Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Known Universe

Why not let your mind briefly drift away from the delays and lockdowns this Christmas period and take a flight of fancy around the known universe in this little video produced by the American Museum of Natural History.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hope Sandoval: Suzanne

Her voice is heavenly.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mary and Max

Directed by proudly gay australian director Adam Elliot, this unconventional claymation movie is a treat and heading straight for an Oscar! It chronicles the friendship of Mary, an excitable and curious australian girl, and Max, a middle-aged american living with Asperger syndrome. Narrated in Barry Humphries mellow tones, and spiralling through 20 years in shades of grays and browns (with the odd touch of red) we see how this long-distance friendship evolves as week by week, month by month, Max and Mary wait for each other's letters.

There is a lot to enjoy in this movie and it's a safe bet that it will tickle your funny bone and stir your emotions in equal measure. The soundrtack features two wonderful tracks by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra although it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the whole film is beautifully themed. The use of Puccini's "Humming Chorus" from "Madama Butterfly" was well placed and achieved almost the same impact, though in a different context, as when Peter Jackson used it in the defining scene of Heavenly Creatures back in 1994.

Well worth a viewing if you can find it.


Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Universe from Nothing

An accessible and entertaining introductory talk by Laurence Krauss on the subject of Cosmology. If you're a little bit curious about how the Universe will end, watch this.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?

by Eric Hobsbaum
The Guardian - 10 Apr 2009
The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics and politics in the last century has patently disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalisation of the economy was not then as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left.

Nobody seriously thinks of returning to the socialist systems of the Soviet type - not only because of their political faults, but also because of the increasing sluggishness and inefficiency of their economies - though this should not lead us to underestimate their impressive social and educational achievements. On the other hand, until the global free market imploded last year, even the social-democratic or other moderate left parties in the rich countries of northern capitalism and Australasia had committed themselves more and more to the success of free-market capitalism. Indeed, between the fall of the USSR and now I can think of no such party or leader denouncing capitalism as unacceptable. None were more committed to it than New Labour. In their economic policies both Tony Blair and (until October 2008) Gordon Brown could be described without real exaggeration as Thatcher in trousers. The same is true of the Democratic party in the US.

The basic Labour idea since the 1950s was that socialism was unnecessary, because a capitalist system could be relied on to flourish and to generate more wealth than any other. All socialists had to do was to ensure its equitable distribution. But since the 1970s the accelerating surge of globalisation made it more and more difficult and fatally undermined the traditional basis of the Labour party's, and indeed any social-democratic party's, support and policies. Many in the 1980s agreed that if the ship of Labour was not to founder, which was a real possibility at the time, it would have to be refitted.

But it was not refitted. Under the impact of what it saw as the Thatcherite economic revival, New Labour since 1997 swallowed the ideology, or rather the theology, of global free-market fundamentalism whole. Britain deregulated its markets, sold its industries to the highest bidder, stopped making things to export (unlike Germany, France and Switzerland) and put its money on becoming the global centre of financial services and therefore a paradise for zillionaire money-launderers. That is why the impact of the world crisis on the pound and the British economy today is likely to be more catastrophic than on any other major western economy - and full recovery may well be harder.

You may say that's all over now. We're free to return to the mixed economy. The old toolbox of Labour is available again - everything up to nationalisation - so let's just go and use the tools once again, which Labour should never have put away. But that suggests we know what to do with them. We don't. For one thing, we don't know how to overcome the present crisis. None of the world's governments, central banks or international financial institutions know: they are all like a blind man trying to get out of a maze by tapping the walls with different kinds of sticks in the hope of finding the way out. For another, we underestimate how addicted governments and decision-makers still are to the free-market snorts that have made them feel so good for decades. Have we really got away from the assumption that private profit-making enterprise is always a better, because more efficient, way of doing things? That business organisation and accountancy should be the model even for public service, education and research? That the growing chasm between the super-rich and the rest doesn't matter that much, so long as everybody else (except the minority of the poor) is getting a bit better off? That what a country needs is under all circumstances maximum economic growth and commercial competitiveness? I don't think so.

But a progressive policy needs more than just a bigger break with the economic and moral assumptions of the past 30 years. It needs a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people. Look at London. Of course it matters to all of us that London's economy flourishes. But the test of the enormous wealth generated in patches of the capital is not that it contributed 20%-30% to Britain's GDP but how it affects the lives of the millions who live and work there. What kind of lives are available to them? Can they afford to live there? If they can't, it is not compensation that London is also a paradise for the ultra-rich. Can they get decently paid jobs or jobs at all? If they can't, don't brag about all those Michelin-starred restaurants and their self-dramatising chefs. Or schooling for children? Inadequate schools are not offset by the fact that London universities could field a football team of Nobel prize winners.

The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British government has yet envisaged. And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side.

Monday, 12 October 2009


I first heard this lovely mambo on a Guinness TV advertisment. Now Guinness are well known for having made great ads in the past, such as this one and this one , always with excellent musical accompaniment. Below is the video for Guaglione composed by Pérez "Prez" Prado which resurfaced timidly in 1995 after the success of the aforementioned advert.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Βιβλιοκριτική σχολικού βιβλίου

Αυτές τις μέρες βρίσκομαι Ελλάδα. Θάλασσα, ήλιος, φαγητό πλούσιο σε θερμίδες και τηλεόραση που δέ βλέπεται. Αντε, για να φανώ αντικειμενικότερος, να εξαιρέσω τα κρατικά κανάλια και κομματάκι το ΣΚΑΪ - αν και η ελληνοφωνητική απόδοση εγγλέζικων λέξεων/ονομάτων ανέκαθεν με ξύνιζε, σά να στραβοκατάπιε στρουθοκάμηλος. Εν πάσει περιπτώσει, ξεφεύγω απ'το θέμα (και αγαπητέ αναγνώστη, προειδοποιείσαι, θα πρέπει να υπομείνεις μαζοχιστικά τον παρενθετικό μου λόγο)...

Ως συνήθως, κάθε φορά που επισκέπτομαι το σπίτι των γονιών μου συμβαίνουν τα εξής περίεργα (μερικά εκ των οποίων, εικάζω, πρέπει να είναι κοινή γνώση των Ελλήνων εν αποδημία - και όχι μόνο)
α) Στο όνομά μου, προστίθεται συχνά το υποκοριστικό "-άκης" και, συνεπώς, θέλοντας και μή, ταξιδεύω στο χρόνο τουλάχιστον μιάμιση δεκαετία πίσω. Τα πτυχία και διδακτορικά εξανεμίζονται και με πιάνει άγχος άν ξέρω το μάθημα αύριο για το σχολείο. (όχι, δε το ξέρω)
β)Πέφτουν βροχή τα τηλέφωνα απο συγγενείς και φίλους που όλοι -βέβαια- θέλουν να με δούν πρίν φύγω, πράγμα φύση αδύνατον καθώς έχω 10 μέρες διακοπές και για να τους δώ όλους θέλω τουλάχιστον ένα μήνα και βάλε. Φυσικά, αν δε τους δείς παρεξηγούνται. Πράγμα το οποίο ανέκαθεν με κάνει να μηρυκάζω τη σκέψη να καταφτάσω incognito...
(Εν πάσει περιπτώσει, κάπου εδώ είμαι σίγουρος οτι ελλοχεύει μία παραβίαση κάποιας βασικής αρχής της Φυσικής αλλά ακόμα το δουλεύω... μπάς και χτυπήσω καμμιά δημοσίευση στο Nature)
γ)Πάω κατ'ευθείαν στη βιβλιοθήκη. Ναί, δέ ξέρω. Γενετικό είναι; Κάτι σαν αλυσιδωτή αντίδραση γίνεται. Ανοίγω την πόρτα και "τσούπ", αντιστέκομαι για μερικά δέκατα, και υποκύπτω λαχανιασμένος και καταϊδρωμένος. (Αυτό το τελευταίο μάλλον είναι γιατί είμαι στον πέμπτο όροφο και συνήθως παίρνω τις σκάλες, τρομάρα μου, αλλά ακούγεται πιό δραματικό σάν να πρόκειται για τη "δίψα της γνώσης"). Το λοιπόν, ανακεφαλαιώνοντας: Πόρτα -> βιβλιοθήκη.

