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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The $24 movie

I don't think this will ever happen again. Last night I spent $24 in order to book in dvance tickets to watch a single movie. It was, is and will be the most expensive movie I've ever been. The reason is that the theater is El Capitan, one of the oldest (1926) and most prestigious theaters in Hollywood. It's supposed to be a small Palace inside, and many movies premiere there, so I am eager to see.

In their website they have this nice pseudo-3D graphic of the theater layout.

El Capitan in now owned by Disney, so they regurarly show Disney movies. We booked to go at the premiere of Chicken Little, which opens on November 4th. C U There!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Spent the evening at Kostas' place, were we played Soccer in the Xbox until 5am. But, we beat Argentina 3-0 at the hardest level (6 stars). Yeah, baby!

Saturday was lazy day. That is teh day where I don't do anything other than sit back in my lovely home and watch tv shows, play computer games and eat, i.e. doing absolutely nothing useful. I need such days every once a while. In the nighttime I went to Marios' place where Panos had his birthday "party". I thought it would be informal, as around 11pm many people had left and we were only 7 left. But then everyone I knew from usc and ucla came by! By 2:30am people still were coming, for a total of about 20-25. We had great great meats from Ralph's, greatly greatly cooked. The fact that I had eaten Panda express before didn't affect me.

Dimitris stoped by and we went to watch Magnificent Desolation in IMAX 3D over at the California Science Center. In was great 3D about the walking of the man on the moon (NASA will return there by 2018). Then we walked over at Staples Center and we ate at the Original Pantry. When Dimitris left for home I went back home to do some more work, and then I picked up Foteini and we met with Melania and Frankie at the grove to watch finally the Proof (thumbs up btw).

Monday, October 17, 2005

Crappy Day

Today was the worst day of the year so far. Why?

First, it was raining heavily all day long. At least my car got cleaned. Second, I unplugged the usb mouse from my computer in the office, and since then the Hard Disk is not booting! On top of that, the ethernet jack is not working anymore. I know that they are obviously not related, but I swear that the problems started occuring when the mouse was unplugged.

Third, Panos is having more trouble with his pain. After his knee, now there is some issue with his intestine and he was at the hospital all day for tests. Poor guy.

Fourth, Rajay was driving a 16ft truck in the rain all day, and now his computer too is not booting (hdd failures). Woo hoo!

{Proof} * * *

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

Proof is an excellent movie. It simple and yet complicated at the same time, and it delivers some of the greatest performances of the season. This is the best Gwyneth Paltrow I've ever seen, she is doing a great work on this very complex character, the daughter of a great mathematician that doesn't know whether she inhereted some of his crazyness. The film has many very strong moments where I was just astounded by the acting: everything was very natural and made sense, not like "well that doesn't seem appropriate". My favorite moment is when the rock band made of math geeks performs the song "i", at which they just sit there and do nothing for 3 minutes ) since it is an imaginary song!).

Saturday, October 15, 2005

From Dali to Remi: Great Sunday

It was September 16th, Friday, when Greece was playing France for the first game of Eurobasket 2005, and in the first half we were beating them with double score. Several people were gathered in my house to watch the game in the projector over webstreaming, and I was seating next to Stayros. Suddenly, in mthe midst of all the excitement for beating the french, I realized it: we would be in NYC the next weekend when the finals are taking place... So I turn to Stayros and say: "Imagine, us watching Greece in the final the next Sunday in Astoria in New York". Our faces suddenly became serious, with a twist of hope in them, although we didn't really believe that it could turn out to be true.

To cut the long story short, 10 days later:

The dream became true, and that whole day was so unexpected. When I woke up that day (right after the Remi bouzoukia night) I decided to fulfil one my long-time dreams: to go for a Sunday morning walk in Central Park. As I exit the hostel, I immediately realized why NYC is NYC.

If someone told me in LA that as they walked outside their house they found a concert going on, I would have thought he was crazy. But in New York that seemed completely normal: the street outside our hostel was closed and a small fair was going on, with 2 bands performing live at each end of the street.

The walk in the park was relaxing and quiet. I sat along a small lake and gazed on the ducks and the passing-by bike riders, looking ahead on the trip to Astoria that was coming up. At noon, exactly as planned, we met with Stayros who was just ready to catch the metro for Astoria. On they way there, I captured one of my favorite pictures, a picture that points out the differences in NYC.

