Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Airport Blog

Live from Heathrow airport, London: 21:17, Wednesday, July 26th 2006ad.
(It's 5 british pounds per 1 hour of wireless internet - 10 for 24 hours).

My flight from LAX to London was delayed for 3 hours. As soon as I realize it I checked in and meanwhile I called Stavros to come to the airport to get me back from the airport to my house (it's only 20 minutes away). I go back and watch the Rain Man.

(Regarding the movie: Dustin Hoffman's character is based on the real person named Kim Peek who lives in Utah. He reads a single page in 10 seconds (normally we need 3 minutes). He reads the left page of a book with his left eye, the right page with his right eye simultaneously. It was good , but not great since I knew what to expect after watching the documentary about him, the real rain man).

I will digress for one more paragraph. An interesting chain reaction of events was spawned when Stavros said we should to C&O Trattoria for pasta. When Kostas called the next day, I told him we should go on Friday. So we did. During the discussion he mentioned a few documentaries he downloaded from Greek TV regarding Einstein and science.
The next day I try to find these documentaries online. There are not there; however the same keyword search yields another documentary show as a result, something like Einstein and geniuses in general. I download an watch that instead. In there they show a clip on Kim Peek, which I find out that was the real character in the movie. Since I had the movie in my collection I decided to watch it home in my spare time during the delay. But none of this would have heppened if we hadn't gone out to C&O. Interesting?

The flight itself from LA to London was my best cross-continental flight ever. Less than half of the flight was full (it was late flight, and also many people were transfered to Virgin flights to London so that they can make their connections). As a result, the middle row that consists of 4 seats was ALL MINE! I lifted the between the seats and spread out into full extent. This was better than business class, and maybe better than first class. I slept like in my bed for over 5 hours, watched a little of movies, and I didn't even realize it. In front of there was a german family that included at least 3 astoningly beautiful, tall, blonde daughters. Wow.

I wouldn't miss my connection because it was 5.5 hours apart (I missed the museum, though). So it actually seemed to be working out better since from these 5.5 hours, I spend essentially the 3 of them at home watching the movie!

But that was half the story only. As soon as I reach the terminal, it is only 15 minutes before the light to Athens and the gate is not yet announced! I hear greek from a yould woman and her mother: They said that there would be a 2 hour delay. Hmffff. So I decided to purchase some internet time to kill my real time.

I also met a greek-american guy from LA, we were in the same flight from LA and he was also flying with me in the next flight. I also met Τζεβελέκο, aguy we were in NTUA together as undergrads. He is now working on his phd in Oxford university. He is now behind me, trying to sleep while listening to some music.

I can hear greek all over the place now. All delayed. It's kind of funny: they seem always anxious, shouting, trying to figure out why the flight was delayed and for how long (as if it matters really).

Terminal 1 in Heathrow is just amazing. There is no way you can ever get bored. So many shops, restaurants, internets, people. I don't mind waiting here for some time, especially after I bought this voltage converter and I can plug in my laptop to the power!

I've become very experienced in finding things to do during a flight. Here is what I have in my bag:

- Laptop, loaded with Mp3s, tv shows, games.
- Gameboy, + 4 games (2x legend of zelda, 2x Super Mario)
- Sudoku puzzles
- 2 books: Mathematical Fallacies and Paradoxes, and The equation that couldn't be solved.
- 3 magazines: Wired, Scientific American, Discover

This is enough stuff to keep you busy while you fly around the world.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Final post...

... before I leave for Greece for two weeks this summer. I will have a 5 and a half our stopover at London this time, flying with British Airways. I discovered by quivkly looking through the guide that there is an interesting modern art museum, Tate Modern. It is kind of far, and closes 2.5 hours after I land, so I hope I will have time to see it before it closes! They feature works of Magritte...

It reminds me of the 5 hour stopover we had at Rome when I school flew to Spain, probably the best trip I've ever been. We spent a pure 45 minutes running around Rome like crazy trying to see everything, and still be back on time for our flight. I had a video camera with me at the time, and I edited the footage later to create a short clip of our adventures there.

Karabelas visited Rome again sometime later, but he honestly said that our 45 minutes there were still a best time... I never went back myself, and maybe I don't want to go so that I don't spoil the memories. This video reminds me of these memories...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mortal Combat Math

I had too much chocolate soymilk the other day (I don't drink alchohol) while I was working on the paper I have to write for the conference... this is the outcome.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Megapost: Chicago

Almost 9 months ago, as soon as we were done with the last conference, I didn't know when or where exactly I would visit Miami and Chicago, but I could feel it it would happen. As it turned out, I visited Miami and Chicago within a year. What are the impressions from Chicago?

