Archive for October, 2017

The Long Farewell: Just shoot me now

October 26, 2017

So, at age 73 I am facing problems I thought wouldn’t be an issue for another 10 years. Multiple Myeloma is relatively rare — 0.8% of all new cancer cases worldwide. Being rare, it is also expensive. How expensive? One of my meds is the thalidomide cousin Lenalidomide. The raw price for enough pills for a single 14-day dose cycle is $8,700.

The cost problem arises from the fact that, although the drug has a generic name, the manufacturer, Celgene, has a monopoly on its production (as Revlimid), and can charge what they want. As far as the last 20% of price hikes is concerned, Celgene said in a statement that pricing decisions reflect a therapy’s value. i.e. what the market will bear.

My treatment will involve at least six cycles, or $52,000. However, that’s before insurance coverage kicks in. The trouble is, it’s hard to figure out the insurance copay. Here’s my ongoing Revlimid saga

23 Oct:

Letter from WA Rx Svcs approving the drug. To be supplied by Walgreens Specialty Drugs

24 Oct:

  1. Call from Walgreens saying there was a $175 copay. I was surprised, because we have three layers of coverage: Uniform, Medicare, Tricare. Called them back. They said Medicare doesn’t cover it, and they don’t have a contract with Tricare. Suggested I call the manufacturer and ask for a co-pay card.
  2. Called Celgene patient support. They are out for a two day beach party. Got a patient support specialists name and left a voice mail. They swore blind they’d call back on the 25th.
  3. Checked the Tricare site. They say they cover Revlimid with a $24 co-pay. They also said they have a contract with Walgreens.
  4. Called Walgreens back. They are Walgreens Specialty Drugs, not Walgeens Retail Drugs. Revlimid would be available at a $24 co-pay if the retail stores had access to them, but retail doesn’t have access to Revlimid. This is starting to sound like a Monty Python skit.
  5. Called Rockwood Cancer Center. They are busy. Left a voicemail.
  6. Called Uniform. They said it has to be filled through Wallgreens
  7. Called Wallgreens. Paid. They’ll get it to me tomorrow.
  8. Called Rockwood. Canceled voicemail. Set up appointment for Thursday
  9. Off to local Rockwood for blood draw, because the system hasn’t got enough of it out of me yet.

25 Oct:

Revlimid shipment came today — a sign-for FedEx shipment that left the manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, yesterday, and travelled to Spokane via Nashville, TN. One $8,700 bottle with 14 pills and a biohazard sticker.

26 Oct:

No callback from Celgene yet, and further research indicates that “co-pay cards” are only for those without some form of government insurance. Which is totally understandable.

Went to the clinic and started my chemo, but that’s another story.

Conclusions:

Drugs, particularly speciality drugs, are not treated like other medical expenses. For most stuff, my work insurance picks up most of it, and what they don’t get Medicare gets, and what they don’t get, Tricare covers. With drugs, everything is in these individual silos, and WA Uniform works with a different set of providers than Tricare does, and what you pay is based on your point of entry into the system.

So, our point of entry is Uniform Insurance, and they only deal with Walgreens, and they want a $175 co-pay. The issue isn’t the money, as such, after all, others have it much worse. The issue is, we didn’t find out about the actual cost and the actual provider until it was ordered, and I don’t see any easy way we could have found out.

The next question is, what will happen when I lose employer insurance after I retire next year? Am I going to have to spend days on the phone again? Does the fabled Tricare $24 co-pay really exist? There’s an outfit called Accredo, that evidently has a contract with Tricare, so that might work out. Unless, you know, it’s Accredo Retail.

 

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What’s the plural of Singularity?

October 22, 2017

The Singularity is the point at which all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change in the next five minutes — Kevin Kelly

One of the problems with discussing The Singularity, is that there are a number of definitions of the concept. It started with the idea of exponentially improving machine intelligence (AI), then added an associated technology growth, and ended with a biotechnology explosion and human-machine hybridization. So, which one are we to use? Or, can we use any of them? Is The Singularity real?