Look at Stayros: a young student, in athletic uniform, who just spent his night in bouzoukia, ready for the match. Right next to him, a typical (?) New York City classy couple. The gentleman in an expensive suit, perfectly ironed pants and a Rolex watch, along with his equally well-dressed wife who has carefully places cosmetics around her body and meticulously prepared hair. These 2 different worlds have nothing in common, except the city that unites them.

We found Athens Cafe, a quite famous cafeteria in Astoria were people gathered to watch the game. Although winning the championship was not celebrated as much as the soccer one on year earlier, we had great fun and we met several interesting people along the way. We indulged into a heaven of Greek food: Frape, Tiropita, and Pitogyro. It was delicius.

Afterwards we cheered for the win along with some other greek fans closeby to the cafeteria. The cars were honking, the people were cheering, we were just happy to be there and witness that: It's one of the experiences that we wouldn't ever forget.

Just when we were thinking that the day couldn't get better, the best part was saved for the evening. As we has scheduled some days ago, we decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge on that Sunday evening, along with hundreds more New Yorkers and tourists. I had never walked the bridge before during the night, and it is certain in is far better during the nighttime.

No picture can capture the feeling we felt as we stood in the middle of the bridge, at the highest point and we gazed on a stunning 360 degree view on one of the most clear and nice nights of the year. Everywhere we looked we could see New York: The Statue of Liberty, the lower Manhattan lights, 6 lanes of traffic below us, the stunning colorful midtown skyscrapers, the Manhattan bridge, the subway moving below it with the small light windows, Queens, Brooklyn, the bicyclists and people passing by, everything, absolutely everything was there. My mind travelled to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, when he was getting a one-way ticket to NYC so that he could die there. I never fully understood that feeling (which lies at the heart of that movie) until I stood in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge on that September evening.

Now on to Grimaldi's, at the foundation of the Brooklyn side of the bridge.
Grimaldi's is supposed to have the best pizza in New York: It has been rated by Zagat 5 years ina row as the best pizza place in the 5 boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island). That's an area where 18 million people live and breathe every single day.

Grimaldi's lives definately up to its hype: It's a solid 5 star real italian pizza restaurant, in a single location, with a single brick oven, 25 or so tables only, and the freshest of ingedients, for a $14 only pizza. The line is usually huge but we were lucky to arrive at a non-peak time. What followed inside can only be described as one of the funniest moments of my life (eating one of the best pizzas in my life!).

The happy guy in the background is a Puerto-Rican fellow who had just moved to NY with his girlfriend. On the opposite side of us (not visible here), were a bunch of Taiwanese ladies who had as much idea regarding European basketball as we had for Taiwanese Badmidton. When we told them that we had won the european championship on that day, they started cheering like crazy and initially we didn't realize why all that fuss was for. But then I saw the truth: they saw Stayros wearing the greek outfit and they thought that it was literally WE who played in the game and won the match!

We signed autographs on their backpacks and wallets, and they took pictures with us holding the greek flag. I could barely hold the pizza on my mouth as I was burtsing into laughter trying to keep myself from revealing the truth to them. It was a non-sexual orgasm: a good laugh, followed by a slice of perfect pizza, followed by a bigger laugh, followed by another slice of perfect pizza. I was too overwhelmed from the emotions overtaking my thoughts for these few minutes.

I hope these ladies are not reading this blog:-) We didn't have bad intentions not telling them, it was just too fun to stop it happening, and they had a great time too. Anyways, that was an unforgetable evening. Goodnight, and good luck.

Swingers * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri, Zafeiropoulos
Where? Home Theater

Although this movie is about Hollywood, this is not your typical Hollywood movie. The main interest is Mike, a young guy who is trying to get over his ex girlfriend. He and Vince Vaughn start with a trip to Vegas and move one to various dodgy bars and clubs in LA and Hollywood in a continuous attempt to hit on girls. Sometimes they are succesful and sometimes they are not, but in every case the movie remains faithful to reality as what's happening is very realistic and could happen to anyone. The movie is slow but when it comes to LA movies, it just feels different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Into the Blue * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? Mann Theaters @ Santa Monica

That was my 6th day in a row going out in the night... I have to stop this!
Anyways, the movie was interesting. when Jessica Alba's name appeared on the screen, a couple of voices sounded from the background and then almost all 15 people in the theater started laughing... That was because we all realized at that point that every single person in the room wouldn't have come if it wasn't for miss Alba.

The movie provides what is advertises: beautiful underwater shots; Jessica Alba's body; action and adventure; no performances whatsoever. At the end it was never boring and although it won't win an oscar, it is certainly fun.

