Friday, December 23, 2005

The new LCD

In our home in Greece we just bought a nice Xmas present: a 26" Sony LCD HD-ready TV for the library room. S26A10E is the model. We tested some dvds and they look nice, but tomorrow we will use the full capabilities by connecting the component video output of the dvd player and then enabling the progressive scan, as we have done at my place in LA. Yet so far the picture quality looks very promising.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Google's Zeitgeist

Check out Google's Zeigeist, a list with the most popular searches of the past year. Look at the peaks, and also look at the slopes before and after a certain peak. Fo example, although hurricane Wilma had a bigger peak, Katrina had a longer duration in the searches. I think this is the most interesting, honest and objective review of 2005 if you ask me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sunrise vs Sunset

Since my coming here in Greece I am heavily Jetlagged. I sleep at 10-11pm, and wake up at 6am. Actually, these are the times at which my advisor Tom sleeps and waked up, but they are not at all normal for me!

Anyways, back to the topic. Waking up so early has allowed me to watch the sunrises of the last 2-3 days. I think I have only seen 3 or so sunrises in my life (I mean actually watching the sun go up from behind the horizon, not just timewise). I still think that sunsets are more beautiful: partly because teh air is warm when the sun sets, and this creates nice effects like the reddish-pink skies and the huge size of the sun disk. In the sunrise the atmosphere is cold and static, so nothing exciting happens. Yet there is a certain magic associated with the sunrise. It makes me feel unique. During a sunset I usually see other people around, and even if I don't I know people are watching, just because everyone is awake at that time, so someone must be watching. However during the sunrise I feel very lonely; I know most people are sleeping, and most of the ones that are awake are probably too busy booting up their daily life. That leaves very few people, including me, trying to make some sense out of the colors that appear of the sky. And I have to make sense of that alone. I like that feeling...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

King Kong * * * *

Kong is King.

I don't think Peter Jackson will choose Lord of the Rings as the movie most representative of him. LOTR was just an intermediate step, a step for him to get the green light for King Kong. He managed to do it, and now he has made a masterfull film.

LOTR I didn't find it very interesting. Of course it has great visuals, and diretion, but Jackson was not allowed to intervene with the sacred story of Tolkien. However with King Kong he can direct and change the story at will, and I believe that only now do we see the real Jackson.

I think this movie is superior than LOTR. It has awesome action scenes, a great Naomi Watts, a great CGI ape, a love story, a beautiful 1930's depression NYC, and incredible visuals. We watched the movie at Vmax, the largest screen in europe. The size was great however the colors at the village cinemas lately are washed out for some reason (or am I used to Arclight standards now?).

The story builds up very well, and I was never bored despite the fact that the ape doesn't show up until 70min in the movie. And it just gets better and better after that point. The toughest thing was to make the characters more than 1D, and Jackson has little scenes and details here and there that achieve that goal. I also liked the connection between the ape and the girl, the facial CGI expressions really did a great job here. I will be surprised if it doesn't win a Special effets Oscar, and for sure it will be nominated for Best Movie and direction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Final blogings, final thoughts

The counter I have installed at the firefox statusbar says 06 hours, 39 minutes. This is the time when I will have to leave for LAX, from there to JFK, and from JFK to Greece.

For now the plan is to go to Walrand's talk, the network guy whose book were taught as undergads at ntua. His talk is about internet pricing and game theory. Interesting...

At 6am I am going to be at JFK, wheere I have scheduled a 10 hour gap between my connecting flights so that I will have a chance to visit NYC for the first time in winter, and also a Xmas period. The temperatures are μπιλοζήρια, as Nikos said: Below zero, more likely around -7 degrees celcious. he said that if you haven't bought your jacket at NYC, then it's going to be no good at NYC at that cold. I hope it won't be too bad so that I can walk around a bit and test the new camera.

For now, I'll just watch the latest episode of Παρα 5 that gandr kindly uploaded once again, and head for school. Have fun.

Firefly, Serenity...

Over the past couple of weeks, I started watching Firefly in the nights before I go to sleep. It is a sci-fi tv series unlike any other I've seen, which was discontinued due to low ratings after 14 episode only. However the dvd of the series sold very well (400,000 copies). So they decided to make a movie, which also did great both in box office and in critics' reviews.

Here is what makes this series great first of all: the cast.

From left to right: the tough-muscle guy that wants to earn as much money as possible; the weird and mystic young sister; her doctor brother; the captain; the "companion"; the tough fighter/wife; her pilot husband; the mechanic (yeah, that's the girl!; and the sheperd (yes, a shepherd!).

These 9 people are all onboard Serenity, a Firefly-type carrier spaceship in a solar system with many planets and moons. The inner planets, are luxurious, nice and warm. In the outer planets the alliance is not so strong; the people are poorer and the facilities not so good.

On top of the great and ultra-smart scenarios, and the cowboy-like way the people talk, there are a few details that make this series special for me. First, there are no sound effects in space. No air, hence no sound waves. Second, they sometimes speak chinese instead of english. That is because it depicts a future where USA and China are the 2 superpowers that colonized space, and now the remrants of their languages remain. Third, there are no aliens! I always found them annoying. In Firefly there are just humans, plain old human interactions.

The writer Josh Wheedon said that he will continue the mythology if the movie goes well. The dvd of teh movie comes out this week, so I hope it will all go well...


I probably wouldn't have gone to Seaworld anytime soon, but in one single day two things happened: Xiaodong mentioned Shamou, the killer whale of Seaworld at the group meeting, and also Stayros with Dimitri said they would go on the next day since they had bought tickets a while back and they had to use them before the end of the year. So I decided to join them and at 4:30pm I went to the USC ticket office and bought a discounted $35 for Seaworld. We all went the next day, Saturday.

This was also a first-class chance to test the new camera in tough conditions. I have to say I was astounded; here are a couple of pictures of Shamou.

The first one will be nominated for my picture of the year; it captures the highest point of an incredible stunt, with Shamou throwing with his wings the trainer many meters in the air.

Later on the sun came out, and that allowed the following amazing picture to be captured:

The sun was bright, there was a lot of light, and the less light you have the more fast your picture can be. In this case it was so fast that you can see the water droplets very clearly.

Here is a picture of a Flamingo, at 12x zoom. It seems so real that you think you can extend your hand and touch the bird...

The next show we went were the dolphins. Do dolphins fly?

How about this:

Overall the park was quite empty (good for us) and also nor very big. We saw pretty much everything in 5 hours. My opinion is that Shamou is the main attraction without which the park would be quite boring.

After it got dark, we went for a short stop at the nearby San Diego, by night:

Also, for the first time I managed to get a picture like this:
Notice how both the foreground (us) and the background (city) are clearly visible. I hadn't managed to do that with the Olympus camera. The trick is this: despite the use of the flash, the shutter remains open for a long time. During the short flash burst, the foreground is captured. The flash ends, but the shutter remains open. During this second phase, the light from the background is allowed to hit the pixels long enough to create a bright background; the dim light from us is still hitting the camera, but it is so less compared to the flash data that it doesn't change the outcome much.
(noticed how wet am I from the ride Journey to Atlantis, the first roller-coaster that uses an elevator to climb up the vagons?)

