Blog » 2005 » September

26 Sep 2005

Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 7:57 pm

A huge collection of visual illusions: Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena.

One of my all-time favourite illusions:

Optical illusion

Yes, the squares A and B are EXACTLY the same colour. The human visual system does so much pre-processing that it recognises that the cylinder is casting a “shadow”, and edits the perceived image such that you see a colour much nearer the colour that would have been there, were it not for the shadow.

Paul, DON’T second guess yourself!

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 1:13 am

So near, and yet so far. Yesterday was the Caltech Club Fair, where all the clubs and societies advertise, and all sorts of other entertainment is laid on. I, for one, had a great time — but it could so nearly have been so much better.

One event was the candy scramble: take a piece of lawn, add thousands of sweets (candy they call it here), some of them with bits of paper taped to them, and unleash the Caltech student body. After the mad free-for-all that follows, everyone with a piece of candy with a paper attached is allowed a guess at the total number of pieces of candy, and the closest guesses win prizes. But not just any prizes: a brand new Dell laptop, or a dinner for 24, or a new bike. Nice!

So I get a piece of paper, and was all set to guess 10127, but at the last moment changed to 8127. It now seems that my original guess would have won my the laptop. Doh! And then just to drive the message home, LA’s famous Pink’s hotdogs was catering dinner. I decided to get one with sauerkraut, but at the last moment changed to chili and cheese. Another mistake. After all of that, I would have been very disappointed were it not for the fact that I managed to catch a piece of popcorn thrown by Heidi in my mouth — so I’m still a winner.

Kudos to the organisers for the superb fireworks display, right in front of us, followed (aptly) by bigscreen War of the Worlds. Pity about the speakers they really and truly blew during the movie. The jumping castle sumo wrestling and boxing was also great — and I can now say I’ve experienced being covered in Greg’s sweat. So, all the boxes are checked for the start of the academic year!

21 Sep 2005

New beginnings

Filed under: Personal, Studies — paulcook @ 2:08 pm

It’s nearly the start of the new academic year, and so a season for new beginnings. And there certainly are lots of those!

Firstly, I’ve moved into my new office, on the fourth floor of Lauritsen. Yes, I’ve made it to the top floor! Across the hallway from my office is last year’s Nobel prize winner, and around the corner is Richard Feynman’s old office, and also my advisors’ current office. There’s also the coffee machine and printer, which will save many trips up the stairs!

19 Sep 2005

False starts and things that matter

Filed under: Noteworthy news, Politics and philosophy — paulcook @ 4:10 pm

As the rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina starts, so too do people start asking questions about what went wrong in New Orleans, and the lessons that should be learnt. Notwithstanding a huge global warming wakeup call, the main conclusion seems to be that the US failed spectacularly to protect its poor and black citizens. The Economist front page calls it “The Shaming of America”, and editorials everywhere are calling it wakeup call to the nation.

The problem, though, with wakeup calls is that they so seldom lead to any real change. An excellent editorial in today’s USA Today compares and contrasts Katrina’s wakeup call with another of 40 years ago — the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles. They were substantially more violent, but (insofar as I can tell as a foreigner) made affluent America aware of the depth of poverty and anger of the social and racial underclass of the country. The result? According to the USA Today editorial, poverty levels in Watts are actually higher today. And, of course, they weren’t the last race riots that LA was to see.

International Student Orientation ‘05

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 2:52 pm

Well, it’s the end of Caltech’s International Student Orientation programme for 2005. Since I was actually in the country at the right time, this year, I’ve been helping out with a number of the events — and taking full and complete advantage of the free food!

It’s been interesting meeting some of the new students. I’m particularly excited that there are not one, but two South Africans in the incoming group. We’re already making plans to, for example, watch some rugby and perhaps cricket; or take a trip to the Springbok Bar in San Fernando valley — the Springbok being South Africa’s national animal. Then there’s a shop somewhere to the south of LA that imports all sorts of South African food and drinks, which I’m keen to visit — as soon as I remember its name.

Orientation is also reminding me of my first orientation, two years ago. It’s all too easy to forget how much one’s life changes over the years, as those changes gradually happen. Comparing then and now, I’ve really realised how there was a lot of adaptation I had to do, to become comfortable. It’s hard to find words, but one way to describe the feeling is “mastering one’s surroundings”. It’s made up mostly of little things, like how settled your accomodation is; whether you know where to find various sorts of shops; what restaurants and hang out spots you know; how easy it is for you to get around. Perhaps most important are your friends.

Showing the new students around Caltech and LA has made me realise that I think I’ve achieved the above. Thanks to my absolutely fantastic roommates and group of friends, and two years of experience, Pasadena is not the challenge it once was.

I may never feel quite as at home as in Johannesburg, where I’ve spent my whole life up till now, but at least I’m comfortable. And that makes quite a difference.

12 Sep 2005

Overheard in New York: The Voice of the Big Apple

Filed under: Stuff — paulcook @ 5:58 pm

A while since my last should-see (ie. must-see, without the implied threat) site. So, without further ado, we present:

Overheard in New York: The Voice of the Big Apple

Man, people are funny.

6 Sep 2005

Walking with the elephants

Filed under: Africa, Personal — paulcook @ 10:39 am

Note: Click on images for larger version; and then again for highest resolution version.

The second major natural landmark of our Botswana and Zambia trip was the Okavango Delta. In the northern part of Botswana, surrounded by desert and semi-desert, the Kavango river forms an inland delta. It splits into numerous little rivers and wetlands, that vary greatly in size depending on the time of year, but which support thousands of animals, birds, reptiles and plants. And some tourists, too.

[img]We certainly got the authentic experience on our trip. We left from Maun, on the edge of the delta, and were driven for two long, bumpy hours along sand roads into the delta. Now August is the end of the dry season, so to call it a delta is perhaps ambitious — the part we were in was dry plains and an occassional thin river. We were to have camped on an island, but unfortunately it wasn’t an island when we were there. This is a part of the world that is particularly vulnerable to even the slightest climate change, so it could be that in decades to come the delta will largely disappear. For now, however, the water still flows, if much reduced, year round.