Thursday, April 27, 2006

Man and (his) Machines

Ever since I got a personal computer back in 1995, I always had a special connection with it. It's not just a tool for me, but rather an extension of myself. When it runs smoothly, I'm happy. When there are problems, I feel like I am sick until I fix it. I always customize my operating system to my needs and likes. In fact, I don't think you can find any 2 computers in the world with exactly the same in hardware, software and customizations. Hence a computer reflects one's personality.

I use regularly 3 computers: my desktop, my laptop, and the computer in the office. Since I feel so human about these machines, I always used to call the hard drives names of real persons.

My main computer at home is called Timaras. It is a P4@2.8Ghz with a 17" monitor. Inside there are 3 hard drives. They are named Themos, Kallos, and Big Guy. The Big Guy is 250GB big, and hosts about 200GB of data, mostly photos, videos and tv shows. Timaras is also my nickname (Stems from Tim, which comes from Efthymios, the way my first English teacher called me), the name I use almost everywhere online (from yahoo to google and forums). I even use Timaras when I play games, for example in Civilization I am Emperor Timaras, my city is Timaroupolis and my people the Timarioi.

The computer in my office is stronger. It is a P4@3.0GHz with a 23" flat monitor. Hence its name is properly Timararas. It also has an external hard drive attached to it, 300GB big. I named it Huge Guy accordingly.

My laptop is the weakest link: it's a Pentium M at 1.6GHz, with a 15.4" monitor and a 100GB hard drive. I named it Timaroulis since it cannot compete with his big desktop brothers.

Finally I have a 1GB small USB flash drive that is attached to my keychain. I use it to transfer files between the brothers (it's faster than wireless in fact!). I have named it Timaraki, since it's the smallest piece of equipment I have.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Steve Jobs on the Stanford Commencement Ceremony

Last year in Stanford's graduation ceremony Steve Jobs, and founder and CEO of Apple and Pixar gave one of the best talks I have ever listened to. He talks about his own life, his companies, macintosh and windows. He is the best example I think of what a man can do when he pursues something he really likes. If everyone was doing and working on exactly what he or she really loved, the world would be a much better place.

Πάσχα Ελλήνων

Και αυτό το Πάσχα μαζευτήκαμε στο υπέροχο πάρκο του Anaheim, δίπλα στην Disneyland. Ήλιο δεν είχαμε πολύ αλλά είχαμε πολύ καλή παρέα:

Η Ελένη (δεξιά) και η Αλεξάνδρα (αριστερά) ήρθαν από Ελλάδα για 2 εβδομάδες περίπου για διακοπές. Κλέψανε την παρασταση!

Κατά τα άλλα ήταν μια τυπική μάζωξη:

(Ο καημένος ο Γιώργος σηκώνει το χέρι διότι το έχει χτυπήσει άσχημα και έχει κάτι σιδεροκατασκευές πάνω του που πρέπει να μένουν όρθιες συνεχώς).

Artistic φώτο: δείτε τις ανακλάσεις στα γυαλιά της Αλεξάνδρας... Η Ντόρα φαίνεται εις διπλούν καθώς μια θείτσα εξιστορεί παλιές περιπέτειες στους νέους.

Μια χαρούμενη αυθόρμητη φώτο:

Μια ομαδική φώτο:

Και ένα μικρό βίντεο απόσπασμα από το "making off":

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More on the Da Vinci Code Google Quest

After the first 4 days the puzzles are fairly simple. I surely expect them to get harder and harder as we progress, since for now I think they just want to draw more people in rather than get them out. The interesting thing is this: on May 11th the 24 puzzles will end, and 10,000 people will advance to the final phase. Who determines these 10,000 people, especially since answers can be found online on the same day?

On the official rules page they say that once all puzzles are completed, you have to fill a form. The submittal of the form will be time stamped, and this is the time that will determine the finalists. This essentially means: it doesn't matter really whether you do the first 23 puzzles on your own or with help. All you have to do is make sure you get the solutions to these puzzles somehow, and then be the fastest person to solve the final 24th puzzle, since after completing it you will immediately submit the form. The 24th puzzle is going to determine the 10,000 finalists.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My home page

Yesterday I changed my home page for the first time after 6(!) years. Instead of the classic google first page, I switched to the personalized version. How much can one tell from a home page for that person?

The first iPod...

