Saturday, March 31, 2007

One day in Kamagura

We took a short one day trip to Kamagura, an ancient former capital of Japan. The city is full of nice temples and crows of tourists and is about 50 km south-south-west of Tokyo (to which it is linked by the railway line to Yokosuka). We took a bus which also gave us the possibility of experiencing and actual traffic jam "japanese style".
Kamakura is now mainly known for its temples and shrines. Kōtoku-in, with the monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha, the most famous of these.

A 15th Century tsunami destroyed the temple that once housed the Great Buddha, but the statue survived and has remained outdoors ever since. Magnificent Zen temples like Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji; the Tokei-ji (a nunnery that was a refuge for women who wanted to divorce their husbands); the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine; the Hase-dera, an ancient Kannon temple; the graves of Minamoto no Yoritomo and Hōjō Masako; and the Kamakura-gu where Prince Morinaga was executed, top the list of Kamakura's most famous historical and religious sites.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Japan first hand

Well, I got here in Japan. Just in time for a big earthquick (a 7.3 on Richter's scale) which fortunately hasn't claimed any human life. My flying epic journey started in the most unfortunate way by a one and a half hours starting delay right from Albany. The small Airjet took off at 11am instead of 9:40 but things went smoothly and we managed to get there almost in time without any additional delay. In O'Hare things are really crazy and people are quite rude but it is like that, I guess in every major city or airport. The annoying thing is that if you have to change terminals you need to take buses, stay in more lines etc etc.
The 882 flight from Chicago to Tokyo (narita) was about 14 hrs..and it was the most awful experience I had so far. Not because of the plain or UNITED stuff but the weather and air currents were just In Chicago I saw grey skies and big winds just like in a late Winter afternoon and I couldn't belive that such weather was happening now, at the end of March. Throughout the flight we have experienced turbulances, the big ones that make flight attendants go on their knees. Finally, Narita..naturally half an hour late, and with a long long long line ahead for pass control I realized that I probably will not meet with other guys that had similar arriving time (around 4-5pm). I got off the airport around 7:15 with the express from Narita to Sinjuku which is a central location in Tokyo. From there I could get a straight answer on how to reach Tama campus at the outskirts of the city..thus I have decided to do it my own way and I took a different type of train and risk it (a bit stupid I know). BUt I was tired and quite irritated that nobody in the station spoke any english. My mistake was also that I have asked the people working there instead of some youngsters. When I have reached the final station I was supposed to get a bus; but the bus stopped circulating at 10pm. Again, spoke with a very nice driver who took me for free, left me on the route (it wasn't going to campus) and came back after ten minutes (when he exited his shift) and gave me a ride in his own car to the gates of the campus. PEOPLE ARE REALLY NICE around here indeed!
After glorious adventures and with a trembling heart, got to the building where the seminar in held. Took a shower, grabbed a bite and went straight to bed around 1pm. After about 4 hrs of sleep I got up and started to hate myself for being so sensitive; perhaps it was really jet-lag but with how things were lately I will never know.
The second day we walked a bit around Tokyo. Quite expensive (about $2,000 yens to move around) and perhaps a daily pass would have made a lot more sense. Saw some downtown busy streets, the Imperial palace and a nice temple in Asakusa. Nice weather and an overall good experience although you get too much time spent exclusively in trains and metros.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Every 17th of March all Irish, Irish descendants and virtually whoever feels Irish in that day can celebrate the national holiday of St. Patrick. After 30 years of missionary work in Ireland, father Patrick died on 17th of March AD 461 and ever since this date became a mark for Irish people everywhere. Today there will not be much going on in Albany(except in bars probably) since the parade got postponed for next week (due to the amount of snow over night). Anyways, Happy St. Patty! today and next week too!:)

Snow storms again…hmmm

Well, winter seems to be a bit more stubborn this year. I can’ remember the last time I saw snow so big after the middle of March.:)) But there is nothing you and I can do about it. Or “at least we had two days with 15-17 C temperatures”.. My question is how long will it take for these extreme phenomenon (sudden warm periods in Winter and cold ones in spring, autumn and even summer – I remember something like it last year- for people to make the connection that something is really wrong with today’s weather {what can that be??:))} and start acting accordingly. Even then, little can be said about the myriad of scenarios for the future. Can we solely blame the fossil fuels or it’s just human nature that drives us to push our limits all the time? We’ll see.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A small weekend break from all of it...

