Jehova! Jehova! Jehova!

Until this morning, I did not know how to best handle that awkward situation you get into after hearing your doorbell and facing a Jehova's Witness once you open the door. Trying to be friendly, I usually end up with a copy of their incoherent, mind-numbing and logic-defying pamphlet The Watch Tower. I could just throw it away, but I usually browse through it, which in turn usually ruins my mood for the rest of the day. Even worse, accepting a copy leaves them with the hope that my soul can still be saved, which only makes them come back the next Saturday. Being unfriendly usually helps to drive them away, but that ruins my mood for the rest of the day just the same.

Being friendly and setting things straight right away, before they get a chance to talk too much, seems to be the trick.

        Jehova's witness lady: "We would like to talk to you about happiness."
        Me: "Oh, I am sorry, I was expecting someone else. We are selling stuff on craigslist and...."
        Lady: "Let me give you this..." tries to hand me the Watch Tower
        Me (friendly): "Please don't even try, I am an atheist."
        <brief moment of silence>
        Lady (friendly): "Well tell you what: have a good day!"

Okay, I probably just got lucky with that particular person (I guess she has some experience with atheists). But I suspect I will get a chance to try this again some day.

The irony of the story is: She wanted to talk to me about happiness, but the fact that I managed to cut that conversation short actually made me quite happy.


Trip to the Grand Canyon

In September we took a trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We had been to Las Vegas last year, but decided then that it was too hot to leave town. But I admit: the huge pool area of the Venetian might have influenced our decision somewhat back then.

This time we flew there with friends, a couple's vacation. After two nights in Las Vegas that we mostly used for time at pools, eating too much at food buffets and some gambling (no big wins, as was to be expected), we set out for our first stop at the Hoover Dam. We took a short walking tour, with a guide who was giving us more information than we could possibly remember. A few of the things I do remember are:

  1. The dam was not built for Las Vegas (apparently a common myth), instead it was built to provide power and water for all the adjacent states and even Mexico.
  2. Starting in 1931, the dam was built in just 5 years, with a death toll of over 100 workers (not counting the ones that died not directly at the site, e.g. the ones that died of carbon monoxide poisoning but were erroneously recorded as pneumonia victims).
  3. If the dam had to be built nowadays, work safety and other regulations would cause the project to take at least 30 years to complete.
  4. It is hard to endure 43°C with no shadow standing on top of a concrete structure.
  5. You need a helicopter to make a picture of the whole thing. So here a shot from inside the thing instead:
The turbines inside the Hoover Dam
We continued our trip to a hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is about 90 minutes away from the Grand Canyon. The next day we set out to the South Rim (luckily, it was just around 25-30°C) and saw this:

One tiny little part of the Grand Canyon
There is no way to convey the vastness of this canyon with words, photos or even film. You really have to go and see it for yourself. If you take the same trip that we took, you might start out really impressed by Las Vegas, the huge buildings, the breathtaking shows, the over-the-top-ness of it all. Then you might marvel at the colossal Hoover Dam, this gigantic proof of what human beings are capable of. Then you see the Grand Canyon for the first time, and all those human achievements are put into perspective.

It took the Colorado River around six million years (a relatively short amount of time compared to the earth's age of 4.5 billion years) to carve this huge crack into the landscape. Working together with erosion through wind, water and temperature changes, it revealed earth's geologic history one layer at a time. And it continues to do so at the rate of about the thickness of a sheet of paper every year (which gives you a nice relation for your own life span the next time you refill your printer with a small stack of paper).

The first day we just hiked along the rim for a while, the second day we hiked down the South Kaibab Trail to the "Ooh Aah Point" - the place where the trail opens up to a wide panoramic view of the canyon:

A self-captioning photo
About a third of the way back up, a thunderstorm passed over us. That was no surprise, as we had been seeing not-to-far-away lightning all day, and heard the thunder roll in and echo through the canyon (that alone was awesome). We were prepared because someone had insisted to buy $5 rain ponchos the previous day. The surprising part was the sheer amount of rain pouring down on us, topped off by a nice five minute shower of hail - ice pellets the size of peas, ouch!

Continuing on our way back up after the storm, we were amazed to see how many pebbles and  rocks had been washed onto the trail, after just maybe 15 minutes of rain (and the rocks kept falling down, one of them missing one of narrowly). As I mentioned above, erosion through rain and wind contributed a lot to the river's carving of the landscape. During our hike we saw this happening ourselves!

Fog forming clouds in the Grand Canyon after a thunderstorm
Unfortunately, we only had a short two days to visit this amazing place. When we left, we were sure: We will be visiting this place again, with more time for hiking.


