Sunday, 18 December 2011

H is the "God" Particle? Really?

This blog entry was triggered this morning by a FaceBook message, which basically stated: "Trying to find God by smashing up atoms is a male idea. God can only be approached and found by Love".
Now there is so much wrong with the first statement that I am sort of hesitant to begin correcting it. Yet I will. There is also a lot to be said about the second statement, but that will have to wait.

First foremost I should declare that the term "God Particle" to refer to the Higgs boson is something that I do not support at all, in fact, I detest it. Anyone who is capable of using the Internet will be able to easily find out that, originally, the phrase was the "Goddamn particle". Because the thing is so elusive, so difficult fo find, yet so crucially important for the integrity of the Standard Model. It HAS to be there, yet we can't find the goddamn thing! But long live religious sensitivities, which have now given us the ridiculous term "God Particle". As if the Divine Creator in his Infinite Wisdom has not created all the particles, fields and what have you as Divine entities, just this one.

What is this  Higgs boson? Just a quantum of a field particle physics needs in order to explain why some particles acquire mass and some do not. The underlying mechanism is called 'spontaneous symmetry breaking' and what happens has been compared with a picture of particles travelling in a kind of molasses: some are retained, while others are not.

Back to the issue at hand: I personally fail to see why this particle should receive such a special status in people's minds. But that does not stop the so-called 'spiritually inclined' from embracing this whole idea and accordingly derive the most ludicrous "theories" from it. I refrain from delving too much into this particular area, as there is a certain limit to the amount of nonsense I can handle.

"Ignorance is bliss", as the saying goes, but the ignorance lying at the core of the statement above is also coupled to a piece of male bashing, which I think is wrong. Yet by itself the statement is blatantly wrong as well. Because nobody's bashing or smashing up atoms (it's protons and antiprotons) and if anyone does, it's not to find God, but to look for a missing piece of the Universe called the Higgs boson.  And if the person who wrote this really was paying attention, it would have been noticed that one of the presenters and lead scientist of last week's LHC results was -in fact- a woman, called Professor Fabiola Gianotti. A peculiarly male idea, right?

So, please, let's first get rid of that stupid misnomer "God Particle" and call it by its proper name: Higgs boson. Hope we'll find it unambiguously really soon!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Decorating a Christmas Tree as a Sacred Act

When I was decorating our Christmas Tree this afternoon, it occurred to me that in fact I was doing something very interesting: I was erecting a representation of the Tree of Life in our living room!

It all starts of course with a bare evergreen tree with nothing special on it. It is "formless and empty" and "dark". But the first ornaments to be hung are stringsof lights. You hang them in the tree, spiralling upward and downward, you put the powerplug into the socket and "Fiat LUX!", the tree is lit up with little sparks of light, very much like the stars in the sky, the Seeds of Creation.

And then I put strands of silver tinsel into the tree that start circling the tree trunk and are spiralling upwards, like a snake, ever reflecting and multiplying the sparks of light already there. And it goes on, when I start putting the bulbs into the tree. Now my husband and I have a special set of Christmas bulbs that we make ourselves. Each bulb represents a year of our relationship, so our collection is growing as our years together increase. So, when I am hanging these bulbs into the tree, I am decorating it with our own lives together and the Love that keeps us together.

And more bulbs -now of the more ordinary kind- are hung into the tree, so that all the sparks are mutiplied again and the whole tree becomes alive with specks of multicolored light. All the spheres are thus represented manifold, as each Sphere on the Tree of Life according to some is said to hold an entire copy of the entire Tree.

And when it is all done, I grab a bag of "Angel Hair" and start throwing that onto the tree. And this has a marvellous effect: it binds together all the elements in the Tree and turns it into a One, a single entity where all the decorations are linked by strands of Angel Hair, just as Angels are supposed to link all elements of the Tree of Life. And finally, I place a peak on top of the tree, and thus Crown it.

