Aug. 12th, 2017 10:46 pm

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gregh1983: (Default)
[personal profile] gregh1983
One more post ought to finish up the Vancouver trip.

After my long walk and day off on Thursday, Friday was a final work day. The main ACL conference had ended, but I went to a workshop on neural machine translation with all the usual suspects. It was a pretty nice workshop. Instead of the usual long series of short talks about people's immediate papers, the main sessions were given over to five longer keynote talks where people could describe the research programme or NMT history of their entire groups. Only the two best of the 12-ish accepted papers got talks. The rest were posters, and I regret to say that the poster session was managed very badly. We were all crammed into one corner of the already-crowded room where the entire conference had to fit for coffee breaks. The posters were set up facing each other, in pairs — with not even enough space between them to accommodate one poster's worth of people, let alone two. I saw very little on the content. At the end was a panel discussion with open questions, a construct I really like for workshops.

Outside, the weather continued completely hazy, still due to the forest fires and stagnant local weather patterns. I wanted to go to Owen's gym again in the evening, but I got caught up in a dinner group that took too long at a restaurant I wasn't terribly interested in to begin with.

My plans had me staying over in Vancouver Saturday and Saturday night in order to have more exploration time. I had hoped that maybe one more day would also drive out the smoke... Alas, Saturday morning started no different from the previous three. I had to adopt a sort of "stall" mentality. I'd noticed that the air-quality index seemed to start out around 150 or 175 each day, but would often drop below 100 later in the afternoon or evening. That would at least get it down into a not-unusual Pittsburgh territory rather than the worst air I'd ever experienced. So if that happened again late on Saturday, maybe I could still get my hike in after all. The first order of business, then, was to buy a day pass for the transit system and look up several bookstores to while away the morning in. There turned out to be a concentration of them near two particular Skytrain stops, in an area that I later learned was called Mount Pleasant.

At first it wasn't so great to look at, but the first bookstore I went to turned out to be a good result. It was mostly first-run books at full price, but with enough discounted leftovers mixed in to be pretty good hunting. I spent quite a while in there, eventually deciding on a contemporarily written murder mystery involving railroads in the 1850s over a few other contenders. Then I walked along the street to another bookstore, featuring an excellent selection of used material though arranged sort of confusingly. For example, trade editions and hardcovers for any particular genre were kept distinct from and annoyingly far away from cheap paperbacks in the same domain. By random chance I spied a copy of the Hutchins and Somers book on MT from the early '90s, shelved in some area where it didn't belong, and I bought it.

A short bus ride next, followed by another bookstore that was still relatively organized but had almost none of the shelves labelled. I left that one pretty quickly without buying anything — or really being tempted. Then lunch in a little sandwich shop, then a walk along a big residential street to get back to the Skytrain again. In the end I covered each side of a large rectangle of streets, starting from the Skytrain stop on Broadway: Broadway itself by foot, Main by bus, King Edward by foot again, and Cambie by subway. Back in the hotel and still faced with bad air pollution, I made up my lapse from the night before by going to the gym. It was emptier, at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, than it had been at 2:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. Strange but convenient.

When I got back to the hotel again, it was finally time for the daily drop in pollution: the Internet reported an AQI of something like 80. It was getting late in the afternoon by then, so I more or less threw my stuff together and headed out immediately for Grouse Mountain.

... Which will continue in another post, it seems!
Aug. 8th, 2017 11:55 pm

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[personal profile] gregh1983
Thursday and Friday at ACL were workshop days; I only had one to go to on Friday, so that left Thursday as a day to go out and explore. My original plan was to hike up the Grouse Grind ("Mother Nature's stairmaster" or something like that) in the mountains north of the city, but that seemed like a terrible idea with the air-quality index around 175. Instead I figured I should confine myself to nothing more strenuous than walking. Stanley Park, at the end of downtown Vancouver's peninsula, was the obvious first target. It's ringed by the "seawall," a path for walking, biking, running, roller-blading, etc., and the path continues all around both sides of the little inlet south of downtown. I figured I could go as far as I felt able and just quit when tired or bored without being too far from home in linear distance.

