29 junho 2007

Hoje na RTP2: Dom Quixote de Cervantes

A vigência desta obra literária é a premissa fundamental do documentário que penetra na obra, na vida e no tempo em que foi escrita.
O que significavam na época os livros de cavalaria? Porque Cervantes não gostava de tais obras? O que é um fidalgo? Quem é Sancho Pança e o que representa exactamente no livro? Qual é o segredo do sucesso desta obra? Qual é o significado actual de D. Quixote?
Estas são algumas das perguntas que constituem a trama principal deste documentário, que conta com a participação de intelectuais, escritores, historiadores e especialistas da obra, da vida e do tempo de Cervantes, tais como, Martín de Riquer, José Saramago, Günter Grass, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jean Canavaggio, Felipe González, Carme Riera, Luis Rojas Marcos e Francisco Rico.


I found the photographer of these beautiful kittens:

Sabine Rath from Tigers Deluxe

'Rome Reborn' Model Pushes Frontiers of 3-D Simulation

Rome was at its peak in the fourth century, with over a million inhabitants. It was the largest metropolis the world had ever seen: Not until Victorian London, 1500 years later, did an urban area surpass Rome’s size. This week, an unusual combination of classicists, engineers and archaeologists unveiled something not even HBO and Hollywood could manage – a complete 3-D model of Rome, circa 320 A.D.

It’s a huge model for a huge city. Running a fly-through, real-time model of the ancient city requires serious processing power. “It’s a big engineering problem to have a big model of something that has to be rendered that fast,” says Bernard Frischer, director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and the “Rome Reborn” project’s organizer.

To create the digital model, researchers scanned a 3,000 square foot, 1/250 plaster model of the city – the “Plastico di Roma Antica” – which was completed in the 1970s. Because of the model’s intricacy – the Plastico’s Coliseum is only 8 inches tall -- Italian engineers used laser radar originally designed to measure precise tolerances on jet parts to scan within a tenth of a millimeter. Each 6-by-6 section contained 60 million data points.

Digitizing the scan produced amazing results: a fly-through model of the entire city, street by street, column by column. Yesterday’s demonstration ran on a $2500 Shuttle PC equipped with a 1.5-Gb invidia graphics card that pumps out 30 frames per second, a refreshing change from the $500,000 UCLA mainframe test versions ran on in the late 1990s. The resolution is good enough to run on a movie screen. “We thank gamers for wasting all that time and money – that has really encouraged companies to invest in graphics cards and PCs,” Frischer says.

Frischer’s goal is to create a “moderated wiki” for Rome scholars to use as an online forum. Archaeologists can add or change buildings or monuments as new evidence is unearthed, architects can explore the city’s sightlines and traffic flows and art historians can add details and information to buildings that have been scanned by other teams.

Scholars hope the digital Rome will lead to a new understanding of how the city worked. “How we gather information defines how we understand the city,” says Dean Abernathy, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. “Publications made to go in a book end at the edge of the page. This gives you the whole context.”

But it won't just be for academics. “Rome Reborn” has been licensed to a tour company in Rome, and was officially unveiled by Rome’s mayor June 11. In April 2008, an orientation film based on the model (“Rewind Rome”) will open in a converted playhouse across from the Coliseum to give tourists a sense of the city’s past, and dedicated PDA/GPS devices will let them walk the city and see what the view in front of them once looked like. And at some point it might be even easier to travel back in time: Frischer says he's in talks with online community Second Life as well.

Robert Lang has taken the ancient art of origami to new dimensions

Among the multilegged creatures in Robert Lang's airy studio in Alamo, California, are a shimmering-blue long-horned beetle, a slinky, dun-colored centipede, a praying mantis with front legs held aloft, a plump cicada, a scorpion and a black horsefly.

So realistic that some people threaten to stomp on them, these paper models, virtually unfoldable 20 years ago, represent a new frontier in origami. No longer limited to traditional birds and boats, origami—the art of paper folding—is evolving artistically and technologically, thanks to a small but growing number of mathematicians and scientists around the world, including Lang. What's more, this group believes the ancient art holds elegant solutions to problems in fields as diverse as automobile safety, space science, architecture, robotics, manufacturing and medicine.

A laser physicist and former researcher with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lang, 46, is a pioneer in technical and computational origami, which focuses on the mathematics behind the art. "He's the Renaissance man of origami," says Jan Polish of Origami USA, which has 1,700 members worldwide. "A lot of people who come from the science end are mostly interested in origami as a problem to be solved. His work is very intriguing because he has combined art and math. His signature is a high degree of reality with a breath of life."

