what i learned over the past two weeks…

1. rose valland, a quiet and unassuming art historian who worked at the jeu de paume museum in paris during the war had an excellent memory and the ability to speak german. neither of these two qualities was known by the occupying germans who were busy plundering art from the museum during the war. she paid attention, and kept track of which artwork went where and to whom. this resulted in many works being recovered.

2. russian forces used anti-tank dogs to attack german forces. bombs would be strapped to hungry dogs who were trained to think that someone on a tank would feed them. the theory is that the dog would drop the bomb and run, but this was only a theory…

3. when the nazi’s were exterminating jews in the ukraine, they found that lining them up single file and shooting them, one-by-one was taking too long. so, they convinced 30,000 people to come by a ravine at babi yar where they were mowed down by machine gun fire over two consecutive days.

4. one of the greatest examples of the placebo effect was that of a mr. wright, reported by a dr. bruno klopfer. wright was dying of a lymphatic cancer and was convinced that, if he was put on a drug trial for a new drug, he would be cured. after one dose of the drug, his tumours started shrinking at an unbelievable rate. upon hearing that the drug trials were proving to be unsuccessful, he died within days. this is the short version of the story – the longer, more interesting version can be found here.

5. norman mailer stabbed his wife. she didn’t press charges but, if she had done so, his defence would have been that, had he not stabbed her, the suppressed anger would have resulted in him developing cancer. this probably wouldn’t have been a successful defence…

6. nikita kruschev was responsible for a number of “purges” (massacres) committed for stalin before world war 2.

7. during world war 2, the paris austerlitz train station was turned into a large warehouse for all the stuff that was being stolen from the jewish homes in the city. homes would be emptied into trucks, the truck would drive to austerlitz where everything was emptied, sorted, repaired and then put on trains to be given to germans. most of this work was done by jewish prisoners who, in some particularly sad cases, saw things from their own homes go through the station.

8. the british had a plan to build aircraft carriers out of a sawdust-ice mixture called pykrete which is much stronger than regular ice.

9. each year, more persons are killed as a result of eating sharks than as a result of being eaten by sharks.

10. there was an award called “righteous among the nations” which, in a secular context, was given to non-jews who risked their lives to rescue jews from the nazi’s.

11. hitler had parkinson’s disease (something tells me that i learned this before and forgot it…)

12. hitler took cocaine eye drops

13. the most devestated city of world war 2 was warsaw. the second-most-devestated city was manila.

14. adidas and puma were started by two brothers in a small town in germany. the two companies were in a long-standing family feud until this past week.

15. there is a link in some children between cases of strep throat and obsessive compulsive disorder. see this link for more info.

what i learned last week

1. public nakedness is legal in england and wales. (see here)

2. quantum computing is getting closer to being a usable reality. (see here)

3. an ancient contraceptive was alcohol made from stewed beaver testicles. (see here) i wonder who came up with this one…

4. there is a large collection of floating garbage – mostly plastic – swirling in a large vortex in the middle of the pacific ocean. it’s called the “great pacific garbage patch” and is roughly twice the size of texas.

5. 50 years ago, 50% of australian men smoked. today, only 25% do.

6. the meaning of the word “stakhanovite”

7. the apollo 11 guidance computers had less processing power than a modern cellphone.

customer service, air france style

so, after a 5-hour train ride from home to copenhagen airport, we roll up to the air france check-in desk to get our bording passes for our flight. we (a 2-month old, a 2-year old, my wife, and i) already know two things:
– when you’re travelling with an infant, the computer-aided check in doesn’t work
– my wife and the two kids are travelling on points whereas i bought my ticket, therefore we’re on different itineraries, but we’d still like to sit together
so, we know that we have to talk to a human being at the check-in desk rather than a computer. luckily, my wife has a flying blue silver card, so we can check in at the desk for important people instead of the desk for the lower castes. also, luckily, there are no people in the lineup, so people being served and two air france representatives sitting there at their respective desks, having a chat while one files her nails.
with the 2-month old crying loudly, asking for lunch, we head towards the auto-manicurist who looks at us coldly and simply tells us that we have to go over there and check in at the computers. she explains that she cannot deal with families. my wife points out that she has the silver-i’m-an-important-person-card but this does not impress – we are dismissed anyway.
somewhat tired and confused, we obey unquestioningly and turn around to walk towards the self-check in terminal thingy. however, on the way, we realise that we were being dumb, that the auto-manicurist was indeed capable of offering assistance, and was just being damned lazy.
so, we turn around and head back and firmly ask why it is that being a family qualifies us as being second-class citizens. the second rep decides to help us, and the auto-manicurist says nary a word, buries her head into her computer terminal and pretends to tap keys aimlessly until we’re all done.
not an impressive start to our trip. but it was still better than air canada…

what i learned on my summer vacation

what i learned in the past 7 weeks on my summer vacation.

1. living in the same house for 45 years or so means that you accumulate a lot of stuff. when it comes time to move that stuff, it takes a lot of people a lot of time to sift and sort before you start moving the stuff that floated to the top.

