31 agosto 2007

Coffee Drinks Illustrated

About Espresso

Espresso is prepared by forcing hot water through finely ground dark-roast coffee beans. Think of it is strong, concentrated coffee. You can add extra ’shots’ of espresso to make your drink stronger.



Espresso Macchiatio

Espresso Macchiato
[e-spres-oh mock-e-ah-toe]

Espresso Con Panna

Espresso con Panna
[e-spres-oh kon pawn-nah]

Caffe Latte diagram

Caffé Latte
[caf-ay lah-tey]

Flat White diagram

Flat White

Caffe Breve diagram

Cafe Breve
[caf-ay brev-ay]

Cappuccino diagram


Caffe Mocha diagram

Caffé Mocha
[caf-ay moh-kuh]

Americano diagram


Plastic Litters Our Oceans

The strange pizza you see above are items removed from the gullet of a fledgling Laysan albatross, a rather large sea bird that had consumed over a half-pound of plastic. It is my understanding that most of the plastic that enters the sea actually does break down eventually, but it breaks down into tiny particles that become distributed throughout the ocean—not a true decomposition.

A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse.

photo of deformed sea turtle
At the same time, all over the globe, there are signs that plastic pollution is doing more than blighting the scenery; it is also making its way into the food chain. Some of the most obvious victims are the dead seabirds that have been washing ashore in startling numbers, their bodies packed with plastic: things like bottle caps, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, and colored scraps that, to a foraging bird, resemble baitfish. (One animal dissected by Dutch researchers contained 1,603 pieces of plastic.) And the birds aren’t alone. All sea creatures are threatened by floating plastic, from whales down to zooplankton. There’s a basic moral horror in seeing the pictures: a sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape; a humpback towing plastic nets that cut into its flesh and make it impossible for the animal to hunt. More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating this junk or from being ensnared in it and drowning.

More on Best Life magazine

Nah, really?

When English is short of a word it often takes one from a foreign language

Over the centuries the English language has assimilated phrases and words from other languages. Here are some examples.

A cappella, Italian, sung without instrumental accompaniment (literally “in chapel style”)

Ad hoc, Latin, made or done for a particular purpose (lit. “to this”)

Agent provocateur, French, a person who tempts a suspected criminal to commit a crime so that they can be caught and convicted (lit. “provocative agent”)

Al dente, Italian, (of food) cooked so as to be still firm when bitten (lit. “to the tooth”)

Alfresco, Italian, in the open air (lit. “in the fresh”)

Bête noire, French, a person or thing one particularly dislikes (lit. “black beast”)

Blitzkrieg, German, an intense, violent military campaign intended to bring about a swift victory (lit. “lightning war”)

Carte blanche, French, complete freedom to act as one wishes (lit. “blank paper”)

Caveat emptor, Latin, the buyer is responsible for checking the quality of goods before purchasing them (lit. “let the buyer beware”)

C’est la guerre, French, used as an expression of resigned acceptance (lit. “that’s war”)

Chacun à son goût, French, everyone to their own taste

Chef-d’oeuvre, French, a masterpiece (lit. “chief work”)

Coup de foudre, French, love at first sight (lit. “stroke of lightning”)

De facto, Latin, in fact, whether by right or not

Déjà vu, French, the sense of having experienced the present situation before (lit. “already seen”)

Dernier cri, French, the very latest fashion (lit. “the last cry”)

Deus ex machina, Latin, an unexpected event that saves an apparently hopeless situation (lit. “god from the machinery”)

Dolce far niente, Italian, pleasant idleness (lit. “sweet doing nothing”)

Doppelgänger, German, an apparition or double of a living person (lit. a “double-goer”)

Double entendre, French, a word or phrase with two possible interpretations (from obsolete French, “double understanding”)

Eminence grise, French, a person who has power or influence without holding an official position (lit. “grey eminence”)

Enfant terrible, French, a person whose behaviour is unconventional or controversial (lit. “terrible child”)

Esprit de corps, French, a feeling of pride and loyalty uniting the members of a group (lit. “spirit of body”)

Fait accompli, French, a thing that has been done or decided and cannot now be altered (lit. “accomplished fact”)

Femme fatale, French, a seductive woman (lit. “disastrous woman”)

Haute couture, French, designing and making of clothes by fashion houses (lit.“high dressmaking”)

In camera, Latin, in private (lit. “in the chamber”)

In loco parentis, Latin, in the place of a parent

Inter alia, Latin, among other things

Jeunesse dorée, French, wealthy, fashionable young people (lit. “gilded youth”)

Katzenjammer, German, a hangover or severe headache accompanying a hangover (lit. “cats’ wailing”)

Laissez-faire, French, a non-interventionist policy (lit. “allow to do”)

Magnum opus, Latin, the most important work of an artist, writer etc (lit. “great work”)

Manqué, French, having failed to become what one might have been (lit. from manquer “to lack”)

Memento mori, Latin, something kept as a reminder that death is inevitable (lit. “remember (that you have) to die”)

Ménage à trois, French, an arrangement in which a married couple and the lover of one of them live together (lit. “way of living”)

Mot juste, French, the most appropriate word or expression

Nec plus ultra, Latin, the best example of something (lit. “not further beyond”)

Non sequitur, Latin, a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous statement (lit. “it does not follow”)

Nouveau riche, French, people who have recently become rich and who display their wealth ostentatiously (lit. “new rich”)

Papabile, Italian, worthy or eligible to be elected pope

Pied-à-terre, French, a small flat or house kept for occasional use (lit. “foot to earth”)

Prima facie, Latin, accepted as so until proved otherwise (lit. “at first face”)

Quid pro quo, Latin, a favour or advantage given in return for something (lit. “something for something”)

Raison d’être, French, the most important reason for someone or something’s existence (lit. “reason for being”)

Reductio ad absurdam, Latin, a method of disproving a premise by showing that its logical conclusion is absurd (lit. “reduction to the absurd”)