Wow! Never has something I have been doing and enjoying for years become so meaningful!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

2011 Vacation in The Netherlands: Hoge Veluwe and Fryslân

So for our next visit we drove to the center of The Netherlands, to the little village of Otterlo to spend the day at one of our National Parks, the Hoge Veluwe. It was a bit of a hassle to get in, as more people apparently had decided to do the same thing. First thing on the agenda: the Kröller-Müller museum which is located in the park. A real must-see, with a superb collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, Charlie Toorop and one of my personal highlights and discoveries: William Degouve de Nuncques. Before the regular collection we spend a lot of time with one of the most innovative, thought-provoking and sometimes downright disturbing exhibitions I've seen in a long time: Hortus/Corpus by Belgian artist Jan Fabre. He uses a wide variety of materials, including insects and his own bodily fluids to make incredibly bold statements regarding Life and Death, Human versus Nature and similar themes.

After all this art it was time for nature and we spent the rest of the day touring the various landscapes of the Veluwe: forests, moorlands with heather in bloom, sandy patches which reminds one of the deserts and we refreshed ourselves with a cup of tea at the St. Hubertus hunting lodge. A sunset walk along the Landscape Garden completed this beautiful day.

And then for a two day event: the exploration of our northern province of Fryslân (or Friesland in Dutch). Fryslân is almost a country within a country: it has its own language (Frisian), its own culture and its own history. We started with a self-guided walking tour of the provincial capital, Leeuwarden (or “Ljouwert” in Frisian). Leeuwarden is an interesting and very lively city with historical and modern buildings next to each other. One of the highlights is the climbing of the Oldenhove tower, a steeple which remained unfinished after starting to lean over while being built. Its summit offers unparallelled views over Leeuwarden and the Frisian landscape beyond. We also spent some time in the Grocery Museum "De Grutterswinkel" and the adjacent “Boomsma's Beerenburger” exhibit, which also offers a tasting of Fryslân's “national” cordial. Good thing we stayed overnight in the awesome Post Plaza hotel!

The next day we decided to take a driving tour of the province following the famous Eleven Cities route which in freezing winters forms a world famouse speed skating competion and tour on natural ice. We first went North to Dokkum with its St. Bonifatius church and then drove back to Leeuwarden along the Dokkummer Ee”, the actual route of the skating tour. From then on to Franeker, where a childhood dream of mine came true as we visited the planetarium of Eise Eisinga, which was built on the ceiling of this gentleman's living room. Next stop: Harlingen with its port where we enjoyed our lunch in what turned out to be the last bit of sunshine for that day. We drove through Bolsward as we wanted to visit a very special museum in the next stop: Workum.

It is there where Dutch folk artist and autodidact Jopie Huisman lived an worked and his museum is a must see if you're in this area. Workum itself is quite a picturesque place and we found ourselves spending more time than anywhere else. When we came out of the museum, it had started to rain. And that had deteriorated badly when we arrived at the next stop: Hindeloopen. We decided to skip taking a walk in this beautiful town and move on to Stavoren, where we paid a visit to the Lady of Stavoren who is still waiting at the port for her ships that never come back.

After that, it was quite late, it was bad weather and we were tired, so back home. So Sloten, Ijlst and Sneek (and Bolsward and Hindeloopen!), we'll be back for you in due time!

Next: Going south to Brussels!

Monday, 15 August 2011

2011 Vacation in the Netherlands: Delft and Volendam

For various reasons we have decided to spend our 2011 vacation here in our own home country. Most importantly: we just spent five whole weeks away from home and for some reason it is not that appealing to go away again. So, Holland it is and we start off by visiting two of the most touristy places: Delft and Volendam. Now Delft is our neighboring city and literally a short bike ride away. So what to do here? Something we haven't done before: visit the Nieuwe and Oude Kerk which are steeped in Dutch history. In a rain-drenched Delft this is a good thing to do, anyway!

The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) is important, as it is the final resting place for most of our kings and queens of old, whose line began with William of Orange who was buried here after being assassinated in 1584. His grave monument is an impressive piece of sculpture and contains some very interesting symbolism. The Old Church is very much the heart of Delft and rumour has it that already in the 11th century there was a church building here. Various famous historical people are buried here: our maritime heroes Maarten Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter and Piet Heyn, the father of microbiology Anthony van Leeuwenhoek also rests here as well as Delft's most famous son: painter Johannes Vermeer.

