Bald eagles

There’s at least one more post coming up on that gender bias study, but in the meantime, we clearly need some nice, soft, feminine photos here.

Most of the world’s population of bald eagles is found in Alaska and here in BC. In Vancouver, they’re sometimes seen flying high overhead or perched up high in a tree. Travel north from here, and they become almost as common as seagulls, gliding above beaches, swooping down on buildings and poles. The photos here were taken in Port Hardy and Prince Rupert.

“Bald” eagles are not actually bald – “balde” is an Old English word for “white,” referring to the characteristic white plumage on the eagle’s head, and the name stuck. They only acquire that look as they reach maturity, around 4-5 years of age. (Their natural lifespan is around 20 years.) Juvenile eagles look quite different, to the extent that they could be mistaken for a different species. Here’s one.

Eagles are often thought of as majestic, dignified, aloof. But come here to the B.C. coast, and see what happens when they find a dead fish on the beach. Several of them will be jousting for it, circling the site, swooping on the fish, tearing a piece of meat and flying off again in an eyeblink. It’s a fascinating spectacle, it’s tremendous fun to watch, and it’s not the slightest bit dignified.

Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is the water route between Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, on the Canadian west coast just south of the southern tip of Alaska. It is called the “Inside” Passage because only a small part of it faces the open ocean; most of it is sheltered by a complicated network of islands and channels. This is the route taken by cruise ships to Alaska.

I’ve wanted to see it ever since I moved to Vancouver in 2000. Each year until now, however, I needed a “do-nothing” vacation instead, the sort where you wake up, have breakfast and coffee, go for a walk on the beach, read a book on the patio, have lunch, continue likewise for the rest of the day, and go to sleep early unless there’s live music downstairs. This year was the first time I felt like having a more active vacation where I would actually travel from place to place. So, Inside Passage it was.

I opted for a week-long itinerary driving to Port Hardy first (starting with a ferry to Nanaimo), taking the ferry to Prince Rupert, staying there for a couple of days, then returning the same way. Another option would have been to drive from Prince Rupert back to Vancouver, via Prince George and Williams Lake (the car travels with you on the ferry). I might still do it sometime, but since I’ve done a part of that route already and it was the Inside Passage that I was most interested in, I took the ferry both ways.

You should be warned that it’s a long day. The ferry leaves at 7:30 am and arrives at 10:30 pm, in both directions, and you should arrive at the terminal at 5:30 am for boarding (if you come after 6 am, you risk losing your reservation). That’s an 18-19 hour day minimum, if you add driving between the hotels and the ferry terminals.

The first couple of hours out of Port Hardy are… somewhat uneventful. Much like the ferry ride to Nanaimo, only longer. Then it starts getting more scenic. Then it keeps getting better, until you reach the Grenville Channel, which is one of the most scenic water routes anywhere in the world. If you’ve driven the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, this is the water equivalent of it, with steep cliffs and snowcapped mountain peaks rising over a thousand feet on both sides.

Here are a few teaser photos. I will be posting more on Google+ as I go through the images (about 600 of them, but that includes duplicates and throwaways). In addition to the scenery, there will be eagles and grizzly bears.

The less than friendly skies.

I’m not deluding myself that anyone in the Obama administration is actually reading this blog. Still, the more of us speak up the better, so here it goes.

You did say, Mr. President, that you would support science. “Restore it to its rightful place”, if I remember correctly. You have put a good deal of money behind that promise, and we’re very grateful for that.

You must know – if not as a President then as a former academic – how much we depend on international collaboration, including travel and movement of people across borders.

The new TSA regulations, if they stay in place, will make our travel to the U.S. just about impossible.

Right now, it’s mostly affecting the holiday travellers who have to get back home from their Christmas holidays. They have no choice but to shut up and put up with it. But come January, you might see a drop in the attendance of international participants at professional meetings. Some of the NSF panelists might not show up, or institute board members, or many others who volunteer their time and expertise without compensation and expect to be treated like the decent human beings that they are. And the research stars that your top universities would like to recruit might pass on that interview because they don’t want to have to fly in diapers.
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Everything I needed to know about research, I learned from the Wroclaw dwarves

When embarking on a research project, a dwarf must be ambitious and aim high. Do not be intimidated by a particularly high doorstep or lamppost base. They are all meant to be climbed.


Naturally, research ain’t easy and many a dwarf will feel overwhelmed at times.


But don’t underestimate the power of collaboration. Two dwarves can always accomplish more than one. If they want to, of course.

Continue reading “Everything I needed to know about research, I learned from the Wroclaw dwarves”

File under: unexpected sights

I’m back in Vancouver, trying to finish up the revised version of the paper with Malabika Pramanik on differentiation theorems. There have been a couple of developments since the preprint was posted on the arXiv and we have included these in the new version. More on that soon, hopefully before the end of this week.

Meanwhile, here are a few more photos from my trip to Spain, mostly on the odd side. The first one is from the Campo del Moro gardens in Madrid. With all due respect to Nassim Taleb…


This is a small cafe in Barcelona, near Plaza de Catalunya.


The next three were taken at the Madrid-Atocha train station.


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La Sagrada Familia and the hyperbolic paraboloid

I’m travelling in Spain this month – mostly for mathematical reasons, but, well, it’s Spain. Last week I was fortunate to see La Sagrada Familia.


La Sagrada Familia is the opus magnum of the great Catalan architect and artist Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí was named to be in charge of the project in 1883, at the age of 31, and continued in that role for the rest of his life. From 1914 until his death in 1926 he worked exclusively on the iconic temple, abandoning all other projects and living in a workshop on site.

The construction is still in progress and expected to continue for at least another 20-30 years. The cranes and scaffolding enveloping the temple have almost become an integral part of it. That’s not exactly surprising, given the scale and complexity of the project together with the level of attention to detail that’s evident at every step. Almost every stone is carved separately according to different specifications. Here, for example, is the gorgeous Nativity portal. (Click on the photos for somewhat larger images.)


To call Gaudí’s work unconventional would be a major understatement. To call it novelty – don’t even think about it. His buildings are organic and coherent. Everything about them is thought out, reinvented and then put back together, from the overall plan to the layout of the interior, the design of each room, the furnishings, down to such details as the shape of the railings or the window shutters with little moving flaps to allow ventilation.

Gaudí’s inspiration came from many sources, including nature, philosophy, art and literature, and mathematics.


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Kórnik and more

The Dynamical Systems school in Bedlewo is coming to an end. Today we took a trip to the Kórnik castle.

The Kórnik castle.
The Kórnik castle.

According to our tour guide, the town of Kórnik used to be called Kurnik, the Polish word for “henhouse”. In the 19th century, this part of Poland was occupied by Prussia. There was concern that the town might be renamed Hühnerhaus, the German word for “henhouse”. To prevent that, the residents decided to change the spelling to Kórnik. This is pronounced the same way as Kurnik (well, there is a slight difference if you pay very close attention), but it no longer derives from anything hen-related, nor does it mean anything else in Polish, so it couldn’t be translated into German. The town kept its name throughout the Prussian, then German, occupation.

The bridge over the castle moat.
The bridge over the castle moat.
A little mystery castle on Lake Góreckie
A little mystery castle on Lake Góreckie

More photos under the cut.
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