Sangfroid, French, the ability to stay calm in difficult circumstances (lit. “cold blood”)

Soi-disant, French, self-styled; so-called (lit. “self-saying”)

Sui generis, Latin, unique (lit. “of its own kind”)

Tant mieux, French, so much the better

Tête-à-tête, French, a private conversation (“head to head”)

Vox populi, Latin, public opinion (lit. “the voice of the people”)

Zeitgeist, German, the characteristic spirit or mood of a particular historical period (lit. “time spirit”)

— © Oxford University Press 2007

Extracted from The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus (ed. Maurice Waite, 2007)

Two film titans die within a day of each other, convene in purgatory

SCENE: A lonely strip of shoreline, empty but for a solitary figure. The water is motionless, the sky is cloudy, daylight slight and wintry, a continuous dusk pervades. Purgatory, it turns out, looks very much like Faro Island, a fact whose irony is not lost on its former resident, the recently deceased INGMAR BERGMAN, the solitary figure alone on the beach. Wearing his standard fisherman's wool hat and tight, bemused pout, the late writer-director surveys his eternal reward.

One Day Old ;)

27 agosto 2007

WishList: still about David Lebovitz

And a recipe with my favourite fruit, courtesy of

2 lbs fresh figs (about 20)
1/2 cup of water 1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
3/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon of freshly squeezed, lemon juice, or more to taste

Remove the hard stem ends from the figs, then cut each fig into 8 pieces.
Put the figs in a medium, nonreactive suacepan with the water, and zest the lemon directly into the saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8-1o minutes until the figs are tender.

Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook until it reaches a jam-like consistency. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Blend together with cream and lemon juice, chill in the fridge and then put in your ice cream maker per the manufacturer's instructions.

Olive Oil Ice Cream

Adapted from David Lebovitz.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch sea salt
4 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fruity olive oil

1. Whisk together the egg yolks in a small bowl. Put the heavy cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
2. Place the milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add a bit of the warm milk into the egg yolks in a thin stream, stirring to combine, then add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (do not boil or it will curdle).
3. Pour the custard through the strainer into the heavy cream. Stir to combine, then whisk in the olive oil. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (3-4 hours please).
4. Whisk the chilled custard until well combined, then pour into your ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer's directions. Store in the freezer.

Ideas for Serving:
- Serve with a few flecks of sea salt on top.
- This goes nicely with fruit, particularly sliced strawberries or some roasted apricots.
- Serve with Balsamic Chocolate Sauce (see recipe below) or pair with balsamic ice cream.
- Drizzle some bittersweet chocolate sauce over top or make Olive-Oil Cocoa-Nib Ice Cream.

Balsamic Chocolate Sauce
1 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
2 tbl sugar
2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped [60 gr]

1. Place the balsamic in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer the balsamic over medium heat until the mixture is reduced to 1/4 cup (this could take as long as 20-30 minutes). Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the sugar and chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is combined. Drizzle over ice cream or use as desired.

[Mercedes adds:]
* CARM, an organic Portuguese label available Whole Foods, is a good inexpensive olive oil.

So good to know it's inexpensive in the US :|

Couldn't have said it better: Eyes Wide Shut

I was at a dinner party recently, and the conversation turned to movies. Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999) came up, accompanied by the usual groans of disapproval and boredom. I felt obligated to say what I usually say in such situations, to say something that results in shock and disbelief: that Eyes Wide Shut is the best movie I've seen since I have been a professional movie critic.

The initial responses to Eyes Wide Shut revolved around the following: 1) The MPAA, their threat of an NC-17 rating and Warner Bros' decision to alter the offending scene by censoring it with "digital figures." 2) Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's marriage and how it was affected by the filming. 3) Kubrick's death in March of 1999 and whether or not the released film was as he intended. 4) The fact that the film was set, but not shot in New York City and didn't look at all like the real thing; that Kubrick was an exile who hadn't actually been to New York for more than three decades. There were other rumors, and specific complaints about certain scenes that colored nearly everyone's opinion, but none of these had anything to do with the movie itself, as it actually exists.

When I originally reviewed the movie I praised it, and lumped it in as a genre film, an erotic thriller addition to Kubrick's sci-fi (2001: A Space Odyssey), horror (The Shining), noir (The Killing), and war films. But I've gradually come to see it as his greatest achievement, the closest he has come to peering into the fragile human soul. Like 2001, it's an odyssey, but a sexual one. Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) attends a swanky Christmas party with his wife Alice (Kidman). Two sexy girls flirt with him, and he helps a patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), revive an overdosed, naked girl in his bathroom. Upon arriving home, Alice admits to Bill that she once almost had an affair. Bill receives a house call and another woman throws herself at him. Sexually overwhelmed and frustrated, Bill opts to go out on the town.

He gets picked up by a prostitute, Domino (Vinessa Shaw), and goes back to her apartment before deciding to move on. Some frat boys taunt him, believing him to be gay ("Go back to San Francisco," one says). He meets an old friend, a former med student and current pianist, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field). Nick tells him about an ultra-secret party, a kind of high-class orgy. Bill obtains the secret password, a mask, and a costume and enters. The party is a sinister, mesmerizing affair, filled with soulless, pounding sex and accompanied by a maddeningly rhythmic chanting on the soundtrack. One naked, masked girl warns him to leave. His identity is discovered, and it's inferred that he has endangered himself and others. The next day, he tries to find out what really happened, but to no avail. (Ziegler speaks with him, but more or less encourages ambiguity rather than finality.)

Meanwhile, Alice finds Bill's costume, and the two of them have their first real conversation in some time, while walking through a toy store at Christmas. The film's final word, "fuck," suggests that Alice and Bill try to bring sexual passion back into their home -- the opposite of the routine, naked bathroom scene that opens the film. (The screenplay was co-written by Frederic Raphael, who had also written one of the cinema's other masterpieces about a marriage, Stanley Donen's 1967 Two for the Road.)

