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.