Αυτό το τελευταίο είναι στο οποίο θέλω να αναφερθώ, παρά την ανούσια πλήν διασκεδαστική (χά!χα! γελάσατε) μακρυγορία της εισαγωγής . Το λοιπόν, η βιβλιοθήκη έχει ράφια (ώχ!) και συρτάρια (αμάν!). Σημειωτέον οτι ΔΕΝ έχει αλεξικέραυνο, δέ λειτουργεί ως πλυντήριο και δέ φτιάχνει φραπέδες. Και προσπερνόντας, δίχως να δώσουμε πολύ σημασία, αυτό το σουρεαλιστικό ιντερλούδιο, προχωράμε στο καυτό θέμα μας.

Για να μή το κουράσω άλλο, ξεφυλλίζοντας διάφορα βιβλία, ξεφούρνισα και κάποια παλιά σχολικά. Αλγεβρα, ανάλυση, κάτι αρχαία ελληνικά της πρώτης και δευτέρας λυκείου (όλα γεμάτα με βιαστικά σκίτσα και εφηβικές ποιητικές απόπειρες, αναμφισβήτητα -αλλα γαργαλιστικά- εξαμβλωματικές) και, μεταξύ άλλων, και το βιβλίο στο οποίο πρόκειται να αναφερθώ: "Χριστιανισμός και Θρησκεύματα" των Α. Καριωτόγλου, Α. Κεσόπουλου, Π. Παπαευαγγέλου, Γ. Τσάνανα (απίθανο επίθετο;) - βιβλίο της Β' Λυκείου, Γ΄έκδοση 1991. (Σημειώσατε την ημερομηνία έκδοσης. Θα αναφερθώ σχετικά παρακάτω) . Εδώ αρχίζει ο τζερτζελές, η μάλλον όχι ακόμα, γιατί δεν εξήγησα πώς έτυχε να το ξεφυλλίσω μετά απο 18 χρόνια...

Σήμερα, γυρίζοντας απο την έκθεση βιβλίου στο Ζάππειο, η παραφορτωμένη σακούλα που κουβαλούσα κυωφορούσε δυσβάσταχτα το "Η περι Θεού αυταπάτη" (εκδόσεις Κάτοπτρο) του Richard Dawkins που προοριζόταν ώς δώρο για τη μητέρα μου (ναι, είμαι διαβολικός γιός). Ανεξάρτητα απο τις απόψεις κανενός για το ζήτημα της ύπαρξης Θεού η όχι και τη θρησκεία, Χριστιανισμός η μή (πράγματα τα οποία προσωπικά με απασχολούν απο λίγο μέχρι καθόλου - εξ' ού και το ενδιαφέρον μου για το συγκεκριμένο σύγγραμμα είναι περιορισμένης εμβέλειας), το βιβλίο του Dawkins αποτελεί ένα ενδιαφέρον ανάγνωσμα για όσους τους ιντριγκάρει το θέμα. Υπο αυτές τις συνθήκες λοιπόν αναδύθηκε μέσα μου η περιέργεια και επιθυμία να επισκευτώ και πάλι τις σελίδες του βιβλίου της Β' Λυκείου που διδάχτηκα στο σχολείο.

Γενικά δέ με εξέπληξε τόσο πολύ η Ορθόδοξη Χριστιανική προπαγάνδα, προφανής σε όλο το βιβλίο, καθώς είναι ήπιας μορφής (δέ παύω να το θεωρώ κακόγουστο και ενοχλητικό). Τα ερωτήματα που θέτει στην εισαγωγή είναι σοβαρά και έχουν φέρει ατελείωτους πονοκεφάλους σε φιλόσοφους, επιστήμονες, έφηβους και θεολόγους ανα τους αιώνες. Το βιβλίο αναφέρεται συγκεκριμένα στους Immanuel Kant, και όταν προσπαθεί να προσεγγίσει - ειλικρινά αλλα άτσαλα- το "φαινόμενο της αθεϊας" (σά να λέμε "γρίπη των χοίρων"), αφού αφιερώσει μια γραμμή για τον Σωκράτη (ασ΄τον αυτόν, είναι δικός μας, δε κάνει να τον "θάψουμε") κάνει μιά εισαγωγή στον Ludwig Feuerbach, περνάει στον Karl Marx , αποπειράται να προσεγγίσει (και δέν ακουμπάει) τον (κατά τη γνώμη μου) τεράστιο Friedrich Nietzsche, και τελειώνει με τον (πλέον ξεπέρασμένο αλλά ουσιαστικά πατέρα της μοντέρνας ψυχολογίας) Sigmund Freud. Συνοψίζει δηλαδή ορισμένους απ΄ τους μεγαλύτερους αστέρες της διανόησης στην εξέλιξη της ανθρώπινης ιστορίας σε 12 σελίδες. Αξιέπαινο πόνημα βέβαια (πολλάκις καταδικασμένο δε στο προπαγανδιστικό στύλ προσέγγισης - θα το εξηγήσω αυτό παρακάτω) καθώς και μόνο η βιβλιογραφία των μισών εκ των προαναφερθέντων άνετα γεμίζει μια μικρή βιβλιοθήκη. Για να μήν αναφέρθούμε κάν στο πόσες βιβλιοθήκες γεμίζουν οι αναλύσεις και οι επηρροές των έργων τους. Αναφέρω ενδεικτικά ένα απόσπασμα απ το βιβλίο της Β΄Λυκείου (τα σχόλιά μου σε πορτοκαλί):
Γράφοντας για τον Feuerbach λένε
"Η κεντρική του θέση οτι η έννοια του Θεού και η σχέση μαζί του, δηλ. η θρησκεία, ειναι έκφραση και προβολή των επιθυμιών και τάσεων του ανθρώπου, απέναντι στις οποίες δεν υπάρχει κανένας Θεός, καμμιά θεία πραγματικότητα, δεν ευσταθεί (ακολουθεί το ακράδαντο επιχείρημά τους). Το να υπάρχουν μέσα του επιθυμίες και τάσεις τις οποίες εκφράζει προς τα έξω και με τις οποίες θρησκεύει είναι κάτι το φυσιολογικότατο στον άνθρωπο (αυτό υποτίθεται οτι το δεχόμαστε εξ ορισμού, ασ' το δεχτούμε για να ακολουθήσουμε το συλλογισμό τους) που όμως ούτε την ύπαρξη ούτε την ανυπαρξία του Θεού αποδυκνύει. Με ποιά λογική αποκλείεται να υπάρχει αληθινά μια θεία πραγματικότητα, την οποία ο άνθρωπος επιθυμεί και προς την οποία στρέφεται και ανα-φέρεται; Κάποιος ή κάποιοι θέλουν και επιθυμούν να μήν υπάρχει Θεός. Με βάση τη λογική του Φώυερμπαχ, γιατί δε θα μπορούσε η μή ύπαρξη και παρουσία του Θεού, δηλ. η αθεϊα, να είναι απλώς και μόνο η προβολή αυτής της θέλησης και επιθυμίας τους (χα! στη φέραμε Φώυερμπαχ! τράβα τώρα να κλάψεις στη μαξιλάρα σου) ;
Με στοιχειώδη λοιπόν λογική (τώρα είμαστε και οι πρώτοι! καταρρίψαμε όλο το φιλοσοφικό έργο του Φώυερμπαχ σε μιά παράγραφο) το σχήμα του Φώυερμπαχ:<<επιθυμίες και τάσεις -> προβολή τους -> Θεός και θρησκεία>> δέ φαίνεται να είναι τίποτα περισσότερο απο ένας ισχυρισμός χωρίς αποδεικτική ισχύ για τη στήριξη της αθεϊας.
Ας εξαιρέσουμε για λίγο το γεγονός οτι όντως υπάρχουν ορισμένοι ενδιαφέροντες ισχυρισμοί για την ύπαρξη μιάς "θεικής", ή όπως θές πές το, δύναμης (οι οποίοι σπάνια ακούγονται) και ας ψάξουμε να βρούμε το πρόβλημα συλλογισμού στο προηγούμενο κείμενο. Η αδυναμία του είναι προφανής άν κάνουμε την εξής αλλαγή στο κείμενο: όπου λέει "Θεός" ή "θρησκεία" αντικαθιστούμε "Αϊ Βασίλης" και "Χριστούγεννα". Με λίγα λόγια, οι συγγραφείς τότε καταφέρνουν να αποδείξουν οτι είναι εξίσου πιθανό να υπάρχει ή να μήν υπάρχει ο Αϊ Βασίλης...
Τρία πουλάκια κάθονταν και παίζανε μπαρμπούτι. Κι αυτά τα διδασκόμασταν και έπρεπε να τα μάθουμε στο Λύκειο. Αλλα το καλύτερο δέν ήρθε ακόμα!