One easy way to explain all this is that it's based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle, the title of which translates into "Dream Novel." (Schnitzler's work was also adapted by Max Ophuls into the great 1950 film La Ronde.) Hence, everything is either a dream, or dreamlike, and has no business being interpreted through reality. Bill experiences everything in a sexual way, and almost every character reacts to him similarly; even the costume shop man's daughter (Leelee Sobieski) flirts with him. He's looking for some kind of outlet, but has no idea what it could be.

The film's detractors have said that Kubrick's slow, deliberate filming has little to do with the raw, animal energy of sex. And indeed, the famous orgy sequence is fairly chilling, but it's meant to be (even in the uncensored version, which I've seen on a British import DVD). After all, the participants are wearing masks, and without identity, there can be no intimacy. All of Bill's outside searching for sex turns out sour; even the lovely, cozy Domino discovers the next day that she has contracted HIV. And, of course, Bill's secret password for the party was "fidelio," or "fidelity," which indicates that he should have just stayed home.

The film's slowness is meant as a purposeful exploration, savoring the journey, the learning experience, rather than the payoff. The scene in Domino's apartment has a powerful, erotic charge as the pair awkwardly tries to discuss what comes next in their business transaction. The film has a preoccupation with mouths; Bill and Domino get closer and closer to a kiss without actually following through, leaving an unfulfilled burning buildup. Earlier at the party, a lothario flirts with Alice, and their dialogue spills out with excruciating slowness as each gazes at the other's lips.

Not to mention that no one lights and glides a camera through a room quite like Kubrick (except perhaps Ophuls), which is why he was able to take on a wide variety of genres and retain his singular touch. His previous forays into sex were sniggering and boyish (Barry Lyndon), or perverted (Lolita) or even violent (A Clockwork Orange), and so Eyes Wide Shut represents a giant leap forward in maturity, not only for the artist, but also for the American cinema in general.

For most of his career, Kubrick has been misunderstood; it takes years for one of his movies to earn its stripes and become accepted into the public canon. 2001 was a head-trip movie, but not necessarily a masterpiece. Barry Lyndon was a flop and only recently has come to be regarded as one of Kubrick's greatest films. The Shining was disregarded as not much more than a lowly horror film, and Full Metal Jacket is just now picking up a cult following. It may take a few more years before Eyes Wide Shut gets its due, mainly because of Tom Cruise's recent odd behavior and Nicole Kidman's recent string of flops. But I'll just say this: Charlton Heston starred in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, and it's still a great film.


Meet the Lemon Shark... weird

Lemon Shark, so named because of the ripe lemons they usually keep pinched between their teeth and gums. Lemon Sharks like to do this to keep their breath smelling fresh; they are, after all, the so-called Gentlemen of the Seas.

Lemon Sharks are also very generous sharks. They simply love it when divers reach deep into their serrated pie holes and pull out the lemons they have cached there. I don't see any lemons on this particularly fine specimen so that means Willy must have already plucked them out. Great job, Willy. Keep up the good work!

Photo of the Day (8/24/07) from Gadling

And now for a very good idea

Getting Married? Here's Some Good Advice.

My recent post about the wedding at Prague's Ruzyne airport got me recalling my own marriage to Carol in 2003. Travel's a big part of our life together. Even though we're both from Auckland, we actually met in Thailand, and more often than not it's her photographs which complement my words.

When we got married we'd already been living together for several years, so certainly didn't need anything to set up a shared home. Instead we made a radical travel-oriented change to the traditional wedding register. Rather than ask for toasters, blenders and bed linen, our wedding invitation listed a range of experiences across five countries we would be visiting on our honeymoon. Guests were invited to "buy" us one of the experiences which ranged from cheap cafe meals to a helicopter ride around Manhattan.

When we got to each experience we had a local take a photo of us which we then sent out with our "Thank You" cards once we got home.

Cynical readers might say we were "just asking for money", and hey, they may be right.

But the idea was a real hit with our guests and we made sure we didn't get loads of unwanted stuff clogging up our small apartment. And we had a longer honeymoon than we could have normally afforded.


the very useful

Learning Japanese with Akira Kurosawa

After barely surviving a lion attack, explorer David Livingstone

wrote one of the most vivid descriptions of what it’s like to have the jaws of death literally clamped around your neck, an animal bent on munching you like so many corn chips. The lion “caught me by the shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground together. Growling horribly close to my ear, [the lion] shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock . . . caused a dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening.”

African explorer - to Malawi and so much more, from Wikipedia

Livingstone survived his frightening encounter, but many others have not been so lucky – the hundreds of people around the world who perish from wild animal attacks each year. Despite mankind’s much ballyhooed “conquest” of Planet Earth, there are an awful lot of things out there still waiting to pounce – and an ever-increasing number of adrenaline junkies bent on getting as close to these creatures as possible and (hopefully) living to tell about it.

Ironically, the most deadly members of the animal kingdom are not those that inspire the most fear. Mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths each year than all other creatures combined. And, of course, there are snakes – many different poison serpents that inflict suffering and death.

“Most African safari guides say that buffalo are the most dangerous animals because they are easily startled and their first instinct is to charge,” says Matt Kareus of Colorado-based Natural Habitat Adventures, which organizes wildlife safaris all around the globe. “Most also say though that nothing is more lethal than getting between a hippo and its water at night. And many of our Alaska guides say moose are more dangerous than bears. A lot depends on circumstance and the likelihood of an encounter in the first place.”

But it’s the things that might actually digest us, that seem to frighten people the most. “Lions and tigers and bears,” as Dorothy once chanted. And for good reason – those three species account for a good number of human attacks and deaths each year. Oh my, indeed.