Lang has created or breathed life into more than 495 intricate new origami models, some requiring hundreds of folds: turtles with patterned shells, raptors with textured feathers, a rattlesnake with 1,000 scales and a tick the size of a popcorn kernel. His masterpiece, first created in 1987, is a life-size, 15-inch-tall Black Forest cuckoo clock, complete with pendulum, pine cones and stag's head. It is so complex that Lang was asked to demonstrate its folding on Japanese television—a task that took five hours. Most of these works adhere to one deceptively simple requirement—the use of a single sheet of paper with no cuts or tears.

Lang, who has authored or co-authored eight books on origami, has exhibited pieces in art galleries and at origami conventions in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Boston, Seattle and San Diego. In 2004, he spent a week as artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his lectures drew standing-room-only audiences of paper folders and math and computer-science students. This past September, he organized the Fourth International Conference on Origami in Science, Mathematics and Education, held at the California Institute of Technology.

"One of the things that's really unusual about him is his intuition for paper and his technical acuity at folding it," says Erik Demaine, an associate professor in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT who studies all types of folding and is a frequent collaborator with Lang. "When he works on a problem, he usually can see the solution, get out a piece of paper and demonstrate it."

Lang first embarked on his paper route at the age of 6, when his father, Jim, a sales and service manager for an equipment company in Atlanta, and his mother, Carolyn, a homemaker, gave their precocious son a book on origami. "I remember the moment I started," Lang recalls. "This seemed like such a wonderful thing, that you could take some paper, something free, and make really neat toys out of it. There's essentially an endless supply of raw material."

By the age of 10, Lang had folded flapping birds and jumping frogs, and was running out of published models. "I started wanting to make things that weren't in the books, and at some point began making my own designs," he says. He continued folding, and by the time he graduated from the California Institute of Technology—with a doctorate in applied physics—the art of origami was in a resurgence.

No one knows for sure when or where paper folding originated, but it seems to have been well established by the 1600s in Japan, where messages of good luck and prosperity have long been folded into ceremonial pieces. There was also an independent tradition of paper folding in Europe. But until the mid-20th century, practitioners had been limited to only a few hundred classic and oft-repeated designs. Then, in the 1950s, new techniques and designs created by Japanese origami artist Akira Yoshizawa started being published and exhibited. Soon after, experts began working on the mathematics that would allow the design and computation of abstract geometric shapes in folded paper. Lang and others use analytical geometry, linear algebra, calculus and graph theory to solve origami problems.

In the early '90s, Lang and Japanese origami master Toshiyuki Meguro simultaneously hit on a technique that has revolutionized folding. Now called "circle-river packing," the technique allowed origamists to do something that had always eluded them—create models with realistic appendages in specific spots. Each of a design's "flaps"—an area of the paper that is to become a leg or an antenna, for instance—is represented by a circle or a strip. Circles are drawn, or "packed," onto a square piece of paper, like oranges in a crate, with no overlap. The spaces between the circles may contain strips, or rivers, hence the name, circle-river packing. For the first time, designs that existed only in the mind's eye could be reliably reproduced without endless—and sometimes fruitless—trial and error.

Now origami designers like Lang could churn out models of startling realism, including insects, whose many legs, wings and antennae had always thwarted designers. The 1990s became the golden age of insects—known to insiders as the Bug Wars. "Someone would create an insect, then someone else would make one with wings, then someone else would have wings with spots," Lang recalls. "I worked a lot on insects, and in working out those design techniques, I developed techniques that could be used for many subjects."

During the 1990s Lang also developed a computer program that uses circle-river packing to produce sophisticated designs. Called TreeMaker, the program allows artists to draw a stick figure of a desired model on-screen. The software then calculates and prints out the most efficient crease pattern. A second program, called ReferenceFinder, determines the sequence of folds needed to create the model. Lang says he uses the programs only rarely when designing his own pieces, usually when brainstorming the design for the basic structure of a particular model. The computer does the grunt work, kicking out a variety of crease options. Then it's back to pencil and paper and hands-on folding to add the many design subtleties that don't yet exist in algorithmic form.

"I'm not trying to make a photograph, I'm trying to capture the essence, the impression of something," Lang says. "Some subjects I come back to over and over—cicadas, simple birds. I can do them in a different way and get ever closer to my mind's-eye image of what they ought to look like. You wouldn't think that origami could be reduced to equations, but some parts of it can. But the artistic aspect will never be captured in equations."

As it happens, the science and art of complex folding holds the potential of solving problems in sheet-metal, collapsible structures such as solar panels for space applications, and robotic arm manipulation. In medicine, research is under way to develop new blood-vessel stents that can fold up for insertion into weakened arteries, then expand once in place.

