Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Gut Yuntiff = Happy Holidays & Not Forgetting

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Kibbutz Masada

Can you spot Kibbutz Masada, from this Earth Obervatory view, where I “worked” on my cousin’s chicken farm one summer long past? You never forget the smell because it never quite leaves you. Speaking of never forgetting read this travelogue. Then listen to the President’s greeting (and I thought he was Irish).


Getting Kissed by a Giraffe = Can make you WISER

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

giraffe kiss

(Nairobi) “This morning first went to a wildlife orphanage, they had 20 baby elephants and the cutest tiniest baby rhino!!! I actually got to touch a black baby rhino! Next we went to the girafffe center where I got kissed by a giraffe (gross–but did you know their saliva has natural sunscreen and antiseptic).”

(Muhuru Bay) “It’s Friday night and I finally have enough time to just sit and write an email with more substance! Everyone has been so busy since arriving in Muhuru, I can’t even imagine that we’ve been here less than a week. But being busy is good, the one slower day I’ve had so far I started to feel homesick. The cure for that was cooking with my new friend Mama Olwen (Mama Eunice-the real mama’s- neice). She showed me how to make mandazi’s, which are made of chipati dough but deep fried in vegetable oil so that they puff up like fried dough. She has a little one year old running around so she was very grateful for my help and recruited me again at dinner when I made Banana stew for everyone! I can’t to wait to make a version for you all at home. This morning after someone got a text about Michael Jackson we had a tribute, playing his music all through breakfast. People in town were sad to hear the news, although Mama Eunice doesn’t know his name.

So far with Eve’s research project we’ve  been nailing down the organizational stuff and working mostly on the WISER compound. First we hired ten research assistants, all are awesome, and have been training and getting ready for the mass surveying to come! Today was a good day of firsts to write about. I went on my first motorbike ride this morning, we call them ‘piki-pikis’. Philip, one of the research assistants was a very good driver and since the dirt roads are so terrible we go slowly. It was SO much fun to ride around and see more of the lakeshore and downtown Muhuru which is called ‘Customs’ because it is on Tanzania road, nearly at the border.

We went to the Young Social Entrepreneur center in customs which is full of amazing teenagers, then to two schools. One was a private school—meaning very poor, and the other was the best in Muhuru. I talked to the girls there while Philip and Vivian tested the surveys. I started talking with just four girls who were so fun. They taught me how to count in dhoLuo and I told them about university in America. They wanted to be a Pilot, Doctor, Nurse, and Teacher and told me they’d visit me someday. Within the hour about thirty students were gathered under the shade. They told poems and taught me songs in Luo, so I had to come up with a poem on the spot in return and tried singing the WISER song—it was funny hah.

Tonight we had a surprise fish dinner from Mama Eunice. We eat fried tilapia (tonight I had a tail) with cabbage, fresh sliced tomatoes, raw onions, and Ugali. It is my favorite dinner after Christmas Eve’s…if nothing else because it is so fun to eat—no utensils allowed, you just pick everything up with a chunk of Ugali!

Could go on forever…this was just one day, but I’m keeping better tabs in my journal. For a general flow of my days, I wake up with sunrise (6:30) because Im in the top bunk right next to the window. After I watch it rise I get breakfast and tea then get dressed and put on sunscreen! Some mornings we also go running, which is fun because kids will call after you or chase you! Then we work until lunch around 1 or 2 and then again until sunset and dinner. Dinner is our time to all be together and usually ends in some singing or game.

The stars are beautiful as expected. One night I thought I was seeing lightning or some weird phenomenon in the sky at the equator—then I realized it was a car and since everything is so dark you can see the headlights bouncing from very far away. There’s something really natural feeling about waking up with sunrise and letting everything get dark at sunset.

Construction is going on all around us. It’s so amazing to be in the middle of it, because girls will come and look around and you can feel such excitement. Watching the fifty or so workers you think nothing will ever get done. But then by the end of the day another wall is up, a door put in, a floor painted. It’s fun to watch.

Tomorrow is Sabbath for most people here. The plan is to go to Mama Eunice’s family’s church in the morning and then try the clapping church afterwards—with big drums and crazy dancing included. Lunch should be chipatis at Customs and then we might bring them to “the caves” a clearing at the tip of a small peninsula where you see the lake, and Tanzania, and lots of big rocks…and also monkeys!”

How did you spend your Summer vacation?