A lot of the fear is unfounded. Nobody really paid that much attention to great white sharks until the 1970s, when writer Peter Benchley penned a little ditty called Jaws that Steven Spielberg later transformed into a movie that kept millions of people out of the water for years. The number of shark deaths each year is actually quite small. According to the International Shark Attack File compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History, there have been around 470 confirmed fatal shark attacks since the year 1580 – an average of just over one per year. Yet sharks remain the object of our nightmares – and our vacation dreams.

At the same time, fictional films and books remind us that animals can – and often do – turn on humans. As the unfortunate Timothy Treadwell demonstrated in the mesmerizing Werner Herzog film Grizzly Man, bears can go from cuddly to predatory in the blink of an eye.

Why is it that people crave such close contact with deadly creatures?

“What we're seeing is a larger trend of people craving close encounters with nature and animals in general,” says Kareus. “A growing awareness that as we've become more urbanized and our lives have gotten busier and busier, we've lost something important and that something is a primal connection to nature. This is why ecotourism is by far the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. I think people craving close encounters with dangerous animals is a corollary to this. Some people are natural thrill seekers, so rather than merely seeing a bear from a bus they want to look it in the eye. What is more primal than that?”

There are any number of ways to rub shoulders with beasts that can do you harm. Sometimes it can be very close to home -- last year, a suburban California mountain biker was attacked and killed by a cougar not far from Disneyland. But generally you will have to venture into the wilderness, and in some cases the ends of the Earth, where the wildest animals are more likely to dwell these days, far away from the world’s most deadly species – homo sapiens. Here are some ways to see them in safety and style (and without harassing or provoking the animals).

Perhaps amongst the most obvious, baaad dragons and baad kittens ;))
But you get Giant Squid too.

The very useful

Blog software comparison chart

The Houdini Cat ;)

25 agosto 2007

Grace Paley, (more than a) short-story writer: RIP

To read Ms. Paley’s fiction is to be awash in the shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit, with its wild joy and twilight melancholy. For her, cadence and character went hand in hand: her stories are marked by their minute attention to language, with its tonal rise and fall, hairpin rhetorical reversals and capacity for delicious hyperbolic understatement. Her stories, many of which are written in the first person and seem to start in mid-conversation, beg to be read aloud.

Some critics found Ms. Paley’s stories short on plot, and much of what happens is that nothing much happens. Affairs begin, babies are born, affairs end. But that was the point. In Ms. Paley’s best stories, the language is so immediate, the characters so authentic, that the text is propelled by an innate urgency — the kind that makes readers ask, “And then what happened?”

Open Ms. Paley’s first collection, “The Little Disturbances of Man,” to the first story, “Goodbye and Good Luck”:

“I was popular in certain circles, says Aunt Rose. I wasn’t no thinner then, only more stationary in the flesh. In time to come, Lillie, don’t be surprised — change is a fact of God. From this no one is excused. Only a person like your mama stands on one foot, she don’t notice how big her behind is getting and sings in the canary’s ear for thirty years. Who’s listening? Papa’s in the shop. You and Seymour, thinking about yourself. So she waits in a spotless kitchen for a kind word and thinks — poor Rosie. ...

“Poor Rosie! If there was more life in my little sister, she would know my heart is a regular college of feelings and there is such information between my corset and me that her whole married life is a kindergarten.”


More from the NY Times

22 agosto 2007

Holidays around the World

Portugal has the same paid leave as Spain

The Science of Magic

The reason he had picked me from the audience, Apollo Robbins insisted, was that I’d seemed so engaged, nodding my head and making eye contact as he and the other magicians explained the tricks of the trade. I believed him when he told me afterward, over dinner at the Venetian, that he hadn’t noticed the name tag identifying me as a science writer. But then everyone believes Apollo — as he expertly removes your wallet and car keys and unbuckles your watch.

It was Sunday night on the Las Vegas Strip, where earlier this summer the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness was holding its annual meeting at the Imperial Palace Hotel. The organization’s last gathering had been in the staid environs of Oxford, but Las Vegas — the city of illusions, where the Statue of Liberty stares past Camelot at the Sphinx — turned out to be the perfect locale. After two days of presentations by scientists and philosophers speculating on how the mind construes, and misconstrues, reality, we were hearing from the pros: James (The Amazing) Randi, Johnny Thompson (The Great Tomsoni), Mac King and Teller — magicians who had intuitively mastered some of the lessons being learned in the laboratory about the limits of cognition and attention.

“This wasn’t just a group of world-class performers,” said Susana Martinez-Conde, a scientist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix who studies optical illusions and what they say about the brain. “They were hand-picked because of their specific interest in the cognitive principles underlying the magic.”

She and Stephen Macknik, another Barrow researcher, organized the symposium, appropriately called the Magic of Consciousness.

Apollo, with the pull of his eyes and the arc of his hand, swung around my attention like a gooseneck lamp, so that it always pointed in the wrong direction. When he appeared to be reaching for my left pocket he was swiping something from the right. At the end of the act the audience applauded as he handed me my pen, some crumpled receipts and dollar bills, and my digital audio recorder, which had been running all the while. I hadn’t noticed that my watch was gone until he unstrapped it from his own wrist.

“He’s uncanny,” Teller said to me afterward as he rushed off for his nightly show with Penn at the Rio.

A recurring theme in experimental psychology is the narrowness of perception: how very little of the sensory clamor makes its way into awareness. Earlier in the day, before the magic show, a neuroscientist had demonstrated a phenomenon called inattentional blindness with a video made at the Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois.

In the video, six men and women — half with white shirts and half with black — are tossing around a couple of basketballs. Viewers are asked to count how many times members of, say, the white team, manage to complete a pass, keeping the ball from the opposition. I dutifully followed the instructions and was surprised when some 15 seconds into the game, laughter began to ripple through the audience. Only when I watched a second time did I see the person in the gorilla suit walking on from stage left. (The video is online at viscog.beckman.uiuc.edu/grafs/demos/15.html.)

