Friday, March 31, 2006

The first HD-DVD Player

After years of debates, waiting, delays and more delays, the world's first commercially available HD-DVD Player is finally out for the public to purchase. It costs $936 and it is sold in Japan, but the US and soon th erest of the world will follow in the next few weeks. High definition is here, and as more and more countries switch gradually to digital TV these players will become more and more popular as there will be more and more content.

It's been almost 10 years since November 1996 when the first DVD player was introduced. The market needed 3 years in order for these players to be sold below the psycological $300 value. It's also been 30 years since the first VHS player was intoduced.

So according to history, by the end of 2007 the HD-DVD players will be sold for less than $300, and by 2011 a new and better format will have emerged. Let's see...

Monday, March 27, 2006


When you watch this movie properly, with the music tuned up and the picture as big as possible, it's hard not to fall in love with it. Mozart's music permeates the whole movie and it does so in an excellent fusion with the pictures. There were some masterfull scenes that I felt in a way that I had never felt before in a movie: Mozart's first steps, the improvisations, Salieri's thoughts throughout his life... also, the tears of Salieri as he reads Mozart's originals, and of course the finale with Mozart writing the Requiem to Salieri... the combination of music and images in these few minutes is just... splendid.

The movie also shattered my image of Mozart as this rich, serious and austere composer. His depiction as an arrogant, brut young man, although not 100% accurate, still permeates my mind. The words of Salieri regarding this aspect are just stuck into my head:

All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing... and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?

On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing a voice of God.

Ultra Marathons

Dean Karnazes is one of a kind. There is a great article in the independent here about him. Here are some short pieces.

Today, Karnazes is one of the world's leading exponents of the little-known sport of ultra-marathon running. Unlike the numerous 26-mile city marathons that take place around the world, "ultras" are distinguished by both their unusual terrain, typically deserts and mountains, and quite monumental mileage; anything between 50 and 150 miles.

Perhaps the most disconcerting side-effect to befall ultra-distance athletes is the one experienced by Karnazes two years ago, during the race universally acknowledged as the toughest of them all. The Badwater Ultramarathon is a single-stage race of 135 miles run across California's Death Valley in July - the height of summer. Daytime temperatures regularly push 130C and, according to Karnazes, "hallucinations are all part of the experience.

"-During the 2004 race, I saw a 49er, an old miner, crossing the road with a gold pan in his hand. He was mumbling, 'Water, water'. I emptied my bottle into his gold pan and heard the water sizzle on the asphalt. There was no one there.

"The heat is other-worldly. You have to run on the white lines because the asphalt is too hot and the sun is so intense I wear a UV-proof suit. I've known it be 104C at 2am." In the 2004 race Karnazes consumed nine gallons of liquid and 30,000 calories of food. Despite a herculean appetite, his body-weight dropped by five pounds before he passed the post in first place in 27hr 22min.

For all his competitive success, it is outside the crucible of competition that Karnazes is redefining the limits of physical endurance, even by his own superhuman standards. In 1995, he ran non-stop from California's Napa Valley to Santa Cruz. There was, for the record, a race taking place, a 12-person team event known simply as "the relay". Karnazes ran the 200-mile race distance solo.

In 2003, he covered 226 miles, again in northern California, again non-stop. A year later, he increased that to 262 miles, or 10 consecutive marathons. And then, last year, the big one, a 350-mile, non-stop loop of San Francisco's Bay area, a feat which took an incredible 80 hours and 44 minutes. "You only stop to change your shoes but otherwise I pee, drink and eat while I run," says Karnazes. "If you're running for three days straight you can't just eat energy snacks, so I eat pizza. I carry a phone and a credit card. I tell the deliv-ery guy where I'm going to be in 20 minutes and he meets me on the corner."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A different morning

Every day when I wake up, the first thing I will do is to check the view out of my window. This is my view today:

I woke up in the sound of honks, chatter and car exhausts. I look outside and I see Madison Square Garden (the circular building on the right) and a sea of taxis. I look for wireless networks with my laptop, and I find 30 of them(!), and about 10 of them without password protection. This is how I write this post now.

Yes, a wake up in New York City.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The next big trip...