After that we headed to Long beach, for dinner and a night walk. Notice the lasers that exist above the car and pedestrians in the main street on Long Beach, Pine:

From the harbor you can get an excellent view of the Queen Mary, now a hotel and museum:

Finally, me and Stayros struggled a lot in order to get a correct and colorful picture like that.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Godfather: Part I * * * * + Part II * * + Part III * * *

Marlon Brando as the Godfather is one of the most classic personas in movie history. He is just plain perfect and dominates the screen whenever he appears, and along with a strong and complicated plot the first movie is now a classic. I love the opening scene of the trilogy, when Bonasera comes out of the dark, and talks to Don Corleone. It just puts you directly into the mood of what this trilogy is all about:

I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion. I gave her freedom, but I taught her never to dishonor her family. She found a boyfriend; not an Italian. She went to the movies with him; she stayed out late. I didn't protest. Two months ago, he took her for a drive, with another boyfriend. They made her drink whiskey. And then they tried to take advantage of her. She resisted. She kept her honor. So they beat her, like an animal. When I went to the hospital, her nose was a'broken. Her jaw was a'shattered, held together by wire. She couldn't even weep because of the pain. But I wept. Why did I weep? She was the light of my life beautiful girl. Now she will never be beautiful again. I went to the police, like a good American. These two boys were brought to trial. The judge sentenced them to three years in prison - suspended sentence. Suspended sentence! They went free that very day! I stood in the courtroom like a fool. And those two bastards, they smiled at me. Then I said to my wife, for justice, we must go to Don Corleone.

It was a blessing that we decided to end the movie season at the home theater with the Godfather. I had never watched the movies, and Stayros and Dimitri and Costas almost never had either.

We watched part I on Thursday. By the end I was astounded by all the complications and plot twists and characters that this movie was about. People say everyne likes this movie because it is so big that there is always something for everyone to like in it. I'll have to agree since the film works on so many levels and is so masterfully written that is hard to describe anything is a few sentences.

We watched part II the following day. I was dissappointed because a lot of things happened but the story didn't seem to make much sense. Pacino took over as the new Don, and De Niro depicted the young Vito (very clever idea). However at some point we were confused and at the end the movie didn't leave me the nice feeling I got from the first one.

We watched part III on Sunday, just me and Stayros. This part made more sense, it was slow and you had all the time in the world to focus and remember and compare with the old movies. As a single movie it's not that good, but as the last part it surely concludes nicely. The last scene is also just plain perfect, with Pacino dying old and alone in his old town in Sicily. As he was falling down from the chair, I thought that this was the perfect ending to the trilogy. A sad, bitter story that I will find hard to forget.
It's hard to see these movies often. They are great, but after finishing watching them you don't want to watch them again! Weird...

Friday, December 09, 2005

The nature of Nature

While I am waiting for my computer to be formatted with the new hard drive for the 3rd time in 24 hours (the version of windows I installed seems to have issues with some drivers, audio and video), I thought I would share with you news from the Nature magazine. Nature is the most prestigious science journal, and certainly whoever publishes there is not some random person. Every week, amazing new discoveries come up, and in Nature many of them are published. Here are some highlights from last month's journals, which I read during the exam of EE105 that me and Katsouleas were proctoring.

- Scientists for the first time manage measure the size of Sagittarious A, the item that occupies the center of our galaxy. It is about 1.6 light years across, which suggests that its density is 10 times more than anything else on the universe we've ever seen; hence it is solid proof it is a supermassive black hole. Until now the occupation of the center of the galaxies from black holes was a speculation. Now we have solid proof.

- Vlasov and others from the Watson research center made a silicon chip that slows down light by 300 times! If this gets working massively, it will open the path for optical computers.

- Every 10 days, the last fluent speaker of a language dies....

- They found a gene in Drosophila that control homosexuality!

- The first antigravity patent was approved (crappy science, if you ask me).

- A certain asteroid that will fly close to earth at 2029 has a chance of hitting earth in its next trip. They published a design for a gravitational tractor to change its course - i.e., a spacecraft will hover close to the asteroid to gravitationally chance its trajectory...

- I also read a paper on computer networks from Greece, University of Athens! They used chaotic signals on opticall fibers to demonstrate information transmission.

- They built a six atom Schrodenger's Cat! 6 atoms are entagled to eachother and can transfer information all at once.

- The first images and data from Saturn's moon Titan finally are published. There is evidence of (methane) rain falling on the planet, which has created canals and small lakes...

- Hayabusha, a Japanese spacecraft has extracted material from a flying asteroid, and for the first time such a material will be returned to earth...

- The first evidence of the slowing down of the Atlantic current (that could lead England to have temperatures similar to Canada) are reported...

Thursday, December 08, 2005


From the Music genome project. The idea is that they compare various music attributes of songs and try to categorize them according to them. So you start with a known artist or song, and Pandora finds and plays close matches to that. Works great for me, so try it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The search for Kim Ho

It al started about 3 months ago, when I was discussing with Φωτεινή for various Jazz Clubs around LA. She mentioned Dresden, which has some guys that play there since 30 years ago, and also she said that the movie Swingers was filmed there. Me, being in a Netflix mood those days I put it in my queue. The dvd came, I copied it, but I didn't watch the movie for a while, and forgot everything about Dresden. Then last October we watched the movie here in my home and that reminded us for the lounge there. So we decided to go there, and as it happened we went there on the Halloween night. It was monday, as I recall. That was when we noticed her for the first time.

The show was ok. Various people came and sang, including the two main performers, Marty and Elaine. We were quite bored I have to say, but we sat there until after midnight.
Suddenly at 1am, she came into the stage. A beautiful asian american girl, no older than 23, wearing a perfect red mask covering the top half of her face, who started singing beautifully a song. It was just amazing to watch her sing, you just couldn't believe what we were seeing. Actually, the problem was that the audio didn't match the visuals. It was to good to be true.

On our way out we saw her talking to Marty. I hesitated for a minute but then I decided that we had to talk to them. So I approach them and said "Hello, I know you've been here since forever, but you must be new", pointing to her. The discussion started and we talked for various things, including engineering, greek feta, and her name:Kim. We learned that she was to come and sing there again 10 days later, on a Wednesday. We promised to return to listen to her.

On that Wednesday we had planned to go there, but since everyone else was going to the gathering of the EE professor Psounis at Viceroy, we had to go there. We had a good time, but we didn't see Kim on that night.

We went to Dresden however the following week, on a Friday, with Nikos and Hlias. The place was packed now, and we didn't sit down. We saw no Kim for the couple of hours we were there. We asked the bartenders, and they sai she usually comes on Tuesdays.

We didn't give up and went to Dresden again, this time on a tuesday, along with Nikos only this time. Nikos suggested I should a specific drink, called Frangelico I think (I remember its name when I think of Frankenstein). Kim wasn't there this time either. However on our way out, Nikos was brave enough to go and talk to Matry about Kim. We learned that her full name is Kim Ho, she is good friends with the people there, and she visits and sings occasionally. We also found out that she is working as a waitress at Miceli's.

Miceli's! I knew the restaurant, I had been there with Roubos a while ago. So on some Thursday we decided to grab a bite there. We were lucky to sit in the upper level and next to the piano, and sure enough our waitress was Kim herself! She came several times back and forth, and we started chatting with her. We learned that she has been studying music and vocals her whole life, and that she doesn't want to work there forever but instead make a career in singing. She said Marty and Elaine are good friends of hers and that's why she plays there occasiaonally. Finally, she mentioned that she regurarly sings every Monday at a place called Cheebo, up on Sunset blvd.

