Sunday, October 21, 2012

Made in America by Bill Bryson

Made in America was published in 1994. In principle, it is a book about English words that originated in the area that is now the United States of America. However, it is much more than that. It is a book about people, places, customs, and languages. The history of words is often a pretext for Bill to tell an interesting story about a person, an invention, about immigration, film making, aviation, advertising, sex, or car manufacturing.

Here is a sample of Bill Bryson's style from chapter 15, The Movies:
"It is a curious fact that this most American of phenomena was created almost entirely by non-Americans. Apart from Mack Senett and Mary Pickford (who were in any case both Canadian), the early studios were run by a small band of men who had begun life from strikingly similar backgrounds: they were all eastern European Jews, poor and uneducated, who had left Europe in the same decade (the 1880s), and had established themselves in the New World in the mostly lowly trades before they all abruptly - and instinctively, it seems - abandoned their careers in the first decade of this century and became seized with the opportunities to be found in the nickelodeon business." 
This introduction is followed by detailed stories of many men, among them Samuel Goldwyn, whose name makes the middle part of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and who was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw. Goldwyn's memorable contributions to the English language include 'Gentlemen, include me out', and 'You've bitten the hand of the goose that laid the golden egg'. :-)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a Woody Allen film about our search for a fulfilling relationship. Shown from the point of view of two young American women spending summer in Europe. Not very believable, but still delightful to watch.

Made in 2008, the movie is starring beautiful actors (Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall) and beautiful cityscapes and landscapes of Barcelona and Catalonia.

"Life is the ultimate work of art".

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Byron Bay, NSW

Welcome to Byron Bay, a beautiful little place in northern NSW, about 1 hour south from Gold Coast.

Walking towards Wategos Beach, which like most in Australia, is also a park, with benches, barbies, and public toilets:

Wategos Beach, looking south:

There is a 3.7 km walking trail from the beach, up Cape Byron, to the light house, and then down to Clarkes Beach:

Cape Byron. We saw a couple of dolphins swimming along the coast. Often, during their migration period, you can see whales from here.

Approaching the light house: 

And here it is, built in 1901, still operating today. The cycle of Cape Byron lighthouse is 15 seconds. If you get lost in the Coral Sea and see a light appearing every 15 seconds, you will know that is a lighthouse at Cape Byron. If you see a red light, watch out, because you are close to the rocks:

Oh, you can drive up to the light house too, but the parking is scarce, and there is a fee:

Scheduled guided tours of the light house are available for a donation.

The lighthouse currently uses two electrical light bulbs, 1000W each, of which only one is on at any time and the other one is an automatic backup. The base for the rotating lightbulbs and mirrors weighs over 4 tonnes, and is turned by two small electric motors. This is possible, because the base floats in mercury, the same toxic metal used in the past in thermometers:

Going down the trail, a view towards Tallow Beach:

You are here:

Clarkes Beach:

Native vegetation planted on a steep hill: 

A road block:

Back at Wategos Beach:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Google Speaks by Janet Lowe

On 300-odd small pages of "Google Speaks" Janet Lowe tells the story of Google and the key people who run it: Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt.

This book was published in 2009 - only 3 years ago - and it already shows signs of age: Facebook, which is the biggest danger to Google's dominance of Internet, is not mentioned even once.

A few gems:

Google makes money from advertising, however, initially Page and Brin didn't want to go that route. They wrote: "[...] we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers."

The book contains a guess of Google having 1 million servers back in 2006. This was probably an overshot. Google may have about 2 million servers currently.

The ultimate goal of Larry and Sergey is to create AI. Larry Page: "Google will fulfill its mission only when its search engine is AI-complete. You guys know what that means? That's artificial intelligence." 

Sergey Brin: "It’s not enough not to be evil. We also actively try to be good." Despite the many controversies mentioned in the book, this guiding principle is clearly visible when you compare the history of Google with the history of Facebook. Google may be first to create AI and bring an end to the human rule on Earth, but it will do so with good intentions.