Wednesday, November 30, 2005

March of the Penguins * * 1/2

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The new Firefox

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

Las Vegas, Round 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Syriana * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? AMC @ Santa Monica

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

Friday, November 25, 2005

Summer Movies

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

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

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

23" is too big!

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

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

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

LOTR: The Two Towers * * *

Who? Themos, Erdem
Where? Home Theater

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

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

Thanksgiving 2005

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

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

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

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

Walk the line * * *

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? Arclight Hollywood

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Better late that never...

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2005

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Einstein Lectures at Caltech

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Simple equation II


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

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

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

Eagles @ Staples Center

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2005


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

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

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



The prize:

Panoramic from the inside of Staples Center:

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

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? The Grove

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ed Wood *

Who? Themos, Dimitris
Where? Home Theater

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

Simple equation

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Godel, Escher, Bach: 7 months later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 07, 2005

Saw II * * *

Who? Themos, Frankie, Dimitri
Where? Arclight Dome

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

Returner * + Kung Fu Hustle * * *

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

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

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

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chicken Little * * * [Digital, 3D]

Who? Themos, Dimitri
Where? El Capitan

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

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

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Aviator * * * *

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

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

The 8MB Jessica Alba picture

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

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

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

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Θεοπούλα και ξερό ψωμί

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