I haven't had a wine since I was on the plane back to about 5 weeks ago. Not so bad, but really, an eternity considering how many things happened since. This Sunday presented the perfect opportunity to relax with a decent Romanian wine (Cabernet Sauvignon blanc 2003 from Jidvei-Tarnave Valley) some French Brie cheese and crackers while watching some movies. The cinematic selection was good also: 187 ( a 1997 movie with Samuel Jackson as a revengeful high-school teacher on his LA gangster students after he got stabbed a dozen times a year ago (beautiful soundtrack, mostly Massive Attack) got a 8.5 on my scale. The second one (Suspect Zero) was a Silence of the Lambs-wannabe with pshicological background but shallow action and acting (except Ben Kingsley); I would give it a 6.5 out of 10.(
Very Enjoyable.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Upgrades to my Panasonic FZ7

I made some siginificant purchases this week towards upgrading the capabilities of my Panasonic FZ7.
First, some polarizing lens (Tiffen 52mm) which should provide me improvements in shooting outside, lanscapes and sea shores especially. Then, some other filters (UV, Haze and Skylight from Morris, Tiffen and Hoya) which I hope will make some difference in some shots. Last but not least, for macro shots, some more Tiffen close-up lens (+1, +2 and +4) which I look forward to especially since spring is around the corner. All these were purchased of Ebay and the spending limit was around 20-30 $ which is not bad at all (shipping included).

More posts when I'll try them out.

Small weekly Buzz

I haven't wrote in a while on my blog since I have been very busy with a lot of issues. Finally I wrote up my draft paper. looks good and I think it will be ready in no time (the rest of fine tunning etc). Beside that, other stuff is going in the back of my head. Lots of..thus, I am quite tired and fed up with everything.:(.

Year of the Pig - personal health issues. Is there a correlation?
It seems that this year is gonna be a tough one in terms of personal health. Since late last December I had continuos such problems that required massive efforts (financial and time wise). I haven't given up on it, but the trend seems worrying.

Is the Spring finally coming?
After 2 months of harsh Winter, seems that the weather is quickly rebounding back to what it should be: WARMER. but again, as long as I see snow on my window...I'll keep my jacket handy. looking fwd to some flowers though for some macro shots:)..

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The old T22 still kickin'...

More bad news today once I've discovered that the Ac adaptor for my brave ol' pal (the T22 series from IBM) has deceased suddenly and without any hope what so ever of revival. The old accompanying battery which lasts for about 15 minutes:))..without the charger (so, virtually I have to keep it plugged in all the time) allowed me to just barely move my work from the laptop to my desktop computer and take it from there. And it was something significant since yesterday I did a lot of work and I almost finished a paper. Finally, today I fixed the issue and managed to get through the kindness of our departmental secretary half of an old AC cord and I had to get another half from the computer's repairs fellows which required a barter (mine for theirs). The important thing is that IT is still alive and kicking!! Like an old man in perfusion (last summer the old hdd crashed on me in a blink -- guess it had some physical damage in the first place when I've received it) the brave old T22 still hangs here and pretty good (XP SP2, Office 2003, some Stata, plus the web stuff) for an old man. However, maybe it is all for the best, since now I have a more appropriate voltage wise Ac adaptor (16V at 3.36 A while before in was 16/4.5) and I haven't lost my stuff (for some reason I like to work in various other places than my desk so this comes in handy)
SO...Here's to you, buddy.:)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

3D Morphable Model Face Animation

Wow. It's amazing what we are able to do with tech today.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Japan visa

After a week of waiting, today I finally got my visa for Japan. Sounds ridiculous I know, but yes, Romanians do need a visa to enter the Rising Sun kingdom. In fact they are the only EU and Central and Eastern European country that does, Croatia or Bulgaria not to mention other older EU countries, have free entrance, which should be normal. Regardless of this and the recent EU accession, we do need one. Why? I suspect the "masterminds" that negotiated bilateral diplomatic agreements, otherwise i don't see any reason for discrimination, beside our own "leaders" 'actions. This required a lot of paperwork and proofs, even more so than a US one, but everything was smooth sailing for me. Sayonara!

So, is caffeine really bad?

Well...I guess we will have to wait (a lot) and see. Perhaps when a strong study will emerge critiquing its effects and the Americans will stop drink it, the rest of the world will follow. Until then...drink on people. I myself, am a coffee lover, meaning I drink it because I like its taste rather than need it to wake-up in the morning. My blood pressure is 10-10 as it is, so if I use it often I just push it higher and become agitated. However, I guess that for people with really low pressure is both a blessing and a tasteful delight. Trimethylxanthine has an immediate effect on the body, releasing dopamine in the brain, triggering feelings of pleasure and reward, just like food, sex, and many other drugs. Thus, caffeine is a psychoactive drug just like cocaine and methamphetamine, can be addictive and even fatal in large doses. On the other hand, especially in Europe I would call it a social phenomenon. I used to go out all the time (mornings, afternoons) to share a cup of coffee and a conversation with friends. In this way, you end up having 4-5 coffees everyday, depending on how many social encounters you have. Combine that with smoking (again taking social dimensions in this context) and you get some heavy stuff. Nowadays, I limit myself to just the ordinary morning cup and perhaps in the long long I will try to replace it with either some green tea or decaff one ... see what happens.:) Cheers.