Secretive as they are about specifics, the magicians were as eager as the scientists when it came to discussing the cognitive illusions that masquerade as magic: disguising one action as another, implying data that isn’t there, taking advantage of how the brain fills in gaps — making assumptions, as The Amazing Randi put it, and mistaking them for facts.

Sounding more like a professor than a comedian and magician, Teller described how a good conjuror exploits the human compulsion to find patterns, and to impose them when they aren’t really there.

“In real life if you see something done again and again, you study it and you gradually pick up a pattern,” he said as he walked onstage holding a brass bucket in his left hand. “If you do that with a magician, it’s sometimes a big mistake.”

Pulling one coin after another from the air, he dropped them, thunk, thunk, thunk, into the bucket. Just as the audience was beginning to catch on — somehow he was concealing the coins between his fingers — he flashed his empty palm and, thunk, dropped another coin, and then grabbed another from a gentlemen’s white hair. For the climax of the act, Teller deftly removed a spectator’s glasses, tipped them over the bucket and, thunk, thunk, two more coins fell.

As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

He left us with his definition of magic: “The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”

In his opening address, Michael Gazzaniga, the president of the consciousness association, had described another form of prestidigitation — a virtual reality experiment in which he had put on a pair of electronic goggles that projected the illusion of a deep hole opening in what he knew to be a solid concrete floor. Jolted by the adrenaline rush, his heart beat faster and his muscles tensed, a reminder that even without goggles the brain cobbles together a world from whatever it can.

“In a sense our reality is virtual,” Dr. Gazzaniga said. “Think about flying in an airplane. You’re up there in an aluminum tube, 30,000 feet up, going 600 miles an hour, and you think everything is all right.”

Dr. Gazzaniga is famous for his work with split-brain patients, whose left and right hemispheres have been disconnected as a last-ditch treatment for severe epilepsy. These are the experiments that have led to the notion, oversimplified in popular culture, that the left brain is predominantly analytical while the right brain is intuitive and laid-back.

The left brain, as Dr. Gazzaniga put it, is the confabulator, constantly concocting stories. But mine was momentarily dumbstruck when, after his talk, I passed through a doorway inside the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and entered an air-conditioned simulation of the Grand Canal. My eyes were drawn upward to the stunning illusion of a trompe l’oeil sky and what I decided must be ravens flying high overhead. Looking closer, my brain discarded that theory, and I saw that the black curved wings were the edges of discs — giant thumbtacks holding up the sky. Later I was told they were automatic sprinklers, in case the clouds catch fire.

“It’s ‘The Truman Show,’ ” said Robert Van Gulick, a philosopher at Syracuse University, as I joined him at a table overlooking a version of the Piazza San Marco. A sea breeze was wafting through the window, the clouds were glowing in the late afternoon sun (and they were still glowing, around 10:30 p.m., when I headed back toward my hotel). How could we be sure that the world outside the Venetian — outside Las Vegas itself — wasn’t also a simulation? Or that I wasn’t just a brain in a vat in some mad scientist’s laboratory.

Dr. Van Gulick had come to the conference to talk about qualia, the raw, subjective sense we have of colors, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. The crunch of the crostini, the slitheriness of the penne alla vodka — a question preoccupying philosophers is where these personal experiences fit within a purely physical theory of the mind.

Like physicists, philosophers play with such conundrums by engaging in thought experiments. In a recent paper, Michael P. Lynch, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut, entertained the idea of a “phenomenal pickpocket,” an imaginary creature, like Apollo the thief, who distracts your attention while he removes your qualia, turning you into what’s known in the trade as a philosophical zombie. You could catch a ball, hum a tune, stop at a red light — act exactly like a person but without any sense of what it is like to be alive. If zombies are logically possible, some philosophers insist, then conscious beings must be endowed with an ineffable essence that cannot be reduced to biological circuitry.

Dr. Lynch’s fantasy was a ploy to undermine the zombie argument. But if zombies do exist, it is probably in Las Vegas. One evening as I walked across the floor of the Imperial Palace casino — a cacophony of clanging bells and electronic arpeggios — it was easy to imagine that the hominids parked in front of the one-armed bandits were simply extensions of the machines.

“Intermittent conditioning,” suggested Irene Pepperberg, an adjunct associate professor at Brandeis University who studies animal intelligence. If you want to train a laboratory rat to pull a crank to get a food pellet, the reflex will be scratched in deeper if the creature is rewarded with some regularity but not all the time.

Dr. Pepperberg has thrown a wild card into studies of consciousness with her controversial experiments with African gray parrots. With a brain “the size of a walnut,” as she puts it, the birds display what appears to be the cognitive potential of a young child. Her best-known parrot, Alex, can stare at a tray of objects and pick the one that has four corners and is blue. He has also coined his own word for almond — “cork nut.”

With appearances on PBS and a cameo role in a Margaret Atwood novel, “Oryx and Crake,” Alex has entered the popular imagination, while Dr. Pepperberg struggles to find a secure academic position. Critics can’t resist comparing Alex to “Clever Hans,” the famous horse whose arithmetical abilities were exposed as learned responses to his trainer’s subtle cues. Dr. Pepperberg says she controls for that possibility in her experiments and believes her parrots are thinking and expressing themselves with words.

One evening out on the Strip, I spotted Daniel Dennett, the Tufts University philosopher, hurrying along the sidewalk across from the Mirage, which has its own tropical rain forest and volcano. The marquees were flashing and the air-conditioners roaring — Las Vegas stomping its carbon footprint with jackboots in the Nevada sand. I asked him if he was enjoying the qualia. “You really know how to hurt a guy,” he replied.

For years Dr. Dennett has argued that qualia, in the airy way they have been defined in philosophy, are illusory. In his book “Consciousness Explained,” he posed a thought experiment involving a wine-tasting machine. Pour a sample into the funnel and an array of electronic sensors would analyze the chemical content, refer to a database and finally type out its conclusion: “a flamboyant and velvety Pinot, though lacking in stamina.”