In a recent essay on the Singularity Web Log, the author raises an issue that challenges the very basis of The Singularity: the claim that technological growth is logistic, not exponential. The difference between the two equations is a limiting term. For example, take population (N) growth over time (t). Population grows at some rate (r).

Exponential:   dN/dt = rN

Logisitic: dN/dt = rN * (K-N)/K

where K is some physical limiting factor, in this case, carrying capacity (see the article for a nice graphic).

Unfortunately, at this point, the essay wanders off into mysticism — K doesn’t matter because that’s a physical, not a machine intelligence concept, the map is not the territory, the machine is not the brain, my imagination is better than your imagination.

So, what about this K thing? Is it really not a limiter on machine intelligence? Is AI really not grounded in the physical world? Stated like that, the obvious answer is, of course it is. And to the extent that it is, it is limited by some definition of K. For the purposes of our discussion, K can be considered an outgrowth of the difference between electrons and molecules, to use Nicholas Negroponte’s phrase. Molecules are heavy, take up space, and are expensive to move. Electrons are essentially free, and can be moved anywhere almost instantly, and almost for free. Shifting publishing from paper books to e-books (still a work in progress) totally changed the dynamics of the industry. This electron/molecule dichotomy is what drives our discussion of K.

Take the most basic definition of The Singularity: that soon we will have the ability to build an AI that is better at designing AI’s than we are. At that messianic point the growth in AI capabilities will become exponential and we cannot foresee the ending. The trouble is, there’s a difference between the concept of a really strong AI and the implementation of the concept. An AI is implemented as computer code running on computer chips. Can this super AI¹ design AI², the next generation of chips and software exponentially faster than humans can? Of course it can, that’s the basis of The Singularity. Can we then retool a $5billion wafer fab to produce those chips for AI² exponentially faster? Can we manufacture the motherboards that will accept those chips? Build arrays of servers and ship them and install them at server farms around the world before AI³ comes down the pike? Perhaps AI¹ can show us how to do it faster, but exponentially faster? For The Information Singularity, K is the interface between the conceptual world and the real world.

When we take the next step, from The Information Singularity to The Technology Singularity, we run into the same K. AI² might be able to design better batteries and lighter cars, but actually building them takes time. And retooling takes time, and those times are not likely to be reduced nearly as fast as the designs are improved.

And finally, the biotechnology, human hybrids, new human race singularities are likely to be the slowest of all. Yes, we will be able to modify DNA to give us healthier bodies, computer-friendly brains, and two additional primary colors, but biology will not be rushed. As the old programmer joke about bringing in more staff on tardy projects goes, it’s like putting nine women on the job so you can produce a baby in one month.

So, it looks like the heart of K as a limiting factor on The Singularity, is time. The Information Singularity will cause computations, or rather, computation-driven decisions, to be made in exponentially less time. But the real-world instantiation of those decisions will still take place in Real World time. What makes this a true constraint on The Singularity is that time is a fundamental concept. The very heart of The Singularity concept is exponential time. If the application of information to molecules has to take place in Real Time, then, like the speed of light, our approach to The Singularity will become slower the closer we approach it.

Now, there is one bright spot here. In the equations above, N was population. In our calculations N would be rate of change of information processing/technology adoption, etc. So dN/dt measures the change in the rate of change over time (and should probably be dT/dt/dt, where T is technology).

The essay I’m quoting from takes a doom and gloom message from an exponential rate of change vs logistic equation rate, because the: “overarching and obvious scenarios are: dramatic change, or relative stasis.” No, they are not.

If the Logistic Theory is correct, the rate of technology change, technology adoption, will at some point level out. For tens of thousands of years, humankin faced essentially zero rate of change. The next thousand years was just like the last. Then things started changing. New technology appeared at such a rate that the next century was clearly better than the last. Then the next decade. Now, we are at a point where, if you wait two years, cutting edge technology will be wildly different. And if we’ve just rolled off the exponential part of the Logistic Curve and onto the flat, that’s the way things will stay — every two years we’ll see major changes in our world.