At carhs gmbh, formerly EASi Engineering GmbH in Germany, engineers trying to simulate air-bag deployment first had to model the flattening of the bag into its folded form—something their software couldn't manage. A computer algorithm developed by Lang allowed engineers to fold various shapes for simulation. Lang has also consulted with engineers at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on a new generation space-based telescope dubbed Eyeglass. The goal is to put huge telescopes—up to 328 feet in diameter—into orbit for purposes that include the viewing of planets outside our solar system. Getting such a behemoth into space poses a problem because the hold of the space shuttle measures a slim 15 feet in diameter. Lang devised a folding pattern for a 16-foot-diameter prototype that can be folded for transport, then unfurled like a flower coming into bloom once in space.

Lang is also busy writing a second book on mathematical folding techniques, and designing and folding a gigantic paper pteranodon, whose 16-foot wingspan will grace Redpath Museum in Quebec. "Origami as an art form is radiating in all directions from its beginnings as a traditional craft," he says. "We're still nowhere near the limits of what's possible."

24 junho 2007

Not for the faint hearted... Be warned

The Guardian has an audio slideshow on whale slaughtering in Japan.

Knut the bear, from the previous post, is one of the largest animals on this earth, and certainly the largest carnivore.

I tell you, it takes a lot of strength to watch the largest animal on earth, endangered as it is, sliced, diced or sun-dried, as they say in the newspaper's piece.

This happens in a developed, modern, affluent and whatnot country.

Does their economy need this?

My economy will most probably never allow me to visit Japan, or Norway, or wherever they still have to resort to this, poor countries.

And yes, gotta love Portugal, 'cos our very own Azores Islands have had WHALE WATCHING for years, as opposed to what economy drove them to do ages ago.

The label All things Japanese applies here, of course, it isn't merely for the good ones.

23 junho 2007

It's hot in Germany... but Knut keeps his cool

All about Knut ;)

Russians love their Cats too :)

"Exército de felídeos" afasta ratos das obras do Museu Hermitage

O Museu Hermitage, em S. Petersburgo, está a ser guardado por gatos. A iniciativa é dos responsáveis do museu, um dos maiores do Mundo, mas não é uma novidade.

Desde o século XVIII que os gatos fazem parte do Hermitage. Esta foi a forma encontrada pela Imperatriz Isabel para afastar os ratos dos tesouros e obras de arte do museu. A estratégia foi eficaz e perdurou, e ainda hoje os gatos convivem com os visitantes do Hermitage e são mesmo uma das suas atracções.

Dois funcionários ocupam-se de tratar dos animais, e todos os empregados do museu contribuem para a compra da sua comida. Normalmente os gatos abandonados vão parar ao museu, juntando-se ao "exército" que afasta os ratos das obras de arte do museu russo.

22 junho 2007

Boy, do I feel good again ;)

Though this mapped poll might be as silly as the heavy drinking one below...

16 junho 2007

García Márquez's 'Total' Novel (my italics and translated titles)

[Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo...]

Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad) celebrates its 40th birthday this year. This is also the author's 80th birthday, and the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Prize for Literature. Maybe it's the coincidence of numbers, but Gabo, as García Márquez is known among friends, has never been so popular. Celebrations are occurring in his native Colombia and elsewhere in the Hispanic world. And an inexpensive anniversary edition of his epic novel, overseen by the author and published under the aegis of the Real Academia Española, with a first printing of a million, is on sale throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

García Márquez's fame is nothing new. It came almost overnight, in 1967, with the hoopla surrounding the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in Buenos Aires by Editorial Sudamericana. The novel was translated into three dozen languages, and for a while, almost everyone on the globe seemed to be reading it. But with a population of more than 450 million, the Spanish-speaking world is larger and more complex today. No other of its artists has since come even close in reputation.

Before One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez was respected as a journalist and the author of a handful of books, including No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba), about a poor, forgotten army officer and his wife in a tropical town. As he anxiously awaits his military pension, the officer considers selling a rooster whose value in cockfights might be the family's only ticket to redemption. Already in that book and in García Márquez's stories, there were references to Macondo, the fictional setting of the novel that would make him famous. After 1967, at mid-career, it didn't seem possible García Márquez could supersede himself. He went on to write an admirable shelf of novels, from Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los tiempos del Cólera) to Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores (Memoria de mis putas tristes). They might be more measured, maybe even more mature, but when it comes to depth, all of them pale in comparison to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The legend behind its composition holds that Gabo and his wife, Mercedes, living in Mexico in the mid-60s, were on their way in their Volkswagen to a vacation in Acapulco when the writer was struck by inspiration. They turned around, and in subsequent months García Márquez went into hiding. Borrowing money, Mercedes became his guardian angel, bringing him food, keeping away strangers. A handful of chapters began circulating among friends, among them the writers Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes, who publicly referred to what they read as a tour de force.