Volendam may be the Netherlands' second biggest tourist attraction, and to be honest, it has a certain 'tourist trap' quality to it. But get yourself a self-guided walking tour, some really nice weather and a pair of open eyes and you really have a great time here. Of course, the harbour area ("Fisherman's Wharf")  with all the souvenir shops and restaurants is a must see, but behind all that is a quaint, charming and quiet little village, with a great sense of identity which, incidentally, is well-known throughout the Netherlands. The walk takes you to some breathtaking scenic views of the Ijsselmeer, and also to one of my personal highlights, the well-maintained and beautiful little cemetary, with its very personal and touching memorials. There is also some very nice food available along the harbour with a view to die for. And to top it all off, at the end of the tour there is the Volendam museum with its collection of traditional dress, very attractively displayed in wonderfully atmospheric and nostalgic settings. Not to be missed is also the "Cigar Band house" contains a set of murals, entirely made from 7 million cigar bands. We really enjoyed our stay!

Next: National Park De Hoge Veluwe and then an exploration of our country within a country: Fryslân!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Quantum Theories of Magic: why till now I am not so impressed....

Part 1: It is MATH! (or rather: it should be!)

The Dirac equation, a relativistic wave equation describing e.g. electrons

A recent discussion about the relationship between high magic (in this case defined as the art and science to change states of consciousness at will) and science, most notably quantum physics, has triggered at least this blog. In this -and hopefully subsequent follow-ups- I will attempt to elaborate a bit on why I do not think magical and paranormal results can be explained from quantum mechanics, let alone superstring or M-theory.

At present, we do not know what consciousness is. We also do not fully understand all the ramifications that quantum physics entails. And we most certainly do not fully understand string theory. We don't even know if it is in any way correct or just a giant mathematical house of cards. Yet this does not stop several daredevils -or original thinkers- to posit a relationship between these terrae incognitae and even offer explanations of one unknown in terms of the other.

Now I do believe that if quantum mechanics -or string theory for that matter- are true descriptions of the physical world, there must be some kind of link between the ultrasmall scale at which quantum phenomena typically occur and the large-scale structures of everyday experience. The point is that at present we do not really know what that link looks like, other than being described by the statistics of large numbers. Consciousness and the magical manipulation thereof belong to the realm of everyday experience, and therefore do not really exhibit quantum behavior. For that reason alone, invoking (pardon the pun!) quantum theory to explain it would be not unlike playing pool table by calculating the orbit of each and every molecule of the queue ball and adding those up.

I have a number of objections against the use of quantum mechanics to explain magical (or paranormal) phenomena, and the first and foremost -and the topic of this blog- is straighforward: what is used is simply not quantum mechanics, despite the name.

Quantum mechanics is a mathematical theory describing the behaviour of abstract mathematical quantities using abstract mathematical equations. A Wikipedia article describes the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and starts by stating that “Each physical system is associated with a (topologically) separable complex Hilbert space H with inner product” and proceeds by postulating how the elements of this abstract construct known as a “Hilbert space” are to be manipulated in order to obtain the rigorous mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics.

After some clever mathematical juggling, the properties and behaviors of these quantities ultimately have to be somehow “translated back” into physical reality in order to make any sense to us at all, and -if at all possible- enable us to verify them experimentally. It is this last translation step that is often the most difficult, especially when dealing with theories using highly advanced and advancing mathematics, such as string theory. Very often it is far from clear how to translate back towards “physics”. And there is also one very big pitfall!

The world of quantum phenomena is in many ways completely different from our everyday life. If it weren't, there probably would not be a need for a special theory anyway ;-). This, however, means that many quantum phenomena (which as one recalls are derived from mathematical manipulation of abstract quantities) simply do not have an everyday counterpart. Attempts to explain such phenomena using everyday imagery and examples inevitably gives the impression that something “magical” or “uncanny” is afoot.