A fast, steady increase in technology may not be as exciting as a never-ending exponential, but at least you’ll be able to say that some part of your four-year college education is still valid when you graduate.

Memories of my youth: bugs

October 22, 2017

When I was a lad, and Eisenhower was President, we lived in Northern Virginia, Quantico, to be exact. Since we didn’t have cable, there was nothing to do of a Sunday afternoon but pile in the non-airconditioned family car (a Kaiser, as I recall), and take a Sunday drive through the countryside. When we got back, the windshield would always be covered with bug spatters, big and small and many.

Some decades later I was stationed in DC, and lived just north of Quantico, maybe ten miles from my former home. No-one had time for a Sunday drive in our modern times, but we’d sometimes find ourselves driving through that same Virginia countryside on our way somewhere. When we got home, our windshield would be … pretty clean. I won’t say that the occasional entomol didn’t come to a sticky end on our glass, but that was a relatively rare occurrence.

Now I find that we are not alone, but are more alone, or something. A study in Germany found the same thing, only over a much shorter time span. Something is causing a drastic drop in flying insects, and there are just not enough windshields out there to account for all of it.

TLDR: Anime I never started

October 14, 2017

Sometimes you don’t have to watch even the first episode. Sometimes you happened on the first volume of the manga. Here’s two.

Inuyashiki: From the creator of Gantz. Actually, that tells you all you need to know. Old guy and young punk are reincarnated as robots. Old guy becomes superhero. Young punk becomes supervillain. Much bloodshed and dismemberment, most of it gratuitous. I dropped the manga after the first volume.

King’s Game: Normally a slightly racy kids game. Whoever is ‘king’ gets to tell the others what to do (“kiss the person to your right”). In this one, everybody is out to kill everybody else, because some ‘king’ made that decision. I don’t even…

This is why one reads manga.

 

 

The Long Farewell: I Aten’t Ded*

October 12, 2017

When last we saw Our Hero, he’d contracted a case of the myelomas, and was worried about his future. We pick up our story early on Respect for the Aged Day.

Right before school started I was subjected to some more tests: a full body MRI and a Bence-Jones protein test. The MRI went about as expected. They put me in a pair of too-small/too thin hospital pants, tied my feet together like I was headed for a medieval burial, strapped me into a cold, narrow tube (like I was headed for a medieval burial), and spent half an hour pulsating my body with x-rays and magnets. If I didn’t have cancer before, etc…

The Bence-Jones test was easier. All I had to do was pee in a bottle. For 24 hours. I handed in the almost-full jug, and the tech remarked that some people had turned in two of those. My response was that some people had the oddest hobbies.

Due to scheduling issues (my trip, the MRI, his trip), I couldn’t meet with my oncodoc until this week. The news was mixed

  1. Bence Jones showed low levels of proteins (but not zero)
  2. X-rays showed three small spots on the mid-spine**
  3. Bone marrow showed trisomys on chromosomes 9, 11, and 15

By a strict definition, I have moved from smouldering myeloma to officially having (possibly indolent) multiple myeloma, with the trisomys pointing to a possibly more aggressive version.*** My oncodoc thinks I’m a borderline case (I would still be smoldering if it wasn’t for those damn spots), and seriously considered continuing a watchful waiting stance. His conservative nature overcame that, however, and I start a standard MM chemo regime as soon as the insurance paperwork clears. The paperwork is important, because the drugs (Revlimid, Velcade, and dexamethasone, AKA rev/vel/dex) can run in excess of $100K/year. Fortunately, it looks like insurance will cover most of that.

The fun drug is Revlimid (AKA lenalidomide). It’s an improved form of thalidomide, which means I can’t be within ten feet of a pregnant woman (fifteen feet if she’s downwind), or three feet of a woman who might become pregnant.