Ours is the age of mediated kitsch. A single episode of a Mexican telenovela today is watched by far more people than all the readers of García Márquez's novel, maybe of his entire oeuvre. But like the firefly, the soap opera perishes almost the second it stirs up its audience's passion. One Hundred Years of Solitude is imperishable. True, when read closely, as I've been doing this semester with my students, it's clearly first and foremost a melodrama, albeit a magisterial one, with syrupy scenes of unrequited love, sibling animosity, and domestic back stabbing.

But the signature mix of exoticism, magic, and the grotesque that García Márquez employs doesn't come from the world of soap operas. Known as "magical realism" — a category loosely connected to what the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier called "lo real maravilloso" — the term has achieved such ubiquity and elasticity as to become meaningless. For a while it denoted an attempt to erase the border between fact and fiction, between the natural and the supernatural. But its current use is chaotic. It helps in cataloging García Márquez's second-rate successors, like Isabel Allende, as it does in understanding Salman Rushdie's baroque hodgepodge of dreams and nationalism in Midnight's Children and Toni Morrison's phantasmagoric meditation on slavery in Beloved. All have been linked to "magical realism," with various degrees of success.

García Márquez, however, is its acknowledged fountainhead, and for good reason. At the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Macondo is a small, nondescript town on the Caribbean coast of Colombia (modeled after García Márquez's birthplace, Aracataca which, 40 years after the novel's debut, is still a dusty place without running water). In 20 symmetrical chapters, each made of approximately 20 dense pages, a third-person narrator — is it Melquíades the Gypsy? — chronicles, with frightening precision, the town's rise and fall, exploring its geographical, temporal, ideological, and cultural dimensions. In spite of the title, the narrative time spans more than a century.

The genealogy of the main characters, the Buendía family, contains dozens of archetypal figures, surrounded by a cast of thousands. The need to belong shapes each of the Buendías and their entourage. There's an epidemic of insomnia, a rainstorm of small yellow flowers, a woman who eats earth, a clairvoyant, and a character obsessed with photographing God. The novel's matriarch is Úrsula Iguarán, a patient, down-to-earth woman, the closest one gets in Macondo to Mother Nature, who keeps the family afloat during almost a century. Afloat but not together: Úrsula's progeny don't know how to love healthily. Indeed, the novel's central motif is incest.

All that is narrated in a flamboyant style but with equanimity, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. García Márquez himself shows up in the latter part, and he makes coded references to his friends and colleagues. It might all be a joke, the reader finds himself thinking as the novel reaches its climactic conclusion.

Or is it? Fortunately, One Hundred Years of Solitude hasn't been turned into a film, a process that usually ends up diminishing the value of the literary source. In an op-ed, García Márquez wrote that Francis Ford Coppola offered to buy the rights to a cinematic adaptation. García Márquez declined, among other reasons, because he wanted Macondo not to be imprisoned in our imagination in the form of a set cast. (Some of his other novellas and stories, like Eréndira and Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Crónica de una muerte anunciada), have made it to the big screen, with atrocious results.)

In 2002, García Márquez published the first installment of his autobiography: Living to Tell the Tale (Vivir para contarla). It contains keys — García Márquez's own home in Aracataca as the model for the Buendía house, he and his friends as the inspiration for the Barranquilla literary cadre in the latter part of the novel, a famous massacre of workers in 1928 that finds its way into the book — to deciphering the origin of his images and motifs. But should one be looking for such explanations in a novel that begs to be read autonomously, as a door to a parallel reality? My suggestion is to leave biography outside. Take the case of García Márquez's politics, which to scores of readers, especially Cuban exiles, are troubling. Since he was young, García Márquez has been a leftist. In the 60s, he followed the intellectual wave and embraced the Cuban revolution. But when many supporters switched sides, denouncing Fidel Castro's regime not only as intolerant but hypocritical, García Márquez did not. He remains a loyal friend to Havana, even serving occasionally as a broker in the diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

A few critics would like to turn the commemoration of García Márquez's achievements this year into a referendum on his ideology. The same question was raised in 2004, when Pablo Neruda's centennial gave place to accusations that he had written not poetry but propaganda. It doesn't take too much intelligence to realize that in Latin America, the crossroads of literature and politics is particularly messy. Jorge Luis Borges received a medal from Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Mario Vargas Llosa was a presidential candidate in Peru in 1990, on a center-right platform. It's impossible to disentangle these forces. It is precisely that messiness that makes One Hundred Years of Solitude so compelling as it addresses the obstacles Latin America has encountered on its road to democracy.