2. if you don’t exercise, helping to move your mom from one house to another over 5 weeks is bad for your back, and your arms, and your legs… in fact, it’s bad for just about everything.

3. a professional massage therapist knows how to fix a bad back, and arms and legs…

4. my french is not as rusty as i thought. at least as much french as is required to make conversation during a massage.

5. orange rum liquor is bad for a macbook pro keyboard.

6. when you spill orange rum liquor in a macbook pro keyboard, it takes more than contact cleaner to repair all of the damage.

7. the cursor keys from an old white 12″ macbook with a russian keyboard fit on a new 15″ macbook pro, albeit upside down.

8. i used to use my cursor keys a lot.

9. it’s harder to replace the keyboard on a new macbook pro than it is on my first powerbook titanium.

10. the sunrise at cape spear is pretty spectacular on a good day.

11. montreal has grown up since i left. there is now a dedicated bike path on de maisonneuve running through the middle of downtown.

12. even after 7 years, canada (and montreal) still feel like “home”. and even after 19 years, so does newfoundland.

13. traveling trans-atlantic with two small kids is not as bad as i thought it would be.

14. life is cheaper in canada than it is in denmark, but pretty-much-everything (from houses to roads) is more poorly made by people who are either lazier or just trying to cut too many corners.

15. my relatively-ecologically-responsible life in denmark is infinitely more ecologically responsible than a life that is possible to lead in canada. this statement may not be strictly true, however, it is certainly infinitely more convenient to lead an ecologically-responsible life in denmark than it is in canada.

16. when push comes to shove, i can throw an amazing amount of stuff in the garbage. however, there are some strange things that i cannot.

17. i come from a long line of pack rats.

18. new houses in montreal are disgustingly ornate. there are silly brick mini-castles stuck next to each other in suburbs all over the west island. they all look like someone ate, and subsequently threw up a legoland set. new house design in denmark is much more new.

19. stuff is still much, much cheaper in canada than it is in denmark. even stuff that is exactly the same (like a lowepro camera bag or a pair of ecco shoes (oddly enough), for example…)

20. 185 gb is not nearly big enough for a laptop hard drive when you have a new camera on vacation and you have a propensity to experiment with hdr photography…

irrelevant fluff

okay, okay… when i started a blog, i promised myself that i wouldn’t do what other people do and fill it up with crap. however, since then, i figure, what’s a blog for, if not to load the interblag with cyberlandfill? so, here i go.
i’ve had a couple of thoughts and revelations while i was on vacation in canada over the past 7 weeks. most of these, maybe all, are completely fluffy (hence the designation of cyberlandfill)…
let’s picture ourselves a couple of thousand years into the future. one of the major world religions comprises a couple of billion followers and they ascribe to the teachings of someone that lived a couple of thousand years before, which is to say, today. what’s curious about this religion is that their primary symbol displayed in their places of worship and in their homes is what we would, today, immediately recognise as an electric chair. the simple reason for this is that the prophet that they follow was a person who was executed in our time as a criminal of one type or another. seems strange, looking from the present time into the distant future, to see a device for executing criminals used as a symbol that inspires religious devotion and spiritual awe for billions.
however, how is this different than the present case where a billion christians kneel in front of a cross? 2100 years ago, a cross was simply a structure used by romans to torture and execute criminals. the reason it’s the primary symbol for christianity today is that one person in particular was executed on one. however, the simple fact is that an ancient execution device, the time’s equivalent to an electric chair, is the symbol that many use as symbol, if not an object, of worship.
nothing new here, just something that i realised lately that made me raise an eyebrow.

why i hate air canada

will somebody please tell my why airplanes work better in europe than they do in north america. does it have something to do with pollution or air density, or maybe some other anomaly that is beyond my comprehension?
my wife and two kids (aged three months and two years) were trying to make a relatively simple flight on air canada from st. john’s, newfoundland to montreal, quebec this summer. i drove them to the airport, helped them check in, even got a gate pass so that i could help get the kids to the gate. when they boarded the plane, i thought that they were on their way, so i left the airport.
turns out that, while they were sitting on the airplane on the tarmac, it was announced that there were some mechanical difficulties with the airplane and that they would be delayed. fast-forward a little, and everyone is being told that the flight has been cancelled and they had to get off the plane where they would be given further instructions. the “further instructions” was a piece of paper that had a 1-800 phone number where passengers could call and book a new flight. however, by the time my wife, the temporarily-single-mom got off the plane, there were no pieces of paper left, and no one to give her any info. so, she’s wandering around the gate, waiting for an announcement that isn’t coming, when finally someone asks if she got the phone number.
now, here’re some things that i have a problem with:
– why couldn’t the air canada staff figure out that not everyone was off the plane yet, and that maybe, since there were people than pieces of paper, they should do something like talk to people.
– if air canada can’t get its plane off the ground, why is it up to the passengers to call god-knows-where to re-book their own tickets? if this was a klm flight, there would be staff with computers there to get you on another plane, not lack-of-staff there to not-pass-out pieces of paper with phone numbers on them.
– why does a person travelling with two small children have to rely on other passengers to corral her children while she tries to talk to an air canada agent on the phone to re-book her flight? couldn’t air canada representatives take some responsibility for the inconvenience and help out just a little?
on top of all this, how about a little compensation for losing two days of a vacation while you’re sitting around waiting for air canada to get another plane off the ground? nope. compare this to klm flying through amsterdam. if your arriving plane is late and you have to stick around the airport waiting for a different connecting flight. you get a human being with a computer to help you sort it out. at the end of talking to them, you not only have a new trave schedule for you and your luggage, you have a little booklet that contains coupons to buy some food at the airport, a voucher for a klm ticket in the future (or some bonus klm air miles) and a coupon to use for a long distance call to tell people that you’ll be late. what does air canada offer? not even a quarter for the pay phone to call someone to come back to the airport to pick you up.
so, i was more than a little irate. and, to put icing on the cake, when we all went back to the airport two days later to get on the alternative flight, exactly the same thing happened again to a different flight leaving for toronto. so, i wonder:
– how many times a week does this happen to air canada?
– why to people still fly with them?