Irene IV

It is around 7.30 in the morning on Sunday, we just got out of bed. We have power, and on the forecast map it looks like we will mostly get some more winds for the next couple of hours, and then we are through.

Some branches came off of some of the trees around the house, and I think one tree fell down. But so far that seems to be all. It looks like our area got lucky.

A couple of trees damaged and fallen down (further in the back) around the house.
Luckily, these are the most "spectacular" photos I have.

Previous posts: Irene I - Irene II - Irene III


Irene III

Alright, it is almost 12am and Irene is pouring a lot of water on us, and the wind has started. The lights just went off for one second, so we unplugged the TV and everything else. Not much of a problem, we were getting a bit sick of watching reporters standing at the shore instead of getting their asses out of there.

Previous posts: Irene I - Irene II

Irene II

GOES-13 satellite imagery in 15 minute intervals from August 25, 2011, at 9:40 a.m. EDT to August 27 at 9:40 a.m. EDT.

So now it is about 6pm on Saturday, and everything remains pretty quiet; not much wind, but already some rain from the outer reaches of Irene's vortex. The forecasts now put our area in the 40-70mph winds zone (65-112 km/h), which sounds a lot better than what we heard yesterday. This winds are going to start within the next four to five hours.

According to the news, the main concern for us will be falling trees and power line poles, and possible power outages. Our area has been experiencing a lot of rain in August, so the ground is already very saturated and therefore very soft. Add to that up to 20 hours of torrential rain and some tough winds, and even stronger trees could be uprooted.

As I posted before, we live in a sturdy building and we are prepared for power outages, so we should be fine. I might post an update later tonight, power permitting.

Previous post: Irene



This visible image of Hurricane Irene was taken from the 
GOES-13 satellite on August 26, 2011 at 1:40 p.m. EDT
Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

It is Friday night and it seems to become more and more certain that hurricane Irene will pass through New Jersey. If we are lucky, it will stay off the coast, but some prediction models have it passing right through the middle of the state. The shore and everything close to the shore is going to get the worst beating. Our apartment is about 33 miles away from the shore (about 53km), so we won't be directly affected by what happens there.

The winds in our area are going to be somewhere between 40 to 100 miles per hour (65-160km/h), this ranges from a light Tropical Storm to a light Category 1 Hurricane. I guess tomorrow the forecasts will be more accurate. Tropical storms are common around here during summer, and we are confident that the house we live in will protect us even from the stronger winds.

With the infrastructure being what it is around here (many of the power lines are above ground on flimsy wooden sticks) we are expecting power outages. To be on he safe side, we stocked up on water and food.

We are now waiting to see what happens next. I will be posting updates here and on Facebook when we know more. The first winds are going to arrive Saturday night.


High Tech at Travelocity

Dear Travelocity staff,

I have an idea on how you could cut your cost considerably! It hit me when I got the following message I received after unsubscribing from your promotional emails:
Your request to unsubscribe from all Travelocity promotional emails has been submitted. This includes [...] and limited-time promotions. Please allow 5-10 business days for your request to be processed.
emphasis added by me
Given the amount of waiting time indicated by this message, I infer that you are having one or more of your employees go through these unsubscribe request and manually remove the email addresses from the database (you do use a database, right?).

I have great news for you: There have been some intriguing technologies coming up lately that allow interactions with databases through a variety of programming languages (including scripting languages). Given the right approach, you could save close to 100% of the time your employees spend on this tedious task, by simply automating it.

Please get in touch with me if you would like to know any further details.


My two cents on Transformers 3

The first Transformers movie was, at least to me, somewhat of a surprise. I had not expected it to be as entertaining as it turned out to be. Of course it was just a big bunch of special effects sequences bound together by some shallow story, but the ratio was somehow right.

The second Transformers movie I just hated. Firstly, they flattened down the characters to even more stereotypes than in the first movie (not that there was much to flatten down from anyway) and introduced new ones that could not be have been any flatter to begin with.  Then, apparently they looked at all the parts that really sucked from the first one (e.g. embarrasingly stupid jokes that aren't even funny when you are in puberty) and decided to put more of them in the sequel - more stupid jokes, more stupid bots. Lastly, they ramped up the special effects sequences to a degree that the audience could not possibly make sense of what they were watching. Most of the sequences woosh by and you cannot even tell which blob of machinery are the good bots, which are the bad, who is winning, who is loosing. 

