Archive for the ‘I’ve Been Thinking…’ Category

Color Vision, Diet Advice and How Rainbows Work: a 3 minute (or so) presentation

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I was about to post my FameLab presentation on human evolution when I realised I had never blogged my video on how rainbows work.

I took part in the preliminaries of the Greek FameLab competition in 2010 and made it to the finals, but never got the chance to compete because the Greek Army wouldn’t let me out of boot camp. FameLab is an international science communication competition. The participants are supposed to present a scientific subject in a clear, concise, and entertaining manner, in under 3 minutes.
I had the opportunity, along with the rest of the Greek finalists, to take part in a workshop on science communication and media skills. As part of the workshop, we were supposed to prepare a 3 minute presentation on one of the following subjects:
1. What makes pop corn pop?
2. What causes a rainbow?
3. Why do leaves change colour in autumn?
4. Why do I feel dizzy when I spin?
5. What are stem cells?
6. Why do some people have brown eyes – or blue?
7. What is the difference between bacteria and viruses?

None of these subjects are particularly fascinating to me. In the end, I picked rainbows, hoping to talk about colors and vision and xkcd’s fascinating color survey. Unfortunately, it turns out there’s only so much you can fit into 3 minutes, all while trying to explain a phenomenon that is not, in fact, as simple as saying “refraction”. Thanks to the internet, this can now be remedied. Here’s the text of the presentation I wanted to give, followed by the video of the actual one, right after the jump.

(more…)

On worship

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I’m thinking about this and going crazy:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And a compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious.

(from here)

Update: I was pointed towards the original, unedited speech (thanks sis!) and corrected the quote above to reflect it. You can also find a (more or less accurate) transcript of the entire thing over here.

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Monday, August 30th, 2010
Horacio Salinas for the New York Times

Ever wonder how English ended up as this planet’s “International Language”?
If you’re Greek, then you’ve probably heard about the vote that happened some time during the last century to decide which language would be used for international affairs, business, signage and so on. According to the story, Greek lost to English by just one vote. In fact, the especially dramatic version says that, while everyone was voting, one last grecophile was in the toilet.
So close!
Of course, the whole story is bullshit.

It looks like this is New York Times Week, because I’m linking to another great article I read over there. Does Your Language Shape How You Think talks about, well, how language shapes the way we think. It’s a fascinating piece.

Among other things, it compares languages that assign genders to inanimate objects (French, German or Greek for example: le pont, die brücke, η γέφυρα) and languages that don’t (the bridge).
I like English. It’s concise, easy to learn and constantly evolving. It’s also often ambiguous, very context-sensitive and has tons of homophones. Which is great for comedy.
I don’t mind it being the “International Language”. In fact, I would argue that it might be better suited for a modern, civilized world than many others. A language that doesn’t discriminate between, say, a male or female teacher is much better suited to a society where people of both genders (and everything in between) are considered equal.
Of course, language is, possibly, the least of our problems, but it’s an interesting thought.

Anyway, read for yourselves, and let me know what you think.

(photo by Horacio Salinas for The New York Times)

What Is It About 20-Somethings?

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Are you 20-something?
Do you ever wonder why you don’t feel like an “adult” yet?
Does it seem like “real” adults expect you to be one?
Are you clueless as to what you want to do with your life?
Of course you are.
The reason I know this, is that I know all the people who read this blog personally…

According to this NYT article, we’re going through “emerging adulthood”. Some psychologists are trying to establish it as a new stage in human development. Its main characteristics include “pervasive ambivalence towards self and society,” “the feeling of absolute freedom, of living in a world of pure possibilities” and “the enormous value placed upon change, transformation and movement“.
So it’s basically a second adolescence for spoiled, rich kids.
Here’s another great quote from the article: “The 20s are like the stem cell of human development“.
Go ahead and read it (it’s pretty long) then come back. I’m not going anywhere (after all… I’m in the army).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m displaying all the signs of “emerging adulthood”. I’m also the last person to say no to any excuse for postponing maturity.
But I often wonder: how much is too much. How long can I afford to keep searching? Is there a cut-off age? A time when you decide that your dreams (whatever they may be) are no longer a possibility? Is it thirty? And, anyway, what are you going to do about it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

… and you won’t

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I went to a Nine Inch Nails concert with some friends.
This is not what this post is about.