Προσπερνάω το πενιχρό μέρος του βιβλίου που αναφέρεται συνοπτικά στις άλλες θρησκείες, σε αντίθεση με το μεγαλύτερο μέρος του που αναφέρεται στον Ορθόδοξο Χριστιανισμό, και αναφέρω μόνο οτι αν θές (και είναι θεμιτό) να κάνεις συγκριτική ανάλυση θρησκειών, τουλάχιστο κάν΄ το σωστά.

Και πάμε τώρα, μοναδικέ αναγνώστη μου (να σε λέω Μήτσο τώρα που γνωριστήκαμε;), σε ένα θέμα κοντά στην καρδιά μου (απ' την πλευρά της σπλήνας). Το βιβλίο αναφέρεται επιστημονικά (μ'αεροπλάαααααναααα καιιιι βαπόοοοριααααα) , η τουλάχιστον προσπαθεί σά κουτσή, στραβή λεχώνα χήνα που μαθαίνει να παίζει ακορντεόν, στις τελευταίες ανακαλύψεις της Αστρονομίας στον τομέα της κοσμολογίας (αρχή του σύμπαντος κ.τ.λ. - αντιπαθώ τον όρο "δημιουργία" λόγω των συνειρμών που ακολουθούν τον όρο).

Γράφουν λοιπόν οι συγγραφείς (τα σχόλια με πορτοκαλί είναι δικά μου):
Σήμερα οι επικρατέστερες θεωρίες για τη δημιουργία του κόσμου είναι δύο: <<της μεγάλης έκρηξης>> και του <<παλλόμενου σύμπαντος>>.(Αναφέραμε ήδη ότι το σχολικό βιβλίο εκδόθηκε το '91. Η θεωρία της μεγάλης έκρηξης έπαψε να είναι θεωρία το 1964 όταν οι Penzias και Wilson ανακάλυψαν τυχαία την κοσμική ακτινοβολία υποβάθρου που αποτελεί, ουσιαστικά, τον απόηχο της μεγάλης έκρηξης. Για αυτή τους την ανακάλυψη δικαιωματικά μοιράστηκαν το βραβείο Νόμπελ Φυσικής το 1978. Αρα οι συγγραφείς του βιβλίου ή δε ξέρουν τι τους γίνεται, ή δε καταλαβαίνουν, ή είναι ανενημέρωτοι ή λένε ψέματα (και ποιός τα ελέγχει τα βιβλία που διδάσκουμε τα παιδιά μας για λάθη;).
Η δεύτερη θεωρία που αναφέρουν έχει πλέον σχεδόν μηδενικό επιστημονικό κύρος. Προς τιμήν τουλάχιστον των συγγραφέων, αναφέρουν τις επιμέρους ηλικίες του σύμπαντος και της Γής όπως τις έχουν υπολογίσει οι αστρονόμοι, δηλαδή περίπου 12-15 δισεκατομμύρια χρόνια για το πρώτο και 4.5 δισεκατομμύρια χρόνια για τη δεύτερη (κάποια στιγμή θα γράψω σε γενικές γραμμές πως κάνουμε τους υπολογισμούς). Καταλήγουν δε οι συγγραφείς στο (να τραβάς τα μαλλιά σου) προσβλητικά ανενημέρωτο και εγκληματικά ανεύθυνο- όταν πρόκειται να το διδάξεις σε χιλιάδες ελληνόπουλα- συμπέρασμα (τα bold δικά μου):

...μπορούμε σίγουρα να πούμε οτι τα προβλήματα της δημιουργίας του κόσμου δεν έχουν ακόμα διαφωτιστεί ικανοποιητικά απο την επιστήμη, γι΄αυτό και διατυπώνονται συνεχώς νέες θεωρίες, συχνά αντίθετες μεταξύ τους (ποιές είναι αυτές, δέν αναφέρουν). Η χριστιανική μας θρησκεία δίνει με τη θεόπνευστη Αγία Γραφή μια δική της ερμηνεία του προβλήματος (χωρίς επιστημονικές βλέψεις (μας έχωσε και μπηχτή ο τσαχπίνης)). Για τους πιστούς χριστιανούς, φυσικά, που δέχονται τη θεοπνευστία της Αγίας Γραφής, δεν υπαρχει πρόβλημα αλήθειας αλλα μόνο πρόβλημα σωστής ερμηνείας της (δηλαδή ψέματα, πίστευε και μη ερεύνα).
Να υπενθυμίσω οτι η ανακάλυψη έγινε το '64 (αναγνωρισμένη και διεθνώς, πώς να το κάνουμε, με ένα Νομπελάκι) ενώ το βιβλίο εκδόθηκε το ΄91! Κι απ΄ότι μου λέει η ξαδέλφη μου, που μόλις τέλειωσε το Λύκειο, αυτό το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο ακόμα διδάσκεται!

Άλλο δείγμα της άγνοιάς τους:
Μπορεί βέβαια οι υλιστές (μπηχτή) επιστήμονες να επιμένουν οτι ο κόσμος δημιουργήθηκε τυχαία μόνος του. Αλλα δε μας εξηγούν πως βρέθηκε η πρώτη ύλη (τα 106 απλά φυσικά στοιχεία που συνθέτουν όλες τις μορφές ύλης). Μήπως και αυτά δημιουργηθηκαν τυχαία απ' το τίποτα;
Η θεωρία της μεγάλης έκρηξης το εξηγεί απλά και όμορφα (εν τάχει, τα βαρέα στοιχεία δημιουργούνται στο κέντρο των αστέρων). Όπως επίσης και το βιβλίο αστρονομίας της Β΄Λυκείου, καθώς και τα βιβλία Φυσικής και Χημείας της Γ΄Λυκείου. Αλλά ίσως οι συγγραφείς να μή πέρασαν τάξη (ποντάρω μπισκότο πτι-μπερ οτι κόπηκαν στην αστρονομία). Εν πάσει περιπτώσει, θα μπορούσαν βέβαια οι αξιότιμοι κύριοι συγγραφείς να ρωτήσουν οποιοδήποτε φυσικό η χημικό να τους το εξηγήσει. Δεν ήξεραν, δέ ρώταγαν...δέ ρώταγαν, δέν έμαθαν...