Yuri’s Night = Message of Joy, Pride, and Journey

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Volga Delta

Dear friends, both known and unknown to me, fellow Russians, and people of all countries and continents, in a few minutes a mighty spaceship will carry me into the far-away expanses of space. What can I say to you in these last minutes before the start? At this instant, the whole of my life seems to be condensed into one wonderful moment. Everything I have experienced and done till now has been in preparation for this moment. You must realize that it is hard to express my feeling now that the test for which we have been training long and passionately is at hand. I don’t have to tell you what I felt when it was suggested that I should make this flight, the first in history. Was it joy? No, it was something more than that. Pride? No, it was not just pride. I felt great happiness. To be the first to enter the cosmos, to engage single handed in an unprecedented duel with nature – could anyone dream of anything greater than that? But immediately after that I thought of the tremendous responsibility I bore: to be the first to do what generations of people had dreamed of; to be the first to pave the way into space for mankind. This responsibility is not toward one person, not toward a few dozen, not toward a group. It is a responsibility toward all mankind – toward its present and its future. Am I happy as I set off on this space flight? Of course I’m happy. After all, in all times and epochs the greatest happiness for man has been to take part in new discoveries. It is a matter of minutes now before the start. I say to you, ‘Until we meet again,’ dear friends, just as people say to each other when setting out on a long journey. I would like very much to embrace you all, people known and unknown to me, close friends and strangers alike. See you soon! Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, first person in space, April 12, 1961

The Early Space Age in Stamps

Car Car = Fuelish Hyperbolae

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

My blogoverse buddy (BvBTM) Jonathan asked me to contribute to CoM-18, which he is hosting and I am happy to do so. But first a belated shoutout to my BvB, and best reviewer, Dave Marain, who interviews Professor Lynn Steen, a principal architect of the original NCTM Standards and a highly respected voice in reform mathematics.

car car

Don’t expect any research topics here. This is about solving a practical problem in automotive gas economy which involves a pricing anomoly, a Greek mathmatician who may have tutored Alexander the Great, and an 18th century Scottish math professor who almost loses his job by taking an unauthorized 2-year sabbatical to tour the Continent. Can you imagine not losing your job today?

So what is the problem? I have 2 cars, an older model which uses regular gas, and a slightly newer model which only uses the more expensive high-test gas, but also gets more miles per gallon (mpg). The question is which is more economical to  drive? The pricing anomaly I have observed is that no matter the price per gallon (ppg) of gasoline, and the price has fluctuated up and down quite a bit, the difference in price between regular and high-test is almost always a constant, viz., 25 cents. So which car  is more economical to drive actually depends on the price of gasoline! Observe.

The price per mile, ppm = price per gallon / miles per gallon.  The percent difference in ppm between regular and high-test,

%diff = (ppmregular / ppmhigh-test) – 1 = (p / m) – 1,

where p = ppgregular / ppghigh-test and

m = mpgregular / mpghigh-test.

If we take

d = ppghigh-testppgregular = $0.25 and

m = 25 / 27 and

then plot ppghigh-test against %diff we get:


So if the price of high-test is below about $3.35 the gas guzzler is more economical fuel-wise, and versa vice. But what is this  curve? A cubic polynomial trend line fits it almost perfectly. So is it a polynomial? Zooming out gives us a clue.


It is a rectangular hyperbola (first studied by Menaechmus, a student of Plato, about 350 BC) flipped on the X axis and asymptotic to X = 0 and Y = 0.08 = (1 / m) -1. You can easily see this by rewriting the equation for %diff as

%diff = A / ppghigh-test + B where

A = -d / m and

B = (1 / m) – 1

So this leaves the question of why a cubic polynomial fits the data so well. And here is where our Scottish math professor, Colin MacLaurin, comes in. In 1742 he wrote A Treatise on Fluxions (pdf), the first systematic application  of Newton’s calculus, in which he shows, among other trigonometric marvels, how the equation for a hyperbola could be closely approximated by truncating an infinite polynomial series.

Nuit, Nut, Nix = Mox Nix

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Nut     Pluto Hubble Picture    Clyde Tombaugh

“Mox nix” derives from the German machts nichts meaning “it makes no difference.”  Yesterday the International Astronomical Union named the two newly discovered moons of Pluto Nix and Hydra.  Nyx is the Greek goddess of night, but that was nixed because there is an asteroid named Nyx.  So Nix, aka Nuit and Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky was used.  The ‘N” and ‘H’ are also the first letters of New Horizons, the spacecraft that will arrive at Pluto in 2015.