If the hardware and software could be made sophisticated enough, there would be no functional difference, Dr. Dennett suggested, between a human oenophile and the machine. So where inside the circuitry are the ineffable qualia?

Retreating to a bar at the Imperial Palace, we talked about a different mystery he had been pondering: the role words play inside the brain. Learn a bit of wine speak — “ripe black plums with an accent of earthy leather” — and you are suddenly equipped with anchors to pin down your fleeting gustatory impressions. Words, he suggested, are “like sheepdogs herding ideas.”

As he sipped his drink he tried out another metaphor, involving a gold panning technique he had learned about in New Zealand. Lead and gold are similar in density. If you salt the slurry with buck shot and swirl the pan around, the dark pellets will track the elusive flecks of gold.

With a grab bag of devices accumulated over the eons, the brain pulls off the ultimate conjuring act: the subjective sense of I.

“Stage magicians know that a collection of cheap tricks will often suffice to produce ‘magic,’ ” Dr. Dennett has written, “and so does Mother Nature, the ultimate gadgeteer.”

At the end of the magic show where I was fleeced by Apollo, The Amazing Randi called on Dr. Dennett and another volunteer to help with the final act. As Mr. Randi sat on a chair, the two men tightly bound his arms to his thighs with a rope.

“Daniel, would you take off your jacket for me for just a moment?” the conjuror asked. “Now drape it around the front of my hands.”

“A little higher,” Mr. Randi said.

Without missing a beat, he grabbed the collar and pulled it up toward his chin. The audience cheered. Either he had slipped the ropes in a matter of seconds or his hands had been free all along.

“Allow people to make assumptions and they will come away absolutely convinced that assumption was correct and that it represents fact,” Mr. Randi said. “It’s not necessarily so.”

IBM apresenta software que prevê propagação de epidemias

A IBM anunciou que vai lançar um programa informático, em código aberto, que será capaz de prever a propagação de doenças infecciosas no mundo. O software, de seu nome Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM), será doado pela multinacional IBM a cientistas e autoridades sanitárias de todo o mundo com o intuito de ajudar a planear com a máxima eficácia a resposta às emergências de saúde.

Joseph Jasinski, director da IBM e responsável pelo projecto, afirma que «o STEM permitirá às autoridade sanitárias prever a propagação de doenças, tal como prevê a chegada de uma tempestade ou furacão». Por ser em código aberto, Os programadores informáticos poderão modificar o software, dependendo das doenças ou das populações. «Até agora tem sido difícil simular cenários de crises sanitárias à escala global. O STEM permite fazer isso», acrescentou Jasinski em comunicado.

O programa, que esteve em desenvolvimento durante três anos, funciona com qualquer sistema operativo e permite criar uma representação gráfica da doença a partir da população, dados geográficos, localização dos aeroportos ou rotas migratórias dos pássaros. Pela primeira vez, será possível criar, com rapidez, modelos epidemiológicos para prever como uma doença infecciosa, como a gripe das aves, se propagará ao longo de um determinado período.

O STEM está disponível em http://www.eclipse.org/ohf/components/stem/, e é uma das tecnologias que será utilizada na Global Pandemic Initiative, uma colaboração entre a IBM e outras 20 instituições de saúde de todo o mundo.

June 8, 2007 - STEM open source code is available ;)

Genie in a bottle

21 agosto 2007

Ratatouille - the recipe(S)

Ratatouille ranks on my top 10 of Animation movies, which pretty much comprises some of Pixar (The Incredibles, anyone?), lotsa Miyazaki (lotsa lotsa mainly offered by very good friends) and Jean Grimault's Le Roi et l'Oiseau.
Brad Bird, magician extraordinaire, ranks with my top something favorite directors of all time.

And now for the recipes:

Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi, courtesy of The NY Times:

1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight[350 gr]), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 a bay leaf
Kosher salt


1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces [150 gr]) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds [2,5 cm should be enough] 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 2 teaspoons olive oil 1/8teaspoon thyme leaves Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oi
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees [230 C]. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch [20 cm...jeez] skillet.

3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees [135 C]. Down center of pan, arrange a strip of 8 alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch [1 cm] of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree [175 C] oven until warm.)

5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings

And now for a delicious-looking recipe that departs from this one and gives us something simpler, from Fanny at FoodBeam, and her beautiful pictures:

Ratatouille au four

serves 3-4

for the tomato sauce
2 tbsp extra-virgin fruity olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated (fanny: I use my Microplane grater which does wonders)
1 medium white onion, finely sliced
750g Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes (approx. three big ones), peeled, seeded and diced
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp caster sugar
fleur de sel

for the vegetables
4 Roma tomato, sliced into very fine slices
1 green courgette, sliced into very fine slices
1 yellow courgette, sliced into very fine slices
2 small white onions, sliced into very fine slices
1 small aubergine, sliced into very fine slices
1 small red pepper, sliced into very fine slices
1 clove of garlic, grated
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
thyme leaves
fleur de sel and pepper

Start by making the sauce: combine the oil, garlic and onion into a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat until very soft, about ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, parsley and bay leaf and bring to the boil over medium heat. Mix in the sugar, reduce the heat and simmer until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Spread the sauce in the bottom of a 26cm skillet (or like I did, three small 16cm skillets).

Pre-heat the oven to 140°C.
Arrange the vegetable slices over the sauce until the pan is filled. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with the garlic and thyme, and season. Cut a round of baking paper to fit the tin and then cover with foil and crimp the edges to seal well.
Bake for 2 hours. Uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
You can eat it hot, warm or cold.

17 agosto 2007

Why does anyone translate?

Tim Wilkinson, the English translator of Imre Kertész, talks about the lack of literary translations in the UK and US, and assesses past, present, and forthcoming efforts to bring Hungarian literary fiction to the English-speaking market.