PhD news

I haven't written anything regarding my phd work recently, so I thought I should so a small update.

First of all, I feel that I am doing right now work that is going to be the core of my phd thesis. I've been to the Brookhaven Lab twice last month and the data we got, although not conclusive, point exactly where I should be going. Tom no more instructs me what to do (apart from suggestions here and there) since I mostly know what to do now. I never leave the office before 6pm anymore, most likely at 7 or 8 in the evening.

I remember last year when I was complaining to our senior student Ali that I don't have much stuff to work on. Back then I used to work a couple of hours a day max, mostly simulations, and I left the office at 4pm. Ali told me back then that this is natural since I was at the beggining of the phd and I shouldn't worry; work would come with time. I remember him saying once "Damn, I didn't do any work today yet": He meant it seriously and I was surprised by his loyalty to research.

Well, here I am, only one year later, and if I don't do anything for a whole day I feel very bad indeed. I now know how Ali felt...

2 for the money * * *

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

I mostly wanted to go to this movie because I had to visiti the Chinese Theater: That's one of the most famous theaters in Hollywood. Star Wars premiered here, and very often they host premieres of new releases. Sid Grauman opened it and celebrities since then are signing in fresh cement in front of it. Everyone has a star in Hollywood Boulevard, but few have their signature and prints there.

Inside the theater is magnificent, red velvet and carpeting everywhere. The audio system is also great (THX certified, plus JBL speakers - like every respectable cinema). The movie was actually better than what I expected: It had a classic Al Pacino in a strong, powerful post-Scent-of-a-woman character. It also had great view of NYC from Brooklyn, escpecially from Fulton Street where we were eating just 2 weeks ago! The movie was good, with interesting characters and a story not perfect but at least it made some sense.

Did I mention the $6.25 popcorn?

Sunday, October 09, 2005


In the afternoon after the group meeting Erdem drove us around with his Subaru Impreza WRX he just bought - brand new! Here is the documentation of the first gas he put in the tank:

Theodore from Caltech and his friend Giota (who is way above average for Caltech phds!) came along and we sat home for about an hour, then with Dimitri we visited my favorite Spearmint Rhino. I had forgotten how good the girls look there! It was also the first time that a girl joined us in such a place, which is a unique experience on its own.


Alexandra came from Berkeley, and we did a speed tour of LA (after watching the losing game from Denmark with Stayros and sia): Downtown, The Grove, H0llywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica. One of the performers there was truly unique: I witnessed for the first time in front of my own eyes the Escape: escaping through chains, handcuffs and other stuff.

It seemed almost impossible, yet they guy did it. I just couldn't believe it even with my own eyes... well done dude!

Then we headed towards Disneyland to pick up her friend Ivan from Colombia (the fireworks were truly spectaculat btw), and the on to Long Beach. That was my first time there, but wow! They have Pine Street, with dozens of restaurants and bars lying around, and one of the most spectacular things I've seen: green visible laser beams crossing above the street! It's hard to describe, yet it's so cool.

The pier there was simply amazing. The feeling you get cannot be put into words or pictures. We went there after midnight, and it was 100% empty, with no winds, no seas waves, and everything felt so calm and peaceful... It quickly ranked among the top 3 places to visit in LA.

Then we witnessed the absolutely most laughable thing I've seen in the US:

This is parking paying spot! You read the spot # that your car is, and then you go and you physically insert bills or coins or checks (after you use your key to clean the slot). In the land of the internet and convenience, that was the last thing I was expected to se. What happened to the online paying machines, which accept credit cards and can return change? Not only that, but I pulled out a dollar bill from one of the slots to see if I could do it, and indeed it happened. America, america...

From Dali to Remi: Nightlife

We had 3 nights to spend in NYC, and we tried to spend them in the most efficient way. The first night we went to China club, a nightclub right next to Times Square. The second night we satisfied Stayros' will to visit greek-american bouzoukia in Astoria, the Greek neighbourhood in Queens. On Sunday, we visited an English Pub at Greenwich Village and then headed over to a gentelmen's club right next to Times Square.

Let's get started:


Friday night on Times Square, with a picture-perfect weather and temperature. About 1,000 people walking up and down, Antigone Rising performing in the middle of the crowd, and Stayros & Costas are just two of the several dozen people that are experiencing Times Square for the first time. We started looking for the China Club on 47th Street, abut I didn't know exactly how to get there so we went too much away - then I shout at some point "Where is 47th?" in greek and a voice from the crowd answered: "1 block behind you".