Overall, better than what I was expecting. It is a mini New York, maybe more nice it some aspects since it is smaller and more carefully grown. Clean streets, skyscrapers, endless park by the lake, young people, and of course very cold weather most of the year. Fortunately in July it was just fine.


Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper. Although New York perfected it (and afterwards many cities around the world), the original skyscrapers were built in Chicago, and they still have today many beautiful buildings.

This is the Sears Tower, tallest building in North America and until recently in the world:

We climbed up to the 103rd floor, and the view from the windows was spectacular during the sunset:

As you can see, the presence of the water makes a huge difference in the feeling you get when you admire all these structures.

Here are some more pictures from downtown Chicago. The merging of old and new:

A beautiful spot on Michigan Avenue, right by the river:

Condominiums are a very huge market right now in Chicago. If you are to buy an apartment anywhere in the US, I think this is the right spot at the moment. New skyscrapers are being build by the lakefront and around downtown like crazy, and they are relatively cheap ($1M per condo, or $4,000 per m^2). In a few years they will run out of locations and the prices can only go up afterwards.

Art, Art, Art...

Another great thing about Chicago is the art museum they have. They have the best impressionist painting collection outside France. Erdem couldn't believe what he was seeing and he insisted that the painting we were seeing were fakes :-)

They have 4-5 halls full of impressionists. Van Gogh, Monet, Gaugin, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat, all the stars were there. For example, Van Gogh bedroom painting (there are 3 versions: the other 2 are in Rotterdam and France):

Or even his own self-portrait:

Also, Seurat's masterpiece on pointilism (the paintings comprises of tiny little dots... it is impossible to appreciate it properly unless you see it closely):

We also saw Monet's haystack paintings:

I never appreciated paintings, when I was young. I thought it was a very boring thing. In the past few years, after going to several museums around the world, I came to realize that that happened because in Greece we don't get to see these painting and train our minds. It takes time to educate yourself in art, in the same way that you cannot appreciate a random paper of technical book just by looking at it for the first time. You just don't have the background to understand it, and the same holds true for art: you need to train yourself, you need to see paintings for some time before you realize what is going on. But when that heppens, it opens up whole new horizons. Especially when you parallel these paintings (18th-19th century) with the science achievements at the time, you get a much more complete picture of humanity at those times.

Myself I have realized that my favorite period of art is Modern Art (20th century). I find it much more exciting that anything else. For example, I loved this:

Here's a question for you: did someone drop the lightbulbs on the floor, or is it art?

(Is it the same work if you move a bulb a bit?)

My favorite artist has come to be Rene Magritte. They had a couple of his paintings in the museum, such as the weird sunset:

... or better, the 3D-feel train coming out of the fireplace:

Magritte is a very smart painter. His works are related to mathematics and they are such that they bend rules of logic in a very weird way; they mix reality with falsity. The best example is his famous Ceci n'est pas une pipe painting, which I had the joy to discover at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with Stavros about 2 weeks ago:

This painting is the picture equivalent of the infamous Liar Paradox: This Statement is False. It is ultimately related to Godel's incompleteness theorem, which I tried to explain in simple words at an earlier post, after reading Godel, Escher, Bach.

What about this:

Very funny picture. It is actually outside the museum of conteporary art, which I didn't like much (not at all actually). It looks very real, even from a short distance.

Finally, the museum hosts some other famous works, such as:

They can both be found at he opening credits of Desperate Housewives!

To conclude the art section: Chicago is famous for one of the greatest pieces of art ever to see this planet...

Yes, it is the home of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever to set foot on this planet. We had to go there and pay our dues to Jordan, for all the great monents that has offered us.

The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.

Millenium Park

This park was to open in the year 2000; however for various reasons in opened only 2 years ago. It is the best park I have ever been it terms of originality and blending with the city. It is between the downtown and the lake. The most amazing thing we saw was this:

It seems like another concert hall. But what left us all jaw-dropped was the full field of view:

It is the last free open concert hall in the US. People just walk by tand sit down on the grass and listen to performances, classical musc, jazz, opera, all kinds of music. And it is right in the middle of the park in the middle of the city, with the skyscrapers in the background. The feeling was very unique, since I have never seen anything close to this in any city (not even in the cultural european ones). Chicago cares about art and they are not afraid to show it - that was my single favorite fact about this city.