My own relationship with the book has changed over time. I first read it in my teens and was transformed. It was the late 70s, and García Márquez's impact was being hailed: He had reinvented Latin America through his pen, infusing the region with magnetism. He had rejuvenated the novel, which after World War II seemed to have reached a dead end of insurmountable depression, helping move its center to the New World.

As I matured, I remained in awe of García Márquez but didn't want to feel stifled under his shadow. Many writers of my generation, the so-called Latin American literary boom, were from urban centers and didn't empathize with his worldview. We wanted to write not about, or from, the tropics, but about anything and everything — as Jorge Volpi has done on Nazism and the making of the atomic bomb in In Search of Klingsor, Rodrigo Fresán on Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Edmundo Paz Soldán on antiglobalization in Turing's Delirium, and Ignacio Padilla on the Austro-Hungarian empire's eastern front in Shadow Without a Name. For many of us, One Hundred Years of Solitude seemed too parochial. The novel as a literary genre needed to be feisty, oppositional, and unsanctimonious.

In my 40s, I've returned to García Márquez's masterpiece. Now it seems to me that, like Cervantes's Don Quixote, it decodes the DNA of Hispanic civilization. It's a "total" novel, designed by a demiurge capable of creating a universe as comprehensive as ours. One Hundred Years of Solitude has done something astonishing: It has survived, accumulating disparate, at times conflicting, rereadings. Isn't that what a classic is, a mirror in which readers see what they are looking for?

Boy, do I feel good ;)

15 junho 2007

The Times goes crazy on Dalí

Hippos in Uganda

Cute Overload totally went Overboard ;)

The life of a panda bear from birth to the look we know him to have.

A ranting sea-otter. Now why doesn't our Oceanarium website show such creativity?

06 junho 2007

Elephant herds found on isolated south Sudan island

Sudan, May 28: International wildlife experts have located hundreds of wild elephants on a treeless island in the swamps of south Sudan, where they apparently avoided unchecked hunting during more than 20 years of war.

"We flew out of a cloud, and there they were. It was like something out of Jurassic Park," said Tom Catterson, working on a U.S.-funded environment program in south Sudan.

Environmentalists are keeping the location of the island in the Sudd area secret to prevent poachers from killing the animals.

Sudan`s north-south civil war caused massive displacement of animals as well as people into neighboring countries, according to southern environment ministry official Victor Wurda la Tombe.

The conflict ended with a 2005 peace agreement that gave the south semi-autonomous status, but experts say game hunting is still unchecked in a region filled with guns despite a five-year ban on hunting to allow wildlife to replenish.

Environmentalists are only now beginning to discover the extent of the damage on animal populations, and are looking for additional pockets where animals could not be reached by rebels or armed groups looking for meat and export products like tusks.

It is possible there are other herds of elephants -- mostly unheard of in the contemporary south -- hiding out in the Sudd, an area so flat the Nile River breaks up into hundreds of channels and lakes.

"It`s not that good a habitat for elephants, but they`re free of people shooting at them," said Catterson on Sunday. "You and I wouldn`t stand a chance in there between the mosquitoes and crocodiles. And you`d get lost."

Although Sudan is banned from exporting elephant tusks, it is still easy to purchase ivory carvings in Khartoum`s famous Omdurman market. The Sudd is also host to a wide variety of fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Two oil companies have been given concession rights by the southern government in areas deep in the Sudd previously undisturbed by seismic testing and exploratory drilling.

Both the ministry and international experts are worried about the potential for damage in the fragile swamp.

"Because the land is so flat, if you interrupt drainage patterns here you can have a huge impact," Catterson said.

Book of Kells to be scrutinised by laser technology

DUBLIN: For a manuscript written 1,200 years ago and revered as a wonder of the Western world practically ever since, little is known about the Book of Kells and its splendidly illustrated Gospels in Latin. But the book may be about to surrender a few of its many secrets.

Experts at Trinity College in Dublin, where the Book of Kells has resided for the past 346 years, are allowing a two-year laser analysis of the treasure, which is one of Ireland's great tourist draws.

The 21st-century laser technology being used, Raman spectroscopy, encourages hopes among those with a romantic view for an ecclesiastical intrigue like "The Da Vinci Code" or "The Name of the Rose."

But the precise subjects are more mundane. The laser will study the chemicals and composition of the book, its pigments, inks and pages of fine vellum. Experts estimate that 185 calves would have been needed to create the vellum on which the art and scriptures were reproduced.

