Thursday, 24 May 2007

Four things to do before you die

1 ― Mix the world's weirdest cocktail
Now you stir it, now you can't

It has to be one of the most mind-bending experiences you can legally enjoy in your kitchen: manufacture your own dilatant liquid ― one whose viscosity increases as soon as you try to stir it, or do pretty much anything else with it.

The easiest way to make it is a simple mix of about 300 grams of cornflour (cornstarch) and 250 millilitres of water. The mixture ripples like water, but instantly solidifies if you dip your finger or a spoon into it. Go slowly and you can put your finger in, but just try pulling it out in a hurry. You can roll the stuff into a ball in your hands, but stop rolling and it just runs through your fingers. Hit it with a hammer and it can even shatter.

Coolest of all, broken-off pieces liquefy and pool together, just like the shape-shifting T-1000 robot in the film Terminator 2. Well, almost. But then the T-1000 couldn't thicken sauces for you.

2 ― Visit Tuvalu
Enjoy it before it sinks

As sea levels rise, this clutch of South Pacific islands is poised to become the first nation to disappear beneath the waves ― possibly as early as 2050. Currently located halfway between Brisbane and Honolulu, soon Tuvalu may exist only in cyberspace as the prized internet domain ".tv".

Tuvalu's smallest islands are disappearing fast. Already you've missed the chance to visit the coconut groves of Te Pukasavilivili. Tuvalu's paradise world of coral lagoons, swaying palms and international sex phone lines is doomed because not one speck of land is more than 4 metres above sea level and spring tides regularly take 3 metres of that. Almost every tropical cyclone could bring down the curtain.

So why not board the weekly flight from Fiji to the capital Funafuti while you can? As you travel from one of Tuvalu's four guest houses in its single taxi to its lone bar, speculate on who will own the rights to the .tv domain and the tuna-fishing rights in its vast territorial waters, after the last of its 11,000 Polynesian inhabitants has left. Go now, before it dies.

3 ― Win a fortune the mathematical way
Who wants to be a millionaire?

If you're time-rich and cash-poor, then have a go at winning one of the many maths prizes up for grabs. If you're a hotshot mathematician, set your sights on one of seven $1 million prizes offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To win, you have to prove one of seven conjectures that have given mathematicians sleepless nights for decades. They include the Yang-Mills mass-gap hypothesis, which asserts that if a particle has mass, there is a lower limit to what the mass actually is.

Or you could try hunting for giant prime numbers. Prime numbers, such as 11 or 13, are divisible only by themselves and 1. If you find the first prime with 10 million, 100 million or a billion digits, a US campaign group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation will award you a prize of between $100,000 and $250,000. Your home computer could do all the work. Aproject at offers free software that sifts sets of numbers for primes, although if you hit the jackpot, you'd have to share the bounty with the organisers. Failing that, there are maths prizes starting from $10 at

Or maybe you should just get out more.

4 ― Find happiness
What does it look like?

Why do some people manage to skip through life shrugging off disappointments and setbacks like discarded clothing, while others struggle to survive the daily grind?

The secret partly lies in our genes. These account for around half of the variation in happiness between different people. What's more, good-looking people tend to be more contented, if not downright happy. Granted, there's not a lot you can do about your genes. But don't despair, there's plenty else you can do.

Being sociable, helping other people and having lots of friends all help. And getting married boosts happiness for a couple of years at least.

Then there's money. It certainly won't do any harm, but beware: wealth is a short-term fillip. We quickly adapt our expectations to new-found riches and end up always wanting that little bit more. Envy on the other hand is a sure-fire route to misery.

One last tip: consider moving to Denmark. It's the only industrialised nation where people are happier than they were 30 years ago. Why? The Danes are keeping the answer very close to their chest.

Selected extracts from '100 Things to Do Before You Die (plus a few to do afterwards)', from NewScientist and Profile Books.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Tadeja's strong poems

English translation below each of the two poems. The original language is Slovene. 'Krik' was recited by Urška at the preliminary 'Dream 2007' show in Sandweiler (Luxembourg) on 20 and 21 April. I will let them stand in their own right.