Και μεταδίδουμε την άγνοιά μας στις επόμενες γενεές.
Αντε και του χρόνου!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Despite the worst global recession in decades, executive pay keeps rising

source: The Guardian

Executives at Britain's top companies saw their basic salaries leap 10% last year, despite the onset of the worst global recession in decades, in which their companies lost almost a third of their value amid a record decline in the FTSE.

The Guardian's annual survey of boardroom pay reveals that the full- and part-time directors of the FTSE 100, the premier league of British business, shared between them more than £1bn.

Bonus payouts were lower, but the basic salary hikes were more than three times the 3.1% average pay rise for ordinary workers in the private sector. The big rise in directors' basic pay – more than double the rate of inflation last year – came as many of their companies were imposing pay freezes on staff and starting huge redundancy programmes to slash costs.

The Guardian data also shows that a coterie of elite bosses at the helm of multinational corporations are seeing their overall pay packets soar ever higher. The 10 most highly paid executives earned a combined £170m last year – up from £140m in 2007. Five years ago, the top 10 banked some £70m.

The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, said: "The Guardian's analysis shows the breathtaking cynicism involved in a lot of executive pay deals, which are unrelated to either personal or corporate performance and involve people who are very well off helping themselves to larger salaries when private sector wages in many companies are being cut."

The stealth increases in basic pay took much of the sting out of falls in bonuses tied to the performances of their companies. Overall pay for directors of FTSE companies, including bonuses, fell by an average of 5%.

The average chief executive of a blue-chip company now earns a basic salary of £791,000. However, adding bonus payments, share awards and the value of perks ranging from cars and drivers to school fees and dental work, the average pay package rises dramatically. Nearly a quarter of FTSE chief executives received total 2008 pay packages in excess of £5m, and 22 directors now have basic salaries of more than £1m.

The survey is likely to spark renewed calls for shareholders to take a tougher line to control boardroom pay. Earlier this year, City minister Lord Myners accused shareholders of behaving like "absentee landlords".

In the wake of the banking crisis, there has been a wave of shareholder revolts over directors' remuneration. But even if investors vote against over-generous boardroom payouts, companies are not obliged to take their views into account.

Some of the City's biggest and most influential shareholders are also part of the problem – their bosses are among those raking in multimillion-pound salaries. Michael McLintock, a director of Prudential and the boss of its investment arm, which holds big stakes in thousands of companies, was last year paid £6.6m – putting him among the 25 best-paid bosses in the UK.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: "The recession has done nothing to stop the gap between top directors and the rest of their staff getting wider every year.

"It is even more offensive when the Institute of Directors has called for spending cuts that would hit pensioners, the poor and low-paid public sector staff. We've already had the 1980s-style recession, it looks depressingly like we are going back to 1980s greed-is-good politics, too."

The highest paid boss last year was Bart Becht, the chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, whose brands include Harpic, Veet and Strepsils. He was rewarded with £36.8m in pay, bonuses, perks and share incentive schemes. Becht, 53, has been a regular feature in the upper echelons of the annual survey for several years, earning more than £80m during the last three years.

The highest paid woman was Cynthia Carroll, the head of the mining giant Anglo American. The vast multinational also owns a big stake in the De Beers diamond business. Carroll, a 52-year-old American, earned a basic salary of more than £1m last year, but benefits, bonus payments and share awards took her total payout to nearly £4m. She was also paid another £93,000 sitting on the board of BP.

The glass ceiling, however, appears to be almost entirely intact. Just one in 15 boardroom seats are occupied by women – and most of those are non-executive, part-time directors. Only 22 women hold full-time executive director positions, involved in the day-to-day running of the business.

The best-paid boardroom last year was that of Tullow Oil, a London-based oil exploration business, where 11 directors picked up a total of £59m. Most of their gains came from share options, as they cashed in on a share price that had soared along with the oil price. The directors made much more from their cheap share handouts than the rest of the 470-strong workforce were paid in the year.

Despite the credit crunch, the best-paid employees are still those working for City-based firms. The average pay at money broker ICAP, which employs 4,330 staff, was more than £200,000. Hedge fund group Man had the second best-paid staff. Its 1,776 employees were paid a total of £353m in 2008 – an average £198,000 each. Five years ago the Guardian survey showed that the average salary at Man was £100,000. The chief executives of those two companies also feature among the highest-paid FTSE 100 chiefs. Man boss Stanley Fink, who has now stepped down, received £15m last year, while ICAP's Michael Spencer received nearly £7m.

At the other end of the spectrum, the worst-paid staff are those working in the retail and leisure sectors and for mining companies.

Chinese Translation - M. Ward

Thursday, 3 September 2009

UK Pay Scales: How earnings compare (2008 data)

1. £0 to £10,000:
Cleaners, hairdressers, some agricultural labourers, people on benefits, fast food restaurant staff, school cooks, fine artists, holiday representatives, swimming pool attendants, broadcasting/film runners.

2. £10,001 to £20,000:
Manual workers, sewer cleaners, call centre staff, mortuary assistants, farmers, electronic assembly line workers, nursery and care workers, imams, Army privates, bus drivers, checkout staff, landscape designers, fishermen, charity fundraisers, junior civil servants, local government administrators, soil scientists, florists, counsellors, air cabin crew, miners

3. £20,001 to £30,000:
Junior MI5 officers, rabbis, vicars, social workers, NHS nurses, naval cooks, electricians, carpenters, binmen, international aid workers, health service managers, media buyers, plant breeders, textile designers, museum administrators, lorry drivers, map makers, journalists.

4. £30,001 to £40,000:
Newly qualified RAF pilots, London Tube drivers, some television presenters, London police officers, pole dancers, sandwich shop managers, bishops, London cab drivers, vets, paramedics, architects, diplomats, timber merchants, trading standards officers, zookeepers, probation officers, opticians, literary agents, immigration officers.

5. £40,001 to £50,000:
Air traffic controllers, solicitors, RAF Flight Lieutenants, theatre managers, office managers, foresters, engineers, TV producers.

6. £50,001 to £75,000:
Marketing and senior managers, senior police officers, commercial airline pilots, Royal Navy captains, education administrators, top PAs, fashion designers, town planners, MPs, senior social workers, tax inspectors, medical sales representatives.

7. £75,001 to £100,000:
Senior managers, senior civil servants, Army brigadiers, secondary school heads, celebrity stylists, some plumbers, advertising executives, senior PRs, distribution managers, accountants.

8. £100,001 to £500,000:
GPs, High Court judges, Prime Minister, business whizzkids, Cabinet ministers, Chief of Defence Staff, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, chief executives, senior company secretaries, NHS chief executives, private psychotherapists, financial advisers, quarry managers.

9. £500,001 to £1,000,000:
Director General of the BBC, heads of larger companies, including the managing director of Arsenal, and the chief executive of Sainsbury's (Justin King).

10. Over £1,000,000:
Chief executives of the UK's biggest firms, celebrities, footballers, bestselling authors, football managers, senior solicitors, investment bankers.

