Saturday, February 28, 2006 9:31 PM
part 17

There was a conference in Chicago. The airport has coloured lights on the ceiling, that randomly switch on and off. The effect is similar to the explosion in the Crisis Mountain game.

At this conference, Fred and I were presenting a conference paper on some detection techniques that involve interesting mathematics. The presentation avoided most of the mathematics, and went for interesting pictures instead. For reasons that escape me now, I had to say "catoptric anamorphosis". Twice. I even know what it means. :-)

Before the presentation, Fred and I were walking around outside instead of rehearsing. We found an example of a catoptric anamorphosis in Millenium Park. It's a sculpture made from highly polished stainless steel plates. Its proper name is "Cloud Gate", but locals know it as "the Bean", since it is elliptical. We were so excited about it that we even forgot to put the picture into the presentation.

Near to the Cloud Gate, there is another kind of sculpture - two "facing" fountains. They are large blocks, over which water cascades, and an image of someone's face appears occasionally on the sides of the blocks that face each other. There are several pictures that can be displayed for a few minutes each, and the images cycle through the set over a period of an hour or so. The faces are animated, and their expressions change. At the end of the display for any given face, the lips purse, and a stream of water is emitted from a hole in the block that is placed where the mouth appears on the face, so it looks as though the person is squirting water.

In the area around the hotel, a number of buildings have sculptures in their courtyards. One was a steel cable structure that sways in the wind. Since Chicago is quite windy at that time of year, the sculpture was very noisy. We could hear it from half a block away, and went to investigate, which is how we found it in the first place.

There is a building that looks like a thin sheet, when viewed from certain angles. I couldn't understand how it stayed upright until we got close enough to see: it is triangular.

Fred and I visited the Sears Tower. It's the largest building in Chicago, and it's possible to visit a floor that is almost at the top of the building. First, though, one must pass through metal detectors. The metal detectors are so sensitive that the magnetic strips on my credit card triggered them. Once we got up there, though, the view was fantastic.

Every Saturday night, there are fireworks on the Navy Pier. One of the best viewpoints, apart from the Navy Pier itself, is in the John Hancock building. In fact, in some ways the John Hancock building is a better viewpoint, since it's enclosed so it's not cold, and it's elevated, so the view is good. That's why we went there. When we arrived, the only seats were in the centre of the room, from which the fireworks would have been completely invisible. Fortunately, just as we were being led to our table, some other people left, and we were able to steal the table. Shortly afterwards, the fireworks started.

Ling-Li wanted to visit the Chicago aquarium. On our last day in Chicago, we thought that we had time to go. Of course, we got lost on the way, which reduced the time that we had available, but we got there eventually. We had to move fairly quickly through the aquarium, but we saw most of it. Some of the creatures there are really amazing. There was a tank full of jellyfish which glowed in the dark. There were bright red frogs. There were eels that are larger than I am. Amazing. As we were leaving, we got a phone call from Fred, who was at the hotel, and concerned that we would miss the plane. He was calling to tell us that he wanted to leave without us, since he didn't believe that we would get back in time. We convinced him to wait a bit longer for us. When we were about halfway back, Fred called again. He really wanted to leave this time. We convinced him to wait another bit longer for us. When we were only a few minutes away, Fred called yet again. This time, he had ordered the taxi and he wasn't going to wait for us. Fortunately, by that time, he was in sight and waited for us, so we all went to the airport together.

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