It is not just the introduction presentation of the mp3 player that changed the world of music forever; it is also a first class lesson on how to do a proper presentation. Steve Jobs is and will be the Feynman of digital technologies.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Da Vinci Code puzzle quest

Google set off to a series of puzzles that will be gradually released over the next 24 days (just before the release of the movie). It looks very interesting to me, and I already started solving... I don't think I'll make it all the way to the end, but I think it will be fun. The first puzzle was fairly easy.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Santa Monica Pier

A couple of days ago it was a beautiful sky; it was also a full moon; so we run to the beach to capture the sunset and the moon. It was the first time I fully used the camera tripod I purchased last March in Brookhaven. Here are the results.

First off, the sunset:

Almost all digital cameras have very poor dynamic range. It is impossible to capture all variations of lighting in a scene, unlike the human eye which can see and amazing 8 orders of magnitude in intensity. Hence it the above photograph the sum and sjy is very bright and the sand and beach very dark.

As the sun was setting, on the opposite side the moon was rising:

Here's what happens when you let the camera shutter open for several seconds while the wheel ir rotating:

Here's a similar picture, but with some camera filters on, so that we get a retro feeling:

Finally, the whole landscape after the darkness fell some more and with lots of seconds of exposure... notice how the seas waves and lights are smoothed out...

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in downtown LA just a few years ago, and it s true jewel for the city and its people. I never bothered to go there until Dimitris said that his advisor had bought 4 tickets for a concert that at the end he couldn't attend; so we got Dora and Belma and went with this tickets for free.

I have to say that it is the most beautifully architectured building I've even stepped into; it catches your eye from the first moment you see it across the street: a stainless steel structure that does not have a single straight line on it. Dora was talking to some architecture students back in Athens, and they were more than impressed when she said to them she has seen the building: they study it thoroughly during their university studies.

The interior was even more enthralling and inspiring:

When I first walked into the hall I thought that this place couldn't exist; it seemed abstract and weird as if it was coming out of someone's dream. The Organ looked like something exploded on the back wall, however at the same time it looked liek the ever-changing sea which you can watch and watch but it is never the same. The ceiling is just amazing: it looks like it is going to fall any moment. It is made from wood, it is curved, and includes holes and spacings so that microphones and lights can come out on demand. Again, to me the most wonderfull thing in the desing is that it does not include a single straight line: everything curves and dissapears smoothly to the background. The walls are curved, the floor is curved, the seats are curved.

And now on to the music. Ah, the music! As my obsession with Mozart kept growing after I watched Amadeus, I was very eager to listen to classical music in a hall with proper acoustics. ( I also bought the director's cut remastered dvd of Amadeus - huge improvement in quality!). It was interesting when the orchestra was preparing, when everything was out of tune and random. And then, as Night on the Bald Mountain started, I was crying; I don't know exactly why. I guess it was a beautiful piece, on a beautiful room, and I hadn't heard such music in a concert hall in a very long time.

My favorite was the last part though. A very tough to practice piece, Stavinsky's Firebird. Sometimes it felt weird, but overall it is an astonishing piece because it doesn't have a single theme nor tempo nor structure; it's like a mixture of different pieces together. I had a few tears too listening to that piece, escpecially close to the end. It was the first time that I went to a performance and I trule wanted to give them a standing ovation. And I did.

When I went back home I listened to Firebird again. It wasn't the same piece. The poor rip, the mp3 encoding (even at 192Kbps), the soundcard, the PC speakers, you just don't get the same emotions out like that; it has to be perfect in order to fully appreciate it.

Listening to classical music isn't easy. Not anyone can appreciate a good piece right away, in the same manner that one cannot appreciate what the square root of 2 is unless you have some background in math. I think I liked so much the music now (rather than 10 years ago) was that my own training on classical music has improved a bit: Watching Amadeus, reading Godel, Escher, Bach, and investigating Bach's playful tricks from online sources. I still have a long way to go, but I will try to improve...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ελληνικά μπλογκ.

Υπάρχουν περίπου 900 ελληνικά μπλογκ στο ίντερνετ, άλλα πιο ενδιαφέροντα και άλλα λιγότερο. Περίπου τα μισά από τα μπλογκ που διαβάζω καθημερινά είναι ελληνικά.

