RIP, Benoit Mandelbrot

Today we return to mathematics, and sadly note the passing of Benoît Mandelbrot. His work was very influential not only within mathematics and science, but also art and music.

Benoit Mandelbrot. (Photograph by Rama via Wikimedia Commons.)

He is credited with coining the term “fractal” (literally, “fractional dimension”) and is often dubbed the “father of fractal geometry” – and he is of course memorialized by the Mandelbrot set (which is technically not a fractal). I had written an article that touched on the Mandlebrot set and fractals for this site back back in 2008.

This quote from his official site at Yale sums up the wide-ranging applications of his work to science and the humanities:

Seeks a measure of order in physical, mathematical or social phenomena that are characterized by abundant data but extreme sample variability. The surprising esthetic value of many of his discoveries and their unexpected usefulness in teaching have made him an eloquent spokesman for the “unity of knowing and feeling.”

I did have the opportunity to take a course at Yale for which he was a regular lecturer (the course was taught by his former colleague at IBM Research, Richard Voss). The course was aimed at an introductory audience, and I think many of the students did not appreciate the opportunity it presented – but that left me with more time to directly ask him deeper questions in both lectures and seminars. At the end of the term, he signed my personal copy of The Fractal Geometry of Nature, which still has a place of honor on my bookshelf.

[click to enlarge]

In reading some of the online articles this morning, I also was reminded that he and his family were part the great exodus of Jewish intellectuals from Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe in the years before World War II. It’s a story that comes up time and time again among thinkers, writers and teachers who have influenced me of the years.

Fun with Highways: CT 34, New Haven, Connecticut

This has been a pretty lousy day. I haven't even felt up to posting here at CatSynth. So when all else fails, a “fun with highways” post is usually in order. Tonight, in a collision of nostalgia and highway enthusiasm, we visit New Haven, home of my alma mater Yale University. In order to get there, one generally uses highway 34, either from the north where it's the surface street Derby Ave. that goes by the Yale Bowl, or from the south as the Richard C. Lee Connector, a short freeway connecting I-95 and I-91 to downtown New Haven.

From I-95 (lower left to center right), 34 is the freeway in the upper left heading towards the downtown. However, the highway ends pretty abruptly after three exits at a parking garage, known as the “Air Rights Garage” (hey, we don't make this stuff up), near Yale-New Haven Hospital.

This aerial shot is from Greg Amy's Connecticut Highways page, where he remarks:

Seems rather odd that four-lane Route 34 ends under a parking garage in downtown New Haven. Did that building get dropped there by a UFO or something?

More detail on the non-extra-terrestrial history of the CT 34 Expressway, which was originally supposed to extend west to the town of Derby, but like many ambitious projects in the 1970s never got built. The following 1979 diagram of the proposed extension can be found on Kurumi's highway site:

There is a section of empty land past the garage that marks the right of way for the never-built extension. One often ended up there after getting lost driving to or from Yale. In a 1999 article, The New Haven Chronicle (quoted via Kurumi and NYCRoads) reminded readers of the emptiness along the unbuilt CT 34 Expressway corridor through New Haven:

The (Oak Street) Connector is by far the greatest scar on the face of New Haven. Between Frontage Road and Legion Avenue, north of the official highway, you can still imagine ghosts of neighborhoods that were demolished to make way for the Connector. The older trees that used to line the long-gone streets are still there, now marching solemnly across the median, indicating the old streets' paths. The old roads, interrupted by the violent swath of the connector, remind us of this urban mistake.

Aesthetic issues aside, this is probably the least of New Haven's problems. When I arrived in 1991, the town had a rather nasty reputation for areas of poverty (particularly in the south and west) and violent crime. I always thought it got a worse rap than it deserved, and things did improve somewhat in the 1990s.

Overall, very little has changed about the town and its geography, demographics and infrastructure, and a lot of things at least looked the same when I returned for a visit in 2005. The notable exceptions included the commercial area on Broadway and York Street near Stiles College, where I lived while at Yale, and the campus itself (which finally seemed to have brought the insides of its buildings up to modern standards).

As for the highway, it doesn't seem like much will happen. A piece of the right-of-way has been sold to Pfizer, makers of Viagra and other popular drugs (I wonder how long it will take before the jokes show up in the comment section), and of course the general trend is remove rather than expand such truncated highways, such as previously discussed Central Freeway in San Francisco. So for now, this one-mile expressway remains as is:

[Greg Amy]

You know, I never did find out what that cool-looking building was…

More information:
nycroads: CT 34 Expressway
Kurumi: Connecticut Route 34
Connecticut: Highways to Nowhere