Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

volcano shadow

this is one of the best sunrise mountain photographs i've seen in a long while. the image, captured by Nick Lippert, shows Mt. Rainier as the sun rises in the pacific northwest region of the US. gorgeous...

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Feynman Series - Beauty

the words of richard feynman narrate this insightful and beautiful video created by the sagan series.

i like listening to him because of the interesting flow of his thoughts: one observation creates a question which leads to another penetrating consideration, and so on.

also, i enjoy the nostalgia i feel from his voice because the way he speaks is similar to older generations of my family.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

miyajima: from one island to another

a true highlight of this epic trip around asia was a 26 hour stop on the japanese island of miyajima. when you take the ferry from hiroshima to the island, you are welcomed by an intriguing view of the itsukushima shrine.

a peak of the itsukushima shrine from the surrounding hills

part of the genius of this shrine is the beauty of how the design complements the tides completely. i arrived near low tide and could walk right out to this huge gate...

low tide at the gate, or torii, of the itsukushima shrine

a few hours later, the bottom of the structure is covered up with the rising water!

this is the major part of the itsukushima shrine and the high tide water rises right up to the platforms you walk along.

by sunset, the orange torii sits deeply in the water.

the torii at high tide

i love how the mountains in the background weave through the structure. this is ancient dynamic design, even though the structures dont actually move at all! gorgeous concept.

after this six week epic trip around asia, i'm now heading home to australia. one island to another.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

ready for "halloween" in tokyo

in southeast and east asia, there are an amazing number of 7 elevens and KFCs. the 7 elevens in taiwan were the place to be as you could pay your bills, use free wi-fi, get stamps, have a snack, etc...

in tokyo, they have dressed up this colonel sanders in preparation for one of my favorite holidays of the year...

"halloween" ;) (it is always an annoying word to remember how to spell, isnt it?)

Friday, October 21, 2011

occupy wall street

it took a while to get large-scale media attention, but the "occupy wall street" movement has certainly made a recent impact in the minds of many people. While on a long bus ride in korea last week they had news playing on a tv. i couldnt understand the words, but they showed scenes of people in seoul and several other cities in many other countries showing support for the USA-based movement.

Here are four key points (and 4 accompanying charts here):

1. Unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression,

2. At the same time, corporate profits are at an all-time high (The top earners are capturing a higher share of the national income than they have anytime since the 1920s.),

3. Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low (After adjusting for inflation, average earnings haven't increased in 50 years),

4. Income and wealth inequality in the US economy is near an all-time high (CEO pay and corporate profits have skyrocketed in the past 20 years, "production worker" pay has risen 4%).

the thing that jumps out to me in the charts here, is just how rapidly the corporate profits rebounded after the economic crisis hit.

for a poignant cartoon summary written almost 20 years ago by the endlessly relevant artist bill watterson, click this image...

courtesy of

i dont like to write too much about politics here, but i wanted to share the calvin and hobbes cartoon and thought i'd set the scene. in my opinion, it's about damn time people got angry about these issues and organized to say so! now it's time for representative politicians to step up and start suggesting policies to help eradicate these gross inequalities.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

tokyo nightscape

today i gave the final lecture of this rather epic tour of east asia. tonight is my last night in tokyo. i like this scene of tokyo at night and can say i've seen at least three of those massive sea creatures, with limbs moving up and down, attached to buildings above restaurants.

tumblr tells me (for once!) that this image comes from a video game called "power slave."

i'm off for the weekend to visit hiroshima and then kyoto, before heading back to australia, next week.

exploration of the origin of the universe

the Center for the Exploration of the Origin of the Universe at seoul national university in south korea not only has a fantastic title, but also a good url: i love that i get to visit and work at places with titles like this!

there are also nicely coloured temples around the city.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

lady by tokyo

i arrived in japan today and during my first few hours of exploration, i wandered into an electronics and gaming market.

the amount of stuff one can store on teeny tiny little USB sticks now is remarkable!

then i found an entire floor of an arcade completely dedicated to photo booths! (i found several others later...)

no question, i had to try.

the booth i chose was called "Lady by Tokyo." being as the instructions were all in japanese, i had to guess at what was happening and therefore look a little funny in some of these shots.

things to notice:

- i am clearly taller than the average japanese person using these booths, as i was standing all the way at the back and my head was still cut off!

- you can use a machine to write things on the photos afterwards. i did lots of guessing as to what i was doing, and then the time ran out! no more adjusting.

- they *automatically* enlarge your eyes!?! i guess this is to be closer to the anime/manga image of women, but i find it a bit freaky.

ridiculous. charming. just wow.

i wish i had some friends here - this could be really fun!