Here are some plans for this summer... click

The small things of science

People that don't wok much with science think usually that big things are important. Sending probes to space, decoding the DNA, building bigget and better satellites... But I think that every scientist that truly loves what he or she is doing, he does it for the small things. The small things of science that may seem insignificant, but for some reason they offer the greatest joy and they make us to want to continue doing it. We all do research, struggle to go through the phd, come up with better ideas...but at the end I think the small, everyday things - the journey itself - is what is more sweet rather than the final grand destination.

I still remember how happy I was when I discovered that Brewster's angle does not hold for lossy materials. This is an angle at which if you look a reflection (through polarized sun glasses), the reflection goes away. Disappears. Completely. Really! (It can't be a mirror reflection though; it has to be an ordinary material like glass or air - I did the test myself watching the reflection of my window on a plate full of water). But then, in a class a couple of year ago, I had ot derive the same thing for a lossy material. And as it turned out, if the material has some loss, then this angle doesn't exist! You always have some reflection. I just found it amazing how a perfect material can cause the light not to reflect (all the light goes inside the material), but a lossy one cannot...

I experience another small thing of science today. Sure, we do this big complicated experiment, where we try to excite an electric field in the plasma and accelerate particles to the speed of light. But then, there are all these small things that spice up thw whole experience. The light from the plasma travels through an optical fiber to a spectrometer which analyzes it to its colors. I measured these colors (spectrum) while varying the entrance slit of the spectrometer that the light goes through; and while you would expect the width of the picture to grow linearly, and keep its square shape (because of the squareness of the slit), gradually it started deviating off from the line... it became more and more curved, approaching the circle as I increased the slit size... And only later did I realize that what I was really looking at was the optical fiber itself! Without me realizing it, I had increased the slit to the size of the optical fiber (400μm - 15m long)... so obviusly the image couldn't be square anymore, it was limited from the fiber... and instead of the light increasing proportionally, it short of became flat after a while... It was as clear as a mathematical proof from Erdos' Book...

What small things of science have you discovered recently?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Vegas, Round 4

When you go to Las Vegas a few times you never call it like that again. It's Vegas for the people that go there often, like a nearby hangout that we shorten its name so that it's more convenient to use it frequently.

About 12 days ago me and Dora visited Vegas. It was my 4th time there, and Dora had been before but never since the Megaresorts opened in the mid-1990s and the transformation of the city that quickly followed. What I love about Vegas is the fact that each time I go, there is always something new to watch. So far, only Manhattan and Vegas have offered me that unique pleasure.

So what was new this time? Well, not the clubs or the girls, but the city as a whole. We walked a lot and tried to visit as many hotels-resorts as possible.

We start with the best Victoria's Secret store in the US:

Impressive entrance, huge custom posters, plasma TVs... I never noticed the clothes, although I spent overall more than one hour inside and outside the store.

The store is located at the Forum Shops, to my opinion the best shopping center in the US. Among other things, it includes a small store which literally blew my head off. It has luxury household items, and my personal favorite item is this table:

It sits comfortably 14 people. It costs only $15,000, plus $1,500 for each chair, plus $1,000 for each candlestick, plus another $10,000 if you want the chandelier above it. What is money when you are to make the neighbours jealous?

The whole shopping center is indoors (you don't want to know the temperatures at the Nevada desert in the summer!). However it looks as if we are outdoors:

The sky is always blue (although at regular intervals it gets darker to simulate the coming of the evening!), and it never rains. It is truly beautiful just to sit next one of the 4 great fountains they have built inside to spice the place up.

Enough about the shops. One of the attraction I hadn't ever seen in Vegas is the fountains in front of the Bellagio. The first time I didn't know about them, the second time it was too late when I got there (sic) and the 3rd time it was too windy for them to operate. But this time I was fully prepared to watch them, more than once (they have a 3 minute show every 15minutes from 7pm to midnight). My camera did its best, and here are the results.

Not that Bellagio isn't beautiful in the night, but the fountain shows accompanied with the music make it a true spectacle that simply stops people in their tracks.

Later the next day we climbed on the Eiffel Tower located right opposite of the Bellagio, just to watch the fountains from a distance. Again, the spectacle got a new twist and magnificence.

Waiting for the explosion...