(see a detailed breakdown of salaries)

And here are the Tax scales in the UK (again based on 2008 data):

Starting Rate 10% 0 - 2,230

Basic Rate 22% 2,231 - 34,600

Higher Rate 40% Over 34,600

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Disney buys Marvel comics

The Walt Disney empire is to buy the superheroes stable Marvel Entertainment for $4bn (£2.5bn) in a star-studded Hollywood deal that unites family names such as Mickey Mouse with lucrative characters including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men.

Disney hopes to put Marvel's 5,000 characters to work on its television channels and in video games, theme parks and movies. The agreed takeover is for a mixture of cash and stock, with Disney shares accounting for roughly 40% of the buyout price.

One wonders what the future holds.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Not all those who wander are lost (Camera Obscura)

Camera Obscura are a Scottish indie band currently signed up with legendary record label 4AD. Comparisons with compatriots Belle and Sebastian are probably tired and irrelevant by now. Cambell's husky voice and compelling lyrics tie the music together and create a fast paced, quasi-psychedelic reverb landscape that is rather quirky but all too pleasant.

Here is "If looks could Kill" from the album "Let's Get Out Of This Country".

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Mars as large as the Moon?

This popular urban legend is also known as Two Moons.

The brief answer is, no, Mars will not look as big as the Moon.

Every year astronomers, including the one writing this article, get this question; and every year we have to debunk it. People's memories are short while the orbit of Mars is pretty stable.

Apparently this strange hoax first surfaced on the Internet back in 2003. The relevant e-mail went something like this:

The Red Planet is about to be spectacular! This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification

Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month. Share this with your children and grandchildren. NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

Or the Greek version (which actually gives an incorrect year - the original doesn't):

Αυτό γίνεται μόνο μια φορά στην ζωή μας
Την 27η Αυγούστου 2009, 30 λεπτά μετά τα μεσάνυκτα, κοιτάξτε στον ουρανό.
Ο πλανήτης Άρης θα είναι πολύ λαμπερός μέσα στον ουρανό
Θα είναι το ίδιο μεγάλος όπως και το φεγγάρι παρόλο που ο πλανήτης Άρης θα είναι 34,65 εκατομμύρια μίλια μακριά από την Γή.
Προσπαθήστε λοιπόν να μην χάσετε αυτό το γεγονός
Θα το βλέπουμε με γυμνό μάτι σαν να και η γη έχει δύο φεγγάρια!
Η επόμενη φορά που θα λάβει χώρα αυτό το γεγονός θα είναι το έτος 2287.
Μοιραστείτε αυτή την πληροφορία με όλους τους φίλους σας γιατί κανένας ζωντανός δεν θα μπορέσει να το δει για δεύτερη φορά...

This is plainly wrong. Mars isn't going to be making a close approach on August 27. The close approach this e-mail is alluding to happened back in 2003. It did indeed get closer than it had in at least 50,000 years, but this was a very small amount. On August 27th, 2003, Mars closed to a distance of only 55,758,006 kilometers (34,646,418 miles). The Moon, by comparison, orbits the Earth at a distance of only 385,000 kilometers (240,000 miles). Mars was close, but it was still 144 times further away than the Moon. The Moon's diameter is 3474 kilometres (2159 miles), a little more than a quarter of that of the Earth while that of Mars is 6,800 km, about half that of the earth.

[Here is a little experiment you can do. Put an orange 114 meters away from you and a golf ball at your feet, lie down and look at them. Do they look about the same size?]

So what happened was this: Instead of appearing like a huge red orb in the sky, Mars looked like a bright red star. Amateur astronomers around the world set up their telescopes, and had a look at this close encounter. But you still needed a telescope and it really didn't look that much different. And everyone was happy; because if Mars did actually come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter the Earth's orbit and raise terrible tides.

See what NASA has to say about this hoax.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

What is a radio image?

One of the great discoveries of the Renaissance was the theory of perspective. At the core of the theory is the realisation that a picture is a map of the directions from which light is coming as seen from a particular viewpoint. So every point on the canvas corresponds to a particular direction in space. The hue at each spot represents in colour and intensity the light arriving from the corresponding direction.

Now, colour is the eye's way of describing the spectrum of light; for instance, the colour blue tells us that the light coming from that direction contains a range of wavelengths in the visible band but is relatively strong at around 450 nm. Colour is actually a rather inaccurate measure of the spectrum; for instance, it is hard to tell a mixture of red and blue light (i.e. purple) from the very deep blue (i.e. violet). For technical work astronomers prefer to obtain a series of monochrome images through the use of coloured filters, much like the ones used in ordinary photography, so that each is a record of light with wavelengths within a specific narow band.

The astronomical B, V and R bands correspond roughly to the three basic colours, blue, green and red.
Combining the images in the different filters then allows astronomers to reconstruct a "false-colour" image of the observed object.Our images are then abstracted a futher step: the intensity of white light from our print (or computer monitor) is telling us about the insnsity of the red light on the sky.

There is no reason to restrict the wavelengths used to the tiny range that the human eye can detect. Visible light is just a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum and with the appropriate technology we can make images, maps of "light" in a more general sense, at wavelengths far outside this familiar band; You are probably already familiar with such "invisible" colours like X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared and radio. In fact, the range of colours used by radio-astronomers would correspond to about twenty new colours (or bands) if we say that there are three basic ones in visible light! Fortunately, just as with monochrome images, we can use ordinary visible gray-scales to display these images of "invisible" light.

These composite images show M84, a massive elliptical galaxy in the Virgo Cluster, about 55 million light years from Earth. Radio data from the Very Large Array is shown in red. A background image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is shown in yellow and white.
(Credit: Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA/ESO/R.A.Laing et al); Optical (SDSS))

The leftmost image is in radio wavelengths, the middle one in optical and the rightmost a combination of the two.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The Origin of Zero

The number zero as we know it arrived in the West circa 1200, most famously delivered by Italian mathematician Fibonacci (aka Leonardo of Pisa), who brought it, along with the rest of the Arabic numerals, back from his travels to north Africa. But the history of zero, both as a concept and a number, stretches far deeper into history—so deep, in fact, that its provenance is difficult to nail down.

"There are at least two discoveries, or inventions, of zero," says Charles Seife, author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Viking, 2000). "The one that we got the zero from came from the Fertile Crescent." It first came to be between 400 and 300 B.C. in Babylon, Seife says, before developing in India, wending its way through northern Africa and, in Fibonacci's hands, crossing into Europe via Italy.

Initially, zero functioned as a mere placeholder—a way to tell 1 from 10 from 100, to give an example using Arabic numerals. "That's not a full zero," Seife says. "A full zero is a number on its own; it's the average of –1 and 1."

It began to take shape as a number, rather than a punctuation mark between numbers, in India in the fifth century A.D., says Robert Kaplan, author of The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero (Oxford University Press, 2000). "It isn't until then, and not even fully then, that zero gets full citizenship in the republic of numbers," Kaplan says. Some cultures were slow to accept the idea of zero, which for many carried darkly magical connotations.

The second appearance of zero occurred independently in the New World, in Mayan culture, likely in the first few centuries A.D. "That, I suppose, is the most striking example of the zero being devised wholly from scratch," Kaplan says.

Kaplan pinpoints an even earlier emergence of a placeholder zero, a pair of angled wedges used by the Sumerians to denote an empty number column some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.

But Seife is not certain that even a placeholder zero was in use so early in history. "I'm not entirely convinced," he says, "but it just shows it's not a clear-cut answer." He notes that the history of zero is too nebulous to clearly identify a lone progenitor. "In all the references I've read, there's always kind of an assumption that zero is already there," Seife says. "They're delving into it a little bit and maybe explaining the properties of this number, but they never claim to say, 'This is a concept that I'm bringing forth.'"