As we all turn around to see who spoke, we discovered a greek-american resident with his girlfriend. Stayro's immediate question after the introductions was to ask for a good bouzoukia place anywhere on Astoria. The guy suggested Remi, so we forgot about the Cave and we decided to go there the next night. Just because we met a random greek on the street!

Anyways, in order to get into China Club we stood on the long line for about 20 minutes (the other line was for single women only!). After going through the airport-type security points, we were delighted with the view of a very nicely decorated and moody 3-stages + roof club.

The hallways are decorated with hundreds of pictures of celebrities than have visited the club over the years. Watching Jack Nicolson on his black glasses seating there with a huge smile in his face felt somehow...

Clubs do not look much different to my eyes from city to city or from country to country. People tend to enjoy themselves in similar ways around the globe. However, the people themselves as personalities make a huge difference. And on that night, when we got acquainted with Alysson and her friend Kim, it was clear that we were not in LA anymore. I danced for the first time in my life for 3 straight hours (wearing Stayros' shoes). Alysson marked our whole trip and became something like a myth: a figure that symbolizes something greater than what the person really is. We always refer back to her since that night in the China Club...


Saturday was the most intense derivative I've ever experienced: Right after the Broadway show, right after the high class society of NY and the ladies is dresses and stuff, we grabed the subway and headed for Remi, following the king suggestion of our street friend. Remi combined the best of both worlds: the american detail on the environment and the looks, and the greek talent on partying. The place looked like a club, and we thought it would be empty. Sure enough, around 1:30am, right after the last parties arrived , 3 singers came out to sing live; the stage became packed with people, and the fun started skyrocketing.

Although I don't dance on greek music, it was a pleasure to watch from our slightly higher up table. Stayros and Costas emptied a John Daniels (ref: Scent of a Woman) while me and Dimitri just got a Martini. We left the place at 5am, being lighter by $430. A greek tarifas (aka taxi driver) drove us back to Manhattan on that night. It was a pleasure to watch him talking in the radio with his strongly greek way about NYC streets. So surreal...


First thing on Sunday afternoon (remember: we were supposed to go to Dali on that morning; of course, returning from Remi at 5am didn't help much :-) )we went to a BoA ATM to get cash! We got $100 each, money that were spent 100% a few hours later on the same exact night...

After a short walk through Little Italy, Chinatown and Brooklyn, we landed on Greenwich village right next to NYU (McDougal+Bleecker). We sat down and had a drink at this Peculiar Pub (that's the name!) where we celebrated the European Championship we had just won a few hours earlier. A couple in love had their songs at the jukebox all the time, so the mood was somewhat romantic. At the end, we left our mark there:

Finally, we started asking random people in the streets and taxi drivers about strip clubs, Surprisingly, none knew his stuff well enough to help us. So we just went to the one most visible to us, The Lace on Times Square (nycdolls was closed!). On the way out a limo driver offered us a ride home for $40. $10 each was not going to stop us from fulfiling that small dream: a limo ride.

This limo was bigger than the hostel room we were staying! On top of that, I appreciated and understood for the first time one of the Al Pacino moves in Scent of a Woman: In order to find a girl to spend the night with, he asked the Limo driver. Well, our limo driver (who turned out to be greek american, Alekos) once we asked him for these kind of places he immediately knew all the freaking details and prices and places around! That's because limo drivers mostly work in such places, picking up people from there (it's insane to drive your own car in Manhattan, and you can't have your precious girl in a public taxi; hence, Limo is the solution). Alekos knew all about strip clubs and similar places, he can arrange for girls in the rides (it's $100 to go to the airport; an extra $200 to have 2 girls along the way for "company"). Now that we have his contact, maybe we'll gat the 50% discounts that he gets in these places.

Al Pacino was so much right...

Close encounters of the 3rd kind *

Who? Themos, Stayros, Dimitri, CostasZ
Where? Hoem Theatre

This movie is overrated in my opinion... It may have been good 30 years ago when it first came out, but I wouldn't call it a classic in any way. 50% of our audience fell asleep during the show!

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Tomlison Holman eXperience

6 years ago, back in 1999, as I was building my first website I wrote an article on audio and video systems, and in the last paragraph I was explaining THX, a set of standards for building movie theaters: Tomlison Holman eXperience. I couldn't have imagined back then that I would meet Dr Tom Holman myself here in USC.