So now I am set for a six month regime of one pill a day, ten pills once a week, and one shot a week. Side effects include constipation and diarrhea, fatigue and insomnia, dry, sweaty skin, and mood swings that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m playing a game with Death and he’s already bought Park Place, Boardwalk, and all the railroads.****

What does all this mean for my chances of seeing the return of Halley’s comet? Based on a 2012 (i.e. 5 years old) study the median survival time with my cocktail of “novel drugs” is ~7 years, roughly. So, 7 years! Yay! Not so fast Gosset. Median says half survive longer, but half don’t make it that long. It’s like my stats students. They get mad when I tell them that half the class is below average. On the bright side, my oncodoc seems to think that I’ve got a good chance of beating the seven year mark, since my priors look reasonably good.

On the not-so-bright side, I still have a theoretical ~10% chance of not making it to Christmas of 2018.

 


*Title is a Terry Pratchett quote.

**The only part of my back that doesn’t actually hurt

***On the other hand, there’s at least one journal article that says trisomys might indicate longer survival chances under certain conditions. I shall have to ask.

****Actually, it’s hyperactiveness, that wears off after a couple of days. So on the one hand I can take it before the weekend and will calm down before my next class. On the other hand, it might cause people to say “Well, he’s finally getting some work done.”

 

Sweet PotatOats

October 12, 2017

Back to commercially prepared sweet potatoes. MJ had a bag of Alexia Waffle Cut Seasoned Sweet Potato Fries in the freezer. Heated in the oven as per instructions, they taste like a failed attempt at BBQ flavor chips. I wonder how they’ll do in oatmeal?

I thawed out three or four of them, and chopped them up. The waffle cut helped. Heated them an extra 5 minutes in the clove-heavy broth (since I didn’t oven bake them), then added the oatmeal.

Setup: 1/2 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, about a 1/4 cup of chopped sweet potato fries, salt. Cook the potatoes for 5 min, add the oats and cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: Started out as meh, but improved as I ate them. For some reason the oats were a little underdone and needed some time in the hot cup to finally cook. Flavor was most unlike the original fries, but still a little peppery. Might try actually baking them first. Surprisingly, they didn’t mush up like the previous batch did, and ended up looking like chopped carrots.

Rating: *****

Mahōtsukai no Yome: The tragedy of the librarian

October 11, 2017

The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star, the story of Hatori Chise, and how she came to be how she is, has another story embedded in it: the story of Miura Riichi and the promise he couldn’t keep.

The OVA mainly looks at Miura as the Librarian of the Forest, who protects Chise in Episode 1, and lends her books in Episode 2. In Episode 3, tragedy strikes.

It turns out that Miura isn’t a person at all. He’s a ghost, a spirit (although he doesn’t know this), who died perhaps 70 years ago.

At that time, he was a student, studying in the home of a rich family with a beautiful daughter, Mayumi. She is to be part of an arranged marriage, and gives Miura a book (春惜しむ, Haru Oshimu, roughly To Lament The End Of Spring), saying she wants him to return it to her, and that by the way she really likes reading the last page of a book.

The next thing we see is him running through the woods, at night, with the book. He is evidently desperate to return it. Unfortunately, he trips in the dark, and falls down a steep embankment, impaling himself on a branch at the bottom, and don’t you just hate it when that happens?

We go from a dark and stormy night to Miura standing outside the Library, book in hand, shirt clean, with no sign of impalement. An indeterminate amount of time later (“I have no idea how long I’ve been here”), we have the events of episodes 1 and 2. Miura is killed by the dark fey, and the library is destroyed. But before he dies, he gives Chise the book and asks her to return it to Mayumi.

Chise finds Mayumi, now an old woman, Niikura Mayumi , waiting to die in hospital. She returns the book, and Miura has kept his promise. However, that’s not the tragedy.