Kaplan's exploration of zero's genesis turned up a similarly blurred web of discovery and improvement. "I think there's no question that one can't claim it had a single origin," Kaplan says. "Wherever you're going to get placeholder notation, it's inevitable that you're going to need some way to denote absence of a number."

This article is by John Matson and appeared in the Scientific American (August 21, 2009)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Scientists Detect "Wrong-Way" Planet

The Planetary Society
Article By Amir Alexander
August 12, 2009

An international team of scientists has detected the first extrasolar planet orbiting in the "wrong" direction. This means that the planet, designated WASP-17, is circling its star in a direction opposite to the rotation of the star itself. Such a motion, known as a "retrograde orbit," is very unusual since the motions of both star and planet were acquired from the swirling cloud of gas and dust that formed them both. As a result, the planets orbiting the same star almost always move in the same direction, which is the same as the rotation of the star itself.

A retrograde orbit is almost certainly a legacy of a planet's violent past, most likely dating to the planetary system's early days. "Newly formed solar systems can be violent places" explained graduate student David Anderson of Keele University, who is a member of the team that made the discovery. "A near-collision during the early, violent stage of this planetary system could well have caused a gravitational slingshot, flinging WASP-17 into its backwards orbit."

WASP-17 was first detected through the transit photometry technique by the Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP) consortium of British universities, using the WASP-South camera array in South Africa. But in order to detect its retrograde motion the WASP team needed an assist from planet hunters at the Geneva Observatory, who specialize in radial velocity measurements.

According to Darin Ragozzine of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomers can identify the direction of a planet's orbit because of slight discrepancies in the radial velocity data when a planet transits a star. Because a star is rotating, one side of it is moving towards (or away) from Earth faster than the other side. During a transit, the planet covers first one side of the star and then the other, causing a slight but measurable shift in the radial velocity readings. If during the transit the star first appears to be moving relatively slowly towards the Earth, but then faster as the transit progresses, then the planet is orbiting in the same direction as the star's rotation. But if the reverse is the case – as it is for WASP-17 – then the planet is in a retrograde orbit.

WASP-17 is located about 1000 light years from Earth, and is unusual not only because of the direction of its orbit but also because of its size and low density. Although its mass is only half that of Jupiter, its diameter is nearly twice that of our giant neighbor, which makes WASP-17 the largest known planet. The reason, according to Coel Hellier of Keele University, is related to the planet's unusual orbit. Retrograde motion coupled with a highly eccentric orbit subject the planet to intense tidal forces. Such tidal compression and stretching would have the effect of heating up the planet, causing it to expand to its current bloated dimensions. As a result, Hellier noted, the density of WASP-17 is only one seventieth (1/70) of the density of Earth.

Just as there are moons in retrograde orbits in our solar system, it stands to reason that there are also planets in retrograde orbits, and the discovery of WASP-17 did not therefore come as a complete surprise to planetary scientists. Nevertheless, this highly unusual planet does contribute to our understanding of the birth and life of planets, and adds one more member to the menagerie of strange and wonderful worlds astronomers are uncovering in the depths of space.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sigur Ros - Glósóli

"Glósóli" (Icelandic for "Glowing Sole") is a song by Sigur Rós, released as part of their 2005 album Takk.

The name is a combination of gló- from the verb að glóa meaning "to glow, shine, glitter" and sóli meaning "sole." The second element of the name, sóli, shares its grammatical stem with the word "sól", meaning "sun". In combination "glósóli" can be understood as a childish way of saying "glowing sun".

The song is also praised for its artistic and highly cinematographic music video which consists of children dressed in old-fashioned Icelandic clothing, "migrating" towards an unknown destination.

Thursday, 30 July 2009


Wednesday, 29 July 2009

2001 A Floyd Odyssey: Echoes

During my late teen years, few bands had influenced me as profoundly as Pink Floyd had and Echoes was, and remains, one of my all time favourite songs. The album "Meddle" was released in 1971, three years after Kubrick's seminal film "2001: A Space Odyssey" but rumour has it that Kubrick first approached Pink Floyd to write the soundtrack to the film; a request which they refused. Upon viewing the film however, they regretted this decision and the rumour goes on to say that Echoes was recorded to score with the last section of 2001 as a sign of respect to the director's work. The video below shows that the two actually sync pretty well.

Of course the members of the band always denied that the synchronization was intentional and there's no reason to dispute that but it is true that Roger Waters is sometimes quoted as saying that the band's failure to contribute music to 2001's official score was his "greatest regret".

Echoes (Part 1) Lyrics:

Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine
And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the where's or why's
And something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb toward the light

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand
The best I can

And no one calls us to the Lord
And no one forces down our eyes
And no one speaks and no one tries
No one flies around the sun
Cloudless, everyday you fall
Upon my waking eyes
Inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Comes streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning

And no one sings me lulabyes
And no one makes me close my eyes
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Unusual teamups: Dalí & Disney

In 1946, Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí, in one of cinema's oddest collaborations, teamed up on a short film called Destino. But Disney's studio ran into financial trouble and put the unfinished film on hold. Fast forward 57 years and a team of Disney animators took the project off the shelf and using traditional and 3-D animation techniques brought Dalí­'s paintings and sketches to life. The six-minute film, spearheaded by Walt's nephew Roy Disney, premiered at the Annecy Animation Festival in June 2003. An official home DVD release is expected in 2010 along with a documentary about the two artists' history together.

The film is sometimes oddly reminiscent of René Laloux's La Planète Sauvage.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze

Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze is a retelling of the Homeric epic story of the Trojan war, including the events not covered in the Iliad. In fact, beyond the Iliad, it draws its sources from major and minor works from classical Greece and Rome (such as the plays of Sophocles and Euripides), many Medieval European sources, and continues through Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and beyond. There is an extensive list of the sources at the back of each issue, including a glossary and multithreaded genealogical charts for the main houses.

Only three volumes have been published so far (the last one being part 1 of 2) and it already stands at a staggering 600 pages. The story is marvelously told and the writing and art are well within the spirit of the times and well deserving the 2 Eisner awards. The first installment, A Thousand Ships, opens with Paris as a cowherd on mount Ida, which grounds the series before launching into more fantastic adventures.

Equally impressive is Eric's artwork in the Age of Bronze. Not only is it finely drawn with exquisite attention to details and expressions, it is also historically accurate. It draws upon the archaeological excavations of the places where the story took place: Mycenae, Knossos, and Pylos, among others, and especially Troy itself. Eric Shanower has done amazing work researching and reconstructing the architecture and clothing of the time. Impressively, even the geological lay of the land is rendered quite closely, at least for the places that I have personally visited. Mycenae's ruins become gloriously alive in these pages with Agamemnon and Klytemnestra walking down the palace corridors.

The author-cum-artist has researched quite well the wide range of literature, art, and archaeology. . . . The clothing, hairstyles, pottery, frescoes, architecture, boat construction, and the settings in general are in such close agreement with current research that it makes one reflect how differently modern scholars envision the Late Bronze Age Achaeans than did past Homeric specialists. . . . Aegean prehistorians will appreciate how much archaeology has advanced our knowledge of the Mycenaean world to allow Shanower to reproduce it so faithfully.
Thomas F. Strasser, American Journal of Archaeology

Beyond the awesome scope of the story — this is the closest thing in comics to a true generational saga, what with previously unknown princes, kidnappings, and the other schemes of the rich and powerful. The tragic element in Sacrifice is overwhelming and makes you feel like you're watching a Greek play. Shanower sticks to the sources and, as much as possible, downplays the theological elements.