Among the audience was a girl. She was sitting a few rows ahead of us, wearing an orange T-shirt with the words AND YOU WON’T printed in white caps on the back. See diagram.

and you won't

Naturally, our curiosity was picked. What won’t we do? Is it us, personally? Is it humanity as a whole? Obviously, this lady was making some sort of statement, but, from where we stood, it was impossible to tell what it was.

We tried stretching this way and that to get a better look but to no avail. Inconspicuously (like a doormat), I circled to the front of the stands, only to end up too far away to be able to see (like a girlfriend who lives across the country).
Soon, we were obsessed! All our minds could think of were possible lines for the front of that shirt.

I’m gonna eat some brownies…

I’m going to have a liver transplant!

You’ll promise to love me forever…

I will tell you to take out the trash…

I will try to turn you into a frog…

I will marry the love of my life…

Your mother will warn you not to talk to strangers…

You will want to find out what’s written on the front of this shirt…

Our guesses were becoming self-referential! Things were getting out of hand!

In a last, desperate, attempt to get her to turn our way, we started yelling out female names. “Maria!” “Helen!” “Petunia!”.

Nothing worked. She might be foreign.

Suddenly, a friend of hers arrived! As she turned to greet him, I managed to catch a brief glimpse of the last letter on the front side. An M! This forced us to revise:

I’m going to eat some ice cream…

I’m going to have a liver transplant… mom!

I will try to turn you into a frog by saying ‘Alakazam!’

You promised to love me forever, mom…

I am Sam.

In the end, as you might have expected, we were disappointed.

Recommended Reading: Death at Intervals

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

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I don’t judge books by their covers. In fact, I am compelled not to. The things I’ve ended up with whenever I’ve bought something impulsively have been mostly disappointing (don’t click on that link. Seriously. You’ll only think less of me for it).

A month ago, I found myself in a bookstore feeling, for the first time in my life, an irresistible compulsion to buy books. It was amazing. I’ve never had so much fun (or spent so much time) in a bookstore, before.
Shopping, for me, is usually very goal-oriented. Enter store already knowing what I want, grab it, pay for it and leave. Not this time. With nothing specific in mind, I just reveled in browsing.

At some point, I came across Death at Intervals, by José Saramago. The intriguing title and cartoonish cover got me interested, but it was the blurb on the back that really hooked me.

In an unnamed country on the first day of the new year, people stop dying.

Don’t you want to know what happens next? I certainly did.

The book definitely pays off. What starts as an incredibly convincing depiction of what would happen if people somewhere suddenly stopped dying slowly turns into a tale of amazing lyricality. Saramago moves from describing the “big picture” to narrating more individual, personal moments with ease.
Admittedly, this book is not a breeze. I went through most pages twice, not only because I felt there was a lot of deeper meaning I was missing, but also because of Saramago’s writing. He rarely uses full stops, separating his sentences with commas. Even conversations are written this way, often making me feel like I wasn’t reading the actual book, but someone’s transcribed narration of it.
Even so, it was definitely worth the effort. The ending left me exhilarated, feeling an incredible thirst for life.

Grab it, if you have the chance.

Or I could just lend you my copy…

Άμα ήταν η ζήλεια ψώρα…

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Μου’ρθε αυτό το e-mail σήμερα το πρωί:

Κάποιος είπε κάποτε ότι “στην Ελλάδα, το πιο προσοδοφόρο επάγγελμα είναι
ο αριστερός.” Αν πιστέψουμε τη σημερινή Ελευθεροτυπία, οι
διαπραγματεύσεις που κάνει ο Μέγας Αριστερός και υπερασπιστής
των Απανταχού φτωχών Λάκης Λαζόπουλος με τον Alpha έχουν ως
εξής: Ζητάει για τη νέα σεζόν…….. 5.100.000 για 30
εκπομπέs. Δηλαδή 170.000 ευρώ ανά εκπομπ ή.
Με δεδομένο ότι ο καθαρός χρόνος (εκτός διαφημίσεων) είναι
περίπου 2 ώρες, αυτό σημαίνει ότι το “ταλέντο” Λάκη του
Αριστερούλη εκτιμάται από τον ίδιο σε 1.416 ευρώ ανά λεπτό!
Χωρίς να υπολογίζεται το added value και τα “παράπλευρα
έσοδα” όπως π.χ. η τζάμπα διαφήμιση του θεάτρου του, ή οι
πωλήσεις δικαιωμάτων.
Υπενθυμίζεται ότι πρόσφατα ο Λάκης ο Αριστερούλης πούλησε τα
δικαιώματα προηγουμένων εκπομπών σε εκδοτικό οίκο για
…μόλις 7.000.000 ευρώ (Επτά Εκατομμύρια Ευρώ!!!)