Meanwhile Dimitri had to take his qual exam for his phd and I had to go to Brookhaven for experiment, so as soon as I got back we went to Cheebo for dinner, along with Hlias.
I just loved that place. They habe orange walls, and we were lucky enough to sit close to the stage (which is located up, close to the ceiling!). Kim was there singing when we got in around 8pm, and we had the perfect place to enjoy her.

Apparently the guys who were sitting right next to us were some kind of producers. They started talking about getting a CD from her and giving it to a producer for further listening. A moment later, when Kim took a break from singing, she came down and went to these guys (so right next to us!) and they started talking. From what we overheard it seems that she is at a major point of her career and tries to promote her work. I was glad that we had these guys next to us so that we could take a good look at her, despite the fact that she didn't remember us from the last 2 times we've met. Dimitri though was pissed off since he thought they were taking her from us and that we would talk to her if they weren't there. Hlias on the other hand seemed neutral, and also proposed to Dimitri that if he paid for our dinner ($111 total) he would bring her down to our table to sing especially for him! Dimitri never agreed though...

Anyways we sat there for over 3 hours, ordering appetizers, main dishes, drinks and desserts. Everything was organic and everything was sooo tasty. As for Kim, we'll have more adventures in the future. To be continued...


Friday was nothing, because I was coming back from Brookhaven, went straight home, and slept :-)

Saturday was just ok, relaxed, watched a coupele of shows, and then later we were to go to Christiana's party but Dimitri stopped by and we were too lazy to go (it's only 5min away). C'est la vie.

Sunday was nice. I picked up Stayros and CostasZ and travelled to camarillo, where there is a bounch of outlet stores with extremely cheap prices. Nike and Timberland start at $29.99, and the $200 boots I got from Timberland they cpst only $80 there... I also bought a few make up things for friends back in Greece.
Tne we visited the Grove which was packed with people, a nice Jew left us his spot after we were wondering around for over 20min... It reminded me of last year where me and Violetta parked in an expectant mother spot at Palo Alto! The main reason for visiting there was to try the Brazilian restaurant that Stayros had suggested. And wow, that must have been the best meats I've tried here in LA so far at that price. Niam niam.
On they way back home Frankie called and said we should watch a movie. So I stayed for about 30min home and left to pick him up, and we went to Century City to watch Aeon Sucks. I mean, Aeon Flux, that is. I knew the reviews were bad, and the movie remaind faithful to that. At least it helped my appreciate Serenity and Firefly which I am watching these last few nights at the US.

The digital camera expedition

I had to look for a new camera these days. My parents needed one (the last one I got them was abducted by my brother), so I will give them my great Olympus 750 and I will get the new one.

I gave it a lot of thought as to which camera I should buy. All this time I was using the bulky Olympus, I was saying to myself that I would get a tiny one, one that I can carry everywhere around and take fast pictures. Andrew's Canon SD400 seemed ideal, since it's tiny and fast and takes great video, so I decided to do a test drive. He never takes pictures of places or outdoors like I do, so I went outside on campus and took the same pictures with his camera and my Olympus. It turned out I didn't like what i saw: the colors (especially the whites) were saturated, the details were always blurry, and the vividness not that great. Olympus has great vivid colors (it was a $500 camera back then!). The SD400 takes great pictures indoors, especially faces under dark environments with flash, but I was dissapointed outside. Also due to her mini size it only has x3 zoom only. So that's gone.

So I had to turn and look into bigger sizes, my next candidates were Canon A610 and Canon S2.

The 610 is similar to the one I got for Dora (A510), it just has 5MP instead of 4MP, and the new ultra fast DigicII processor. Other than that it is the same: 4x zoom, small/medium size, video, very nice pictures, and you can add your own lenses. If I were to buy that ($280) I would buy the lenses too for extra zoom and stuff (an extra $120). And I liked the pictures it took, they have nice bright colors and good detail. Not quite as good as the Olympus, but very close.

Now the S2 is even bulkier than my Olympus. It doesn't fit in any pocket. However she is packed with super cool stuff: 12x zoom fast, huge lens, Image Stabilizer(yes!), pop-out screen, high flash, awesome video 640x480 30fps w/stereo sound and zoom and many more others. It costs $450. But it is quite bigger than the A610, if you get something bigger you just get a DSLR!

So I pondered for a while as to which camera I should buy. Small and OK, or big and great? I went to Best Buy to play with them a little bit, and they looked nice. I just didn't know what to do.

Then I read some reviews on about the S2 that made me come up with w decision. It's a certain type of review that you can only find it for the S2 and not at the A610. For example:

I have been able to get some great hummingbird and quail pictures with this camera.

I have taken pics in las vegas with this camera and just turned out to be fantastic especially when I used the night vision mode. And the red-eye reduction is also good.

I have taken this to grand canyon and taken panaromic views and they are just great. not all cameras come with a feature where you can overlap pictures.

I took a picture of my cousin from the 86th Floor of the Empire State Building down to the 24th Floor of the building next door and I could make him out fine.

You can't take great pictures without a great lense. This is a great lense. You also can't take great pictures in an indoor large room (hall, ballroom, convention, etc) without a big lense. This is a big lense. You can't take a massively zoomed in picture without image stabilization or a tripod. This has fantastic image stabilization.

While I was reading these reviews, I felt very comfortable. That was because I saw myself into these people; these are the things that I would like to do with my camera, this is the type of review that I would write. I can't take the camera everywhere, but then again I am not that type of person: I like photos of environments, beautiful landscapes, and majestic sunsets. This, this is the camera for me.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Aeon Flux * 1/2

Who? Themos, Frankie, Dimitri
Where? AMC@Century City

Hm..... interesting concepts, bad outcome. My guess is that after Charlize won her oscar, she decided "OK, this year I will make a good movie for the critics (Nothern Country) and another movie for my fans who want to see me (almost) naked". My guess also is that the movie was written based on her, without much thought for a plot. The characters are weak (how can you beat Serenity on that!) , the direction is always in a rush and no one really acts decently. Bye bye.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Skeleton Key * * * + Wallace & Grommit * 1/2

Who? Themos
Where? Onboard a Boeing 757 from JFK to LAX

Wallace and Grommit... too much a child's movie. It's fun from time to time, but at the end I am glad I never watched it in the theaters. The 10" airplane screen was fine. Song btw has so far the best domestic airline services. They offer personal screens, with 10 on demand movies and live 30 tv stations (from satellite!). Plus, they offer water and stufff througout the flights, which none else does.

The Skeleton key on the other hand was better than what I expected. I had heard there is a surprise ending at the end, and still I couldn't guess it throughout the movie and it just blew my away at the end. The movie could have ended right there, with a two star rating, but the last 5 minutes gave it an extra one. Well done!

Stupid hard drives

This is the 5th hard drive that breaks down these past two years... Western Digital, Maxtor, SATA, IDE, it doesn't matter what it is, they just break down either home or at the office. What doo I have to do to protect my data? At the office we got a 300GB external MAxtor one, so what I do is that I downloaded this nice software Vice Versa Pro, which I assigned to backup my research folder at the external drive every night at 3am. So, my data are always backed up every day. Maybe I'll get another one for home it seems, where it is more annoying. This time my main SATA hard drive that the OS was installed crashed and started making noises. grrr....