I've chosen to downplay the supernatural element in order to emphasize the human element. The only fantastic details I've retained are dreams and visions. And when you think about it, these aren't necessarily as supernatural as they might first appear. Everyone draems. Many people have hallucinations. Others are convinced they've had visions. People the world over believe they communicate with gods - it's called prayer. So I've let dreams and visions remain - they're pretty human after all. But no gods in the flesh.
All things considered, a highly recommended read! I'm eagerly awaiting for the next volume.
Thank you Eric.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Wiring a web for global good

We're at a unique moment in history, says UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown: we can use today's interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic -- and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Caloric Restriction Delays Disease Onset and Mortality in Primates

It’s been a big week on the longevity front: First, scientists found that an immunosuppresant drug called rapamycin extended the lifespan of mice. Now, a 20-year-long study reported in the journal Science shows that a diet 30 percent lower in calories than normal decreased the incidence of age-related diseases in macaque monkeys as the animals got older.

Half the monkeys were fed a low-calorie diet, and the other half a standard diet. All were closely monitored, with researchers regularly measuring their body composition, blood chemistry, endocrine function, and heart and brain function. When monkeys died, they were necropsied and the causes of death established []. Researchers found that monkeys on a calorie-restricted, nutrient-rich diet (on the left in photo) were three times less likely than monkeys on a full-calorie diet (on the right) to die from age-related diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Scientists have hypothesized that calorie restriction triggers mechanisms that evolved to help organisms survive in times when food was scarce, but the exact process is still mysterious.

The anti-aging benefits even extended to the monkeys’ brains. MRIs reveal less shrinking with age in areas important for decision-making and controlling movement in the brains of calorie-restricted animals [Science News]. This corroborates previous studies that found calorie restriction helps mice, dogs, fruit flies, and yeast age more slowly and can even help them live longer. But because macaques can live to the age of 40, scientists cannot yet ascertain whether a low-calorie diet actually extends lifespan in monkeys.

Researchers speculate that further research will eventually show that humans, too, can benefit from a low-calorie diet. “Up until now, all the clear-cut evidence that caloric restriction slows aging has come from lower organisms,” said John Holloszy, … who studies caloric restriction in people and was not involved in the current monkey study. “This is the first study to show that caloric restriction slows aging in a primate species. And of course, we’re primates, too. It’s a lot more relevant to humans than the mouse”. In fact, a person who switches from the typical nutrient-sparse, high-calorie American diet to one that is high in nutrients and low in calories may benefit more than the monkeys did. That’s because even the macaques that ate a higher-calorie diet consumed plenty of nutrients.

Still, a lifetime of deprivation may not be feasible, much less enjoyable, for most people (although it’s estimated that a few thousand people already follow a calorie-restricted diet for its suspected anti-aging effects). Instead, scientists hope to deliver in a drug the anti-aging effects of a low-calorie diet, or of chemical compounds that seem to replicate the effects of a calorie-restricted diet. Several teams are hoping to harness the age-defying benefits of red wine. GlaxoSmithKline last year spent $720 million to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which has developed a souped-up version of the red wine compound resveratrol that has been found to make mice live longer and stay healthier [Reuters].

The article has been published in Science.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Trick Question

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Open-mindedness and the supernatural

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Sonata No.1, Op.5 in D Major (1/4) - A. Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) Sonata No.1 D Major from "Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo, Op.5, Parte Prima", Mov. I Rome, 1700

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Ed's Teapots from Space

The Teapots from Space perfect the art of teapot abduction to find out what astronomers are and why they like astronomy, and whether they take sugar.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Gordon Brown/Golden Brown

Thursday, 9 July 2009

USA: Why we fight (2005)

The grim warning by Dwight D. Eisenhower on his farewell address sounds today like the prophecies of Cassandra. This documentary features interviews with many prominent individuals, including Senator John McCain, retired CIA experts, pentagon experts as well as ordinary citizens. The premise is, as the title suggests, to explore the reasons that have led the US to wage wars, although the main part of the movie concentrates on the decision to invade Iraq.

Full movie:

Things have certainly changed since 2005, with the Obama administration coming to power in 2008, but it's still worth a watch.

Hiroshima. Was it necessary?
The Project for a New American Century
Iraq body count

The Pearl Fishers' Duet

I first listened to this piece on Classic FM some years ago and loved it. This is a pretty old recording (1906) of a performance by Enrico Caruso and Mario Ancona. "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Anni Rossi

Keep an eye out for this one! 23 year old Anni Rossi has been classically trained since an early age and her voice is smooth and lugubrious. She's been a performing solo artist for the past few years and has only recently signed with a record label. Here's a lyrically odd taster:

Friday, 3 July 2009

Method or Madness?

Greece’s policy regarding illegal immigrants used to be very successful: People caught trying to sneak into the country were either forced back across the border or were abandoned to their fate, in the knowledge that the migrants would do all in their power to keep moving on toward more welcoming members of the European Union. Of the hundreds of thousands of people from places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, a small minority chose to seek their fortune in Greece – a country that provided no benefits but did offer more work than what these (mostly) unskilled young men could find at home. In the last couple of years, however, things have become more difficult for those trying to get to more western or northern EU countries, leading to a large concentration of illegal immigrants in some Greek cities, especially Athens and Patras. With minimal – if any – social services to rely on, the migrants formed their own support networks and gravitated toward areas where others of their kind had found lodging – whether in residential neighborhoods or shanties on vacant lots. As time passed and their numbers grew, the new arrivals became a problem for local residents, prompting calls for “something to be done.”

The pressure hit the Greek government in last month’s elections for the European Parliament, when the populist, anti-immigrant Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), was the only party to gain votes – mostly at the ruling New Democracy party’s expense. At their recent summit, the EU leaders finally appeared to heed the cries of Greece, Italy, Malta and Cyprus, all in the frontline of illegal migration, and expressed “great concern at the dramatic situation in the Mediterranean area.” Among the measures Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot is preparing: permitting people to seek asylum in countries other than the ones of first entry, establishing new rules for reception procedures, reuniting minors with their families in other EU countries and setting up an EU office to support asylum seekers. Barrot, who was in Greece the past week, adopted a carrot-and-stick approach, demanding that Greece create a public administration capable of dealing with asylum applications, while also promising to press Turkey to take back migrants who entered Greece from its territory. Ankara refuses to honor a protocol signed with Athens in 2001, saying it does not want to become a dumping ground for unwanted migrants. Greece now says it will help push for repatriation agreements with Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that migrants can go home without staying in Turkey.

Barrot’s proposals aim at bridging the gap between the southern countries that bear the brunt of immigration and the more welcoming countries of Northern and Western Europe, which criticize their southern partners but would like to avoid getting involved in the problem. The problem of illegal immigration is a problem for all Europe, not just the countries that stand on the EU’s porous borders. But it is one thing to need support because a problem is too big for one country and another to force your partners to take over a large part of your duties because of your own incompetence.

The lack of a comprehensive policy over many years and the breathtaking incompetence of state employees charged with dealing with immigrants weigh on the government. The European Union has been forced to both warn Athens of serious consequences if it does not get its act together and to take over a large part of its responsibilities. Instead of this pushing Greece to formulate a serious policy, the government has brushed aside domestic criticism and passed a law that could lead to immigrants – both legal and illegal – being deported without trial, simply by being charged with any crime that carries a jail sentence of three months or more. We can only wonder if this madness is aimed simply at a domestic audience or whether its purpose is the abdication of even more of our responsibilities.