I knew he is a professor in the film school here, and so it happened that for the celebration of 125 years of USC they setup an audio demo in one of our labs here. The demo was for the 10.2 surround system that Tom Holman and some other people here in USC are trying to introduce as the new standard in music.He reminded me of Doug Button from JBL: a former engineer that know his stuff really well and now he is doing more marketing than engineering. This is also the guy that established in 1987 that 5.1 should be the audio standard for home theaters.

He was explaining how a technology evolves: 5.1 is around since the 1970s, was established officially in the 1980s, was introduced in DVDs in the 1990s, and is in most homes in the 2000s. It took 30 years for the technology to reach the mainstream public, and that is happening again now with 10.2 . The extra speakers are: 1 for the back surround (directly behind the audience), 1 wide left and wide right (which are placed more right and more left respectively from the original left and right) and also high left and high right, which are placed hogh above the left and right ones looking downwards. The .2 is the extra subwoofer (left sub and right sub). Holman was saying that .1 in 5.1 represents the percentage of sound that comes out of the sub, and that it should be 5.05 if it weren't for the marketing of the standard :-)

Another story he told us was that this lab was planned to be build at the 2nd floor of RTH building, but the ceiling in the building was scheduled to be 4 feet lower that what hey needed. However they talked to the dean of engineering Max Nikias who sadi that it was ok to raise the ceiling in order to have the perfect home for the lab. Since then, the 2nd floor in RTH is 4 feet higher than the rest of the floors in the same building!

Finally he described his experience in a very nice theater in Memphis, where he asked the owner to set the loudness a little bit over what they usually did. Although Holman enjoyed the movie ( I think so too, that the volume in movie theaters is not as loud as I want it to be), there were about 10 complaints from the audience that the movie was too loud! That proves that the loudness is not the issue for most people to optimally enjoy the films.

I hope he manages to start teaching this class he was mentioning here in USC...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Citizen Kane * *

Who? Themos, Rajay
Where? Home Theater

Citizen kane is supposed to be one of the best movies ever filmed. It starts with a word, probably the most famous word in all of cinema history, Rosebud, and it ends with the same word. The film focuses on the life of Charlie Foster Kane, a (fictional) newspaper editor that is an american icon. Orson Welles brilliantly sets up a series of flashbacks in order to look at Kane's life and figure out what Rosebud really is. This is certainly not the best movie ever, but it is very good considering that it was filmed in 1941 and it still echoes to an engineering student today in 2005. It reminded me how back then the press was the only way to provide information to the people - hence the huge power it gained. Thankfull today there is a variety of media that people can select from and they can decide on who and what to believe.


Friday: Movie at the Home Theater (The Jacket... baah), and then Rajay joined me, Dimitri, Costa and Stayro for a game of Scotland yard. I have this board game for 16 years, and I hadn't played it since 1996. But, it got revived here in Los Angeles!

Saturday: I caught up with my tv shows for this season, plus I did some grading for my TA. It feels so nice and quiet when you stay home on a Saturday night. I just prefer going out on weekdays better.

Sunday: After a very lazy morning/afternoon, I went with Frankie and Dimitri for dinner and movie ( I love this combination!). Macaroni Grill was a pretty good place, ans Serenity proved to be a decent sci-fi adventure. Arclight's JBL speakers at full power baby!

From Dali to Remi: Broadway

Watching a Broadway show for the first time is like never having watched a Hollywood movie ever and then see one for the first time. We went to watch the only show that I even knew, The Phantom of the Opera. Having seen the first 30minutes of Joel Schumacher's movie, I was thinking it would suck because there is no way they can depict all these things they show in the movie since they only have a finite amount of space and equipment. And boy, was I wrong or what!

I was used to theatrical plays that only change the sets once or twice during the whole show. But Broadway is really high-class expensive productions. Minutes after the show starts, the famous chandelier comes to life, and from being abandoned in the middle of the stage it gets alive, the lights turn on, and it is slowly moved towards the ceiling of the Majestic, where it stays there until it is to be dropped again from the Phantom. Despite the poor story, I it is hard not to be astonished from the incredible sets and costumes they used. For the first time I felt a new feeling: the feeling of watching a movie live. The stage was transforming so fast and so realistically, with huge pieces ranging from elephants to enormous staircases and bridges coming in and out like feathers.

The singing was perfect to my ears. Although I cannot tell a good singer myself, I could definately tell that the acoustics were flawless. Although the actors had tiny microphones and their voices were reproduced from the speakers, it never felt odd or out of place or coming from the wrong direction.