Pending the laser analysis, experts assume that expensive materials for some of the blue pigments came from the gemstone lapis lazuli, mined in northeast Afghanistan. Yellow pigments are believed to have made from arsenic sulfide and, bizarrely, reddish Kermes pigments from the dried pregnant bodies of a genus of Mediterranean insect, suggesting extraordinary trade routes for the ninth century.

Other techniques will help to analyze the pigments made from vegetable matter; others will be used to examine the inks.

"A lot of what we have done before has been based on anecdotal reports of the materials that were used," said Robin Adams, the librarian of Trinity College, who hopes the exacting dot-by-dot analysis by laser will unlock secrets and help his staff preserve the book. "Essentially the laser bounces back, and you get a spectrum.

"That spectrum tells you whether this pigment is lead, copper or whatever. We haven't got the reports yet, but we very much expect it to tell us new information about what the monks used."

Adams hopes that Trinity's manuscript research will answer some of his own questions about the book.

"I would like to find out whether this work can tell us its relationship with other manuscripts.

"Is the material used in Kells the same as might be used in England or France? It could tell us a bit about the movement of materials around the monastic houses. We would love to find out how these monastic houses worked as communities, and whether the techniques were the same. Or whether they developed techniques because of the raw materials they had at hand. That would tell us new information about the times."

For a religious work, the book has a rather exciting history, but its hazier aspects are unlikely to be discovered by a laser. It was created around the year 800 to honor the achievements two centuries before of Columb, also known as Colm Cille. He was an Irish nobleman who in Ireland and Scotland founded one of the world's earliest Christian monastic traditions dedicated to learning and devotion.

Irish legend relates that Colm Cille, after losing a bitter legal ruling over his right to make copies of books, went into exile on Iona, the Scottish isle where the Book of Kells is thought to have been written.

But Dutch or Norse Viking raiders landed in 806, and Irish monks evidently removed the book for safekeeping. Eventually it made its way to the Kells in County Meath, a monastery outside Dublin.

There it survived new waves of raids, including one by bandits who made off with the book in 1007, according to contemporary chronicles.

It was recovered two months later, under dirt, stripped of its gold covering.

The book stayed in Kells until Cromwell's wars in the 17th century.

A senior Protestant clergyman, Henry Jones, who had served as a quartermaster general for the invading army, is said to have "donated" the book to Trinity College sometime after 1661.

With the original binding lost, the book was split over the years into four volumes. Two are now on display in "Turning Darkness Into Light," an exhibit at Trinity College, while the others are being analyzed.

Unfortunately, the enduring mystery about whether the book was written on Iona, Kells or at another Colm Cille monastic site will likely endure. Maybe only a testing of the DNA of the vellum would reveal the age and source of the calfskins used at that time and reveal the place of the book's manufacture.

Adams would like to know if such an analysis could unlock that secret.

"I have always wondered whether a technique could tell us where the cattle were and where they came from," he said. "Did the skins move around - was there a trade in the skins or were they produced locally? That would add to our knowledge. But that is what we are doing in applying these new techniques."

There is no doubt about the book's appeal in the present day: it attracts more than 550,000 visitors annually, vying with the Guinness Brewery tour up the road in central Dublin as Ireland's most popular site.

Its popularity leads to crowds during the summer, and there are plans to expand its display area in the college library building, which dates from 1732. It has yet to be decided whether the book will need to be removed during any building work.

Other academics vouch for the book's world importance.

"It is one of the most precious books on the planet," said Terry Dolan, professor of English at University College Dublin. But Dolan said the book had another secret that technology would not reveal.

"Little is documented about how the book came to be removed from Kells in the first place and how it ended up in Trinity," he said.

"There is yet another fascinating mystery story there."