From the tower, which feels really high, you can also admire the north part of the Las Vegas strip:
The green hotel on the left is MGM Grand, the largest hotel in the world with 5000+ rooms; to the right you can see the skyscrapers of NY,NY Hotel and the light coming out of the pyramid of the Luxor.

Bellagio is not the only interesting resort in Vegas. Look at the Mirage, for example.

On top of the tropical scenery and the waterfalls in the middle of the desert, every night a volcano erupts (artificially, of course).

Then there is the Venetian, another billion-dollar megaresort with a stunningly decorated hallway (leads to the casino, of course).

How about the Luxor? The main hotel is a pyramid with the strongest "light bulb" in the top most corner pointing more than 10miles into the sky! Inside, there is a very nice recreation of ancient egypt's monuments.

What else did we do? We had 2 buffets: Paris, the best buffet and/or eating place in the world, which is by now a classic in vegas for me, and Pharaoh's feast, a just $20 buffet at Luxor, about 80% the quality of Paris/Bellagio buffets. We also went to David Copperfield's show, that was just amazing. This time we sat really close to the stage (only 2-3m away) and I could see extremely close. It looks so impossible, and it just happens in front of my eyes. When a car appears within 15 seconds out of nowhere just 5m away, it just gets me nervous!

We stayed at the Stratosphere Hotel (the same one that hosts the tower, the tallest building in the West US) for $50 a night (monday and off season, you see). However our best shot was at Bellagio:

Very nice, I think. However the shot that turned out to by very beautiful without me expecting it was the fountain in front of the Aladdin Hotel, next to Paris:

I just love how the water in the fountain has this sort of magical structure, as if it is not water but magic powder... this is due to the slight over-exposure of the fountain to the camera (increased the shutter duration a bit).

I saved the best for last: A set of panoramic images, with as high quality as possible (so that the 1MB per photo limit is observed).

The interior of New York, New York Casino:

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The main entrance of the Forum Shops:

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My favorite store in the world; take a look at the things they sell:

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Finally, the strip; the main street of Las Vegas, north and south, as seen from the EIffel Tower at Paris Hotel:

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lots of data to analyze...

being at BNL this week for the experiment, we finally saw a signal long-awaited. If it turns out to be correct, it will be a huge improvement over our previous attempts. Let's see...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


That was the biggest surprise in the Oscars in the past 8-9 years. Paul Higgis' Crash, my favorite movie to win this competition actually made it! When Jack Nicholson announced the words he took everyone by surprise. I screamed like a child that sees suddenly Santa in his bedroom door, since I never really expected that to happen. That made up for me from last year when I think Million Dollar Baby never deserved the Oscar, the Aviator was the best picture of that year for me.

Of course Crash is a great movie about LA, but it is not the best of last year. In fact, I don't think it can be compared with movies like Lord of War or King Kong. I guess it is worth the Oscar then because of its exceptionality; a movie so original that it cannot be compared to others...

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Everyone wants to improve oneself. we want better health, tanned skin, white teeth. In a similar way, the things and items we use are an extension of ourselves and we also want to improve them, because by improving them we improve ourselves. We need a better house, a nice car, a fast computer. We feel better when the items we use are better.

That is the case with out home theater system home in LA. What started as a single speaker building project, turned out to evolve into a state of the art entertainment facility. And now, our living room is unique: it's the first living room I have ever been that does not have a traditional television.

The single speaker became a pair, and the two speakers became 6.1. We added a 6.1 receiver, and then a projector an a screen. And we stayed like that for about a year, before the next major upgrade that occured the past few days: HDTV came and blew away the old fashioned 480i signals. Then a strong DVI cable to transmit the digital signal without any conversion at all straight to the digital projector. Then we mounted the projector into the ceiling, and removed the old CRT tv to Rajay's room to make some more space for the screen in a permanent way. Now the only way to watch tv in the living room is HDTV through the projector. We were drilling at 1am (sorry neighbours!) to get the holes for the mounts and the coaxial tv signal into Rajay's room, but it was fun.

There are still some things to be done, especially to get some kind of mounts for the wires to the projector that now have to be attached to the ceiling. Once that happens, I'll post some new pictures of our system here.