May 30th, 2007

The water, the weather

I got this inspirational idea from a friend. How about projecting the area where I live in perspective on the US map, somewhere in the same coastal area. To avoid distortions I used google maps on exactly the same lattitude and zoom level, then fiddled a bit with opacity and color. The cut-off is entirely arbitrary. Sorry if I erased your city. Here’s the result.

Combined map

This tells us Paris-France is kinda like Vancouver-Canada, Oslo-Norway is like Anchorage-AK and Iceland is like Fairbank-AK. Things like day length are of course exactly the same, as the maps are on the same lattitude and scale. But there is a big difference. Europe is infuenced by the Gulf-stream, bringing relatively warm seawater from the Gulf of Mexico through a North-Eastern path to the European area. The North-Western part of America does not have this influence. So here are a few maximum/minimum figures.

Paris or Le Havre versus Vancouver

Note that Paris (24C/6C, 75F/43F) is a bit more inwards than Vancouver (17C/2C, 63F/36F), but other than that quite comparable. As you can see, Vancouver is colder. If we move from Paris to Le Havre, which is on roughly the same latitude but at the coast, it drops to (23C/3C, 73F/37F).

Oslo versus Anchorage

Oslo (16C/-7C, 61F/19F) and Anchorage (14C/-9C, 57F/16F) are very comparable. Both are near the sea but in a sheltered area. As you can see, again Anchorage is a tad colder.
Iceland or Hammerfest versus Fairbanks

This is not a fair comparision. Rekjavik, Iceland) (11C/-2C, 52F/28C) is surrounded by relatively warm seawater and is sitting on a very active geothermical spot. Fairbanks (17C/-23C, 63F/-9F) is surrounded by and endless landmass, that is frozen most of the time. And it shows!! If we exchange Rekjavik for Hammerfest in the top of Norway, we get (16C/-18C, 61F/0F). That’s more like it! Interestingly, Hammerfest is close to the sea.


What is striking is how small (and thus crowded) the West-European area is. Compared to the US you are looking at more people and at a comparable sized economy.

May 28th, 2007

The strange loop

My copy of Douglas Hofstadter’s last book “I am a strange loop” arrived. I read his epic “Gödel, Esher and Bach” when I was in my twenties which was a true eyeopener. He also published, together with Daniël Dennett “The mind’s I“, a book of thought provoking short essays. As always, his works revolves around consciousness, being “alive”, the seat of the “I”, if there is a “light on” inside (where?), etcetera. I cannot even start to quote this book, cause I would end up quoting it entirely, so allow me to, next to recommending either of these 3 books, simply copy (fair use I hope) the first page and a half here, which comes so close to what I think is so true about “genes and memes”.

One gloomy day in early 1991, a couple of months after my father died, I was standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house, and my mother, looking at a sweet and touching picture of my father taken perhaps fifteen years earlier, said to me, with a note of despair, “What meaning does that picture have? None at all, it’s just a flat piece of paper with dark spots on it here and there. It’s useless.” The bleakness of my mother’s grief-drenched remark set my head spinning because I knew instictively that I disagreed with her, but I did not quite know how to express to her the way I felt the photograph should be considered.

After a few minutes of emotional pondering – soul-searching, quite literally – I hit upon an analogy that I felt could convey to my mother my point of view, and which I hoped might lend her at least a tiny degree of consolidation. What I said to her was along the following lines.