Pridi. Pridi in spusti se
z mano v neskončne
Na dno oceana.
Tam bova kapljici.
Solzi trpljenja
in žalosti, nesreče
veselja in smeha
solzi življenja.
Z roko v roki
ko val naju odnese
stran od obale
stran od ljudi.
Pridi, da se izgubiva v valovih,
v toplih globinah,
da se potopiva skupaj
s sončnim zahodom.
Morje šumi.

Come. Come and descend
With me into the endless
To the bottom of the ocean.
There, we will be mere drops.
Tears of pain and suffering
And sadness, unhappiness,
Of joy and laughter,
Tears of life.
Hand in hand
Dragged by the billows
Away from the coast
Away from the world.
Come, let’s get lost in the waves,
Into the warm depths,
Let’s dive together
With the sunset.
The sound of the ocean.

Šla bi ven in zavpila.
Zavpila bi tvoje ime
tako močno, da bi se
ob kriku spremenila
v sončni prah.
Le Bog in jaz bi ga slišala
in ti, daleč stran, bi vedel.
Ne moreš ubežati kriku
mojega hrepenenja
in nemir iz moje duše
bi se preselil vate.
Ti si kriv.
Tebi bodo sodili
zaradi mojega krika,
sonce, ljudje, drevesa, reke....
In nikoli, nikoli več
ne boš mogel ubežati
mojemu kriku.
Preganjal te bo
v najintimnejših trenutkih,
vedno bo tam.
In jaz s teboj
kot večni sodnik z razsodbo:

I want to scream out.
I want to scream out your name
So loud, that the scream
Would turn me into
Only God and me would hear it
And you, far away, you’d know.
You can’t escape the scream
Of my desperation
And my restless anxiety
Would capture your soul.
You’re to blame.
You will be judged
For my scream,
By the sun, the people, the trees, the rivers….
And never, ever will you
Be able to escape from
My scream.
It will hunt you down
Into the inmost recesses of your soul,
It will always be there.
And I will be there
Like an eternal judge with the verdict:

Norwegian Helpdesk

Usually I wouldn't give a penny for Norwegian humour but this little film is indeed a classic! Watch how text was stored in the Middle Ages, and how helpful helpdesks were at that time.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Kunst fra hjertet

»Alt, hvad der bliver sagt om teksterne og musikken, er for så vidt efterrationaliseringer, for når det bliver skabt, er det med hjertet og ikke med hjernen.«
Mikkel Max Hansen, tekstforfatter, guitarist og sanger i epo-555
i et interview til Politiken 28/4-6

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Cojan sus ovejas y váyanse ― Take your sheep and go ― Prenez vos moutons et allez-y

«[¡A]caba de decirnos que nos vayamos al infierno, pero lo ha dicho de una manera tal que estamos deseando irnos!»
El presidente del Sheep Council en Australia, a el encargado de negocios de la delegación de la Comisión Europea en Australia, después del discurso de esto, en 1981
Fuente: «Acercando Europa al mundo ― 50 años de Servicio Exterior de la Comisión Europea» ― que puede pedir GRATUITAMENTE

'[Y]ou just told us that we should go to hell, but you said it in such a way that we are all looking forward to getting there!'
The President of Australia's Sheep Council, to the chargé d'affaires of the European Commission's delegation in Australia, after the latter's speech, in 1981
Source: 'Taking Europe to the world ― 50 years of the European Commission's External Service', which you can order FREE OF CHARGE

«[V]ous venez de nous dire que nous pouvions aller au diable, mais vous nous l'avez dit d'une telle manière que nous nous réjouissons tous d'y aller!»
Le Président du Sheep Council d'Australie, au chargé d'affaires de la délégation de la Commission européenne en Australie, après un discours de celui-ci, en 1981
Source: «Ouvrir l`Europe sur le monde ― 50 ans du service extérieur de la Commission européenne» ― que vous pouvez commander GRATUITEMENT
(La version française de la citation a été modifiée par moi-même, comme elle n'était pas correctement traduite.)

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Design made by humans ― for humans?

On his website Bad Human Factors Designs, Mike Darnell collects examples of all kinds of design ― from taps over mobile phones to road signs ― in which the designer, if there was such, seems to have forgotten to take the number one aspect into account: That people have to use it!

What's really great though, is that for every example he lists, Mike gives a simple and creative suggestion on how the design could be improved.

I have also added a link in the link list to the right.