New Horizons was launched as the fastest spacecraft ever, at 10 miles per second (36,000 mph, ~0.005% the speed of light), and will further accelerate to 47,000 mph by using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot.  At that rate if one of the twins (Lia, of course) went to Pluto and back in 19 years, she would be about 1 second younger than Alan due to the Twin Paradox.  If the ship traveled 99% the speed of light, Lia would arrive back about 10 years younger than Alan!  Packaging this genuine fountain of youth is problematic.

Incidentally, I met Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto (in 1930), at the 1988 Stellafane Convention.

Bush in Budapest = 4 months early

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Oly távol, messze van hazám…
Csak még egyszer láthatnám.

Flag over Danube  Bush and President Solyom  October 23, 1956  Bush & troops  letters

President Bush visited Budapest today to commemorate the the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.  He is 4 months early (history lesson from the book Anarchy, A Graphic Guide). 

It was October 23rd when the revolt began with demonstrations.  It was November 1st when Kádár János betrayed Hungary by “inviting” Soviet troops to assist putting down the revolution.  I remember my parents waking me in the  middle of the night to look out the window of our main street apartment to see a long line of those tanks entering Hungary – each with exactly one soldier seated on top carrying a flaming torch.  It wasn’t until my birthday on December 5th that we stepped outside our apartment for the last time and became refugees.  By mid-December the borders were effectively closed.  Over 200,000 Hungarians had fled their country of birth.

 The “Daily Dish of Cosmopolitan Budapest,” Pesticide said this about Bush’s visit:

Snow’s statement that Bush’s trip “about visiting the Hungarian government and paying homage to what they went through 50 years ago” seems just a little odd, given that the current government is pretty much the same party that fought against the heroic ’56ers. Not that this should really matter, given that it’s all about a “tone poem,” whatever the f*** that might be.

They also said this about protesting (Bush, not Voldemort!):

Go to the main protest against you-know-who, which will be starting at 16:00 on Szabadság tér (Freedom Square), conveniently right in front of the American Embassy. While we can hardly fault anyone for showing up to let off some steam at Uncle Sam, do make sure to note the big, ugly-ass Soviet monument while you are there, and remember that if it wasn’t for the occasionally boorish Yanks, you’d all be speaking Russian. Or, even worse, Hungarian.

Now go see the dokumentumfilm OLY TÁVOL, MESSZE VAN HAZÁM (in Hungarian). Or better, visit Budapest and use Bob Dent’s book Budapest 1956: Locations of Drama as your guide.

6/6/6 = Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Great Fire of London 1666 Art     6x6 Latin Square sums to 666     Inside Monument to Great Fire of London

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is the fear that 666 is the number of the Devil.  Aside Revelations 13, there are some peculiar theories as to the origin of the number.  June 6, 1666 was a good day for that old time blogger, Samuel Pepys, because of English victories at sea over the Dutch.  In part he wrote:

Up betimes, and vexed with my people for having a key taken out of the chamber doors and nobody knew where it was, as also with my boy for not being ready as soon as I, though I called him, whereupon I boxed him soundly, and  then to my business at the office and on the Victualling Office, and thence by water to St. James’s, whither he [the Duke of York] is now gone, it being a monthly fast-day for the plague. … Mightily pleased with this happy day’s newes, and the more, because confirmed by Sir Daniel Harvy,  who was in the whole fight with the Generall, and tells me that there appear but thirty-six in all of the Dutch fleete left at the end of the voyage when they run home.  The joy of the City was this night exceeding great.

September 2 that year was a bad day, as the Great Fire of 1666 burned down medieval London.  Pepys wrote:

Spirals of great fire and flame lept forth from every chimney and London was left but a ruin.

The fire smoldered until March of 1667.  On the bright side, the Great Fire did end the previous year’s plague and made way for the great architectural works of Christopher Wren.

Speaking of fire and history, today is the aniversary of D-Day, “The End of the Beginning” of Hitler’s Nazis, in 1944, and the shooting of James Meredith, the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi, in 1966.

D-Day     fire     Meredith

Last Total Eclipse of the Sun Until 8/2008 = Travel to Libya

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

 Path of Totality     Eclipse Site 1

The last total eclipse of the Sun until August 2008 will occur March 29th.  The best viewing will be from two Eclipse-Cities in the southern desert of Libya near the Chad border.  A google search will show many tours, but, as Xavier M. Jubier points out, this is truly one of the most difficult places on Earth to reach.  That’s after you get in the country.  Here is a google search that returns less than 100 on-topic results, specifically excluding tour info.