The new third Transformers movie is somewhat better than the second. Just that it is completely boring. They managed to restrain themselves with the stupid jokes this time, and managed to make the special effects sequences understandable (albeit even more over-the-top, and this time in 3D). But that is about it. The story of Sam (Shia LaBeouf), the protagonist of the first two movies, struggling to lead a normal life and find a normal job despite him being a hero who had saved the world twice - well, it could not be more boring. The relationship with his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is completely boring as well. And even the actual story about this next battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons is just that: boring. Now don't get me wrong: I did not expect much! But come on, at least a tiny little bit of interesting story? Give me something so that I can feel at least a little bit of interest in the fate of the characters? Please? Some little bit of thrill maybe? Something that makes me ignore all the remaining stupidity and plot holes maybe?

Now, I can't really explain why I even went to watch the third one, especially despite hating the second one so much. I guess it was mostly because I had read some favorable reviews. Or maybe it's just the nerd in me. 

On that thought, I wonder what makes me more nerdy. The fact that I watched this movie in the first place? Or the fact that I recognized Leonard Nimoy (as the voice of one of the bots) make a Spock quote from The Wrath of Kahn? Or maybe the fact that I feel that this boring special effects nonsense is not worthy of any Star Trek quote? 

Oh, and in case you decide to watch the movie, don't let it fool you: There is no dark side of the moon. Think about it for a bit. If you don't believe me, check it out: there is no dark side of the moon



(Try the automated translation to English powered by Google. 
But  don't get your hopes up too much.)

In letzer Zeit werde ich in meinem persönlichen Umfeld immer öfter mit dem Thema Homöopathie konfrontiert. Bis vor Kurzem hatte ich kaum eine wirkliche Vorstellung, was Homöopathie eigentlich ist; ich hatte wohl angenommen, dass es irgendwas "natürliches" oder pflanzliches ist und mir sonst nichts weiter dabei gedacht. Statt das Thema kritisch zu hinterfragen, habe ich es einfach hingenommen, wie es wohl die meisten machen, und mir scheint dass genau das der Grund dafür ist, warum Homöopathie überhaupt solchen Anklang findet. Es ist einfacher, Behauptungen einfach hinzunehmen, als sich mit ihnen kritisch auseinanderzusetzen.

Mittlerweile weiß ich mehr über das Thema. Und ich jetzt habe ich den Salat. Jetzt mache ich mir Sorgen um all meine Freunde und Familienmitglieder, die homöopathische Mittel nehmen. Ich bin zunächst besorgt um ihren Geldbeutel, denn die Mittel sind teuer aber enthalten keinerlei Wirkstoffe - es ist lediglich Wasser, das auf Milch- oder Zuckerkugeln geträufelt wurde. Aber ich bin auch besorgt um ihre Gesundheit, denn da die Mittel keine Wirkstoffe enthalten, können sie auch nichts heilen; eine echte Erkrankung könnte also einen sehr sehr schlimmen Verlauf nehmen, wenn man sie nur mit homöopathischen Mitteln "behandelt".

Um euch die Recherchearbeit zu sparen, gibt es nachfolgend eine kleine Einführung in die "Funktionsweise" von Homöopathie (und nein, ich habe mir davon absolut nichts selbst ausgedacht, die glauben das wirklich).

Die Homöopathie geht von zwei einfachen Grundsätzen aus.

      1. "Similia similibus curentur" - Ähnliches wird durch Ähnliches geheilt. [1]

Auf den ersten Blick entbehrt dieser Grundsatz jeglicher logischen Grundlage. Aber gut, nehmen wir das mal so hin. Beispiele, die man so im Netz finden kann: Wenn ich Schlafprobleme habe, ist Koffein gefragt. Wenn ich Augenprobleme habe, brauche ich den Extrakt einer Pflanze, deren Blätter aussehen wie Augen. Da eine Vergiftung mit Tollkirschen oft geschwollene Mandeln hervorruft, hilft das Gift der Tollkirsche bei der Bekämpfung von geschwollenen Mandeln. Klingt unlogisch? Hat jemand bedenken, Gift zu sich zu nehmen? Keine Sorge! Homöopathische Mittel enthalten effektiv nichts mehr von diesem Gift, das wurde nämlich vorher extrem (wirklich extrem) verdünnt. Und das bringt uns zum zweiten Grundsatz.

      2. Verdünnung potenziert die Wirkung eines homöopathischen Mittels [1], weil sich Wasser die angebliche Heilkraft einer in ihm gelösten Substanz irgendwie merken kann.

