Photos From Iceland

My wife and I spent the week of October 4-11 on vacation in Iceland, a.k.a. The Land of Ice and Fire. It’s roughly the size of Ohio but has a total population less than half that of Columbus, two-thirds of which is concentrated in the capital city of Reykjavik. Here are some highlights from this land of contrasts. Click to enlarge, if you’re into that sort of thing.

1 ghetto

Found hanging in a Reykjavik window. Possibly the funniest thing we saw all week. Rampant graffiti notwithstanding, Reykjavik is the least ghetto place on the entire planet.

The most famous spot in Iceland, the towering Hallgrimskirkja. Pretty in pictures but rather drab in person. Great view from the top, though.

The most famous spot in Iceland, the towering Hallgrimskirkja. Pretty in pictures but rather drab in person. Great view from the top, though. I’m smiling in this picture because I’ve finally found something taller than me.

Another iconic Reykjavik landmark, the Sun Voyager is also the only sculpture in the city that isn't hideously ugly (sorry Icelanders!)

Another iconic Reykjavik landmark, the Sun Voyager is also the only sculpture in the city that isn’t hideously ugly (sorry Icelanders!)

A little church in the pretty national park of Thingvellir. You find quite a number of churches as you travel around.

A little church in the pretty national park of Thingvellir. You find quite a number of churches as you travel around.

The mighty double waterfall Gullfoss in all its thundering glory, complete with rainbow. What you don't see in the photo is the constant freezing gale-force wind.

The mighty double waterfall Gullfoss in all its thundering glory, complete with rainbow. What you don’t see in the photo is the constant freezing gale-force wind.

Betsy and I went whale-watching in a ship similar to this one. We saw a number of dolphins and Minke whales. Our guide spoke out against whale-hunting, which is legal but controversial in Iceland.

Betsy and I went whale-watching on a ship similar to this one. We saw a number of dolphins and Minke whales. Our guide spoke out against whale-hunting, which is legal but controversial in Iceland.

The Dynamic Duo at the peak of their arduous (for us, anyway) hike up Mount Esja. The trail was so steep that getting down was almost as tough as ascending. "Steinn" means "stone," if you were wondering.

The Dynamic Duo at the peak of their arduous (for us, anyway) hike up Mount Esja. The trail was so steep that getting down was almost as tough as ascending. “Steinn” means “stone,” if you were wondering.

Look at this pig's face. Look at it. This derpy expression, the mascot of supermarket chain Bonus, followed us around Reykjavik. I can't tell if he's high or...no, okay, he's definitely high.

Look at this pig’s face. Look at it. This derpy expression, the mascot of supermarket chain Bonus, followed us around Reykjavik. I can’t tell if he’s high or…no, okay, he’s definitely high.

Our haul of duty-free liquor from the land up north. The two clear bottles on the right are Brennivin, the famous Icelandic booze. Of course I can't actually drink any of it right now (depression and such) but a man can dream.

Our haul of duty-free liquor from the land up north. The two clear bottles on the right are Brennivin, the famous Icelandic booze. Of course I can’t actually drink any of it right now (depression and such) but a man can dream.

Any questions about our trip? Ask away in the comments!

Friday Links

The Fermi Paradox: if the conditions are right for life all over the universe, then how come we haven’t found aliens yet? This article looks at a lot of possible answers, and they are fascinating.

Doodle For Food is an artist’s Tumblr I found recently. It makes me laugh. Maybe it will make you laugh, too.

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments. I am continuing to feel better. I should have another post (with lots of pictures!) in the next couple weeks. Much like Monty Python’s peasant, this blog is Not Dead Yet!

Status Update

I am still struggling with depression, but things are looking up at the moment. I have enrolled in a 6-8 week program in Cleveland, where I attend group therapy three hours a day, every weekday. I am also exercising an hour every day, and I have started meditating again. For the past week and a half, I have been feeling markedly better.

In other news, Betsy and I are watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh yeah!

Not sure yet when I’ll return to the blog, but it’s definitely coming. I haven’t given up yet. Thanks for your patience. :-)

Blog on hiatus

Not feeling well right now. Hopefully I’ll be back before too long.

Friday Link

Just this :-)

Starting abstract algebra

In school, math progresses more or less in a straight line: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus. In college you may do some more advanced calculus, or a few other things like discrete math or differential equations, but that’s generally it.

But suppose you want to dive deeper. What comes after calculus?

I’m hardly an expert, but from what I can tell, modern mathematics – the stuff that real mathematicians work on – consists of three parts: analysis, topology, and abstract algebra.

I’ve started learning about abstract algebra.

In elementary algebra, you take numbers and add/subtract/multiply/divide them together. In abstract algebra, you take a step back. You say “Instead of numbers, let’s use any elements from a set,” and “Instead of adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing, let’s do any operation that takes in two and spits out one.”

With those and a few other simple rules, you’re on your way.

The key insight here is that elementary algebra isn’t the only algebra, it’s just an algebra. There are others axiom-based systems that turn out to be just as good.

For instance, in matrix algebra, the things you operate on are matrices instead of just numbers. And multiplication is non-commutative (that is, AB doesn’t necessarily equal BA). How do we handle such a strange situation?

And it isn’t just matrices. Strange new algebras pop up everywhere you look, operating on anything you can think of. Rather than trying to figure out each one individually, abstract algebra asks: what can we say about the structure of mathematics in general?

I got this book from Amazon, and I’m working through it now. Good stuff so far.

What kind of math interests you?

Postmortem: In the Land of Invented Languages

Languages

Ever heard of a language called Esperanto? Hundreds of thousands of people speak it worldwide, yet it’s not the official language of any country. That’s because it’s a constructed language, something invented by Ludwig Zamenhof in 1887. He wanted an international auxiliary language, easy to learn, belonging to everybody, owned by nobody, to promote world peace.

Or perhaps you know about Lojban, a more recent language created to be unambiguous and grammatically precise.

Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages is a whirlwind tour of these and many others, from Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota in the twelfth century, down to Star Trek‘s Klingon in the modern day.

And it’s utterly fascinating.

Part of it is the sheer variety of languages themselves, each trying to fill a different niche in the vast sphere of human activity – like John Wilkins’ philosophical language, where the structure of each word describes the meaning of the word itself.

Part of it is the personalities involved – like Charles Bliss, who was so controlling and erratic that he made it almost impossible for anyone to actually use his “Blissymbols.” He demanded (and received) $160,000 from a center for disabled children as part of a settlement involving his language.

And a big part of it is Okrent herself. Her style is light, quick, and full of vivid detail, which makes her a delight to read. Even better, she leaps into her research, going to Klingon-speaking conventions to see firsthand what it’s all about. You couldn’t ask for a better guide.

If you’ve ever wondered about made-up languages, this is the book for you.