Dark Side of the Moon

Everyone who can, remembers where they were on that July day in 1969. They remember what they were doing, too. They were watching grainy, black and white TV images. There was not much action and not much sound. But this was the moment the Earth stood still. They were transfixed, watching history as it was made.
They were watching two men, high above them, walking on the moon.
The moon has pulled at the souls and imaginations of people through the ages. Its attraction is like the lunar pull of the tides. It carries in its light a mystery, unfathomable and beyond reach, that goes to the core of the universe. It is our nearest touchstone to the galaxies. It fires our imagination and for a frenzied time last century it became the object of our desires. Well, at least the desires of the United States to be the first to walk on its airless plains.
Gerard DeGroot, professor of modern history at St Andrews University, in Dark Side of the Moon explores this mission to fly to the moon. The subtitle sums it up admirably: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest.
DeGroot makes known his attitude in the preface: "Putting men in space was an immensely expensive distraction of little scientific or cultural worth. The American people, in other words, were fleeced: they were persuaded to spend $(US)35 billion on an ego trip to the moon, and then were told that a short step on the desolate lunar landscape was a giant leap for mankind."
DeGroot traces Neil Armstrong's small lunar steps back to a subterranean factory in eastern Germany during World War II. It was there under the guidance of scientist Wernher von Braun, a man singularly driven to reach the stars, that the V2 rockets were built to rain on England. Not for the first time, science was hijacked for military ends. Hitler, on learning of the rockets' capabilities, demanded that 2000 a month be made.
After the war, von Braun and some of his team threw in their lot with the Americans and the US, now having to come to grips with dealing with the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Cold War, took whatever scientific and military edge it could find - including former workers from the Nazi system.
It is entirely understandable after the nightmare of World War II, that Americans were desperate to find a new frontier. They were, after all, the descendants of pioneers and space was the new frontier without equal. Entrepreneurship combined with media, notably films and books, to create a thirst for all things alien. An example DeGroot cites is Walt Disney recruiting von Braun for a TV series on space travel. Tomorrowland quickly followed in Disneyland.
But then into the American fervour a small beep intruded. It came from a tin can called Sputnik, launched by the Soviets in 1957. It set the US back on its heels, although as DeGroot points out, unnecessarily so. In the atmosphere of the Cold War, anything the Soviets did was seen as a dire threat not only to US security but to a way of life. The space race had begun.
The man who tried to pour a bucket of sanity on to the fire even before Sputnik was US president Dwight Eisenhower. Four years earlier he said in a speech: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed . . . We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8000 people."
In the din, no one was listening. Even Eisenhower had to bend, creating NASA to quieten the clamour.
DeGroot goes into the heart of the politics at the time. Space was a vote winner. John F. Kennedy realised this and adopted it for his own purposes. The US would win the space race and put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Privately, as DeGroot reveals, Kennedy really could not have cared less about a man in space. But the mission had other benefits, not least showing the Soviets who was in charge of the world. Much rubbish was spouted in the '60s by politicians who declared that the moon was the key to military domination on Earth. DeGroot, with a sharp wit and razor argument, pricks that balloon and many others about the benefits of the race.
And when man, not any man but an American man, landed on the moon, what did he find? DeGroot quotes not Armstrong but his partner Buzz Aldrin: "Magnificent desolation."
Back on Earth, people were entranced. And then they forgot. The moon had served its purpose. It had pulled at the tides of humanity's affairs and then ebbed back into the solar system. Now, it was just a chunk of rock, without mystery.

The Raven: Master of Deceit

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;--vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore--

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

"'Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door--

Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;

This it is and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door--

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"--

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my sour within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is and this mystery explore--

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--

'Tis the wind and nothing more.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore--

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if its soul in that one word he did outpour

Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered--

Till I scarcely more than muttered: "Other friends have flown before--

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before."

Then the bird said "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of 'Never--nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee--by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!--

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--

On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore--
Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore--

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--

"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Mood Altering Properties... How true ;)

Thanx to Poison Ivy ;)

05 junho 2007

And Portugal, when does it rebel against stuff like this?

Barbra Streisand's concert in Rome next month should be cancelled because of excessively high ticket prices, consumer groups in Italy have said.

The Adusbef and Codacons groups urged the city and the Italian Olympic Committee to deny Streisand use of the Stadio Flaminio on 15 June.

Prices, ranging from 150 euros (£100) to more than 900 euros (£600), were "absurd and shameful", the groups said.

Streisand's Rome concert will kick off her European tour.

The 24,000-seat stadium "is public property and cannot be used for immoral deals that are shameful to a civilized country", Adusbef and Codacons said.

All but the cheapest tickets are still available to buy on the internet, the Reuters news agency reported.


Organisers of the concert were not immediately available for comment.

Streisand's 2006 US tour was ranked the second-highest grossing tour in the US last year, generating $92.5m (£46.8m), with the average ticket costing $298 (£151).

The Rolling Stones tour ranked first.

Streisand will be accompanied by a 58-piece orchestra on her month-long European tour, which includes concerts in Austria, France, Ireland and the UK.

Tickets for her first date at London's O2 arena - formerly the Millennium Dome - sold out in just 20 minutes, despite tickets costing between £100 and £600.

04 junho 2007

The eco-diet ... and it's not just about food miles

Consumers need more information about the environmental impact of the food in their shopping basket if they are to make eco-friendly choices, according to researchers who have carried out a detailed analysis of the ecological costs associated with food. They argue that the focus on "food miles" is missing the bigger picture and may be counter-productive.

Food stores such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer have said that they will label products that have been transported by air. But according to the researchers, only around 2% of the environmental impact of food comes from transporting it from farm to shop. The vast majority of its ecological footprint comes from food processing, storage, packaging and growing conditions. So food grown locally could have a considerably bigger footprint than food flown halfway around the world, and consumers who make their choices on air miles alone may be doing more environmental harm, according to the scientists.