  1. Σπιτάκι
    Το Σπιτάκι είναι το αγαπημένο μου για πολλούς λόγους. Πρώτον, έχει παρεϊστικη αύρα. Έχει φτιαχτεί από μια παρέα παιδιών, (εκ των οποίων έχω γνωρίσει τον Κωστή στο Berkeley), και το κάνουν γιατί τους αρέσει. Δεύτερον, τα post τους είναι post-processed: Αντί απλως να αναφέρουν κάτι που συνέβη ή κάτι που είδαν, πάντα υπάρχει ένα χρήσιμο σχόλιο πάνω στο θέμα έτσι ώστε ο αναγνώστης να μαθαίνει κάτι καινούργιο, και όχι απλώς να βρίσκει μια είδηση. Τρίτον, γράφουνε αρκετά συχνά, τόσο από Ελλάδα όσο και από Αμερική, και με ύφος ενδιαφέρον χωρίς να χάνουν το χρόνο μας. Τέταρτον, έχουνε φοιτητικό ύφος, κάτι το οποίο ταιριάζει καλύτερα στα γούστα μου.

  2. Νίκος Δήμου
    Διάβαζα τον Δήμου στο RAM από παλιά, και από τότε που ήρθα στην Αμερική μέσω της σελίδας του, και κυρίως την κατηγορία "Επίκαιρα". Εδώ και 2 μήνες περίπου που ξεκίνησε το μπλόγκ του όμως έχει πραγματικά απογειωθεί: έχει γύρω στις 200,000 επισκέψεις, κυρίως επειδή (συγγραφέας γαρ) γράφει καθημερινά και σε βάθος. Θίγει πάρα πολλά θέματα, μιλώντας με ουσία και χωρίς να φλυαρεί. Στολίζει όλα του σχεδόν τα post με φωτογραφίες. Επίσης παρακολουθεί και συμμετέχει ενεργά στα σχόλια του εκάστοτε μέρας (τυπικά 100-500). Τον θάβουνε και τον βρίζουνε πολλοί, αλλά οι θαυμαστές είναι αρκετά περισσότεροι.

    Αρκετά δημοφιλές ελληνικό μπλογκ, αλλά στερείται ουσίας και βάθους. Ενημερώνεται πολλές φορές καθημερινά, γεγονός στο οποίο οφείλεται η δημοτικότητά του, αλλά δεν περιέχει και τίποτα σπουδαίο:κυρίως ειδήσεις και προϊόντα από το ιντερνετ, χωρίς περαιτέρω σχολιασμό.

  4. Καράμπελας
    Είναι γεγονός! Ο μόνος από το έτος μου στο ΕΜΠ (πλην εμού) που γνωρίζω ότι ΕΠΙΤΕΛΟΥΣ ξεκίνησε δικό του μπλογκ. Αν εμείς οι ηλεκτρολόγοι δεν τα κάνουμε αυτά, τότε ποιός? Ελπίζω και οι άλλοι του έτους να φανερωθούνε πριν γεράσουμε όλοι.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Although I have been complaining about Lost in the past, I have to admit that in the past few episodes it is getting more and more interesting. After Lockdown, where the above picture appeared, to my mind it is approaching the X-Files as the tv series with a nice complicated mythology that moves on as the series progresses. I think the best is yet to come... Now it is the only show that I watch in real time as it airs every Wednesday night.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A small dream comes true

After several months of thinking, planning and discussing, we finally booked our next big trip: Me, Stavros, Dimitris, and Ilias, are all going to visit Miami and the Carribean. 2 days in Miami (bottom right tip of Florida), 1 day at the Florida Keys, the chain of islands that extends very south and which are connected with freeways (yellow line going low left from Miami), and then 3 days at the Bahamas, which are just 45min away from Miami. There we are going to visit 2 islands, the capital Nassau and the remote Grand Bahama.

We said initially to try and keep the cost down below $1000 total, but by adding our second island and getting a car at every location we are now each $810 lighter. About $2500 changed hands over the 5 hour long meeting in order to book flights, hotels, car rentals and select the proper locations. Our credit cards were charged in order to pay the travel websites; then we electronically exchanged money between our bank accounts in a matter of seconds to balance the debts; then our bank accounts electronically paid the credit cards. Not even a single paper bill was used. It just amazes me how a few transistors changed values from 0 to 1 and vice versa on some computers somewhere, and this is translated to a change in actual money.

I don't think we have realized it yet in what places we are going... it's like we are planning a nearby trip to a common place. We fly out on May 19th, the day the Da Vinci Code movie premieres...