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The end is near

Measurements of ocean currents in the North Atlantic reveal that they have weakened by about 30 per cent since 1992. The findings, published in the journal Nature, fit computer predictions of what would happen when Greenland glaciers begin to melt because of global warming.

From the Independent.

The new Skype

Skype finally released version 2.0, with video support. I can't wait to try it. it can only get better after the buying from eBay.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

March of the Penguins * * 1/2

Who? Themos
Where? Onboard a Boeing 757 from LAX to JFK

Also known as the Penguin Movie. Despite my fears this movie was not boring. It's just amazing what these birds can do to survive. Their main issue is that their feeding ground (near the sea) and their breeding ground (in the mainland, where the ice is more stable) are 70 miles apart. Hence they have to march often between the two grounds until their kids grow big and can survive on their own. A few shots in the movie, like the one where the harsch winter is torturing the animals (and the humans filming them!) are just great to watch. Thumbs up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The new Firefox

Firefox 1.5 is out, finally. Some very nice extensions work for this version, so if you have Firefox, download immediately. If you don't, it's about time you switched from IE.

Las Vegas, Round 3

Third time in Vegas, third time the fun. Vegas is just awesome. Welcome to the strip:

The 3mile long strip hosts the best of vegas: all the nice hotels and entertainment are located there, and you can just walk up and down and watch the lights by the night which are just great. Food, shopping, casinos, people, everything is here.

Me, Panos and Stayros decided the day before that we should go there for a day trip (I just love these on-the-spot decisions!). We left LA at 4pm on Thanksgiving Saturday, and we got there by 8pm. We went straight to Bellagio, where we paid $40 and enjoyed the beautiful buffet there. The best thing is the seafood (not for me) and the meats with the desserts. At some point I had 5 animals on my plate: beef, pork, turkey, buffalo, chicken. Niam Niam...

Next, we headed for one of the best bars anywhere in the US, the Coyote Ugly. This lovely lady welcomed us and was asking for more girls to come to the dancing stage:

On the opposite side, her friend was also entairtaining the audience by dancing very nicely:

At 00:30 we left the bar and headed for Crazy Horse Too, a huge strip club at the Vegas strip row. I have to admit that most of the over 100 girls working there were way above average, and a couple of them were crem de la crem (τάδε έφη Σταύρος). By far the best gentlemen's club I've ever been.

Next time I visit Vegas, I will go to one of the shows there. As we were heading back to LA while watching the sunrise at 6am, I was thinking that Vegas offers first class entertainment. It may cost a little bit, but it's just great fun.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Syriana * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? AMC @ Santa Monica

Syriana is a complicated movie. I only understood it after me and Dimitris discussed about it while going back to our places. It has too many characters, too many locations, too many politics regarding the oil companies. In a weird way, although the details sometimes are confusing, at the end you get a clear idea of what is going on in the plot. I think this movie will be like Traffic: it will get oscar nominations for actors and screenplay, but probably not for th ebest movie. It is not much fun for that.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Summer Movies

It may be far away, but I am looking forward to many movies the next summer:

Superman Returns [The trailer looks great]
The Da Vinci Code [Instant classic]
Cars [Pixar's newest film]
Pirates of the Caribbean [Keira! Yupi!]

And as the time approaches, there will definetely be more. I am looking forward. Very forward.

23" is too big!

A major upgrade occured in our office in USC this past 10 days. My 15" CRT monitor was replaced by a nice HP 23" LCD one. Erdem and Reza both got one, too. So now there are 3 brand new lcds in our room! On top of that, our build-in graphics cards couldn't support the resolution of the monitors (1920x1200) so we had to buy 3 new graphics cards too. Also, my desktop only had PCI-Express channel instead of AGP, so I got a nice PCI-Express graphics card from Asus, that is now connected purely digitally through DVI to the DVI input of the monitor.

The picture clarity is just amazing: The fonts are crystal-clear, the colors are perfect, and the games I tried are running very fast (PES4, Doom 3, Pirates). I will finally be able to play Myst V!

DVI does not translate the digital graphics signal to analog; instead, the only thing that travels in the cable is just the value of brightness for each 3-pair of the 1920x1200 pixels of the monitor. There are no settings to be done, like position of the screen, clock and clock phase etc. It just shows perfectly.

LOTR: The Two Towers * * *

Who? Themos, Erdem
Where? Home Theater

It was the first time that I watched a LOTR movie in the full home theater (I had watched the Fellowship with Yao only when we had the speakers but not the projector). It felt almost exactly like when I had watched it in the theaters 3 years ago, which means that out system is working very well:-)
None of the LOTR movies are great. However they are so beautifully made that it is impossible not to admire the scenery, the characters, the sounds, the landscapes, and the battles. And although 4 hours long (the special extended edition) it is not as bad as in the theaters when you watch it from your sofa and you interrupt anytime you like.

Although there is no LOTR movie coming out this Xmas, there is the other Peter Jackson blockbuster: King Kong. I expect more or less the same kind of feelings, a well crafted movie that the story is not so exciting after all. It is good though to have something awaiting you when you go back to your home country, even if it is an american movie. The expectation feeling is (for me) even better many times that the actual experience.

Thanksgiving 2005

This is the day that america doesn'y move; empty streets and freeways (with the exception of the 405), since everyone is home eating Turkey. This year I had a twofold invitation. The first one, we went to my advisor's place and we had some really great food. I met Katsouleas' kids, wife, father and (his awesome) brother. "You seem to be speaking greek very well", he said without knowing me much. He has married an asian girl, so the kids are half greek and half asian. Now, that is weird!

He also discussed on how I should introduce myself to women. I explained to him that "engineer" doesn't work since the only answer is "Oh, you must be very smart then", and the conversation ends shortly after that. He said I should say "Accelerator" (from out research field, plasma accelerators), since it can only engage more curiosity and I will have to explain about it, and then it may not be so boring. We'll see.

Around 8pm we left Tom's house and I headed for Nikos' one, where a nice Japanese lady joineda group of greeks for some cool food that was homestyle cooked. I was amazed to find that in Japan the school year starts in April and ends in January, and that they have vacation both during summer and winter! In addition she finds weird over there that you can only see women in the streets talking during the day! Her explanation was that men work a lot there and women do more shopping.

It was also during these discussions that Ilias got me the idea of going to Mexico. However, I don't want to go to Tijuana (close to the borders), but as much further south as possible. However I need to find people first that have been there. Is it safe? Can we drive our own car? How much are the places to stay? How long will it take? Good research will result in a better trip.

Walk the line * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? Arclight Hollywood

Although Joakin Phoinix does an excellent job, I believe that Jamie Foxx as Ray did a better and more demanding job last year. The movie has first class performances also by Reese Whitherspoon and Robert Patrick as Johnny Cash's girlfriend and father, respectively. The concert scenes are very well filmed, but although the movie is overall very well done, it felt like a remake of Ray with country music, rather than a very original film.

The music and songs at Arclight sounded perfect. Also, I started noticing the differences between analog and digital projection: in analog the screen is flickering too much and the colors are not always 100% accurate. It's good everyone is switching to digital gradually.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Better late that never...

Damn I don't remember what did I do on that day... Is there something wrong with me?