The last page of the book had a hand-written note: Wait for me on the final platform. What are we to make of this? My interpretation is that she was in love with Miura, didn’t want the arranged marriage, and was planning on eloping with him. I admit that’s a lot of meaning to infer from a short statement. It would be useful if she had given him a little more information, like Pack a lunch.

So, the tragedy we don’t see is young Mayumi, waiting at the train station, wondering what happened to Riichi, until her parents arrive to drag her off to a loveless marriage. Despite that, she seems to have made the best of it, with a married daughter, and several grandchildren. One wonders what would have happened if he’d thought to take a cab to the train station. But that would make it a whole other story.

How to find my blog

October 9, 2017

Evidently, the query pholich sex video amrican works pretty well. Since I don’t do sex videos, it must be the pholich, or maybe the amrican. I’ll have to include more of those.

Memories of my youth: The Yom Kippur War 2

October 8, 2017

The war started in early October, 1973. The US made the decision to support Israel with arms shipments, and because of the pace of the war, those shipments had to be airlifted.

Initially, the Military Airlift Command coordinated the movement of US weapons and munitions to east coast airfields, where El Al cargo aircraft would carry them to Israel. That system was soon overwhelmed, and the US decided to fly support directly to Israel, via an intermediate stop in the Azores.

By mid-October there was a constant stream of C-5 and C-141 transports flying across the Atlantic and all the length of the Mediterranean. Of course, the Russians were still running their support flights to Egypt. That meant for a portion of the flight we were sharing the same airspace and ATC frequencies.

An interesting feature of the Russian interaction with the ATC system was that one aircraft, probably the only one with a decent English speaker, would transmit flight data for a number of aircraft flying behind them, all using Aeroflot call signs.

MAC aircrews, being the innovative people that they are, would copy these transmissions and pass them back to the MAC Command Post, giving us useful information on the level of Russian activity.

At one point, a Russian pilot read off a string of position reports faster than the MAC crew could copy them down. When he finished, the young Captain co-pilot mashed the transmit button and said “Aeroflot 1234, could you repeat that list, please.” The Russian, who had no idea he wasn’t speaking to ATC, did so.

Everyone had a smile on their face that day.

 

Memories of my youth: The Yom Kippur War 1

October 7, 2017

It was early October, 1973. I was newly assigned to the Military Airlift Command’s Indications and Warning Center at Scott AFB, Illinois. I was fresh from a four year tour in Europe and had just finished checking out in the duties associated with the Center. Basically I&W is the discipline associated with looking at various indicators that a country might be going to war, and warning the decision makers about it.

It was about three days before the start of the war. That would make it the 2d or 3rd of October. I was sharing the night watch with a more experienced analyst. We were shuffling through the reams of messages that every center gets — 99.9% about normal day to day activities. There was one report that a Soviet transport was headed south over the Mediterranean, towards Egypt. That was nothing new. Egypt was a Soviet client state at the time, and transports were always overflying Yugoslavia, down the Adriatic, and turning left somewhere south of Greece. They were coordinating with the European Air Traffic Control system, just like all aircraft, military or civilian, and anyone could watch them transiting the various air traffic control zones.

Fifteen minutes later there was another report. That’s OK, they just crossed into a new zone.

Fifteen minutes later there was another report. That’s interesting. All three reports were for different aircraft. Fifteen minutes later, there was another one.

Before too long, there was a parade of Soviet An-12 transports, fifteen minutes apart, all the way from Yugoslavia to Egypt. This was definitely news. You don’t commit that level of airlift unless there’s something big going on. It is, as they say, an indicator, but of what?

We had seen a lot of activity in Egypt. They’d been making deployments along the Suez canal, but they did that a lot. They’d call up reserves, run an exercise next to the canal, and send everybody home. We hadn’t seen a lot of activity in the USSR or Eastern Europe, nothing that would support the idea of hostilities there (besides, you don’t start a war in Europe by airlifting stuff to Egypt). Since the Russians were close military advisors to the Egyptians, they’d likely be the first to know if Cairo was planning a major action. Were the Russians providing emergency military aid to the Egyptian army, or were they pulling their own people out? At this stage, there was no way to know.

