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April 2010

MIT's Stata Center

Last weekend's Barcamp was a good excuse for me to finally check out the Stata Center on the campus of MIT. It's a 720,000 square foot academic complex designed by the famous architect, Frank Gehry.

Other luminaries associated with the space include Ray Stata (MIT alum and Analog Devices founder) and  Bill Gates, who both helped fund it, and Noam Chomsky (linguist and philosopher) and Tim Berners-Lee (credited with inventing the Web), who have offices there. Pretty inspiring space.

Like much of Gehry's work, the building got a lot of attention when it was erected in 2004. Take one look and you'll understand why:

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Gehry is known for his Deconstructionist style, and has received both praise and criticism for it. MIT even sued him and the building company behind the development for design flaws leading to leaks, cracks, mold growth and drainage back ups (later resolved & settled). But mostly, it's been looked upon as an architectural wonder and tourist attraction. Here are some other views:

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Look closely at this one - see the little robot in the left-hand side of the window? Only at MIT!P1000642

The bold design continues inside, with lots of primary colors and open spaces:

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There are also many artifacts from MIT's past - a mini museum if you will. One example is the RadLab Time Capsule, created in the 1990s to commemorate the historic Building 20, which originally stood on this spot. It was built during World War II to temporarily house MIT's Radiation Lab, and it was here that most of the microwave radars used by the US during WWII were built. 

P1000630 They've also documented some of the MIT students' more famous pranks, like placement of a police cruiser atop the dome back in 1994...

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...and similar treatment for one of the fiberglass cows posted outside of the Hilltop Steakhouse in 1979:
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But lest you think it's all fun and games here in the Stata Center...a whole lot of serious work gets done in state of the art class rooms like this:

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Check out the full photo set here.


Let the Dead Lie

Girl_dragon_tattooBy now you've probably heard of Stieg Larsson's best-selling novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It's a fast-paced thriller set in Sweden, the first in a trilogy of books featuring Lisbeth Sanders, a quirky investigator/computer hacker and the "Girl" in the title. In this particular story, she teams up with Mikhail Blomkvist, a once-respected journalist who has fallen on hard times, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a young girl forty years ago.

I took this book with me on vacation - the perfect time to sink into a good story, especially one with as many characters and story lines as this one. There's a lot going on in this book, but it's a riveting tale and I could hardly put it down (that is, until the last couple of chapters; the real surprise ending happens in advance of the actual book ending...my only complaint). Regardless, I look forward to seeing the movie version and digging into the next book in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire. I was saddened to hear that Larsson died in 2004, and that these three books in his Millenium series were his last.

But I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from my friends at Simon & Schuster recently that read, "If you love Steig Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist you will certainly fall in love with Malla Nunn's enigmatic Emmanuel Cooper." They were referring to the main character in Nunn's second novel, Let the Dead Lie, and I was sold. I requested an advance review copy and devoured it.

Malla nunnThis book is actually a sequel to Nunn's debut novel, A Beautiful Place to Die (now also on my reading list). Both stories feature Emmanuel Cooper, a former soldier and police detective sergeant who is indeed as crafty and tough as Larsson's Blomkvist. And like Blomkvist, the actions of his past haunt his present.

Let the Dead Lie is set in 1950s South Africa, specifically, in the port town of Durban - a melting pot of Indians, Afrikaners, Zulus, English, Russians, Jews, and Greeks - that at this point in history is still subject to the racial separation system of apartheid. The area of focus is the Victory Shipyards, which turn into a hotbed of violence, prostitution, and thievery at night.

Cooper is now working undercover on the docks of Durban Harbor to document police corruption, when he stumbles upon the slain body of an 11-year-old English slum kid that ran errands in the shipyard. Cooper, who grew up in a mixed-race family in the slums of Johannesburg, identifies with the boy. Rather than "letting the dead lie," he gets entangled in the crime scene and becomes the prime suspect in the murder, only to become a pawn in a much larger game of international intrigue.

If you like detective stories, this is a must-read; it's as fast-paced and engaging (with equally colorful characters) as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but also an easier read. Also fascinating is the historic and cultural aspects of the story; Nunn was born in Swaziland, South Africa, and her parents actually grew up in Durban, but later moved the family to Australia to escape the race restrictions imposed on them in their home land. Her fiction is inspired by real people and stories from her relatives, combined with diligent research and good dose of imagination. It's a great murder mystery that will have you reading into the wee hours of the night.


Iguazu Falls - Part 2

We walked the lower falls on day 2, and saw equally amazing views of the water, along with more wildlife:

Lizards...

P1000490Coatis, also known as Brazilian aardvarks (but really a type of raccoon)...