Wenn man also z.B. einen Teil Tollkirschengift mit neun Teilen Wasser vermischt und gut durchschüttelt, enthält man angeblich ein 10 mal stärkeres "Heilmittel". Wiederholt man den Vorgang x mal, enthält man entsprechend potenzierte Mittel. Die Schreibweise für das x-malige Verdünnen im Verhältns 1:10 ist Dx. Ein Mittel der Kategorie D12 wurde also zwölf mal im Verhältnis 1:10 verdünnt, was wiederum bedeutet: D12 repräsentiert die Originalsubstanz im Verhältnis eins zu einer Billion. Ja, Billion. In der Wikipedia heißt es anschaulich: Das entspricht einem Tropfen Substanz auf der Menge Wasser von 25 olympischen Schwimmbecken [2]. "Mächtigere" Potenzierungen gehen noch weit über diesen Verdünnungsfaktor hinaus.

Nun mag man Homöopathie an dieser Stelle kritisieren wollen und fragen, wie denn Ähnliches bitte Ähnliches heilen soll, wenn im Wasser gar nichts mehr von dem heilenden Ähnlichen existent ist. Doch dass von der Originalsubstanz effektiv nichts mehr im Wasser vorhanden ist, bestreiten Homöopathen erst gar nicht. Schließlich könnten sie ihre Mittel auch gar nicht auf den Markt bringen, wenn diese Gift enthalten würden. Stattdessen erklären sie uns, dass das Wasser sich die heilende Wirkung des Giftes gemerkt hat. Wie genau, das wissen sie auch nicht. Gerne werden "Schwingungen" angeführt, oder irgendwelche quantenmechanischen Zusammenhänge, jedoch scheint die eigentliche Funktionsweise etwas zu sein, das die Wissenschaft nicht erklären kann. Ironischerweise ist das sehr bedauerlich, lechzen Homöopathen doch insgeheim nach wissenschaftlicher Anerkennung, um ihre Mittelchen besser verkaufen zu können.

Leider darf man generell bei den Homöopathen nicht so viel nachfragen, und insbesondere das Wörtchen Wissenschaft ist ein Reizwort. Da fahren dann die Abwehrschirme hoch, und die Wissenschaft selbst wird angegriffen, als wollte sie der Homöopathie aus purer Böswilligkeit an den Kragen. Dabei will die Wissenschaft doch eigentlich nur Wissen schaffen, während sich die Homöopathie mit dem Glauben an magische unerklärbare Kräfte zufriedengibt. Aus Sicht der Wissenschaft gibt es zwar keinen plausiblen Mechanismus, warum sich Wasser etwas merken können soll, und warum Ähnliches Ähnliches heilen sollte. Da die Wissenschaft aber offen für Neues ist, hat man trotzdem immer wieder untersucht, ob es denn einen statistischen Effekt homöopathischer Mittel gibt. Diejenigen Studien, die ordentlich aufgestellt und durchgeführt wurden konnten keinen statistischen Effekt feststellen. An dieser Stelle muss die Wissenschaft aufgeben: Wenn es keinen nachweisbaren, wiederholbaren, zweifelsfreien Effekt gibt, dann gibt es auch keinen Grund, nach einer Ursache zu forschen. Damit landet der Ball wieder bei dem Homöopathen, die dann naserümpfend feststellen: Die Wissenschaft weiß halt eben nicht alles. Das ist richtig. Um es mit den Worten des irischen Comedians Dara Ó Briain zu sagen: "Die Wissenschaft weiß, dass sie nicht alles weiß; sonst würde sie einfach aufhören. Aber das heißt noch lange nicht, dass ihr die Lücken einfach mit euren Lieblingsmärchen auffüllen könnt." [3]

Wir sollen die Märchen "Ähnliches heilt Ähnliches" und "Wasser kann sich Heilkraft merken" hinnehmen, und auf dieser Basis Entscheidungen über die Behandlung unserer Wehwehchen und auch unserer ernsten Krankheiten treffen. Wir sollen mit Wasser beträufelte Milch-/Zuckerkügelchen zu uns nehmen, oder gleich das Wasser selbst, um unserem Körper auf "natürlichem" Wege zu helfen.

Liebe Freunde und Familienangehörige: Bitte nutzt euer von der Natur gegebenes Gehirn. Mehr braucht man eigentlich nicht, um den eigenen Geldbeutel und das eigene Wohlergehen gegen die falschen Versprechen der Homöopathie zu schützen.


[2] (mit Verweis auf SZ Wissen, Süddeutscher Verlag 05/2005, S.28)


schon wieder umgezogen

Auf Dauer macht Serveradministration einfach keinen Spaß. Daher ist dieses Blog schon wieder umgezogen, und hat nun auf den Servern von (mindestens) ein neues Dach über dem Kopf.

Und womöglich gibt es demnächst auch mal den ein oder anderen Eintrag.