We packaged up everything we knew, and asked the Operations Officer to wake up the Vice Commander of MAC, a three star general. We briefed him in his living room, with him in his bathrobe and pajamas. He needed to know, because if a Middle East war broke out again, MAC would be on the hook for delivering American aid to Israel. This was our official warning to the decision maker. He was not only warned, but he knew he had been warned.

Then we went back and prepared the morning briefing. The next day, CIA came out with an estimate that said the activity along the canal was exercises or nuisance probes. We got yelled at, but stuck to our guns. Forty-eight hours later, the war started.

Because of our warning, MAC had a three day jump in preparing for the command to start an airlift to Israel.

 NickleGrass

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 2

October 6, 2017

Three up/three down – the off-puttingness continues. This started off being a potentially busy season, with twelve anime that I was considering watching. Fortunately, seven of them blew up on the pad. So far.

The first two in this listing could easily be swapped and few would notice the difference.

1. Dies Irae: Godlike beings fight grotesque monsters for obscure reasons during the latter days of the Third Reich. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. Later episodes will, I think, shift to modern day Tokyo. It won’t help.

Everybody wants to be Wolverine

2. Garo – Vanishing Line: Grotesque hero fights even uglier monsters, assisted by his talking motorcycle. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. This is not a Kino spinoff.

I guess they forgot that modern cameras have a ‘red eye’ setting

3. Taisho Mebiusline Chicchaisan: The title is longer than the episode. Country boy and his sword come to Tokyo to study and get away from the grotesque spirits of the dead that only he can see. On his first day there, he gets turned into a chibi figure. Nobody notices. First episode was about three and a half minutes longer than it needed to be.

They just happened to have a yukata his size

 

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 1

October 4, 2017

There are some anime that are so off-putting that there’s no reason to invoke the three episode rule. Here’s three four that fell at the first fence.

1. Sengoku Night Blood: Young woman is whisked into an isekai by a wonky smartphone app. Said world turns out to be filled with bishies who are historical figures who are vampires. We good? She may or may not be rescued by a talking tanuki who isn’t Shimogamo Yasaburō.

2. Black Clover: Remember how Tanya the Evil was raised in an orphanage and used her magical abilities to claw her way to the top? Why don’t we have twins, raised in an orphanage. One is calm and competent and is gifted with the way to the top. The other, the protagonist, is an incompetent, unmagical, spiky-haired loudmouth who plans to shout his way to the top. With a first episode like this, everyone who watched it thinking it was the second season of Honey and Clover is sure to be captivated!

3. Juni Taisen: A collection of twelve psychopaths, representing twelve different families of psychopaths, representing twelve psychopathic interpretations of the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac, takes part in a psychopathic death match anime. It’s like Fate/Stay Night with worse costuming and no cute girls.

4. Urahara: Three girls in a dress shop fight to keep UFO’s from stealing Japanese culture. Squeaky voices. Kids book style backgrounds. Best part was Rito-chan coming to work on a skateboard. Then a Japanese expat from America, who appears out of a giant nursing bottle, turns them into magical girls, who can fight for justice and the nihongo way.

Did I mention there was a talking tempura shrimp?

 

Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 1, 2017

Garden Report for 171002

Warm for most of the week (mid-upper 70’s), with a cold front blowing through on Saturday. Now the forecast is for highs in the low 60’s and lows in the high 30’s. Of course that doesn’t matter, because this is the week I closed out the garden.