Υσ: Κι εσυ Ελληνα καθεσαι και βλεπεις το “φιλο” του λαου και
τη προπαγανδα του..και το χειροτερο ολων… τον πιστευεις…

Δεν καταλαβαίνω γιατί είναι κακό το ότι ο τύπος βγάζει λεφτά. Ζηλεύουμε;
Ανεξαρτήτως της άποψής μου για τον ίδιο το Λάκη ή για την δουλειά του (“meh”) θεωρώ πως, προφανέστατα, αυτό που κάνει, το κάνει πάρα πολύ καλά.
Άρα, τι λέμε; Ότι δε θα’πρεπε να ανταμείβεται για τη δουλειά του;

Από κει και πέρα, ότι υποβόσκει μία υποκρισία στην όλη υπόθεση, ίσως. Χωρίς, όμως, να παρακολουθώ τα ελληνικά δρώμενα, θέλω να πιστεύω ότι ο Λαζόπουλος δεν προβάλει τον εαυτό του ως υπεράνθρωπο μεσσία που θα μας λυτρώσει από τα κακώς κείμενα της ελληνικής πραγματικότητας (tm).
Ως ένας περισσότερο λαϊκιστής και λιγότερο αστείος Jon Stewart, δεν είναι παρά ένας γελωτοποιός. Ο ρόλος του: να μας κάνει, για λίγο, να ξεχαστούμε. Αυτό πουλάει, αυτό αγοράζουμε.
Όποιος περιμένει κάτι παραπάνω, μάλλον ψάχνει ελπίδα σε λάθος μέρος.

Άλλωστε, όσο περισσότερα πληρώνεται ο Λαζόπουλος, τόσο καλύτερα για μας τους υπόλοιπους κωμικούς :Ρ

You know how much I value your friendship?

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

whopper sacrifice

Burger King ran a short-lived (though ingenious) Facebook ad campaign a few weeks ago, called the Whopper Sacrifice. The idea is that you get rewarded with a free Whopper for removing 10 of your Facebook friends. Adding insult to injury, a message gets posted on their Wall notifying them that their friendship is worth less than 1/10th of a burger to you (about 29c).

I wish I had had the chance to participate, not only because I’ve been meaning to dump some of the people constantly spamming me with silly group invitations (you know who you are), but also because I really like burgers.
In the end, I don’t think they’d mind (or even notice)! I’ve never shared a single word with some of these people, either online or off. I think Facebook was a lot more useful when I only had 30 or so friends, knew all of them personally, and actually cared if they changed their profile details, uploaded new photos or updated their status.

Nowadays, it’s basically a mashup of Kongregate and Birthday Alarm with questionable privacy policies that knows uncomfortably much about me.

Still, I keep using it.

Which brings me to my question: why do you use Facebook?

Change I Need to Believe In

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

I’m tired of hearing people say that “nothing will change” under Obama. As if they know somebody else who would change everything.

The election of Barack Obama is a historic event in and of itself. No other western country has managed to shatter racial barriers in such a way, and no other western country could, anyway. It’s something that confirms my faith in humanity as a whole and fills me with respect and gratitude for the American people.

Separate from the event of his election is Barack Obama, the person. Admittedly, expectations are extremely high. It seems inevitable that he will disappoint. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that he appears not only to be a sincerely decent human being, but also an extremely charismatic leader. Someone not afraid to admit he’s fallible, yet no less able to inspire admiration and hope because of it.

Over the course of my lifetime, I don’t expect to witness many politicians that I feel are better people than me. Much less heads of state of the most powerful country on the planet. If he fails us, and he very well might, then too bad. For now, though, he inspires me. He compells me to become a better person. He’s a leader I want to follow. And that’s a feeling so rare that I want to savour and hold on to it for as long as I can.

Things that renew my faith in humanity #18 – Improv Everywhere

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I took part in the Erasmus Freeze at Ermou street in Athens (you can actually see me at 6:15, sitting on the far left) about a month ago. For all I know, it was the first flashmob event of its kind in Greece, after which people started organising “freezes” all over the place (understandable, considering how much fun we had).

I first came across the idea of freezing in place in this video by Improv Everywhere. (more…)