We’re currently in Kobe, but I’ve been meaning to post photos from a few days ago. We went for our usual pilgrimage to Hase, near Kamakura, to see The Big Guy On The Lotus. As I mentioned previously, it was rainy and cold that day, so there were fewer people there than usual. Also, the usual bouquet of flowers was absent from the offerings; instead there was a stack of grapefruit, presumably since it holds up better in the rain than, say, stargazer lilies. Somehow I don’t think that the Buddha was disappointed. read more

Phone Numbers in Japan

I found out today that home phone numbers are considered very private information in Japan. If you don’t know someone’s phone number, there’s not really any way to obtain it, particularly if you don’t know the kanji for their name. The “white pages” sections of phone books, as we know them in the USA, don’t exist.

Thus, there are no phone solicitors in Japan. The mind boggles.

Crowded, But Quiet

I was going to try to post something substantial today, to make up for yesterday’s post which meant something to only one person, but it’s now late and I’m tired. Yesterday we went to Kamakura but our plans were somewhat curtailed by the weather. It was rainy and cold–quite cold. We made our usual visit to the Great Buddha anyway.

We’ve been on crowded commuter trains a couple of times recently. While I haven’t actually seen the much publicized phenomenon of station personnel packing people into trains with their white-gloved hands, we have been on trains that are so crowded that people (myself included) have to briefly hop off at station stops to make enough room for other passengers to exit. read more

Some Snapshots from Tokyo

Here are some photos from today. It was a pretty leisurely day. We poked around Tokyo Station, Ginza, and Akihabara, doing a little shopping but mostly just enjoying being on vacation. I rather liked some glass tiling at a restroom entrance in a subway station:2013-03-26 10.30.20

The same restroom had a little map thoughtfully indicating that both Japanese and Western toilets were available, and where to find them:

2013-03-26 10.32.37 This is my favorite store in Akihabara:

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The selection of tools and supplies for electronics prototyping is dazzling. I bought a particular tip for my soldering iron and a rather nice set of digital SI-unit calipers. That photo belies how busy it was in that area today; some of the streets were quite crowded. Of course they weren’t as crowded as Nakamise street near our hotel in Asakusa, which is always packed at this time of year: read more

Someone Else’s Visit to Japan

Coincidentally, an old friend of Tracie’s visited Japan for the first time recently. It seems that he had reactions and impressions very similar to ours. You can read his blog post here; apparently he plans to do several more on the topic.

[I won’t count this as my single post of the day, since it’s actually someone else’s post.]

Tokyo Desu

We arrived in Tokyo a few hours ago; it’s about 9:05PM local time now. We’ll be in Japan for about two weeks, and will be staying in Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, and Matsue. In recent years I’ve had a tendency to not blog much while here, mostly for lack of time and energy. On this visit, however, I’ve set myself the goal of posting something here once a day. It might be just a photo, or just a single sentence. The general idea is that even a very small entry is better than no entry at all. We’ll see how well I manage. read more