"I'm a bit worried about the food miles [debate] because it is educating the consumer in the wrong way. It is such an insignificant point," said Ruth Fairchild at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff. "Those [foods] could have been produced using pesticides that have travelled all the way around the world. If you just take food miles, it is the tiny bit on the end."

A better system, she argues, would be one that considers all environmental impacts from farm to dinner plate. One option is ecological footprint analysis, which takes into account the amount of land needed to provide the resources to produce food, both directly on the farm and indirectly from the energy that goes into growing, harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting it. A food's impact is measured in "global hectares", the notional land area needed to produce it. But she thinks that consumers are not yet ready for ecological footprint labelling and the science behind it is not yet watertight.

To help confused consumers, Dr Fairchild and colleague Andrea Collins at Cardiff University have used the ecological footprint concept to develop a set of eco-diets designed to minimise the impact of food consumption on the planet. Sticking to the diets does not mean eating lentils all day, but the most eco-friendly diet excludes wine, spirits, chocolate, ice cream and most meat. The study is published in the journal Sustainable Food Consumption.

The diets are based on an analysis of the ecological footprint associated with the food consumed by the average Cardiff resident in a week. The three diets are progressively more austere in their ecological footprint, with the most ascetic allowing only foods with a footprint of less than 0.002 global hectares per kilogramme. This meant replacing around one in six food items with less eco-profligate fare which had a similar nutritional makeup . This diet has a 40% lower ecological footprint than the typical Cardiff diet.

Most meat is pushed out of the super-eco-diet because feeding livestock is energy intensive. Cheese is also out because of the large amounts of energy that go into processing it and refrigerating it in storage. The footprint for wine is just too high, while sprits and chocolate have a per kilogramme footprint which is around double the cut-off point. Bread, vegetables, cakes, biscuits, eggs, pork, ham, bacon and milk are all acceptable.

A typical day on the diet

Breakfast: Cereal and milk, tea/coffee (from weekly allowance half as large as normal diet)


Toast and jam (or marmalade)

Lunch: Avocado and poached egg with toast


Black-eye bean, rocket and pinenut salad

Dinner: Spinach, leek and pinenut risotto with yoghurt.

Fruit salad


Pork cassoulet with mustard, honey and cinnamon, served with green salad. Sweet pancakes with jam, honey, tahini, chocolate sauce or yoghurt

Drinks/Treats: Two glasses of beer, pack of fruit pastilles, two Jaffa Cakes


One can cola and nine boiled sweets

03 junho 2007

How America is betraying the hungry children of Africa

Go The Observer

How to be a fashionable foodie in six easy steps

4. Save the planet. convert to veganism

Meat? Or two veg? If you're remotely interested in saving this timeworn planet, then you probably need to become a vegetable-based life-form, and soon. A recent report in the New Scientist confirmed that meat and dairy production causes environmental degradation on a huge scale, including erosion, water pollution and loss of biodiversity. What's more, the world's one-and-a-half billion head of cattle (and 1.7 billion sheep, plus the odd pig and goat) produce enough methane and nitrous oxide to make up 18 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions. That's a higher share than transport.

A study conducted by the University of Chicago found that the typical US diet (about 28 per cent of which comes from animal sources) generates the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet with the same number of calories. Ah, the burger brigade might retort, but veganism comes with its own gristly issues too. It tends, for instance, to rely on imported crops such as nuts and soya beans so bang goes your food-mile quota. Novice vegans would also need to avoid illegal Amazonian soya, cultivated on land illicitly cleared of rainforest (If you are harbouring any in your fridge, your eco-rating has just plummeted like a dying duck).

Safer by far is to introduce more hemp into your life. According to nutritionists, the hemp seed contains 'the perfectly balanced 3:1 ratio of not just one but both essential fatty acids, Omega 3 and 6'. Win-win-win, and you can even smoke the leftovers.

Heroes: Stella McCartney, daughter of the original veggie sausage broker and all-round icon of the vegetable kingdom. Sadie Frost, strict vegetarian since birth, and Pamela Anderson, an unexpected vegan and the world's only woman known to be made almost entirely from a combination of tofu and silicone.

What to say: 'Curd is the word.'

Risk: as an L-plate veggie, the smell of sizzling bacon could send you to the very precipice of apostasy. But have faith! Hold fast, despite your own increased methane emissions being of grave concern to passers-by.

Benefit: vegetarians live longer. Actually, I made that up. It just feels that way if you have to get by in a sausage-free world.

Other steps from The Observer