A few years ago we bought some wire shelves at a going-out-of business sale. We didn’t need them as shelving, but they made excellent anti-squirrel mats. I could plant seeds and keep them protected until they were big enough for a cloche. This year I tried using to protect some newly planted carrots. Of course, with this year’s lack of weeding and general neglect, a lot of other stuff grew up around them, but they seemed happy with their cover. On Wednesday, I thought I’d lift the shelving and let them grow a bit more. Surprise! They came up with the wiring! Part of the reason was they are a stubby variety, and didn’t have much of a hold on the dirt. (Click pix to embiggen)

I’ve invented a mechanical harvester

 

Week
Ending
17/09/18
Vegetable Count Weight
g
Unit
Weight
g
Total Total
Weight
kg
*includes 2.4kg of smalls tomato  55  4000  73 198 21.3*
cabbage 5 0.72
cucumber 9 1.9
summer
squash
 4 1400  350 14 4.2
zucchini 4 2.5
winter
squash
1 550  550 3 2.9
carrots 10 250 25 10 0.25
Final Grand Total 33.8

This time last year we had a grand total of 23kg. In 2015 it was 45kg, and in 2014 it was 47kg, and in 2013 the total was 38kg. So not the worst year, but not nearly the best, either.

I can remember when we had six boxen like this

Note that one of the summer squash (in with the tomatoes) is long and curved. One of my squash plants produced only this kind of fruit. It’s like a Tromboncino, except that wasn’t what it said on the tin.

I now have to start thinking about next year.

My third trip to Japan: Lessons Learned and Recommendations

October 1, 2017

Not much that is new this trip. Mostly a reaffirmation of what the previous two trips had taught me.

  1. Japan Rail Pass is your friend. As I write this, it’s $250 for a 7-day pass, or $35 per day. Given that a two-hour trip across the width of the country is about $100, you can see that it’s a bargain. You have to order it while in the US, and they FedEx an authorization you can use to get the pass at your first major JR station.
  2. You don’t have to activate your JR Pass when when you pick it up. I spent the first part of the trip upcountry, where the pass was invaluable in getting around. It ran out on the last two days, but by then I was in Tokyo, and could use the PASMO. PASMO or Suica don’t save you any money, but sure save hassle. On the other hand, if I was going to spend the first part of the trip in Tokyo, and leave from Kansai or somewhere, then I’d hold off on activating the pass
  3. In Tokyo, use a PASMO, or Suica card to get around. They are cash cards — you put cash on them at any kombini, and then just flash the card to ride the metro or buy lunch. This keeps you from having to fumble with the JR ticket machines or ending up with pockets full of change.
  4. Bring money. As in, cash. All my hotel charges were paid for through online booking, and my major purchases in Tokyo were on the credit card, but almost everything else was at places where it was easier to pay cash (or put cash on your PASMO card). I left home with $1000 in yen and a PASMO with $18 on it, and came home with $30 in yen and $14 on the PASMO.
  5. Get a pocket wifi hotspot. The same company that does the JR Pass will rent you a hotspot for for less than $10 a day. Turn it on, stick it in a pocket of your cargo pants, and hook up your tablet. You have on-line map and translation service all day, if you pay attention to your batteries. Send it back before you go through outbound security at the airport, because there are no mailboxes past them.
  6. Smaller hotels are nice. And they’re cheap. All my hotel rooms were smaller than cruise ship staterooms. There was room for the bed and the desk and the TV, but you couldn’t do your radio taiso exercises in them. This is fine, assuming you don’t plan to spend a lot of time in the room, and since you are in Japan, why would you?
  7. In Tokyo, you don’t have to stay in the center of town, but you should stay next to a train station. Off-rush hour prices were only about $3 per trip to get three stops away from Tokyo Station, and it did wonders for hotel pricing. Of course, in the provinces, the train station is the center of town.
  8. Early September is still too hot to walk around most of Japan. Say, anything south of Sendai. And the humidity numbers match the temperature. My next trip I’m going to shoot for early October.
  9. My experience is that ramen restaurants are usually the take-a-ticket kind, that what we would call family style restaurants expect you to pay the cashier, and that real, formal, sit-down restaurants expect you to call for the check.