Category: Travel

HistoryTravel

Havana: whimsical artchitecture

Cuba has left us with a lot to think about. Still coming to terms with its lessons on race, identity, the bounty of being out of one’s place of comfort, and most importantly those on human dignity and kindness.

While I make sense of those lessions, I’ll share some photos from Vedado, Trinidad, and points in between that testify to the whimsical, surprising beauty of this country and its people.

Travel

The world beyond the window

Sometimes I’ll glance out the window of an airplane and think “Now that’s someplace I need to check out”.

Have y’all ever visited a place that you first caught sight of out the window– of a bus, a train, or the car — and been intrigued? To the point of wanting to visit that place?

For me a couple places stand out. Gayatri and I once passed over Tunis at night on the way back to Chicago from Gaborone. This was before the cell phone era so you’ll have to use your imagination.

This place below, which I can best figure is near Qikiqtarjuaq in the Canadian Arctic seemed so intriguing with its glacier.

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The same flight passed over Svalbard, Norway (if you’ve ever read The Golden Compass) but I didn’t have the presence of mind to get over to the window seat!

The African-American Artic explorer Matthew Henson was a hero of mine back in the day — so yea, something about the Arctic has always appealed.

We did a fly over the Okavango Delta.

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We really want to give it a good walk around (but not within stompin’ range of the elephants)

Maybe you’ve also passed over Glen Canyon heading to California

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So what places have called out to you from the window of a plane, a bus, a train, a car?

Maybe you’ve followed that call? You’ve gotta share that adventure!

MathematicsTravel

The geometrical beauty of Doha

As we passed through Doha on the way to Gaborone, I was amazed by the architectural beauty of so many Islamic inspired structures. It was truly a feast for the eyes and mind.

Though we did not have time to visit many of the older architectural treasures, I discovered that a lot of the buildings have received prestigious architectural awards over the last decade. The investment of Qatar in its country is amazing, and Al Jazeera is a gift to humanity.

There is even wonder in the Qatar airways “air sickness” bags!

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TravelVisualization

Making the subway more readable

Heading back from New York City last weekend I was amazed to see an updated station stop display (graph) on the E train to JFK. I don’t have a video, but you can see the how it updates the destinations (I didn’t notice eta) below — a list of next stops shifts to the right:

But wait, something is off!

My colleague Boris Gorelik had posted a piece entitled How to make a graph less readable? Rotate the text labels arguing that rotation of the axis labels imposes a processing cost on the reader. Keep the text aligned. Wouldn’t moving the destination labels up and down as Boris suggests save the jostled E train rider precious milliseconds?

Travel

The fractal beauty of Maun

We visited Maun with our family in December. Located near the eastern edge of the Okavango delta, it possesses a still, quiet beauty.

We took a short plane ride over the delta. As I look again at the images taken that day, I  am struck by the fractal quality of the images.

How do you assess the “fractalness” of an image? I suppose that it has to do with the degree to which the image can be described by a self-similar patterns, hints of the same regularity as you zoom closer in. It looks like natural landscapes exhibit fractal qualities only over limited scales — perhaps 2 or 3 dimensions at most.

Maybe the echo of patterns at different scales hints at complex interactions of life in the delta.

Does it matter? The beauty is simply indescribable.

Solar EclipseTravel

Labels have been eclipsed

We journey to Lexington, South Carolina to see witness an eclipse.

My wife talks to a couple — two White women from Charlottesville, perhaps in their 60’s — they lament the terror that descended upon their peaceful, thoughtful town. A Jewish family lies on the grass next to us, the father discovering the beauty and mystery of childhood in the waning sun.

Telescopes in the parking lot near the nature center entrance track the sun. My daughter looks in wonder at red and orange orbs, under the gentle guidance of a woman astronomer. A nine-year old African American boy looks at sun spots in awe, peppering the astronomer with questions. She answers him thoughtfully. His mother says that he wants to be a scientist.

In this small pinpoint in the west of South Carolina — a small nature preserve called Saluda Shoals Park — people are speaking in Hindi, Spanish, and Italian, and Mandarin. Grandmothers the color of the 2pm night encourage their grandchildren to look up.

Young Brothers accentuate their designer athletic apparel with solar shades. The other astronomer gives an impromptu hands on talk about meteorites, looking on as the dark remnant of a star passes between white, tan, black, and brown hands. He gives talks to the schools around the state he says, for free, as a service because of his love of the universe.

As sky goes dark, the cicadas awake. My son is giddy with the excitement of being present in a singular communion with the eternal, absorbing the sublime colors of the solar halo and noting the presence of planets.

As the sun waxes, a father with his ‘fro and mother with dark straight hair and skin the color of sand walk past smiling taking their sleeping child home.

In that moment labels — the inadequate one-dimensional badges affixed to us used to define, oppress and limit — become like the shadows in the eclipsing sun. We become to each other human — familiar brothers, sisters — seeing each other in awe, gratitude, and wonder.