Monday, October 10, 2011

bean sprouts

in jeonju, south korea, they really like their bean sprouts. two english-speaking, (drunk) old men i met at dinner laughed at this observation of mine, saying its actually "something in the special water" here that makes them delicious.

i have possibly eaten my weight in bean sprouts over the last few days.

exhibit A, breakfast: several types of kimchi, tiny salty shrimps, barley tea, and two varieties of spicy bean sprout soup! (they like to eat big breakfasts here...)

Kongnamul gukbap (콩나물국밥)

the flavours might not have had huge depth, but the spiciness more than made up for it!

actually, that dish on the right was my favorite! it was two eggs with dried seaweed mixed together (and cooked) with the hot broth from the center dish of bean sprout soup. the women who served the food prepared that dish for me, as it must have been pretty obvious that i had no idea what to do with the two raw eggs sitting silently in the bowl in front of me!

Friday, October 7, 2011


in my opinion, betty white is one of funniest people around and deserves more credit!

for instance, i saw this quote by her the other day ;)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

you've got to find what you love

this is the text of a commencement speech given by steve jobs on june 12, 2005 (video below):

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

nobel prize in physics 2011

the nobel prize in physics for 2011 has been given to three people: Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt, and Adam G. Riess "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae."

of the three, i know brian schmidt who is an astronomer based at the australian national university in canberra. after i gave a seminar talk there a couple months ago, brian gave me a bottle of wine he makes at his winery, a customary gift he bestows upon all visiting speakers.

when brian attended the supernova and their host galaxies conference in sydney in june, he led a wine tasting event one evening. this is where i learned he is really into wine, and he kindly opened a bottle for us all to try! it was indeed a tasty red, and since i've tried it, i think i might hold on to the bottle i have for a while longer ;)

brady was on this announcement quickly and shares not only what the prize was awarded for, but also the story of how mike has lost a bottle of fine whisky as a result of the prize announcement, in this sixty symbols video:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beijing: Donghuamen Night Market

during my first night in Beijing, i managed to entertain some locals by eating something completely the wrong way. but i'll get to that...

the Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing, China is known for its unusual food options. this market is a bit overpriced and caters to the tourists, but you can bargain for deals if you want. in general, the strangeness of the options makes up for the overall blandness of the flavours, in my mind.

for instance, in the image below you see silk worm at the lower left, and snakes on sticks in the middle of the upper row!

you choose what you want and they either fry it or grill it over the coals in front of them, as this woman has done to the skewered snake she's happily handing off.

i did not eat snake.

i have no idea what the mound of thing below is. i couldnt guess from the items listed on their signs and they couldnt tell me when i asked. they chop it up and serve it in a stir fry or a soup. the locals seemed to like it.

then, of course, there are the creepy crawly things: scorpions, centipedes, grasshoppers, lizards, massive crickets, etc... all deep fried to order.

i did not eat anything with too many legs to count, nor did i eat or photograph the sheep's penis, the (seriously) stinky tofu, the pig ears (a true delicacy here), the testicles, you get the idea.

what i did eat were squid, oysters, dumplings, and a starfish!

a guy at the stall offered to take my photo, and my expression mostly describes the experience. i wanted to like it, but...

it had a very confusing and gritty texture. i didnt really like it at all. i took one more apprehensive bite as i walked along the stalls and was about to toss the awful thing in a bin, when an old lady mercifully waved me over to her stall and showed me the proper way to eat a starfish (between her fits of laughter with her friend)!!

apparently youre supposed to crack it open and only eat the dark flesh inside!

oops! i was completely embarrassed, but happy to learn the right part to eat! doing my best as a silly westerner to entertain the locals ;) the inside bit was definitely better, but kinda bitter and salty and not actually that tasty. a woman stopped just then and asked if i could give her some money to buy bread. i offered her the rest of the starfish, but she refused, and turned quickly to rush away. hmm.

i ended the evening on a sweet note, with fruit glazed in sugar!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jiankou Great Wall

today was an exhausting and incredible day. i cannot believe how much we lucked out with the weather while we climbed up to and along the unrestored Jiankou section of the great wall of china. absolutely amazing.

until recently, i never really understood the desire some people had to walk along large sections of the 3500 mile long wall, but my opinion has changed dramatically. not only have i been reading a great book about a wall trek called embracing the dragon, by polly greeks, but now the experience of feeling the long mountain spine leaves me craving more.

maybe one day...

more photos sometime soon, need sleep.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


tom lowe has produced yet another amazing and dramatic view during his successful endeavour to make a full length film, timescapes.

Listening (Credit: Tom Lowe)

admittedly, he's much better at naming astro-photos than i am ;)