Right when I was about to go to school for the first time on Saturday (yes, I was that inspired!) Stayros calls me: "Hey, we are in Costas' place to watch Real Madrid - Barcelona... Are you coming?" "Well", I said, "I think I'll pass since I want to work". "Oh, come on, you have to see this game" he insisted. "OK, OK, I will come on halftime". I finally went there right away, and we watched one of the beautiful games ever. Ronaldinhio was just amazing and personally scored twice against Real. Truly great stuff, really.
In the evening we decided to go to Manna, a all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ. Busy, long lines, great food. Then we headed towards Pasadena, where we went with Thodoris to a Caltech party (according to his saying, that was the best Caltech party (for Caltech standards). After that we visited Union Cattle, a nice bar in the Old Town Pasadena with lots of people a nice (loud) music.

We had our soccer knock-out game versus the Gunners, and we finally won (I scored one goal too!). We gave everything we had, 2 players were injured, then the lady there tells us that the next game we had to play is in 1 hour! After the first minutes of total panic, we called a couple more players (for substitutions) and had lots of gatorades to keep us alive. We played the semifinals, but although we did a great game we didn't score and finally lost. Next year!
In the evening we went to see Harry Potter at the Chinese Theater. The digital image looked crystal clear, and the movie itself was pretty good actually. It did $100M in 2 days, and our theater was full too. However the Chinese Theater does not have stadium seating, so I don't know if it's worth going there again.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [Digital Projection] * * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood

This is the best Potter movie so far. It is now almost impossible to follow the movie decently unless you have watched the previous ones. Even myself I found it sometimes hard to remember places and faces. The people now are not introduced again, but they rather move directly to interact with eachother so you need to know their background in order to really appreciate the plot. The story is complicated and has several subplots, and the visuals are once again stunning. It is amazing what Rowling's imagination can do - the amount of information on screen on any given frame is just too much to digest. Personally I love these small "magic" things that happen all the time - the Potter universe allows almost everything to happen, and so far in all 4 movies the originality in the details is was amazes me most. The direction is powerfull and never bores you, and especially the chase scenes are always excellently crafted. This film made $100M in just one weekend here in the US, and it will keep going for much more.

The clarity of the digital projection was also above average - there was not a single minor flaw in the picture - no artifacts, no shades, vibrant colors, and crystal clear contrast. Having just read that more than 100 theaters were equipped digitally in the US these last 4 months (only 250 existed around the world up to that point), the day that all movies will be distributed and projected 100% digitally is not far at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Einstein Lectures at Caltech

The p-orbital lamps at Caltech: The lamps have the shape of the electron wavefunction of hydrogen , i.e. the probability to find an electron around the nucleus. The first solution is the s-orbital, which is just a sphere, and this shape is the second orbit around the nucleus. I just love this school!

Charles called me up this afternoon and said "Hey, there is a lecture about Einstein at Caltech this evening, wanna go?". Of course I said yes, and Erdem with Dimitri agreed to come with me. I checked online to find out exactly what this was about: This year is 100 years since Einstein's "miraculus year", when he published 3 great papers that affected physics forever. So Caltech had 4 lectures about his work this year, and this today was the last one with a topic of general relativity given by Kip Thorne. Thorne is a very close friend of Stephen Hawking and the #1 phycisist on gravitational waves, the most interesting prediction of general relativity. We went there around the time the talk started, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Outside teh auditorium there a HUGE line of people. I mean, it was the HUGEST line of people I've ever seen, more than any other event I've been to. I am talking about thousands of people it a line spreading about half a mile across the Caltech campus. People have been lining up 3 hours before the talk; it was just crazy.

Of course we didn't manage to get inside. We sat close to the speakers outside right next to the fountains, and listened to the whole lecture from there. We only entered inside after the end, when Thorne was signing books just to take a sneak peek.

The talk itself was very interesting: he gave review of Einstein's theories, and then he expleined many research aspects of current issues they are working on - it was great because I got a feel of how the gravity things are going and where science is right now it that field. He mentioned that they expect the most useful results from LIGO, their gravity gaves detection experiment to begin any day now, plus how GPS has to be adjusted to account for general relativity, plus the superconducting gyroscopes that will detect the dragging of spacetime caused by the rotation of the earth (1 revolution per 6 million years!), plus his always crazy stuff about time travel and wormholes.

When I first read this guy's book back in high school ("Black Holes and Time Warps") I didn't understand a thing; today, I found out why :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Simple equation II


No wonder Matlab wouldn't get a right solution... with the approximation x=1+e, e is found to be 2*(1000-N)/N(N-1), which is close to 0 when N is close to 1000 (the values I was most ly interested for. Bad choice of parameters :-)

This equation arises as a solution to a very simple problem: Suppose you have an interval [a,b] and you need to create a sample grid of N points (i.e. , choose N points between a and b). BUT, I don't want a linear grid but a logarithmic instead, because I want my grid points to be concentrated around some value between a and b. My first choice was OK, let's chose an initial interval dz, and the next interval will be x*dz, the next one x^2*dz etc (x>1), until the sum of all these segments sums up to L=b-a=1. Then for a given dz (in my case dz=0.001) x is found to be the solution of the above polynomial.

Anyways this geometric progression doesn't do it: The value of x is so close to 1 that the intervals are almost linearly changing. Logarithmic (logspace in Matlab) doesn't do it either: In order to achieve the necessary accuracy and resolution I have to have millions of points. So I ended up writing my own logarithmic function, which goes like dz(i)=10^((x^i-1)*dz), for i=1..N and I played around with dz and x in order to get a nice result. Now I believe I have something, I put in my code and soon enough I will know how good it is or not.

Eagles @ Staples Center

So tonight we went to watch the Eagles at the Staples Center. It's amazing how they converted from a tennis court to a concert stage in less than 24 hours! And they also do Ice Hikey, Basketball and many other events there... It's just an amazing venue and a landmark of Los Angeles.

Eagles gave a very pleasant concert. I only knew Hotel California from their songs, plus one more (unknown name for me). So essentially we paid $20 per song. But I realized that it's always nice to hear music live: It's so much better than home, just because of the group experience with other people. They used to light lighters in the past in concerts, now the stadium was filled with cell phone screens instead (!), creating a great effect when the lights were out. They also had a bery cool light/laser show throughout their performance, and since we were sitting in the most remote seats possible from the stage, we could at least see the whole stadium panoramically. Truly beautiful pictures there.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Friday evening I had my dinner with Xouros at EVK, and then Dimitri dropped by and we watched Ed Wood, after doing some Matlab simulations. I finally think I know how to solve my problem...

After watching my morning tv shows, we went to the Grove and watched 2.5 movies at once, and then headed to the East India Grill (that was Andrew's first 5 star restaurant in our blog) but I wasn't as excited as he was for the place (it was good though). Then I got back home and looked at a Lorentzian distribution that may describe my problem. Well, it didn't :-)

We met with erdem and the tennis club guys and headed for Staples center to watch the women's championship finals. What happens is that at the end of a year the first 8 ranked women play eachother and the winner wins $1,000,000 and pushes a lot its place on the ranking. We watched the final between Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo, and it was so much fun. I went last year too, and it's too bad they won't host it here next year.



The prize:

Panoramic from the inside of Staples Center:

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang * * + Zathura * * + Pride and Prejudice * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? The Grove

We headed on to a movie marathon with Dimitri, entering the theaters at 2pm and exiting at 8pm. Here's what we saw.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
This comedy is weird at some times but has some of the funniest lines I've seen recently. It is uncommon and it has a good story, with Val Kilmer giving one of his most efficient performances in the recent years as Gay Perry (yes, he's also gay). Although there is a dip in the excitement in the middle, the beggining and the end of the movie are quite funny. Thumbs up!