Every Picture Tells a Story

Not too many years ago, it was unusual for a person to carry a camera with them everywhere they went. Now, thanks to cheap digital cameras, smartphones, and PDAs, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket most of the time. This means we’re now taking photos of events that we wouldn’t have been able to photograph in the past, such as this one:
That, gentle readers, is a photo of Tracie being tended to by some of the fine firefighters/EMTs at the Boulder Rural Fire Department. Visible on the left is the shiny bumper of a really big, red truck.
Yes, there’s a story behind this photo. The story goes like this:
Tuesday morning we were amused to discover, upon arising, that several inches of snow had fallen overnight. This was a surprise because it wasn’t supposed to snow at all that night. The next surprise came shortly after breakfast, when Tracie started to feel oddly itchy, looked at herself in the mirror, and announced that it was time to head for the hospital emergency room. Tracie has a long list of food allergies, environmental allergies, and medical allergies. She has impressed upon me on more than one occasion that such allergies can be life-threatening, and that time is of the essence when treating a systemic allergic reaction. Hence I didn’t even mention the unfortunate timing of having to make a brisk trip through new-fallen snow, particularly after I observed the rash spreading across her cheeks, nose, and forehead, and the welts appearing on her cheekbones.
(I’m gonna mention at this juncture that Tracie is now fine so as to not leave you in suspense.)
After excavating the car we were on our way at a little before 9:00AM. Driving to the nearest hospital takes about 20 minutes, in normal traffic, in good weather conditions. We were about to enter rush-hour traffic in snow. Tracie said, once underway, “I hate to tell you to hurry, but hurry.”
There are two different routes from our hose to the highway that leads to the hospital. We could see pretty quickly that the usual one was completely backed up, so we headed towards the other one, and almost immediately saw that the highway itself was backed up. This caused a certain amount of collective consternation. However, Tracie, thinking quickly, said, “go to the firehouse!” which was an excellent suggestion since it’s only about a mile from our house and happened to be about a block from our location at the time. I pulled a vaguely legal U-turn, drove right past a pair of DO NOT ENTER signs (which I swear I didn’t even see at the time–it was several days later that I noticed their presence), and parked near those big doors they have on fire stations to let the big trucks out.
It didn’t look like I was going to be able to get anyone’s attention from that side of the building, so I went around to the other side, hoping it was the front, and found the front door–which was locked. Happily, the fire chief himself (as I later determined) just happened to be getting out of his car at the same time. He cheerfully asked if he could help me with something; I suppose I looked like I needed it. I told him what was going on and he whisked me inside and started summoning his minions. By the time he led me through the building to the back, there was already someone at our car, talking to Tracie. It turns out that we were lucky: this particular fire station has paramedics on staff.
They got her inside, got her situated on a chair in the garage[? bay? whatever you call the place where they keep the trucks], and started doing the stuff that EMTs do: taking vitals, getting an IV line into her arm (which took two painful attempts), hooking up a machine that went “bing!”, etc. To my uneducated eyes she didn’t appear to be getting any worse at this point, so it was about then that I gave into temptation and took that first photo. They gave her some Benadryl to slow things down and, after a very brief discussion, called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Here’s Robin the firefighter helping her onto the ambulance:
I didn’t ride along in the ambulance. While I didn’t want to leave her, I couldn’t imagine that I’d be much use if her condition worsened en route, and, as the paramedic thoughtfully pointed out, me driving meant that we’d have a way to get home again. Here’s the ambulance as seen from behind:
You can see that the roads weren’t actually bad at this point, but we had no way of knowing that when we were inside the firehouse, nor did we know why the freeway was backed up and whether it was cleared yet. Not putting her in an ambulance could have been false economy anyway–I mean, was I gonna be able to do anything at all useful while driving if her condition worsened? I think not.
Fortunately the ER was not at all busy, so she was ensconced in a hospital bed in short order. Various nurses and doctors tended to her while I stood around trying to be useful by supplying her full name and date of birth. Eventually things settled down and I took the following photo. I wasn’t going to post it, out of respect, but Tracie seems to think it adds to the story:
Personally I think this one is almost as dramatic as the one from the firehouse, and it amuses me that the Boulder Community Hospital assigns QR codes to incoming patients:
At some point I realized that I recognized the ER doctor. I had seen the same doctor in an ER almost exactly 13 years ago, when our dear, shortly-thereafter-departed cat Mario bit my hand rather vigorously. (I didn’t blame him. He was having a really rough go of it, had a feeding tube stuck into a hole in his side, and we were trying to get IV fluids into him. I did, however, bleed like a stuck pig for awhile; hence the trip to the ER.) After talking to Tracie about the events of the morning, her history with allergies, etc. they gave her some Solu-medrol and Pepcid. (Yes, Pepcid. It’s a histamine blocker, too.) Her condition, thank goodness and meds, continued to be stable, so after having her hang around for awhile for observation, she was released.
That was pretty much the end of the story, except for the lingering mystery of what started the reaction in the first place. She ate nothing out of the ordinary that morning. Our best guess–where “our” includes her doctor, whom we saw the next day–was that the apple she ate was somehow contaminated. Maybe it had something on it that had been deposited there at the store, maybe the knife I used to slice it transferred something from the pineapple I first sliced. Right now we don’t know, and may never know. It probably wasn’t the apple itself, but the only way to verify that is to performing an experiment which Tracie is currently not interested in performing. I can’t say that I blame her.
The cats were faintly puzzled by our sudden departure, but settled down shortly after our return.
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“That’s more like real life, rather than school.”

There’s a good article here on CNN.com about the resurgence of shop classes–with up-to-date technology–in high schools. I find this very encouraging; it was only two years ago that I ruminated here about the demise of shop classes. For awhile it’s been my hope that the recent exploding interest in hobby-level electronics and making stuff in general will lead to a renaissance of design, engineering, and manufacturing.