Picture Post #18

A random assortment of my photographs from the past month or so. If you are interested, check out more in my Flickr feed.

Moldy Bench 2

A mouldy bench at the US National Arboretum. There were many of these around the grounds so I guess they are supposed to be part of the experience.


Working on the streets of old town Fredericksburg. It was a nice day for it.


These 3D printed balls also had a smaller solid ball printed inside them. They were gifts from the people at the Smithsonian exhibits shop for those of us taking the tour.


A calamondin tree in the herb garden at the US National Arboretum. The fruit is related to the kumquat, has a sour taste, and is far more popular in the Far East than in this country.

Cuba and the World

Although much about the Cuba we visited earlier this month is firmly stuck in the 50’s and 60’s, we did notice some small but clear signs that changes were happening in that country. I have no idea exactly how the passing of Fidel Castro last week will affect them but I doubt it will reverse the course of progress.

Casa Particular

In the past five years or so, citizens have been allowed to open private restaurants (called paladars) to compete with the state-run establishments and there certainly seemed to be many of them. In popular tourist areas, like the city of Trinidad we visited, many people also rent rooms in their homes (called casa particulars) to visitors. The home in which we stayed was comfortable but not a “bed and breakfast” by American standards. We also saw lots of construction around town, adding rooms and entire floors to buildings, as enterprising Cubans anticipate even more visitors.

Getting Online

The young people we met in Cuba seem to have a good grasp on events and trends outside the country, with regular contact with the rest of the world, especially the United States. They are the people subtly pushing the government for change. I was a little surprised to see as many smart phones and computers as I did, believing that would be something the government would restrict.

But those kinds of restrictions have changed as well. Although very few people can afford a $400 computer or phone, one of our guides remarked that everyone in Cuba has a relative in the States. It seems many of the devices we saw have come through those connections.

Street Computing

And those digital devices bring information. The state telecom company allows a few public internet points in most areas and sells access cards for them. Accessing the internet is expensive, especially compared to the income of an average Cuban, and the connection is very slow. Nevertheless, we often saw groups of people staring into their phones (and occasionally a laptop) near to wherever there was a wifi point.

But slow and expensive internet isn’t an impediment to information flow. Our guides told us about what Cubans call “the package”. Every week, those people with regular access to the web, download all the news, movies, television, magazines, and more they can, and then pass around on storage devices (anything from a USB stick to a portable hard drive) whatever fits. It’s all about the sharing.


In addition to paladars and casa particulars, some enterprising Cubans are also starting other businesses. One we visited was a private photography school, also housed in a home and ironically right across the street from a state secondary school. The school seems to be relatively successful despite being too expensive for most of the population. In spite of those costs, Cuban young people, like the photo student working on his project above, seem to be especially eager to learn new skills, and to create art, and commerce, of all kinds.

As always, many more photos from our trip are on Flickr. The previous two posts in this series are here and here.

Visiting Cuba

Cuba is one of those places that is largely a cliché to most Americans. When I was growing up, they were the big evil in the western hemisphere, home to communist boogie men planning to infect civilization.

More recently, as relations have warmed, the island acquired the image of a land frozen in time, full of classic American cars, old buildings and plenty of rum and cigars.

During a week-long wonderful, enlightening, inspiring photographic journey to Cuba, we, of course, learned that the culture and life of the island are far more complex and interesting.


I was surprised we didn’t see more of these cars
broken down on the side of the road.

For most Americans, travel to Cuba is still not a straightforward proposition, due to the continuing, anachronistic embargo. With few exceptions, the State Department requires visitors from the US to participate in “people-to-people” programs, interacting with artists, performers, and community leaders as a way of making connections between our two cultures. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

Havana Cruise

Even with US restrictions, Cuba has seen an increase in visitors over the past year or so. This cruise ship was docked in Havana for several days during our visit, dropping 700 people into the city at one time. Several people mentioned that the Cuban people look forward to more visitors but that the country’s infrastucture is really not ready to handle it. And they have absolutely no interest in seeing Starbuck and other American fast food stores. I can’t blame them.

Camera Collection

You gotta put them somewhere while we eat and drink.

As I said, this was a photography trip and we received some excellent guidance, both on making better pictures and on the country from our leaders. We traveled with Road Scholar, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in learning expeditions to all parts of the world. This was our first trip with them and just from this experience, I would go with them again. I’m not going into the mechanics of the trip in these posts but if you’re interested in details, feel free to contact me directly.

I will have more to say about our experiences and the wonderful people we met in later posts. For now, I’ll just offer a few more images. Many more can be found in these three flickr albums

Old and Older

The skyline of Havana as seen from the fortress El Morro,
built in 1589 to defend the harbor below.


Near Trinidad, on the south side of the island, the scenery was spectacular. 

 Essdras and the Women

Our leader, Essdras, seemed to know people everywhere we went.
But this group was especially friendly. 

Back From Havana

It has been very quiet around here recently but I do have a good reason for the lack of posts. We just returned from a visit to Cuba where I had very little access to the internet and not a lot of time to blog if I did.

The trip was an incredible learning experience,  traveling with some wonderful people, and I’ll have more to say after a little reflection. Not to mention time to process all the pictures, since this was a photographic expedition.

For now I just need to make it home after a very early start this morning. Very early. 

3-2-1 For 9-18-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

First up, a very quick post pleading Blog, You Idiots. “We need good things to read. We need them steadily, from people whose voices we enjoy. Short things. Commentary about a topic the writer has a greater interest in than you do. Something funny. Something very stupid. Not some big, long, boring thing, just a little thing that you read and enjoy.” Now that’s inspiration. (2 minutes)

Under the heading of a silver lining to global climate change, one route of the Northwest Passage was so free of ice this summer that a 1000 passenger cruise ship was able to make the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The voyage sounds exciting (that’s an amazing picture in the article) but also something that cannot be a good sign for the future of the world. The company is going again next summer if you have $22,000 to spare. (4 minutes)

South Park is beginning it’s 20th season this fall, and the show is almost as subversive, offensive, and funny as when it started. Even more surprising is that it’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, still produce the show and write most of the material according to this interview. After the huge success of The Book of Mormon, you’d think they might have turned the making of a little cartoon over to someone else and just collect the royalties. (12 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the great science explainers. Ray Kurzweil is one of the few people who can genuinely be called a futurist (not to mention a genius). Tyson’s interview of/discussion with Kurzweil as part of New York’s 92nd Street Y “7 Days of Genius” series is an interesting, sometimes scary, and fun (in a geeky sorta way) exploration of where human intelligence could be going. (51:36)

Why do textbooks, especially for college courses, cost so much? That’s right up the alley of the people who produce the Planet Money podcast. And this week, in an update to a segment first aired two years ago, they try to find some answers. (15:12)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

In the first episode of a new National Geographic video series on the Ingredients used in common products, a chemist takes a deep dive into what’s in the toothpaste most of us use. In the last section, the narrator tries to blend his own toothpaste from only natural ingredients. This would be a good view for a middle or high school science class, although I wonder if district lawyers would allow students to replicate the recipe in class. (6:44)