This may incidentally be one of the reasons “quantum mechanics” and “magic” are brought together by some. To us, certain behaviours of quantum particles may seem “magical”, but that is only because we have no frame of reference to those behaviours in our everyday lives. And there you have in a nutshell what many so-called quantum theoretical explanations of magic and the paranormal amount to: based on everyday (in physics, one talks about “classical” rather than "everyday") imagery which in reality does not correspond to anything in the 'quantum world'. Such attempts are bound to fail, as they are not based on anything quantum mechanical, but instead on a crude translation into more “human” terms. It is simply put not quantum mechanics, despite the assertion!

As an example of such mix-up, consider Larry Cornetts opening statement to his the case for his blog article “How Magic and Esp Work - A Quantum Mechanical Perspective

"In quantum mechanics, reality is described by waves defining the probabilities of different outcomes from the same interactions. These waves manifest as what we have been taught to call matter, energy, particles, and/or waves when observed. These probability waves overlap and continue forever. The interactions between different entities constitute a single structure of linked wave patterns, so that the entire universe can be thought of as an unbroken whole. The waves form a matrix, with all parts of the system affecting all other parts. Non-local relationships exist between parts of the system that are distant from each other."

He misses the point right in the first statement: "Reality is described by waves defining the probabilities of different outcomes from the same interactions”.

What is meant here is the so-called "wavefunction". In the widely used method of Erwin Schrodinger this is a mathematical construct that contains everything there is to know about a particle and whose square is interpreted as a measure of the probability to find that particle in a particular state. Wavefunctions are the solutions to equations that are partly derived from an equation describing the motion of a classical wave or vibration, an example being the Dirac equation that graces the top of this blog. Now this wavefunction by itself is just an abstract mathematical construct. For many applications of quantum mechanics, one does not even need an explicit formula what it looks like. There are some physicists who claim these wavefunctions have some objective existence, but many don't agree with this. The verdict is almost impossible to give as the wavefunction itself is unobservable (though its square is not).

If you've followed me so far, you may appreciate how Cornett mixes up the idea of an abstract mathematical wave function with a concrete physical wave, and uses the latter imagery to arrive at many compelling, yet quantum mechanically incorrect statements, as there are no such things as probability waves that sweep through the universe and connect everything together. A classical example of incorrect extrapolation, I would say.

The main point of all this: any quantum mechanical theory about magic (or indeed: about whatever) needs to be first and foremost a mathematical theory. Everyday images may derived from this eventually, but a theory build on everyday imagery alone will simply not be quantum mechanical.

And this is just one of the many objections. There is also the matter of “scale” but I leave that for the next time!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My Nickname and Me

It is no big secret that my Internet presence closely reflects my In Real Life (IRL) activities. There´s no secrets, no hidden agendas; anything your read from me is pretty much what I would have told you anyway (sometimes, when asked, of course ;-)). So, why do I use a nickname, if there is actually no real reason to do so?

Two words: Internet Convention and two other words: Convenient Habit. When I first discovered the Internet (back in the old days of LYNX, Eudora and Netscape), the use of nicknames was basically mandatory: few people used their own names, also because there were restrictions on the number of characters one could use. So, I adopted a short and descriptive nickname for myself: my name Ron and `Bajor` prefixed to that. Why ´Bajor´ (which rhymes with `major´)? At that time I became fascinated with the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series and the aliens from this planet Bajor appealed to me greatly. They still do, and I still go to SciFi conventions wearing my Bajoran Security costume, but that´s another story. So “BajorRon”, as I still have it today.

In the meantime, my name got longer due to my marriage and our decision to ´merge our names´. So, from the concise ´Ron Van Gurp` (which could be a nice nick by itself), I became Ron Rumley-Van Gurp (watch the position of the hyphen, spaces and capital letters!). I don´t think I would have made myself very popular using that name on a regular basis, beautiful as it is! So, I stayed BajorRon for all practical purposes: in forums, on blogs, and later on Twitter as well. And then there was FaceBook. After much deliberation I chose to use my full name there. Predominantly, so that my friends who know my name but not my nick can find me there. So, in short, there are no beans to spill: BajorRon is Ron Rumley-Van Gurp and vice versa.