what i learned last week

1. why death valley is so hot.

2. drinking five cups of coffee each day may reverse alzheimer’s disease.

3. when going on vacation, you should always fly with an airplane mechanic.

4. i’m obsolete. (i suspected this before, but it was confirmed this week…)

5. there are a race of beings that live in the centre of the earth who work with electrical and magnetic energy – and the fire element. in december of 2007, one of these beings (a master of transformational fire energies) came to the surface for the first time in history to communicate with a bunch of loonies.

6. one-fifth of the world’s fresh water is in the amazon river.

7. there was a smallpox outbreak in stockholm, sweden, in 1963.

8. setting up yapb on a wordpress blog site is pretty near impossible in six hours.

what i learned last week

1. there are only approximately 2500 tigers left in the wild. this is fewer than there are in captivity.

2. 95% of the world’s tigers have been lost in the past 100 years.

3. 100 years ago, there were approximately 3,000,000 elephants in the world. today there are only about 500,000.

4. bernie eccelstone is an idiot

5. not even louis theroux can maintain his detachment when confronted with extreme nutbars.

6. one fifth of the carbon emissions of the u.k. government are the direct result of i.t.

what i learned last week

1. there is a mountain range in antarctica that is roughly alp-sized. however, these do not impress, since the valleys are filled with 4-km thick ice. see here.

2. according to some legends, eve was not adam’s first wife – she was his second. his first wife was lilith, who, unlike eve, was made from the earth by god, just like adam. she, being adam’s equal, demanded equal treatment. adam would not comply, lilith said the hebrew name of god, thus gaining immense power, and flew off. adam asked for a second wife, but one who would be subservient to him, so god complied, made him a woman out of his rib and thus millennia of discrimination began. interestingly, lilith shows up in various forms in various cultures. in some myths, she is the snake in the garden of eden. in others, she is the demon who kills women during childbirth or who causes miscarriages. in canadian culture, she’s the patron of a pretty good concert series started by sarah mclachlan.

3. glacial ice is full of small pockets of liquid water down at the bottom, near the ground. these keep the ice a little less brittle, thus allowing it to flow over land without snapping. for example, see this, or this.

4. the meaning of the word psephological, used in context in this article.

5. scientists aren’t as honest in their publications as they’d like you to believe… see this article.

6. black holes can be simulated with sound in a bose-einstein condensate. see this article.

7. i learned what a bose-einstein condensate is. see the previous article.

8. the u.s. air force lost a  nuclear bomb in the water off the coast of savannah, georgia, 50 years ago. see this article.

9. when michael jackon died, he slowed down the internet. see this article.

what i learned last week

i’m a little late this week… too many other things on my plate.

1. during the last ice age, the build-up of ice on the ground caused the earth’s crust to sink due to the weight. the heavier the ice, the more the ground sank. since there was more ice in the north (in placed like canada) and it lasted longer, the earth sank more than in other places. the cool thing is that the earth’s crust is still bouncing back, and therefore it’s rising at a rate of a couple of millimeters a year. since the north is bouncing back more than the south, the great lakes are changing shape, pushing water towards the south.

2. hitler probably had parkinson’s disease

3. there are currently three major drug types for treating depression: a) ssri’s (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors) which increase the amount of seratonin in the brain, the theory being that a lack of seratonin makes you depressed; b) ssre’s (selective seartonin reuptake enhancers) which decrease the amount of seratonin in the brain, the theory being that an excess of seratonin makes you depressed; and c) dri’s (dopamine reuptake inhibitors) which affect dopamine levels in the brain and don’t affect the seratonin levels at all, the theory being that seratonin has nothing to do with depression. interestingly, if you look at the studies that test the effectiveness of each of these drugs, you’ll find that each one reduces depression in approximately 60% of patients. this is strange, since this accounts for 180% of the population…

4. if you look at the clinical trials for all of the drugs mentioned above, published and unpublished (the latter category accounting for 40% of the data), you will find that, although these drugs are better than a placebo statistically speaking, they are not better, clinically speaking. listen to the lecture here.