(On Translation)

"The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is CAPABLE of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension."

Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading

16 agosto 2007

Mira - A Real Shooting Star, creator of 3,000 planets

Long Way Down: Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman Complete Africa

The news came in over the weekend: Ewan and Charley have finished their motorcycle trek through Africa. It took them just 85 days to travel over 15,000 miles through 14 countries, from Scotland down to Cape Town, South Africa. And that's including almost a week's time spent at border crossings alone.

"We feel fantastic, and absolutely brilliant," Charley told BBC Breakfast news. "It's been a long, long ride, which has been the fun part, but getting here and arriving in Cape Town is just fantastic. And the thought of sitting on a motorbike in Scotland, and then arriving here is wonderful."

I for one cannot wait for the television series to begin. Long Way 'Round was -- as Charley would say -- absolutely brilliant. I've seen the entire thing at least a few times, and plan on watching it once more before I head off to Eastern Europe in October.

Thanks goes to Jaunted for the tip.

From Gadling

13 agosto 2007

6 Tips for Working at Home With Children

  1. Create an office separate from the main living areas of the house and declare it off limits during working hours.

    Help your child make a child readable sign for the office door so that he will know when it is and isn’t acceptable to burst into the office.

  2. Invest in some quality headphones for quiet, heads down, work.

    I can’t count the number of times my wife has apologized to me because the everyone was running around screaming, and I responded “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

  3. Maintain a good work schedule, and stick to it.

    Something that really helps in our home is that I have set working hours during the day. At 4 PM, I emerge from my office like someone returning home from work, and I’ll take the children to the park, help with chores around the house, or run errands with the family.

  4. Train the children to go silent when Dad’s cellphone rings, but make sure your cellphone ringer is turned on.

    In our house, we have a game. When our eldest son hears my phone ring, he runs and asks his mother for a sticker for his “Daddy’s Phone Log” on the refrigerator. It’s made him become more aware of when I’m on the telephone and has the added benefit of sending him running away when the phone rings. Make sure, though, that you turn your ringer on. If you forget, and answer your phone after it vibrates, no one else will know that you’re talking to someone else and will pester you with “Huh?” and “What?” when they think you’re talking to them.

  5. Take a long lunch and enjoy your opportunity to work from home.

    Enjoy the fact you’re working from home and take a time out in the middle of the day to enjoy a long and leisurely lunch.

My personal favorite ;)
  1. Ask your spouse to communicate with you via IM or email.

    Nothing makes it more obvious that you’re working from home more than having your spouse constantly talking to you. Ask her to email or instant message you so you can ignore them like you would your coworkers’ messages if you were at the office.

10 agosto 2007

Eco-labelled wine corks - Yep, a lei da Rolha

Amorim, one of the world’s biggest cork manufacturers, is the first to produce cork oak wine stoppers that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified as environmentally-friendly in a move intended to protect cork oak forests, which are home to numerous threatened species.

The new eco-labelled wine bottles, currently sold in the US, should encourage wine buyers to choose bottles stopped with cork oak rather than increasingly popular synthetic alternatives.

Cork wine stoppers are made from cork oak bark, which can be harvested whilst leaving the tree intact. Cork forests in Italy, Spain, Portugal and North Africa are home to Barbary and Sardinian deer, the endangered Iberian lynx and wild boar.

But the forests are now threatened by the growing popularity of synthetic wine stoppers. Plastic and aluminium wine stoppers accounted for 20% of the market in 2006, compared with 2% in 2000. Synthetic stoppers are cheaper than cork because each oak tree takes 40 years to mature – growing cork oak is less cost effective than other forest crops such as fast-growing eucalyptus. There is also no risk of ‘corking’ the wine. This is where a chemical in the oak gives the wine a mouldy odour.

A spokesperson for the WWF told the Ecologist that if world demand for cork oak is not maintained: “2 million hectares - three-quarters or all cork forests - could be at risk from fire, abandonment or desertification”.

The Ecologist

08 agosto 2007

Premiere.com picks the 20 Most Mouth-watering Movie Moments

  1. Babette's Feast *
  2. Big Night *
  3. A Christmas Story
  4. Soul Food
  5. Eat Drink Man Woman *
  6. Fatso
  7. Fried Green Tomatoes
  8. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
  9. In Her Shoes
  10. Like Water for Chocolate *
  11. Marie Antoinette
  12. Mostly Martha
  13. My Best Friend's Wedding *
  14. Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's
  15. Spanglish
  16. Tampopo *
  17. Tom Jones *
  18. Vatel
  19. Volver
  20. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory *

* denotes movies I saw. Babette's Feast is totally my favorite ;)

07 agosto 2007

A short-haired Jodie Foster :)

Hitler's secret musical collection - - of Russian and Jewish artists

He expelled Jewish and Russian musicians from concert halls during the Third Reich, claimed in Mein Kampf that there was no independent Jewish culture, and referred to Russians as sub-humans, yet at the same time Adolf Hitler listened to their music in secret.

Around 100 gramophone records which apparently belonged to the Nazi leader have been discovered in the attic of a house outside Moscow owned by a former Soviet intelligence officer.

The collection reveals that while Hitler was publicly heralding "racially pure" German music, his musical taste may have been more closely aligned to the artists he ostracised.

Hitler's passion for Richard Wagner is well documented: however this collection contains works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Borodin which are worn and scratched from frequent use.

There is a record of a Tchaikovsky concerto performed by Bronislaw Huberman. While Hitler (who, it was said, needed his music to relax) would have been listening to the Jewish violinist, Huberman himself was in enforced exile; he fled Vienna in 1937, a year before the Anschluss, and was publicly declared an enemy of the Third Reich. Music by the Austrian Jewish pianist Arthur Schnabel is also among in the collection.

Aside from these recordings, which have stunned historians, many of the Nazi dictator's collection is dominated by predictable recordings by Wagner, Beethoven and Bruckner.