Now, many people feel they should guard and protect their real identity on the Internet at all costs. Because they feel that revealing too much of themselves might harm them in certain areas in life: at work or privately. The thing is: don't reveal anything on the Internet that might harm you. Because there is a real risk that it somehow may come back to bite you in the ass. If you feel you can't get away revealing certain aspects of your life: don't post them, not even under a heavily secured anonymous nicknamed account. Anything may be traced back at you, when someone really puts their mind to it. And some people love to do just that...
So, there you've got it: I just use my nickname for convenience's sake and nothing else. And for the rest it's What You See is What You Get... Nothing more, nothing less either...

Yours sincerely,
“Bajor”Ron Rumley-van Gurp

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

FedCon XX: The Finals!!!

(I borrow this one from George Takei): Oooohhhhh Myyyyy.....That sums up how I feel early in the morning at breakfast. Now this is the usual Sunday morning feeling at FedCon, so I am in synch with the timing...First thing today: a double photoshoot with the Boba Fetts, Jeremy Bulloch and Daniel Logan. Now Jeremy is right on time, but where's Daniel? “Just waking up” says Rafael, “I am going back to get him“. And indeed, 10 minutes later young Boba Fett takes his spot and we march in to have our pic taken. After that, back into the auditorium to listen to Tony Amendola talk about a lot of things and being interviewed with some really good questions. Then we stay there to listen to Lance Henriksen, someone who's work I personally do (or rather, did) not know (yep, shame on me!). And that is one of the great things of FedCon: you get to meet and get aquainted with new people and new stuff!

We skip Dirk Benedicts panel for lunch and I sit in with Jeremy Bulloch's panel which has magically turned into Daniel Logan´s panel. This turns out to be an interesting and – here´s that word again – cosy get-together in which we really get to know Daniel and what makes him tick (or bounce, which in his case is more appropriate, bless´em!). Back to the main hall for the final two panels of this con. First Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill who in my opinion delivered my favorite panel of this convention. Witty, fun and of course both show us their best Captain Janeway impersonations. And Garrett goes even further than that: he shows us what Genevieve Bujold as the first candidate for Janeway looked like. All I can say is, and I say this with the utmost respect, that I am glad Ms. Bujold decided to quit. But it gives us a hilarious piece of entertainment. Did I also mention that Garrett finally got the promotion Harry Kim so desperately wanted? Out of the hands of `Captain Archer´ no less, Garrett is finally promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant! But that was last night....

And then, as the final, the last panel with Richard Dean Anderson. Which turns out to be very similar to his first one, and I find myself desparately wishing for the questioneers Tony Amendola had earlier.
And then....It is over. FedCon XX is a wrap. One more time we applaud and cheer the actors and other guests, and when Garrett Wang enters the stage, he receives a standing ovation for a job extremely well done. Dirk Bartholomae enters the stage and asks us if we want to see him again next year, and as the Maritim Auditorium explodes, we are told who the first guest for next year will be: Garrett Wang!
After all this excitement we skip into what used to be the dealers´ room to say bye bye to our friends, but, alas, they have already packed up and gone, so we go to the restaurant to have dinner. And the evening we spend reminiscing in the hotel bar.

On a scale of 1 to ten I award this FedCon a big fat 9+. There really is not that much wrong, at least in our experience. The only exception is the party area: that should be considerably larger if we want to have the FedCon party atmosphere of old. ( And Dirk has already announced that this will happen next year!).

Thanks to everyone at FedCon. Orga, Volunteers, Antje, Maren and Sandra from Behinderbetreuung, Kenny, Pamela, Ron and Tiggy and Willy, our freidns form the Federation and all the actors and wonderfuil fans: we love you. Till next year!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

FedCon XX: Day 3 (or is it 4 already?)

