Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Framing the Future

Today I came across some of my deceased aunt's papers: degree certificates and an insurance policy.

The policy covered two fur coats and a mink stole, total declared value UK£270 in 1965, circa UK£4,700 (US$6,000) in 2017.

She saved the papers for my safekeeping, presumably in perpetuity. I'll scan, catalog, then shred them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Hike Close to North Korea

April 2017: I set myself the goal to hike on my own as close as possible to North Korea without breaking any laws.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas was certainly out of bounds. As was the area immediately to the south of the DMZ where civilian access is strictly controlled. The southern boundary of this area is called the Civilian Control Line, marked by military checkpoints and fences with signs warning of landmines.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Destination Medicine

The Plummer Library at the Mayo Clinic. This is not a museum: staff and students study here.
A couple days ago I took the light rail to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. I walked past destination boards, trying to avert my eyes from the Tokyo/Haneda departure.

My destination, Rochester Minnesota, was not on those airport boards. No Bloody Mary in the lounge, no splendid isolation on a 12-hour flight, no stepping off a plane in a foreign land.

I boarded an airport shuttle to take me to Rochester, 80 miles to the south.

The sprawling IBM facility alerted me we had reached the outskirts of Rochester. Years earlier I had visited that site to meet with two of their scientists and some engineers from the Mayo Clinic. Much of the wealth of Rochester can be attributed to the Mayo and IBM.

Private jumbo jets fly directly to Rochester's airport from around the world carrying the ultra-wealthy to confront their mortality at the Mayo Clinic. People like me take public transport or drive themselves. This is called Destination Medicine.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Finding Traces of Henry David Thoreau's 1861 Visit to Minneapolis

Our Lady of Lourdes Church, built 1854-1857, with later additions.
In May 1861, Henry David Thoreau visited Minneapolis. He was terminally ill, and would die within a year.

I found myself wondering if there are any traces of places or institutions Thoreau would have seen or visited.

There is very little contemporaneous documentation about his visit to Minneapolis: no newspaper articles, no subsequent book. We do have Thoreau's handwritten field notes, and letters written by his 17-year-old companion Horace Mann, Jr.

Friday, June 2, 2017

How I Tunneled through the Great Firewall of China

For political and commercial reasons, China blocks Internet sites. Services I use daily, like Google, Blogger, Twitter, and the New York Times, simply do not exist on China's Internet, thanks to the Great Firewall of China.

Before my trip to Shanghai in April 2017 I made sure I would have access to all the Internet services I use at home. I took the following steps:
  1. Took inventory of blocked sites I would want to access. The logic used by the Chinese authorities to decide which sites to block is not always intuitive. Google's Gmail is blocked, but the Microsoft Outlook email service is freely available.
  2. Researched VPN (Virtual Private Network) solutions which would provide encrypted tunnels through the Firewall to the outside world. I learned not all VPN services work in China.
  3. Developed workarounds if the Chinese authorities decided to defeat the VPN services I chose.
I succeeded in defeating the Firewall at no cost. I got to use the Internet while I was in China as though I was in the outside world.