Just by walking around the park you fins other interesting things. For example, the bean:

It is like a mirror shaped in a weird way. Be approaching it you can see all kinds of cool reflections of yourself and the background city.

This is what happens if you go directly below and take a picture with flash:

The flash light reflects on specific equedistant points and reaches back to the camera; it creates a very cool effect.

Further down you find the fountain at the opening credits of Married with Children:

Here's another weird sight:

Notice that the child is real, not a part of the waterfall brick glass wall that alternates images of 1,000 chicagoans.

Finally, the first day we visited Chicago we captured this weird picture of sun, cloud and steel:

During the last day of staying there we did not book a hotel since our flight was at 6am. We got to the airport at 3am, at which point we saw this:

Total emptyness. The desks open at 4am, and the security checkpoints at 4:30am. So we spend one hour in one of the most busy airports in the world - totally empty.

Will I ever visit Chicago again? Maybe, but it won't be my priority. 2-3 days are enough to see everything important since the downtown may be dense but it is walkable or bikeable. It may be interesting to visit in the winter just to see how bad it is. On the other hand, it is a city I feel I could live in. Not huge, good mass transit system, lots of parks, friendly people, great art influences (Broadway shows, art exhibitions, music concerts). Plus, the condos in the skyscrapers are a great deal: new, comfy, with awesome views, inside or close downtown. No other city I think has so much living space in its downtown (for example, in NY and LA downtown is mostly for businesses).


After-conference thoughts

The conference was great. The resort we were staying was a former Playboy club (according to the stories of the locals working there). Huge rooms, nice views, golf courses, lakes, rivers, fountains... Free lunch and breakfast, many coffee breaks... And the best thing was: great science! Only about 200 people participate, but they consist the creme de la creme of our field of advanced accelerators. Most of the talks were interesting, and I understood vastly more stuff than in the previous meeting 2 years ago (which also was my first conference).

I gave a 20 minute presentation of our experiment. They seemed to like it, they asked questions, and I wasn't nervous at all although it was my very first conference presentation (maybe it had to do with the fact that I knew half the people in the audience - about 20 total).

I also presented the work as a poster. I was hungry so I had to explain things while I was eating a marvelous cookie with chocolate pleasure.

During lunch breaks we used to go with Erdem and Reza at the lakefront, found a few chairs under the tree and just lie down there while listening to music. I even slept a few times, it was good stuff.

The banquet was hosted at the Yerkes Observatory - just 10 minutes from Lake Geneva. They have the largest refracting telescope in the world. It is outdated with recent standards (it's two generations old) but their director still uses it to compare images from nebula now and 80 years ago - not many facilities have data to do such comparisons. Here is a picture of the PhD students of our group, with the dome in the background:

Here is a small demo that one of the people there gave us: he can rotate the dome at will and also lift the floor (to adjust to the height of the instruments used each time).

Finally, our friend explains the biggest discovery in the history of the observatory: that our galaxy has spiral arms!

I'll be back with a megapost on Chicago... it is a beautiful city that wants to be photographed. I had to do a lot of work, and we did have a good time there with Erdem. More later...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

3D Pizzza

It's 3am. I can't sleep. Reason: The deep dish pizza we ate. In Chicago they have their own variation of pizza, it differs on the fact that the crust has "walls" on the perimeter, which allows a lot of ingredients to be stuffed inside. It is a truly 3D pizza.

Greece, Turkey, China, Iran. The surface area is not huge but it has a big volume. The waitress couldn't believe us when we ordered 4 medium sized pizzas. A guy that was eating nearby, on his way out he stopped, stared at our table and started laughing! "I can't believe that you guys got so much pizza! I have to call my wife". A few seconds later he comes with his wife: "Honey, you've got to see this! Look at how much pizza these guys ordered!"

Even Xiaodong, a poor Chinaman, couldn't believe in his eyes how much cheese was stuffed in there:

Meanwhile the conference is going just fine, but it requires a lot of hard work to prepare correctly for our presentations, as you can see in the following video:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Flight Blog #2: Los Angeles to Chicago

Sunday, July 9th 2006ad

(Battery Level: 100%)

The funniest moment of the televised broadcast of this World Cup happened just after the final, and it could only be seen on American TV. By far.