P1000498 And of course, the majestic falls...

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At the bottom, we took a zodiac ride under the falls which was a blast; we got absolutely soaked.
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 P1000527 Look closely at this picture - despite the mist, you can see a viewing platform jutting out over the falls on the Brazilian side.
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P1000517 We dried out over a picnic lunch in the grass, and then headed out to hike the Macuco Trail. A bit more off the beaten path, this was a quieter walk through the jungle with less tourists and greater chances of seeing wildlife - including tons of huge spiders in webs that spanned the trail.
P1000552 We were thrilled to see a family of Capuchin monkeys making their way across the treetops; they're tough to get a shot of, but here's one:
P1000553 The trail ends at the secluded Arrechea waterfall and natural pool, where we took a quick swim.
P1000558We After a very full day, we headed to the Sheraton, the only hotel inside the park, to rest our weary feet. The hotel itself is rather dated, but has a stunning view of the falls:

P1000570 More importantly, a fellow hiker informed us of a tree on the property where toucans tend to gather in the evenings, and I was determined to see a toucan before leaving this place. So we settled in on their patio and ordered a drink, relaxed from all the walking, and enjoyed the view. And sure enough, within minutes, a toucan flew by. And then another. And another. I ran over to the designated tree, but it was very tall and they are good at hiding in the foliage. If you look closely in this photo, you can see two of them - one in profile and another sitting on a lower branch right in front of him. Over the course of an hour we saw maybe 10 of them fly into this tree. 
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Sadly, this post marks the end of our adventures in Argentina. Time to start planning the next trip!

Previously:

Iguazu Falls - Part 1

The Secret Garden

Vinciguerra Glacier

Gable Island

Isla Martillo

The Beagle Channel

Ushuaia

Trelew

Gaiman

Punta Tombo

Puerto Madryn

La Boca

San Telmo

Puerto Madero

Recoleta

Palermo


Iguazu Falls - Part 1

As I mentioned previously, the main attraction near Puerto Iguazu is the Iguazu Falls. People travel from all over the world to this sparsely settled area along the border of Brazil and Argentina just to see them.

And it's worth it: 275 waterfalls, ranging from 200-269 feet high, along 1.7 miles of the Iguazu River. It is just breathtaking.

We got our first glimpse from the plane; note the giant gorge at the top left (where the mist is rising) - that's where we walked out to in the pictures below (we came in from the right-hand side, which is Argentina...the left-hand side is Brazil).

P1000422Back on terra firma, we hopped on the bus outside The Secret Garden for the short ride over to Iguazu National Park. Here, you pay an entrance fee for access to the falls, as well as a large swath of jungle that surrounds them. The park is built to accommodate tourists - it has gift shops, restaurants, bathroom facilities, and a whole lot of people walking around. But if you go at your own pace, it is possible to separate from the crowd a bit.

On day one, we strolled through the park area and observed the local flora and fauna, like this crazy palm tree...

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There are butterflies everywhere here...they'll even land on you! When we hiked a remote trail through the jungle, I saw a giant blue one but couldn't get a picture :(

P1000443 We decided to view the top of the falls this day, and save the real hiking (through the lower falls and jungle) for the next day. So we headed to the Paseo Garganta del Diablo, a one-kilometer trail over the river that feeds the falls, which brings you directly to Garganta del Diablo - The Devil's Throat. This is a 490 x 2300 feet, U-shaped cataract that marks the border between Argentina and Brazil (the area in the upper left side of the above picture).

Here we are walking on the metal bridge across the river...

P1000450 Water views on both sides, and lots of fish if you look down.

P1000448As well as turtles...

P1000451 And Urricha birds if you look up...

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Then you go around a bend and see huge clouds of mist rising up from the falls (and hear the thundering roar), and you know you're getting close to Garganta del Diablo.

P1000449P1000459Legend has it that in a village near the river there lived a beautiful damsel named Naipi. Seeing her charm, a god fell in love with her and asked for her hand in marriage. But the girl had a mortal lover named Taroba and the two of them fled in a canoe through the river Iguazu. In a rage, the god took his magic sword and cut the river and the earth in two, causing the couple to perish in the gorge. The throat of the devil!

Here it is, in all its glory...

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P1000468 There's so much mist, we couldn't really tell how far down they went... until we hiked down there ourselves on day 2. I'll save that for another post.

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Previously:

The Secret Garden

Vinciguerra Glacier

Gable Island

Isla Martillo

The Beagle Channel

Ushuaia

Trelew

Gaiman

Punta Tombo

Puerto Madryn

La Boca

San Telmo

Puerto Madero

Recoleta

Palermo