I also realized that these shows cannot be reproduced anywhere else other than in their dedicated theater. We are talking about dozens of enormously-sized equipment, hundreds of costumes, complicated machinery that moves thinsg on, under and over the stage, plus a live orchestra that has to be perfectly synchronized to the actors.

Finally, I realized how perfect would it be to live in New York. As Dimitri pointed out, we booked tickets 2 weeks in advance, paid $100 each, and got decently good seats. We would have to book 3 months ahead to get the really good ones. But, if we were living in NYC, you don't care. You just book months in advance for the good seats, and then you have all the luxury of the world to make it to the theater for a couple of hours on that night. When you are planning vacation there, you usually won't risk booking so early.

This was my first time in Broadway but it certainly won't be the last one. It's just something you can only experience there, in the heart of New York City.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Serenity * * *

Who? Themos, Frankie, Dimitri
Where? Arclight Hollywood

Serenity is finally a different approach to space opera. It is alive, funny, vibrant and meaningful. it's the first movie after the Matrix and Star Wars recently that provides a universe where many many stories can be written for. It also introduces several unique characters, such as the miracle-girl River (who is absolutely stunning in this film) and Mr. Universe, played by Numb3rs' David Krumholtz. The movie is not a masterpiece, nor does it have groundbreaking visuals, yet it exhibits a balance of ingredients not usually found in modern sci-fi films.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The new tv season

I finally caught up with my shows today. After watching 6 season premieres, I feel that the most intriguing show is still Desperate Housewives. Right when I thought that I've seen all the revelations and secrets at the season finale last May, this episode was truly jaw-dropping... I just couldn't believe what was I seeing. Well done, folks at ABC.

On the rest of the shows, Bruckheimer's E-Ring includes many cliches but it looks very promising - the final moments of the pilot were very well crafted. In Numb3rs they increased their budget (yey!), plus the added Navi Rawat in the permanent cast (double yey!), so it can only get better from now on. CSI:NY is steadily becoming a classic after the great stories they keep coming up with.

Happy tv season!

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle * * *

Who? Themos, Rajay, Tatsuzo
Where? Home Theater

That was a much funnier movie that what I initially expected. Not only there are good laughs, but despite some silly moments the movie deals with lots of different cultures and stereotypes in the US without trying to be politically correct. I found myself thinking many times "yeap, that's the way it is". On top of that in the movie also participates a small gem, one of my favorites: the hot Paula Garces. And of course, after some struggling I also recognised David Krumholtz from Num3rs!

Just sit back and enjoy the ride...

The Jacket *

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

Baah... Nothing original here. Other than Keira Knightley there was no interest for me in that movie. Why and how does he survive the deaths? Why is he helping her? Plus the events don't make sense the way they happen, Back to the Future is light years ahead on that aspect. This movie has too few things in a long time.

From Dali to Remi: The key to sex

The Greeks have for some time now the solution to getting to know new girls. It works only outside Greece, requires a little practice first, but at the end it brings results. It's called κομπολόι, or Worry Beads, and it's an item that serves no individual purpose. It was conceived it Greece because people there have had so much free time that they didn't know what to occupy themselves with, so this guy keeps the hands busy.

During the 72 hour trip to NY, it attracted women in different ways. Here are some:

- When walking into BoA on Times Square, a greek-american girl from Pennsylvania immediately recongised it. She didn't look greek at all, as she was tall, thin, blonde, with perfect eyes. Plus she had 2 friends of her for company that we were introduced to. Too bad they were only 18, so when we asked them what were they planning to do later that day they said "We'll go for an ice-cream". Daaaaah.

- Later on the same night into China Club, Stayros was approached by a New York girl and her beautiful friend Alysson because they were curious to know what that thing was. We kept company to the girls all night, and their dancing marked the beggining of a great 48 hour ride that followed. Alysson stole everyone's heart on that night...

- Strike #3 happened the next morning, while taking "breakfast" (if you can call breakfast a bagel and a fruit) at the packed hostel lounge. This Italian lady recognized the κομπολόι and sat next to us, were we had a good talk about our plans and how she got there.

- Next day, in the subway it was my turn to accidentally engage into communication with an unknown girl. As I was playing the κομπολόι and I was flipping it around, it flew off my hands and landed on the book that the girl next to me was reading at the moment. She couldn't hold her laughs, and neither could we. Lucky? Yes, but you need to create your own luck first.

I'm getting better and better at playing the κομπολόι recently. Who knows what else may come up...