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Archive for March, 2008

I think I’m going to need a bigger box…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Auntie Shrew: “What did I tell you? Moving day.”

Mrs. Brisby: “It can’t be.”

Auntie Shrew: “It certainly can. I don’t supposed you’ve packed.”

The Secret of Nimh

Yea, it’s moving day… 2:30 AM and I am still packing. :) Movers should be here at 8:30… So, back to packing.

My god… it’s full of stars…

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke [wikipedia.org] died today at 90. A long an productive career as a Sci-Fi author and a number of significant contributions to hard science come to an end.

Siena, Italy — November 2007

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

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The hill top city of Siena [wikipedia.org] is a few hours by train from Florence. I suspect the bus trip would have been better but we had more days than we could use on our rail pass so we took the train. From the train station we walked the 2 kilometers or so to the top of the hill and into the center of the medieval and renaissance town.

The center of Siena, Il Campo [wikipedia.org] sight of the famous Palio di Siena [wikipedia.org] a twice yearly crazy hours race between representatives of the various wards of the city for bragging rights. By the time we got to Il Campo it was time for lunch so we pulled out our friendly Lonely Planet Italy guide [lonelyplanet.com] and looked for a good place to eat.

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The first place we tried was only open for dinner in the off season. The second place was closed completely for the off season. The third was an empty shop. The fourth we never found. So after an hour of back and forth around the city center and it’s steep hills and steps we decided to just go back to Il Campo and eat at one of the many places there. The food was not bad but it was a bit frustrating after looking forward to the highly recommended menus of the places in the guide

An unfortunate side effect of our hour looking for food was that we could not enter one of the major sites I wanted to see in Siena; the Palazzo Pubblico [wikipedia.org] or town hall and it’s museum and the Torre del Mangia [wikipedia.org] the 102 meter high bell tower dominating the Campo. Problem was these sights close an hour before sunset in the off season, sunset was around 4:30 when we were there and it’s was just after 3:30 when we got there. The only thing we could do was go the the Siena Cathedral [wikipedia.org].

The cathedral is one of the most beautiful in Italy. The exterior is similar to the cathedrals in both Florence [confusion.cc] and Pisa [confusion.cc]. The inside is much more amazing; whereas the inside of the cathedral in Florence is, aside from the painted dome, sparse, Siena’s Duomo is beautiful. Filled with mosaic floors and frescoed alters.

By the time we finished touring around the cathedral it was dark outside and we did not do much more in Siena. A cup of coffee in a small cafe and one more stop at il Campo before taking a bus back to the train station and heading back to Florence for the night. I hope we can go back and visit the sights we missed some day, Siena was one of the most beautiful places we visited in Italy.

Killing for Economic Beliefs

Friday, March 14th, 2008

“Having killed for religious beliefs and then political beliefs, I believe we are now on the threshold of killing for economic beliefs.”

Dr. J.W. Spellman, quoted from 1971 Winter Soldier Hearings: “What are we Doing to Vietnam?” [alternet.org]

That’s a fairly prophetic statement… in fact you should read the rest (the quote is on page two of the cited article) which follows that morsel:

“It takes no prophet to predict that there will be destruction and riots and killings in the name of economic creeds in the future. And that these will seem just as valid as religion and politics have seemed to our predecessors historically.”

It’s interesting that this was said by a college professor ten years before Reagan [wikipedia.org] and Thatcher [wikipedia.org] politicized the IMF and World Bank and used them to push the Washington Consensus [wikipedia.org]. The tactics, if not the basic ideas, that the IMF and World Bank pushed onto developing countries are a source of anger for many people in developing countries. Many people have linked these policies and their implementation to the Anti-American and Anti-western attitudes that have increased since the 1980s. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the current situation in Iraq is seen by many — even the majority of — people in the world as ‘killing for economic benefits.’ The Neo-con [newamericancentury.org] agenda and the many links between high level members of the Bush administration and American big-business (especially the Chaney-Halliburton situation) lend credence to this belief. True or not, it looks like we are killing for economic beliefs.

Supply and demand

Friday, March 7th, 2008

“The 20th century was about sorting out supply… [t]he 21st is going to be about sorting out demand.”

Gavin Potter, quoted in This Psychologist Might Outsmart the Math Brains Competing for the Netflix Prize [wired.com]

Won’t it be great when the computers are figuring out both the supply and the demand? The computer in my TV can decide I want to watch Gilligan’s Island reruns 24 hours a day and the networks computer can decide that Gilligan’s Island is the only TV show worth showing. Everyone will be happy!

Pisa, Italy — November 2007

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

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An hour and a half down the tracks from Florence near the mouth of the Arno River [wikipedia.org] sits Pisa [wikipedia.org].

Our adventure began on the train to Pisa. We rode a packed commuter train rather than the faster direct train and most of the passengers were locals. A good percentage of the standing crowd changed at each stop. There were two other tourist couples in the car with us which became apparent when the conductors came through to check tickets. Our carriage was near the middle of the train and a few minutes past the second of third stop the conductor lead about five young guys into our carriage all waring street clothing but with conductors hats and the automated ticket machine and punch.

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Pisa is, of course, famous for one thing [wikipedia.org]. That one thing is on the far side of the medieval town from the modern train station, a 20 minute leisurely walk. Since only a set number of people are allowed in the Tower each day in small groups we marched directly from the train station to the ticket booth with only a short stop to purchase more storage for the digital camera.

Upon entering the Piazza dei Miracoli [wikipedia.org] I was driven to repeat the great words of The Flugie saying; “it’s slanty!” (Guess you had to be there the first time.) Not so bad as it used to be mind you since they spent a lot of money and a lot of time to pump mud out from under it in order to get it to stand back up a bit straighter.

Straighter it may be but straight it is not and while 3.97 degrees might not sound like a lot of lean it means that the top of the tower is leaning 4 meters from where it should be! Haft the time you are climbing the 296 steps you lean against the outside wall and half the time you lean against the inside wall. Quite an odd sensation.

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Anyway, beyond the worlds most famous engineering mistake the Piazza dei Miracoli also holds the Duomo or Cathedral and the Baptistry of St. John [wikipedia.org]. We didn’t visit the Baptistery but the Cathedral is beautiful, not the best in Italy but beautiful.

After the Tower and Cathedral we took a slow walk back to toward the train station and stopped to have lunch at a place listed in the travel guide. The review looked promising and the food was good but it was a bit pricey. After lunch and a bit of shopping it was back to the train because the sun was already going down.

I’m sure there is a lot more to Pisa than just a construction error but it two visits to Pisa I haven’t seen it.