We watched the first 45min of Zathura (until Keira started), and although a kids movie it it also interesting, just because of the idea based on Jumanji (where a game comes alive). it wasn't boring, so we spent some nice 45minutes there. But that was just an appetizer.

Pride and Prejudice
This is hands down Keira Knightley's best performance, and also the first movie she has the main lead. She looks flawless in this movie, acts excellently, and I belive that my voice at the beggining of the movie (Let's go for the oscar, Keira!) may in fact be fulfiled after all. The movie is long and slow, but because of the strong story and characters in is not boring. There is this awesome scene in one of the balls where the camera moves around continuously focusing on different characters and interactions, and it is the most amazingly directed single scene I've seen in the recent times. Good job!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ed Wood *

Who? Themos, Dimitris
Where? Home Theater

Ed Wood was voted as the worst director of all time (after his death :-) ). Tim Burton's approach is weirder than his other films... It just doesn't have the same feel. The names in the casting are pretty big (Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vincent D'Onofrio Patricia Arquette etc), but the outcome does not live up to the sum of its parts. Hail to Bela!

Simple equation

Just a polynomial... x^N -1000*x+999=0.

The first real solution is obviously x=1. There is another real solution, that approaches 1 as N approaches infinity. I am interested in big values of N, like N=1000. However Matlab gets stuck when it comes to calculate the solution.... I don't know what to do!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Godel, Escher, Bach: 7 months later

I started reading Godel, Escher, Bach, in May of 2005. As I have finished reading it today, I think the best sentence that summarizes the book is the one of the back cover:

"Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that is recognized at once as a major literary event. This is such a work."
-Martin Gardner, Scientific American

This book is the only math related book that has ever won a Pulitzer prize, hence my interest to it. It combines knowledge from mathematics (Godel), painting (Escher), music (Bach) together with computer science and biology in order to tackle the questions: How can intelligence arise? Can we just put some hardware together and program it and it will start behaving intelligently? How can we as humans have consiousness?

Godel's incompleteness theorem plays a vital role in that journey to answer those questions. The best thing I got out of this book is an explanation on how Godel's theorem can arise - it had been haunting me since almost high school when I first read about it, and now I have found the most easy way (I think) to understand it. Remember that Godel's theorem states that there is no mathematical system that all theorems can be proved - there will be unproced theorems. But how did Godel prove that? Here is why, juts by looking at this painting.

The message reads "there is no pipe". On first view, the message seems wrong: the pipe is right there, and we know it. On second view, the message is right when you consider that the message may be referring to the whole painting instead, hence it is correct since the painting is not a pipe obviously.

That is the heart of Godel's theorem: you can have a phrase that can be interpreted in two levels, first inside the system, and second if you look outside the system and then it has a different meaning. But what does this have to do with math?

All formal systems in math can be translated into numbers. Every sentence can coprrespond to a number, a code if you wish. For example, the statement 1+1=2, can be translated to 166619992, is you set that '+' is represented by 666 and '=' by 999. That can be done in some way for ANY system.

Exactly because all symbols and statements can be represented by numbers, how can you distinguish whether a number is a symbol or a real arithmetic? For example, in the statement 666+333=999, which would be translated to 666666333999999 according to our simple code, how do you know whether 666 is the number 666 or is it the symbol '+'? If you look inside the system, it has to be a number; however if you look the painting/statement from the outside, the numbers have a second, dual meaning since they can represent a symbol. In the same way that in the painting we cannot tell whether the phrase "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" refers to the pipe inside the painting or to the painting as a whole, in exactly the same way a number we cannot tell whether it refers to the numerical value or to a symbol of number theory.

This is the heart of Godel's proof, the self-reference to something that can be interpreted in at least 2 different ways. Godel proved that no matter what system you use, and no matter what coding you use, there will be a statement that cannot be proved because you cannot tell where is it referring at! And that is a property of all formal systems in math, since all formal systems can be re-written with number-coding.

This type of self-reference also appears into Bach music ( I got the CDs!) and Escher's paintings. Hofstadter (author) brings everything together and argues that this type of reference causes also intelliegence to arise. Of course his arguments do not prove anything for sure, but they point at an interesting direction that may as well be true.

I always read book during flights and airport waiting. Since I bought this book, I went to Tennessee, Greece, Ithaca, twice in New York, and Colorado. It took me so long to finish because it is 700 pages long and also at several points it is not simple in writing: you have to focus and read the math carefully, take some time to solve the problems he poses, and make sure you understand everything. Sometimes he over-argues the same things again and again, but I think that's necessary for the ideas to stay in mind (reduduncy is good, as Patrick would say).

Anyways, now that I'm done with it, I have to start another book. A NY trip maybe is coming up, plus the long journey to Greece for Xmas. Feynman, maybe?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Saw II * * *

Who? Themos, Frankie, Dimitri
Where? Arclight Dome

The first Saw was a unique experience: Original, relentless, freaky. The 2nd Saw I don't think it as good, but it comes pretty close. I like this series because there isn't some magical monster that just wants to kill until it is killed. Here there is always a good reason for killing, and the killing itself is always interesting. I also like the fact that the bad guy has never killed anyone directly; only inderictly he forces people to perform badly. Saw is a movie with interesting story, dynamic direction and people that we care for some reason whether they will be killed or not. Thumbs up.

Returner * + Kung Fu Hustle * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri, 0.5*Zanos
Where? Culver City

Returner is an incredible attempt to combine all sci-fi movies of the last 20 years into one Japanese film. The story is a combination of ET, Terminator, Alien, Independence Day, Matrix, War of the Worlds, and (yes!) Chicken Little. A young girl returns from he future to kill an alien that will cause a future war between aliens and human, while the alien wants just to go home, while the mother spacecrafts are hovering above the earth preparing the attack. Bahhhh.

Kung Fu Hustle is exactly what I expected having seen Shaolin Soccer. A lot of fun, and the battles get bigger and bigget towards the end. Way to go, Crow!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chicken Little * * * [Digital, 3D]

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? El Capitan

That was the first full movie I saw in 3D. It was also my first time at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. Now I have visited all 3 major movie theaters in Hollywood, Arclight Dome, Chinese Thater and El Capitan. The 3D looked flawless, and the movie had several extremely funny moments (some of them the kids couldn't understand of course, e.g. none laughed at the mention of chickens gone wild). We paid $24 each to get he best VIP seats (the price includes popcorn and drink), but we did have a great view indeed. Before the show a kind of pianist was playing a kind of church instrument; then a nice lady started singing along with two figures from the movie, and people started dancing in the theater... It was lots of fun.

Here's how El Capitan looks like from the inside:

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Aviator * * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri, Stayros, CostasZ, Andrew
Where? Home Theater

From me, Aviator should have won the best picture Oscar in last year's nominations. It has everything: it's funny, it has pretty girls, it has lots of action, it has drama, it has an interesting story, and probably it also has Di Caprio's best perfomance. It does seem a little bit long when it's 3 hours long, but still you leave with a feeling that you've seen something complete.

The 8MB Jessica Alba picture

When I downloaded this 20MegaPixel picture I thought that there is no way that I could appreciate it fully. That there is no display big enough to fit it. Well, yesterday I found out one!