Lew Besymenski was a Soviet intelligence officer who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals. He found the record collection in Hitler's chancellery in May 1945 when he was ordered to make a search shortly after Berlin fell to the Red army. The discs were packed in crates - most likely for an evacuation to Hitler's Alpine retreat on the Obersalzberg. All were marked with the label Führerhauptquartier - Führer's HQ; in the event, Hitler elected to stay and fight to the end.

Mr Besymenski did not mention the collection in his lifetime, because he was worried he might be accused of looting. He later became a historian, claiming he attended the autopsy on the burned remains of Hitler's body, where he confirmed the long held belief he had just one testicle. When Mr Besymenski died this summer, aged 86, the collection was made available to Der Spiegel magazine.

In a document explaining how itcame into his possession, Mr Besymenski wrote: "There were recordings performed by the best orchestras of Europe and Germany with the best soloists of the age. I was astonished that Russian musicians were among the collection."

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that there was no independent Jewish culture. "There was never a Jewish art and there is none today," he said. The "two queens of the arts, architecture and music, gained nothing from the Jews." He also referred to Russians as Untermenschen, sub-humans, and dismissed any contribution they had made to the cultural world.

Mr Besymenski's daughter Alexandra said she was disgusted by Hitler's hypocrisy in his choice of music.

"This is a complete mockery," she said. "Millions of Slavs and Jews had to die because of the Nazis' racist ideology."

06 agosto 2007

Maravilhoso :D

Trois hommes, un Belge, un Allemand et un Français, se présentent pour un nouveau job en Angleterre. Avant de passer a l'interview on leur dit qu'ils devront formuler en anglais une phrase contenant les mots green, pink et yellow.

Le Belge passe d'abord : «I wake up in the morning, I eat a yellow banana, a green pepper and in the evening I watch the Pink Panter on TV.»

L'Allemand : «I wake up in the morning, I see the yellow sun, the green grass and I think to myself : I hope it will be a pink day.»

Finalement le Français : «I wek up in ze mornainje, I hear ze phone "green..... green... green..." I "pink" up the phone and I zay "Yellow?"»...


In August, as half of Europe heads for the coast, those left behind party in Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin

It’s a myth that Europe’s big cities become ghost towns in August, save for misguided tour parties of perspiring Americans. After all, not everyone wants to go to the beach and the city still needs to keep running – even Paris has a skeleton staff of locals. To keep the stay-behinds and the occasional tourists happy, most cities put on festivals or attractions, as well as encouraging the creation of city beaches where you can cool off.

Going in summer can work out better value than leaving it until later: there are fewer business travellers clogging up hotels, which means prices fall, and getting there is cheaper too, as city flights tend to cost less than resort ones (in August, Madrid is half the price of Malaga, for instance). So here is our guide to the summer – the hottest cities, the coolest hotels and the best of the fiestas.


Head straight for the Baixa district, where every weekend throughout August into September there are events (circus, dance, music and just plain weirdness) along Rua Augusta, in a series collectively known as the BaixAnima street festival (although it’s not so much a festival as a series of spontaneous “happenings”). And then there’s Lisbon’s long-running jazz festival, Jazz em Agosto (Jazz in August, of course), which specialises in what we might call “rough jazz” – muscular improvised music, played by some of the world’s key exponents, although not always in a key you’ll recognise (this is Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler’s year). It’s inspiring – unless, of course, you’re after the likes of Alexander’s Ragtime Band or that hideous soporific synthesis known as smooth jazz.

The festival is already under way (it runs until August 11), but you can catch the finale this coming week if you move sharpish, with draws such as Norway’s rumbustious Crimetime Orchestra and the Quartet Noir (from Switzerland, France and the USA), as well as Ornette himself. The event, in its 23rd year, is mostly held in the beautiful grounds of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. For programme, tickets and further information, call 00 351 21 782 3000 or see www.musica.gulbenkian.pt (which has pages in English).

Next weekend also sees the climax of the city’s water-themed Ocean Festival, with a spectacular nighttime parade of floats, lights and flying inflatables, which is well worth seeing. It takes place in Parque das Nações from 9.45pm until 11pm (see www.festivaldosoceanos.com ) on Saturday night (August 11).

Cool down: take one of the frequent trains west from Cais do Sodre station to the beaches of Cascais (about 40min; £1.90), where you’ll find sand, sea and plenty of fish restaurants. But it’s a popular destination and you won’t be alone – so, after a cooling ice cream at Santini (Avenida Valbom 28), reckoned to be the best in town, you might want to jump on a free hop-on, hop-off bike and cycle, or jump in a cab (£8-£10) to Guincho, where you’ll have a little more space and the Atlantic breezes will certainly chill you down. It’s very popular with wind- and kitesurfers, though swimming can be treacherous.

Stay put: the NH Liberdade (00 351-21 351 4060, www.nh-hoteles.com ), on Avenida da Liberdade, is a member of a smart Spanish-owned chain. Centrally located on a glitzy shopping street, and not far from the Calouste Gulbenkian, it comes with a small rooftop pool. Double rooms at weekends from £105, including breakfast.

Alternatively, try the small, excellent Heritage Lisboa chain (21 321 8200, www.heritage.pt ), with hotels such as As Janelas Verdes (Green Windows), a boutique hotel with a small garden, next to the National Art Museum, with rates from £120, room-only; the Avenue Liberdade; or the Hotel Britania (both from £112). Note that last-minute offers for August (see website) sometimes include a breakfast.

Getting there: airlines include British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com ), TAP (0845 601 0932, www.flytap.com ), EasyJet (www.easyjet.com ), Monarch Scheduled (0870 040 5040, www.flymonarch.com ), BMI Baby (0871 224 0224, www.bmibaby.com ) and, from Ireland, Aer Lingus (0818 365000, www.aerlingus.com ).