From an article in Kathimerini.

Arabesque No1 - Debussy

Isao Tomita's eerie rendition of Debussy's Arabesque No 1.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Gift Silver poem


I know that all this is worthless
and that the language I speak
doesn't have an alphabet

Since the sun and the waves
are a syllabic script
which can be deciphered only
in the years of sorrow and exile

And the motherland a fresco
with successive overlays
frankish or slavic which,
should you try to restore,
you are immediately sent to prison and
held responsible

To a crowd of foreign Powers
always through
the intervention of your own

As it happens for the disasters

But let's imagine
that in an old days' threshing-floor
which might be in an apartment-complex
children are playing
and whoever loses

should, according to the rules, tell the others
and give them a truth

Then everyone ends up
holding in his hand
a small

Gift, silver poem.

Odysseas Elytis
"The Tree of Light and The Fourteenth Beauty"

Δώρο Ασημένιο Ποίημα

Ξέρω πως είναι τίποτε όλ' αυτά και πως η γλώσσα
που μιλώ δεν έχει αλφάβητο
Aφού και ο ήλιος και τα κύματα είναι μια γραφή
συλλαβική που την αποκρυπτογραφείς μονάχα στους καιρούς
της λύπης και της εξορίας
Kι η πατρίδα μια τοιχογραφία μ' επιστρώσεις
διαδοχικές φράγκικες ή σλαβικές που αν τύχει και
βαλθείς για να την αποκαταστήσεις πας αμέσως φυλακή
και δίνεις λόγο
Σ' ένα πλήθος Eξουσίες ξένες μέσω της δικής σου
Όπως γίνεται για τις συμφορές
Όμως ας φανταστούμε σ' ένα παλαιών καιρών αλώνι
που μπορεί να 'ναι και σε πολυκατοικία ότι παίζουνε
παιδιά και ότι αυτός που χάνει
Πρέπει σύμφωνα με τους κανονισμούς να πει στους
άλλους και να δώσει μιαν αλήθεια
Oπόταν βρίσκονται στο τέλος όλοι να κρατούν στο χέρι
τους ένα μικρό
Δώρο ασημένιο ποίημα.

(από το Tο Φωτόδεντρο και η Δέκατη Tέταρτη Oμορφιά,
Ίκαρος 1971)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Football - The IT way

Sunday, 21 June 2009

House of Flying daggers

House of flying daggers is admittedly on the same level as Crouching Tiger and Hero as far as the visuals are concerned - they are still stunning - and the acting & choreography of the fight scenes are superb. Where I found the film extremely lacking was the actual dialogue, which is the gist and soul of any movie, that even a clever twist of plot towards the end could not save.

Main themes are repeated and some things seem to be there just to have the character say something in their close up. But most ridiculous was the supposedly climactic fight scene in the end. The three main characters slash each other up over and over again losing tons of blood and piercing vital organs yet keep fighting with the same vigour and persistence, then they fall and you expect them to be dead but - lo! - they get up again and join the fray! Pierced liver, character down, two minutes later, hey,he's up again doing his thing. And then some. I couldn't help but laugh at the end. It brought to mind two scenes from Monty Python and the holy grail. That with the Black Knight: ............................. And the one with Launcelot and his horse that has just been pierced by an arrow: ............................. LAUNCELOT At last! A call! A cry of distress ... (he draws his sword, and turns to CONCORDE) Concorde! Brave, Concorde ... you shall not have died in vain! CONCORDE I'm not quite dead, sir ... LAUNCELOT (a little deflated) Oh, well ... er brave Concorde! You shall not have been fatally wounded in vain! CONCORDE I think I could pull through, sir... LAUNCELOT Good Concorde ... stay here and rest awhile. *He makes to leap off dramatically.* CONCORDE I think I'll be all right to come with you, sir. LAUNCELOT I will send help, brave friend, as soon as I have accomplished this most daring, desperate adventure in this genre. CONCORDE Really, I feel fine, sir... ...................................
I mean, come on!!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Herschel’s daring test: a glimpse of things to come

19 June 2009
Herschel opened its 'eyes' on 14 June and the Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer obtained images of M51, ‘the whirlpool galaxy’ for a first test observation. Scientists obtained images in three colours which clearly demonstrate the superiority of Herschel, the largest infrared space telescope ever flown.

This image shows the famous ‘whirlpool galaxy’, first observed by Charles Messier in 1773, who provided the designation Messier 51 (M51). This spiral galaxy lies relatively nearby, about 35 million light-years away, in the constellation Canes Venatici. M51 was the first galaxy discovered to harbour a spiral structure.

The image is a composite of three observations taken at 70, 100 and 160 microns, taken by Herschel’s Photoconductor Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) on 14 and 15 June, immediately after the satellite’s cryocover was opened on 14 June.

Herschel, launched only a month ago, is still being commissioned and the first images from its instruments were planned to arrive only in a few weeks. But engineers and scientists were challenged to try to plan and execute daring test observations as part of a ‘sneak preview’ immediately after the cryocover was opened. The objective was to produce a very early image that gives a glimpse of things to come.

To the left is the best image of M51, taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, with the Multiband Imaging Photometer for Spitzer (MIPS), juxtaposed with the Herschel observation on 14 and 15 June at 160 microns. The obvious advantage of the larger size of the telescope is clearly reflected in the much higher resolution of the image: Herschel reveals structures that cannot be discerned in the Spitzer image.

Herschel’s glimpse of M51 at 70, 100, 160 microns.

These images clearly demonstrate that the shorter the wavelength, the sharper the image — this is a very important message about the quality of Herschel’s optics, since PACS observes at Herschel’s shortest wavelengths.

Produced from the very first test observation, these images lead scientists to conclude that the optical performance of Herschel and its large telescope is so far meeting their high expectations.

Within our Galaxy, the mission’s main science objectives are:

* To study Solar System objects such as asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, and comets.
Comets are the best-preserved fossils of the early Solar System, and hold clues to the raw ingredients that formed the planets, including Earth.

* To study the process of star and planet formation.
Herschel is unique in its coverage of a wide range of infrared wavelengths, with which it will look into star-forming regions in our Galaxy, to reveal different stages of early star formation and the youngest stars in our Galaxy for the first time. The telescope will also study circumstellar material around young stars, where astronomers believe that planets are being formed, and debris discs around more mature stars.

* To study the vast reservoirs of dust and gas in our Galaxy and in other nearby galaxies.
Herschel will study in detail the physics and kinematics at work in giant clouds of gas and dust that give rise to new stars and associated planetary bodies. Herschel is also well-suited to study astrochemistry providing fundamental new insight into the complex chemistry of these molecular clouds, the wombs of future stars.

Outside our Galaxy, the mission’s main science objectives are:

* To explore the influence the galactic environment has on interstellar medium physics and star formation. Most of what we have learned about the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium, and of the processes there such as star formation, has been gained by studies in our own Galaxy. With Herschel, we can carry out similar studies in relatively nearby galaxies as well. For example, studies of nearby low- metallicity galaxies can open the door to the understanding of these processes in the early Universe.

* To chart the rate of star formation over cosmic time. We know that star and galaxy formation commenced relatively early after the Big Bang. We also know that when the Universe was about half its current age, star formation was much more intense than it is today. Herschel is ideal to study infrared-dominated galaxies at the peak of star formation.

* To resolve the infrared cosmic background and characterise the sources. About half the energy produced and emitted throughout cosmic history now appears as a diffuse infrared cosmic background. With its large telescope, Herschel will be able to resolve the far-infrared background and characterise its constituent sources to a degree never achieved before.