In USC we have recently built a brand new visualization center. Apart from the million dollar 3D equipmant, the most succesful working demo right now is this 4400x3200 display that covers a HUGE wall. It consists of 12 projectors, in a 4x3 array, each one connected to a computer node, and these 12 computers being controlled from a mainframe computer. We had our group meeting there, we took a look at some simulation pictures from our research, and then at some very nice pictures from the International Space Station, which is celebrating now 5 years of operation! Then after Tom and Patrick left, and since Bing (the only girl in our group) is in Chicago's Fermilab, we took a look at the panoramic pictures in earlier in this blog, plus the Jessica Alba one.

Well, that wall never looked more beautiful! The picture covered almost all the screen and the detail was stunning. You could see every little hair in larger than lifesize proportions. Even the guy who was controlling the system was laughing... We all left with a huge smile from that room.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Θεοπούλα και ξερό ψωμί

This is Θεοπούλα. She is the most unique, fun, unexpected character in any show I watch. She is an old grandma in the greek tv show παρα 5. I have no doubt that soon enough there will be hardcore fan clubs about her... maybe I'll start one too!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Haloween in Santa Barbara

I wasn't there, but the other guys went and the pictures look utterly stunning:

And we are talking for 100's of girls, not just the few depicted here... Well done Santa Barbara!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Conference Aftermath

Before posting the pictures, I have to mention a few things. First, APS is the strongest conference I've been so far. Scientifically the people are better, with more wide ideas, and many celebrity scientists. Second, Denver is a fine city. Nice downtown, safe and walkable, with nice neighbourhoods and friendly people. It was also the best conference so far: I watched 6.2 movies with Erdem at the theaters, had numerous dinners in various local places, plus I visited for the first time the great Rocky Mountains! I also discovered that all US coins have a tiny little letter printed on them (usually at the bottom right of the heads side) that denotes which city in was made at: D is for Denver, P is for Philadelphia, S is for San Francisco, and W is for West Point, NY. In fact, most of the coins I got from Denver look brand new and shiny, because they were manufactures only a few blocks from there, at the US Mint.

Every conference has a trademark picture, a picture from our group. Here is the one for APS05:

The inside view of the Capitol Dome, where the 15th step is located exactly 1 mile high above sea level (hence Denver's name as Mile High City).

The 16th Street, the main walkway at the Downtown, right where out hotel was:

And here is a view from further away, at the Millenium Bridge ( a river of trains goes underneath):

Now let's move on to the Rocky Mountains National Park, the highest road you can drive in the US (around 12,000 feet = 3.6km).

Here is Katsouleas with his 2 most senior students, a Greek and a Turk. The climate above 12,000 feet is Arctic: Nothing survives from the extreme conditions, neither animals nor plants.

Here is one of my favorites: The rocks, the lake, the woods, the snowy mountains, and the blue sky with the clouds. Picture-perfect...

Lately I love panoramic pictures, and such a National Park is an ideal place to capture some. The first one is a full view at 12,000 feet.

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The second one is a panoramic view of the Bear Lake, with beautiful trees and mountains surrounding the water, while Katsouleas gives a nice speech as if another Socrates.

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Finally, a picture we took at the Colorado Sprinds, in a place called Garden of the Gods, because of the huge red rocks that seem to have come out of nowhere.

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I am going for sure to visit Miami at some point, but I thought I would never visit Chicago, the last big American City that I haven't visited. However our next conference is at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin! This is only a 2 hour drive away from Chicago, which I think we will visit with Bing (and Erdem?) the same way we visited NYC after the Summer school in Cornell, by staying 2 night the weekend after the end of the conference. Yupee!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

From Dali to Remi: NYC Commuting

We spent $320 total on transportation around Manhattan in this trip. We took a cab 10 times (at an average of $12 per trip) and the subway about 10 more ($2 per person per ride). I am not going to bother with the Limo, the JFK Airtrain etc.

On Saturday night, we left the hostel and entered a cab to get to Broadway to watch the Phantom. "43rd and Broadway, please" I said as if I was staying in Manhattan for years. The driver needed no more information, since Manhattan has grid-like structure of streets that usually intersect in squares, so it is very easy to go around and almost impossible to get lost. Last week, before leaving for Denver, I watched CSI:NY where a new girl has joined the team, coming from Montana. " I found the body at 86th Street and Central Park Avenue, sir" she says. Gary Sinize corrects her: "This is Manhattan. It would suffice to say 86th and Park". I smiled ligthly when I heard this line, remembering the Phantom night.

Yet the most important moment came on Sunday night, when we took the cab to the strip club in lower Manhattan: I was the one that was giving direction to the cab driver how to get to place we needed! : "Go straight, turn right on Broadway, the out street is a few blocks to the right again". Stayros considered this as the ultimate thing, a foreigner like me giving directions to a cab driver!

The Weatherman * * * + The legend of Zorro * *

Who? Themos, Erdem, Bing
Where? 16th Mall, Denver, CO

I'll start with the worst: The Legend of Zorro is a highly watchable fun movie, but it is out of date. Why did they bother making a sequel? It's too much Hollywood, too much PG, too big explosion at the end. The action sequences are definately fun to watch, but the extremely boring dialogues in between give this movie thumbs down.

Now let's get to the good stuff: Nicolas Cage is always a first class actor, entering the most mature age of his career. The guy has 9 movies (!) coming up in the next 2 years, and the choices he makes (especially with the masterful Lord of War) are top notch. Here we have a very weird movie. The Weatherman balances between funny and sad, between sorrow and happiness, and describes the not so ordinary story of a not so ordinary man. Although Cage delivers an excellent performance once again, it's the secondary characters (family, friends) that make the movie interesting to watch. As I left the theater, I didn't know whether I should be happy ot sad for the ending: the movie does not have a specific tone, it's like having 5 movies in the pack of 1, and that is done on purpose.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The tradition

We did a lot of stuff today: poster session in the morning, then we headed for the Rocky Mountains where we spent with Erdem, Katsouleas and his former officemate Jose a great day (the pictures are coming up soon!). The best part though was on the dinner. We ended up going in this upscale chinese restaurant (by upscale I mean that nothing in the menu had a single digit cost, apart from the water for $7). Katsouleas saw how me and erdem were a little bit worried about the prices, so as we were seating down he says:

Let me tell you something about the tradition we have for per diem (per diem is the constant amount of money we get paid per day when we go to conferences, $35). We travel, we go to our conferences, we make our presentations, we discuss science and we have a good time doing that. But we don't save our per diem. When we go out we spend every single dollar because here we are, now, in this place, and we want to have a great time.

I had the most perfect piece of meat in the US so far in that place (Mao, Cherry Creek). It was so tender I could eat it with a plastic fork only, plus I kept these great water bottles (straight from Norway). I'm not going to save my per diem anymore.

Discussing physics with Tom, next to a waterfall at the Rockies while enjoying a great view:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Conference thoughts and politics

The weather has been very nice here in Denver. I just found out it is the city with the most sunshine in the US: more than 300 days a year the sky is clear. That has been true for the 5 days we've spent here so far (cold is another issue).

Katsouleas gave a slam dunk opening plenary talk on Monday morning: about 1,000 attended this opening session, and he managed one way or another to touch all of them, despite coming from a different field. I was talking to random people later and although they had no clue about our field, they all stated the talk was just amazing. The best part was where the screen filled with 100 similar acceleration shots from our last experiment, proving that the results are repeatable.

