Friday, December 22, 2006

Mt St Helens

Mt St Helens is an active volcano. It last erupted more than 20 years back, in 1980, and blew off more than a thousand feet off its top, and killed more than 50 people. I visited that place about three or four times over a two year period. From interstate 5 you take an exit and travel some 50 miles before reaching the Johnston Ridge observatory. This below is one of many bridges on the way to the volcano. And if i remember correctly, this bridge is new - it was blown away by the volcanic eruption of 1982.

During summer, when all the snow has melted away, even at the peak, you can see the starkness of the volcano. It is clear which way the eruption took place, and which direction the lava flowed. Everything in its path was burnt, destroyed, and buried under millions of tonnes of molten lava.

This photo taken many miles from the base of the volcano shows you the extent of the damage the volcanic eruption caused.

And this photo, taken from even further away, you can almost see the river of molten lava flowing at more than 200 kilometers an hour... burning everything in its path, raising temparatures to hundreds of degrees around it...

And, if you look closely at the upper right corner of the photo, you can see another mountain in the background. I think that is Mt Rainier, another volcano, albeit a dormant one. Or is that Mt Hood? Don't remember for sure.

And look at this photo - taken in November 2000 I think (or it may have been December). I like this photo and almost always think of two things when I see it: the first is that you can make out very clearly the onset of winter; the peak of the mountain is obviously the first to be covered with snow, and as it keeps getting colder as winter advances, the snow line keeps descending, from 10000 feet, to 9000, to 8000, and lower. By January all that is brown below would be white, covered in snow. The second thought is that this photo could have used a 2 stop neutral density filter (see this link). I had to expose for either the snow or the base - had I exposed for the base, the snow and the peak would have simply been washed out totally. Exposing for the peak meant that the base is very dark, most of the details are lost.

Some links:
- the US Forest service site.
- The NPS (National Park Service) has a short PDF brochure here.
- A totally gorgeous photos of the volcano is available here, or visit the page here.
- More information about the volcano is available here from the USGS site.

Reposted to this blog, Nov 2012
© 1999, 2000, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

The Undercover Economist

I finished reading "The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! by Tim Harford". A brilliant book, excellently written, lucidly explained, and it is simply unputdownable (if that indeed is a word).
If you have read Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, make sure to read this. If you haven't, read this book first. The book takes simple everyday things, like buying coffee, at a railway station, or just outside it, or from Starbucks, or selling telecom bandwidth, or buying vegetables from your local store, and explains the economic concepts that go behind many decisions made here, by the customer as well as the seller. Lots of basic and not so basic microeconomic concepts are introduced and blended into everyday examples from life: price discrimination, demand and supply, revealed preferences, externalities, game theory, marginal pricing, and many more. While the first chapter is titled "Who Pays for your coffee", it takes a few chapters before the mechanics and economics are fully explained.
For my money, a very useful theory that while applied to Cameroon to explain why it is so poor, and its rulers corrupt, could just as easily be applied to India, its politicians, and its endemic corruption. Without going into too much detail, or any detail at all for that matter, the theories of Mancur Olson are invoked many times in this context.
The last chapter of the book is about China and how it grew rich. Towards the end Tim Harford tends to get a bit moralistic and preachy, but given the overall excellence of the book, it can be ignored and excused.

© 2006, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved. Reposted to this blog Nov 2011