The penalty kicks have just ended. The Italians have won after 120 minutes of match time and the penalty shootout. Zidane chose the most inappropriate way to end his career in France, being red carded off the game. It will be discussed by everyone in the next few days. The whole world is watching Camoranesi’s hair tail being cut off in the middle of the stadium, and everyone awaits for the cup ceremony. Fans around the world, especially Italians, are just going crazy.

The TV Station (ABC) breaks for commercials. Then we are connected live not to Germany and the world cup, but to some god-forsaken Golf Tournament. The commentator says” We also had an exciting finish here with John Doe in the last ball”. Then they show a small clip of a guy hitting a ball from 3 feet away and putting the ball into the hole. He raises his hand to celebrate his achievement. “Now let’s go back to Germany”.

How lame is THAT? I have no words to describe how much I laughed when I saw that. I’ll try to post the video here later of our reactions during that moment.

(Battery level: 80%)

Anyways, back to 35,000 feet. I am flying from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then we are going to drive 2 hour and get to the resort at Lake Geneva where the conference is hosted (probably around 3am). I’ll start writing again during the flight, because I liked it a lot last time. It’s around 9pm, and the sky as I look out the window is beautiful: the surface is covered with clouds, but the sun is above them and about to set down. Hence most of the clouds have this pink-red sunset color. It won’t be for long (we are to arrive at Chicago close to midnight).

How are my neighbor passengers doing? To my left, a couple flying back to Chicago. Behind me, an annoying kid keeps knocking my chair. To my front, 2 sisters, and the older one (about 15?) has a laptop with a wallpaper of her kissing her boyfriend. To my right (across the aisle) a lady is choosing colors for her presentation. Erdem is sitting two more seats to the right (window), Reza still works on his presentation two rows in front of us, and Bing is somewhere even further. We will all meet Xiaodong, the last student member of our group traveling to this conference, AAC, and we will all drive to Lake Geneva.

(Battery Level: 74%)

Let’s start talking about whatever comes into my mind. First and foremost, the World Cup. From the 4 strongest teams of the first round (Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Germany), 2 made it to the semifinals and none to the final. Instead, 2 teams that played not so great football during the first round, Italy and France, turned out to play very good later on the tournament. The Italians had the best defensive line in the tournament. The French defense was also good, but after the match with Spain they only scored with a foul (vs Brazil) and two penalty kicks (one in each game). The Italians scored 3 versus Ukraine, 2 versus Germany, and one more versus France.

What about Zidane? How could he do this to himself? It the single most watched match in the world, he decided to behave like a child. Right when France was really trying to play good an they were advancing ahead and they could score. I don’t understand. But, he gave two unique moments for World Cup finals: First, the penalty kick. Tricky, and for a split second in the replay I saw his face being a little scared when the ball hit the crossbar first before crossing the goal line. Second, a genius will act on a unique way. When he decided to respond and take down his opponent pissed off, he didn’t punch him or kick him or push him. No, no, no. Zidane did it in his own way: he used his skull to attack him in the chest. No one will ever forget the gesture in the years to come.

Now Italy has 4 world cups. Four! They are the clear second best team ever after Brazil in World Cup trophies. They will be regarded with much more respect from now on.

Overall I liked this World Cup, especially the final games. True, the goals were few, and the teams had this idea that they can win if they just score once and then defend for the rest of the match. The sad thing is, it is mostly true. Once you advance, it’s tough to be brought down.

The other thing I loved was set of few young players that just impressed me with their skills. Messi, from Argentina; Ribery, from France; Van Persy, from the Netherlands; Rubinho, from Brazil. They all did great, and I’ll keep and eye on them in the years to come.

The next most important thing for me was the video system we watched it on. It is clear to me now that High Definition will soon replace standard definition broadcasts everywhere. In 10-20 years from now, we will look back into standard definition tv in the same way that today we look back into black and white tv. In the same way that color enhanced the feeling of tv, similarly high resolution and digital broadcast will enhance even more. Costas today knew that better: he sat close to the projection screen and said he felt like he was playing in the field. He was ready to jump into the screen if he could and give an extra pass.

(Battery Level: 61%)

Change of subject. Celebrity sights. One of the nice perks of living in LA is that every once a while you get to see someone famous in the streets or in a restaurant or bar. It happened to me twice this past 15 days. First, it was Mathew Perry from friends, in a bar with a mechanic bull on Sunset Boulevard. He was going in with a company of 5 as we were exiting. He looked old, with a reddish face and his posture was similar to what we are used to on tv.

