2002 it ain't easy
January 3, 2003 like a split jib in a squall
January 3, 2004 white whale
January 4, 2004 whale rearticulated
January 3, 2005 in this same new bedford
January 3, 2006 ishmael and so on
January 4, 2006 9,265 sentences later
January 5, 2007 Moby Dick Marathon -- Day 1 (January 3)
January 5, 2007 Moby Dick Marathon -- Day 2 (January 4)

January 11, 2009 ishmael in port
January 9, 2010 tweets du jour
January 10, 2010 tweets du jour

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

eye spy the birds of essex county

I visited the Peabody Essex Museum this afternoon to see The Emperor's Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City before it closes on Sunday (blog entry coming soon) and while I was there I had to check out Eye Spy, Playing with Perception. Eye Spy deals with how what we think we should see, or what we expect to see, influences what we actually do see. That's a phenomenon that birders often experience, right? One of the exhibits fit right in with birding. An artist had modified one of the regular museum displays, specimens of the birds of Essex County and challenged viewers to "spot the impostors".

At first look, it's just the usual exhibit of specimens of the birds of Essex County.

The display case has specimens of many of the 330 species of birds known to occur in Essex County, including some of my favorite sea birds who spend the winter here.

Harlequin Duck looks like he's floating, but that's not one of the intentional perceptual tricks.

The Harlequin is not an impostor. I was trying to create my own perceptual effect with camera angle and focus to make it look like he's floating in the middle of the case.

There's something strange about these owls.
I had to look twice at the owls to determine whether I really saw what I thought I saw: The Third Eye.

Leach's Storm Petrel
There was nothing weird about the storm petrel.
Or was there?