“In the living room we have a book of the Chopin études for piano. All of it’s pages are just pieces of paper with dark marks on them, just as two dimensional and flat and foldable as the photograph of Dad – and yet, think of the powerful effect that they have had on people all over the world for 150 years now. Thanks to those black marks on those flat sheets of paper, untold thousands of people have collectively spent millions of hours moving their fingers over the keyboards of piano’s in complicated patterns, producing sounds that give them indescribably pleasure and a sense of great meaning. Those pianists in turn have conveyed to many millions of listeners, including you and me, the profound emotions that churned in Frédéric Chopin’s heart, thus affording all of us some partial access to Chopin’s interiority – the the experience of living in the head, or rather the soul of Frédéric Chopin. The marks on those sheets of paper are no less than soul-shards – scattered remnants of the shattered soul of Frédéric Chopin. Each of those strange geometries of notes has a unique power to bring back to life, inside our brains, some tiny fragment of the internal experiences of another human being, and many people feel intense love for him. In just as potent a fashion, looking at that photograph of Dad brings back, to us who knew him immediately, the clearest memory of his smile and gentleness, activates inside our living brains some of the most central representations of him that survives in us, makes little fragments of his soul dance again, but in the medium of brains other than his own. Like the score of a Chopin étude that photograph is a soul-shard of someone departed, and it is something we should cherish as long as we live.”

The Butterfly, Etude Opus 25, No 9

Frédéric Chopin - Etude opus 25 No. 9

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This entry dedicated to Priscilla.

May 27th, 2007

The phantom

Vision Research Inc. is a company building high speed camera’s. For demoing, instead if the now über-dull bullet-through-lightbulb or pin-through-balloon, they decided to make a 3 minute mini-movie.


 Don’t forget to watch the making of, linked to on that same page.

May 27th, 2007

The contract



Thanks Keesje on

May 24th, 2007

The asylum seekers

One of the motivators to write these entries is to challenge prejudice between countries (read: people), next to expressing critical citizenship. Negative prejudice about my country is that Amsterdam is modern world Sodom & Ghomorra (sex [preferably gay], drugs, lawless child-euthanesia – I won’t go into these today), but also that we are a broad minded open tolerant society. Today, I challenge that positive prejudice.

The country has been a haven for people from other countries, especially asylum seekers from dictatorial or war-engulfed states. About 5-7 years ago, that has changed dramatically. Fueled by the 9/11 events and fear spinning wanna-be politicians, asylum seekers were suddenly earmarked as a problem and had to make an extremely good case for themselves, usually within 48 hours, were they not to be expelled. I wrote about an incident how that could go very wrong earlier. Laws and procedures were quickly and without protest changed to reflect the “new sternness”. It seems though that every rope has it’s end, or, as I was tought “the quay WILL turn the ship”.

The European court upheld a verdict, that was challenged by our administration, to change national asylum law. The verdict critisizes the judicial handling by the highest court (standard outcome of asylum cases), condemned extreme formalism, torture and inhumane punishment (!).

A few examples:

  • Appeal cases are not judged against the current state of affairs in the home country, but against the state at the moment the appeal was made. Read: “We are sure you wouldn’t be tortured when you appealed our decision to send you back” – “But you know they will arrest and torture me when you send me there now!” – “Yes. So?”.
  • Asylum seekers need to prove they are being discriminated or will be prosecuted on an ultra-individual level. Being in a discriminated GROUP is no argument (you know, like Jews in ’40). Read: “My people are being tortured because they are muslim” – “Yes, I see, and I know you are a muslim, but why would they torture YOU? Can you PROVE that?” – “Huh?”.
  • The assessment of what’s going on in the home country is exclusively based on reports made by the foreign affairs ministry. Read: “This is the slaughter going on in my hometown” – “That is not stated in this report made 3 months ago by the ambassdor, from a city 700 miles away” – “Huh?”.

The verdict itself and yesterdays refusal of the European court for a rehearing is considered a major disgrace to the reputation, or positive prejudice if you will, of our country, and I have to say, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.

Added: example “conversations”.

May 24th, 2007

The Dame Evelyn Glennie (again)

Today, I got the DVD “Touch the Sound”, which is a documentary if that is the proper word of the world of Evelyn Glennie, about who I wrote before. It is an absolutely amazing DVD and if you are even remotely interested in only one of music, rythm, deafness, breathing, heartbeat, culture or sound, I urge you to get it or lend it. Although maybe sort of observing instead of storytelling, and thus for some considered “dull”, I can say I am awed by it. A Japanese drumplayer explained “Life is breath, and if we need to live, we need to breath. We lost that, now we only run”. Very yogic.