The second sight was even more memorable. We went to Tony’s Tavern, an upscale excellent greek restaurant on Malibu. Many celebrities go there often because the place has good food and they actually live nearby. We saw Jessica Alba.

She looked pretty, but not like we are used to in the magazines and movies. She was eating in the corner of a corner table, in the shadows, with 4 more guys and a girl in her party. She ate small bites in this μη-μου-άπτου way (I don’t now how to translate this). We spend almost $50 on that night: the bill was exactly $100π, or $314. This is how much you have to pay here in LA in order to get similar quality food as in Greece (only that in Greece you would pay 5 times less).

(Battery Level: 56%)

It got dark now. The lady to my right is still working on her powerpoint. She is blonde, in her 40s, with red and tanned skin and long nails. Interesting.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2. I went to watch it on Saturday night like a good American: I bought tickets online, and stood in the line 1 hour before the movie to get good seats. The theater was packed. In fact, even 3 hours before the movie time you couldn’t find any tickets. They sold out faaaast.

It is Sunday night and it is almost sure that Pirates 2 will have the most successful opening weekend in the history, surpassing the previous record of $114M of Spiderman in the 2002 post-9/11 America. It’s a lot of money. Are they that good? The short answer is: no.

The reason of success of these movies is that they combine a lot of elements together in a very good way. There is action, there is (some) romance, there are popular actors, there is tragedy, comedy, a bit of sci-fi, a bit of spookiness. They also have beautiful locations they filmed at, and a $200M budget.

The movie was good, but not great. The first movie was of course original, but they also had a better story to back it up. The fighting sequences were more interesting in the original (ok, who is really interested in a giant octopus attacking the ships? It’s soulless to the audience). The movie was too long for the story, sometimes I felt they didn’t have to do all of these to get the characters moving on. The action was very often a bit too much than what was necessary.

There were many good things though that I liked. First, the looks of the bad guys. I think that all this half-sea and half-human theme worked very well and it was done excellently. The skeletons of the first movie seem too simple artistically in comparison. Second, I love Keira Knightley, I think she is perfect for these medieval-type roles. Third, I liked the smart action sequences, like the water wheel rotating in the woods and Captain Jack’s adventures with the pole post strapped on his back - I found the whole sequence very smartly written.

Overall I think the movie was too much eye candy. Too many details on the screen for the audience to absorb, and I found my brain over-burned at the end from the information. You just cannot see everything at once, and that was kind of annoying.

(Battery Level: 46%)

We will stay in Chicago after the conference for the weekend. What is there to do? I don’t know much about it. I know they have the Sears tower, the tallest building in the US. They also have the magnificent mile, a nice park right by the lake. I want to visit Bull’s stadium and get a picture with Michael Jordan’s statue in front of it. And we will have to find to do something on Sunday night. We won’t book a hotel for that night, since our flight is at 6am and we will go straight to the airport…

Me and Stavros booked tickets for the Hollywood Bowl for the week after the next one. We couldn’t decide when to go, so we booked for two performances, $45 each. The first one is named “Serenades”. I am not sure what to expect (νομίζω είναι οι ελληνικές καντάδες). The second one is Amadeus. Apparently they will re-create some of the scenes of the theatrical play (later the movie was based on that play). Since the movie is one of my favorite ever, it should be very interesting.

(Battery Level: 40%)

I am looking forward to my trip in Greece this summer. In 2003, I for my undergrad degree on July 23rd and on the 28th I was flying to the US for the first time. In 2004, I came back for almost two months. It was nice, but too long of a vacation period for me. In 2005, I went for 3 weeks in late May and early June, but it didn’t feel like summer, and everyone was still working.

This time I’ll be back on July 25th and for 2 weeks. I spent the insane amount of $1600, but I’ll be in Greece when I love it most: In the middle of the summer. I will spend my time in Ahinos, we have a small house there near the beach that is just perfect for summer. I miss just lying down in the chair in the night, and having these soft breezes of wind around my body. The feeling is just indescribable…

(Battery Level: 32%)

I think we will be landing in 20 minutes or so. It wasn’t such a long flight. After you’ve done LA-Greece a couple of times, everything else seems too less.

From United flight 124, somewhere over Illinois, over and out.