Apart from the review talks every morning (where everyone attends) thereafter the conference splits to normal session it parallel. At the same time as the parallel talks, there are poster sessions where people present a poster with their work (like me). These ones are my favorites because there is always some smart guy there that will be willing to explain the basics of his research - this is how I learn about neighbouring fields to mine and what people are doing in them. The talks are no good for that since it's tough to understand everything and there are no questions (of an academic character). The posters are always a super set of the talks, and I think you get a better idea of what's going on in the planet.

This conference has very strict politics: If you are in the organizing comittee, you cannot be again for several years. If you are giving a talk, you cannot give another talk for several years. This restriction allows more people to come to the surface with new ideas all the time - that's just great I think.

In most conferences there is usually a banquet, after which the most important part is over. Our banquet was tonight, and now people will start leaving. In order to try and persuade people to stay, the APS people decided to hold an iPod lottery on friday noon:-)

From a sunny Denver, goodnight, and good luck.

The Fog * + North Country * *

Who? Themos, Erdem
Where? Pavillion Cinemas @ The 16th St Mall, Denver, CO

If it weren't for Maggie Grace, I don't think I would have watched this movie. Thank god she has the most screen time from all the characters, which makes the movie watchable. Other than that, the movie isn't scary, it has a weak plot and 100% unexplained events (oh, the fog can do everything: flip cars, burn lights, move knives etc). So so.

North country on the other hand has great performances, especially by Charlize Theron (again), plus at least two more supporting actor/actress nominations. The movie is slow and although it has some very powerful moments, it remains slows until the end, without the climax that I would like it to have. The problems and the situations are very real, and the depiction of Northern Minessota seems quite accurate.

Now time to play some soccer and go to sleep - another exciting conference day is coming up. What am I going to learn tomorrow?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Stay * * + Doom * + Domino * *

Who? Themos, Erdem
Where? Pavillion Cinemas @ The 16th St Mall, Denver, CO

So we decided with Erdem to go to the moviesm since the theater is only 60 seconds walking distance from the hotel entrance. We purchased tickets for "Stay". The movie was slow, many interesting things are happening but the explanation they provide at the end is not very fulfiling. it makes some sense but it cannot possibly explain everything. Naomi Watts looks awfully good lately, she's become first class celebrity after the dec 14th King Kong premiere.

Since we had nothing better to do, we decide to go watch Domino next by walking straight into the theater without purchasing another ticket. However the movie started 45 minutes later, so what would we do? Well, as we exit the restrooms I see the opposite door said "Doom". I thought it wouldn't hurt to watch the last 20minutes of a bad movie, so we walked in there and witnessed the final showdown. Although I only saw a little bit (the best bit according to Erdem who had seen it 2 days ago) it's not anything important. Not that I expected anything else.

So after Doom we walked directly to the Domino theater. The movie is very weirdly filmed, with pictures changing all the time, so it wasn't the best things for our eyes who had already been watching stuff for the past 3 hours. Keira was great in her role, although the movie is so differently filmed that is hard to keep track of the changes and the plot 100%. Blowing up Stratosphere in Las Vegas was my favorite part (along with the Jerry Springer show!). Keira is only 20 years old and has a great future: she has already played in action films, comedies, drama, and she has all it is needed to skyrocket her career. She's my #1.

We walked out 5 hours after we entered the theaters, went back to the hotel room where Erdem watched some tv :-)


In the evening (after EVK) I stayed with Katsouleas until 8pm to finalize and go through his slides. I haven't seen him so stressed before for a talk, but then again it is the first time a plasma accelerator talk will open the meeting, and Tom is the best man around to deliver this properly.

Later, me and Rajay went to visit Michelle's new place at Torrance, PO (it's actually in LA but the nearby Torrance serves the mail and facilities there, so the name of the area is Torrance, Post Offfice :-) ). I was happy to see Michelle and all the other guys after almost two months: Jonathan, Laura, Vicky, Gotham, plus their housmate. We went to the interesting Octoberfest (a simulation of a traditional german fair) closeby, where we had a couple of beers (not much for me). I also found out that they have milking a cow contest :-)

After watching my shows and going to EVK for another round of girl watching and great food eating, Dimitri stopped by, we picked up Foteini and headed for the Grove in order to watch Keira Knightley's new movie, Domino. As I touched the screen to get the tickets, I see "limited". I try to be quick, ask for 3 tickets, the wait for the credit card screen to appear. The problem with these specific machines is that sometimes it doesn't read the credit card right away. So by the 6th time it took for the credit card to be recognised, the shows was sold out! Bummer... we went to see Cameron Diaz in "In her shoes" instead, which turned out to be a very nice movie.

I got back home and started packing for my Colorado trip. I can rarely sleep before a big trip (mentally) so I went to bed around 6am and woke up at 11.

Stayros dropped by and we picked up Bing and Xiaodong to head to the airport. The flight was smooth, and I met this nice rich couple from Denver that answered most of my questions regargind the area. As I also saw with my own eyes later, Denver has a great downtown, with a mile-long promenade packed with movie theaters, restaurants and shops. Our $150 a night Hotel is right at the heart of it, and the talks are happening inside it. It is great convenience!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Pack for APS

Conference next week: The American Physical Society hosts the conference for the division of Plasma Physics at Denver, Colorado. I am very excited two reasons.

First, I'll visit Colorado. Denver is next to Boulder, and Boulder is at the edge of the Rocky mountains. We got our return trip a day after the end of the conference, so that we can get a car and drive to the Rockies. A few people (rare!) that have been there say it's a nice city, with a good downtown and big nightlife. So, we are not going into the middle of nowhere. Camera is ready, batteries are charged.

Second, Katsouleas will have the very first opening talk of the conference. This is a great chance to advertise our field and our work, since everybody that's anybody will be there, and everyone listens to the first talk. Katsouleas asked me to beautify the slides for him: he has spent too much time for the contect, so I took over his slides and last Thursday from 1-5am I was making modifications, tried to make them nicer and put them in a nice context. The day after that he said the slides looked fantastic, so I hope he will make an impact.

The downside: It's close to 0 degrees celcius in Denver in the nighttime. That's not that bad, especially since I have to prepare myself for a end-of-november trip to New York and Brrokhaven...

In her shoes * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri, Frankie, Melania
Where? The Grove

That was a good movie. Great storytelling, strong (very strong) characters, yet a little bit slow. Cameron Diaz looks old in her face, but she has a great body still. The acting was very good and the movie was funny and interesting at all times. However I wouldn't recommend it for a movie theater, since it offers nothing that cannot be enjoyed in a good divx. Thumbs up.

PS: At the end of the movie, we had to wait for Foteini since we came together. So instead of waiting, we decided to go to her movie, Elizabethtown. We watched the last 15 minutes, then she told us what had happened before, and having also seen the trailer I got a good idea about the movie. Thumbs down :-)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Life of a phd student

Among research, classes, social responsibilities, paper deadlines and meetings, a grad student has to deal with everyday problems in the City of Angels. The water pipes are full, and so the food from the indian guys upstairs juts came right out from our sink when they threw it in their sink. Yummy!

Thankfully our landlady is very nice and I'm sure she will have sent someone by tomorrow morning. I asked Rajay how much many would he ask to empty the sink (full with indian curry and sewage pipe dirt and rust) with his mouth. Andrew said he would do it fear factor style, for $50K as long as he doesn't have to swallow.