Thomas Riedelsheimer, the movie maker writes in the introduction (only a snippet and my translation from German)

The first impressions a human being receives must be vibrations, rhythms and tones, long before the eye awakens. Our own heart connects us with the world – it is our individual metronome. It’s beating tells us about our us and our illnesses, our fears, our desires. It’s beatings is the most important measure in music. The relationship between pulse and music is multifaceted and always changing. Music can healt, depress, unchain and “speak from the heart”. Our heart sows down or speeds up to the rythm of the music we hear. The body seems to synchronize itself with the swinging of our environment. We are embedded in a universe of cycles and rythms.

Technical ps: I got the European PAL version that has Dolby 5.1, normal stereo and DTS on it. I cannot vow for the US version here, but mine is top quality, both sound and imagery.

May 23rd, 2007

The adopted children

This country is an “importer” of children. Often done for social-moral reasons, babies that cannot be raised by their natural parents are adopted by families, sometimes because they cannot give birth to their own, sometimes in addition to an existing family. Due to the vigorous one child policy in China, at this moment, the almost only “source” are Chinese girls, as those are more often abandoned. This topic is not about that policy, but it is obvious a disaster is growing in China with uncared for (or killed) daughters, and later the shortage of partners for young men.

A serious scandal is brewing here. A child that was legally adopted from India about 5 years ago turned out to have been kidnapped by a gang, sold to a children’s home and then offered for adoption. The parents here raised the kid of course as if it was their own. The biological mother, who only recently found out the kid is still alive, wants it returned, and the Indian government is supporting that claim. To add insult to injury there are strong indications that the (privately owned) adoption agency was informed about the matter 2 years ago but decided not to act.

There is no solution of course. But it’s about time these agencies are monitored. The Indian government should tone down too, cause the actual crime was committed there. Devastating story.

May 21st, 2007

The ranch

Jaap de Hoop-Scheffer. Who? Jaap de Hoop-Scheffer. He is the NATO secretary-general and a Dutchman. OMG!!! He is visiting the ranch! OMG!! How coooooooool!

George’s agenda: get more NATO servicemen into Afghanistan so American soldiers can be diverted to Iraq. Why? Well erm, the Brits will call it a day soon. Yoohoooooo, darlings, THE WAR IN IRAQ IS LOST, get it in your skulls.

May 20th, 2007

The top from under

Today, “Peace mom” Sandy Sheehan, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who got famous by fiercely camping at the entrance of George Bush’s ranch, was in Amsterdam today, to speak to the crowds of a very broad anti-G8 top demonstration, called “The top from under”. With our boys long gone, but an absolute refusal by our government to investigate the decision to support the war, she claimed “Anyone refusing military support, but still giving political support, bears the same responsibility for the crimes committed”. Sheehan turned out to be gifted speaker. The only serious mistake she made was when she said “Bush, Blair and Balkenende [our prime minister] should rot in hell”. That doesn’t go very well here.

On a related subject. With Blair with one foot out of Downing Street 10, his successor Gordon Brown is expected to announce withdrawal of British troops from Iraq soon. Lesson #1: if you loose the people, you loose the war. The Brits really tried in Basra, but of course it all went wrong. Time to face the hard truth my friends, the war is lost.

Added May 29th: Sheena resigned, probably totally disappointed by the Democrat leadership’s folding to the funding bill. As I understand, the patch of land she bought to circumvent the local authorities ban on camping, of course only instated to “think her away” from the ranch’s entry and to be used to build a rehab center for veterans, is up for sale. Sad.

May 18th, 2007

The bride was beautiful

This made me feel small an humbled. Take a few moments to browse through these 12 beautiful sad happy black and white pictures and their captions.

The bride was beautiful

Katie Kirkpatrick, 21, held off cancer to celebrate the happiest day of her life. Katie had chased cancer, once only to have it return-to clog her lungs and grab hold of her heart. Breathing was difficult now, she had to use oxygen. The pain in her back was so intense it broke through the morphine that was supposed to act as a shield. Her organs were shutting down but it would not stop her from marrying Nick Godwin, 23, who was in love with Katie since 11th grade.