The 18-km route I ended up following is here. With the camera — and stops for lunch and used-book browsing — I expect I was out for five or six hours. I thought a little about renting a bike, but earlier experience with the seawall had convinced me that the other cyclists would be far too numerous, slow, and chaotic to make that method enjoyable.

I set out around 11:30 or 11:45 and made an early stop to pick up a half-liter bottle of water in the drug store between me and the waterfront. The first part of the walk was a repeat of my usual route to the conference hotel and then further along to near the aquarium. Rounding Stanley Park is pretty interesting because the aspect is completely different every kilometer or two. For the first part, it's views back towards the city center, its massive condo towers, and plentiful marinas. Then there's a military installment of some kind, complete with historic "9:00 gun" that apparently still goes off at that time every night — presumably automatically, since the gun is locked in a cage with red lights and warning signs about the noise. After that comes a view over the harbor and its commercial activities. Seaplanes were taking off and landing every few minutes, and enormous freighters were tied up along the north shore in the distance.

The worst part along there, with the opposite shore in view, was knowing that there should be stupendous mountains in the background instead of an awful grey haze! Alan thinks the conditions contributed to some really interesting photos. I can agree with that, but it was intensely frustrating to take a reasonably good walk and yet know it should have been so much better!

About six kilometers in I passed a kids' spray park, and then the scenery started featuring the Lions Gate Bridge. (This appears to be written without the hyphen; the Lions are a pair of mountains according to Wikipedia.) I read somewhere that the Lions Gate Bridge is Vancouver's version of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. That makes sense given the relative geography, but the Lions Gate is certainly much smaller and greenish rather than hulking and orange-red. It has a nice shape, all the same, and you can get really close to it from the side, below, above, or even by walking across the bridge itself. I went below, still along the seawall.

Kilometers 7 through about 9 face out to sea; the view there was dominated by five or six container ships at anchor in the offing, if that's the word. Also a surprise beach, which would normally include a stunning view over the northern mountains in addition to the impressive ocean-going traffic. The beach was more crowded than I'd expect for a Thursday afternoon, but I guess that meant the concession stand was open and I was able to have lunch. I ate it on a log — one of a dozen or two that had been lined up as seats along the sand. It was somewhere along here that I also started noticing little cairns that people had made among the rocks or on logs. Someone must have had a lot of free time: it was comparatively easy to get 10 or more of them in a single photo.

Stanley Park seemed to get more built-up again as I rounded the corner into English Bay. Here there was a big outdoor swimming pool and a few more beaches. Soon after that, the park ended and I was just along the edge of the normal street grid — with beaches or sandy picnic areas for a while, and then back into the fancy land of marinas and condo towers. I don't think I've ever been in a place with so many condo towers. It's like certain parts of Portland (though updated 20 years) or San Francisco multiplied to the scale of a whole downtown. Zigzagging among them, and the adjacent green spaces, got kind of fatiguing after a while. I figured I should turn inward and strike directly across town to some used bookstores whose locations I'd written down.

These were both on Pender Street, around Kilometer 17 overall. The first one I came to, Paper Hound, was a pretty standard shop of small to medium size, with a very tempting collection of P.G. Wodehouse novels in the same edition. Their price, though, at $8 Canadian each, was just enough to make me hesitate over buying all three. In the end I figured I could always shop around a bit and come back. The second place I went was called MacLeod's, and it's apparently a well-known Vancouver institution. I'd say it ought to be mostly a well-known mess. Very few things were labeled, and the store (though large) was almost impossible to navigate due to waist-high piles of books being stacked up in front of most of the shelves. Left to my own devices — with no supervision or other customers, and maybe a place to sit — poking through such a graveyard could be a decently pleasant afternoon. With having to constantly squeeze around people, though, and no discernable system to what was in any of the waist-high piles, it quickly got to be more aggravating than any find would have been worth. I left after even less time than I'd spent in the first shop.

From there I just tracked back to the hotel, recovered with some sparkling water, and then went out to eat a large pizza later. Overall, then, a good active day among so much sitting at the conference.
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