Day 3! Which in this case is the Saturday. As FedCon currently takes four days to complete, this feels a trifle awkward: traditionally, Day 3 is the “post-party” day, with most of the morning sessions spent in a kind of half-drunken-half-hungover stupor. But hey, the Big Party -if there's going to be one, and people, so far it does not look that well!- is scheduled for tonight, so that will probably take splace on Day 4.

We start the day with a revisit to the autograph room in order to complete our autographs. We begin with Dirk Benedict who yesterday was slow ,slower, slowest, with lines in front of his tabel to match (“3 hours!” as per buzz!). We find people already lined up for him, but as 'Behinderte' we go first and we promise the waiting to be as quick as humanly possible. Dirk is chatting away as usual, but we are able to get away with his autograph within a few minutes or so. Last is Paul McGillion who happily signs the call sheet and is sort of relieved when we tell him how we got to know the answer to his question yesterday, which is not due to nerdiness. Nicole is busy signing, otherwise we would have dropped by to share with her as well...

Another photoshoot, with Kate Vernon this time. Funny moment when we both get a fit of the giggles, no one really knows why, but Kate, being the professional that she is, recovers in an instant, while I am still very visibly trying to retain a semblance of seriousness. Visibly, as the result is a picture in which it seems she's tickling me or something (which she did not!)....

The rest of the afternoon is spent running from one panel to the next. Sean Maher gives a nice, laid back and very funny panel with extensive use of a 'Sarcasm' sign. Bouncy boy Daniel Logan is next , at least according to the schedule, but it turns out that Jeremy Bulloch has joined him on stage, so we are treated to an audience with the 'Boba Fetts'. Quite an interesting an entertaining panel, with an interesting contrast between gentleman Jeremy and young Daniel!

After this, it is dinner time and as we habitually skip the costume contest, we've also got some time to spend with our dealer friends (and buy more stuff, evidently). Final panel of the day is Scott Bakula's. Back in time only to learn that the whole show is at least 45 minutes late. So we get the final costume award ceremony and are treated to a smashing performance of showband 'The Sarlacc Survivors' who really bring the house down with their Star Wars show, complete with a singing Darth Maul and a wompa turned Elvis (or the other way around).

Finally, there's Scott again to answer more questions about Quantum Leap and, of course, Star Trek Enterprise. A bit of an awkard moment arises when someone asks Scott where his last name is from and if he knows what it means. “Yep, it is from a family in the Czech Republic, but I don't know what it means”, replies Scott. The guy asking the question, however, does not accept this answer but insists that “bakula” is in fact Polish and means something like 'filthy liar'. Boy, how to respond to this one....”smile and wave” (or the on-stage equivalent of this).

After Scott is done, it is finally: party time! Some of the Dutch contingency -including me- have something special: orange (which is our national colour) T-shirts which say: “As a finishing touch, God created the Dutch”. There's also our party yell: “Da Dutch, da Dutch, da Dutch are inda house!”. An this time it works, even on the crowded, small dance floor: the FedCon party atmosphere is back! Later that night, it even extends to the area outside the bar and it is around 3:30 that I hit the sack. Tired and sweaty of dancing, but hey, party was finally upon us...

Friday, 13 May 2011

FedCon XX: Day 2

And here's Day 2! Fresher than usual on that day, and that's what happens if your go nighty night on time, kiddos! We start the day with some photoshoots, first of all with Scott Bakula. As we enter in the room we notice what a wonderful guy Scott really is: he walks up to you, shakes your hand as if REALLY pleased to see you and chit-chats while the picture is being taken. That's why I look very relaxed on mine, as I discover later that day! Another photo a bit later , this time with Wil Wheaton, who is polite and pleasant as always. Walking back from the photoshoot to the dealer's room, my eye falls on something really incredible: a lifesize copy of Harry Potter's Marauder's Map framed in a wonderful and rather authentic looking frame. We dare ask what this would cost and as the price is quite reasonable we mumble the spell “We solemnly swear we're up to no good” and the Map is ours. We find out later that the whole thing unfolds to show a 3D map of Hogwarts, but the main thing is: this item will grace our display cabinet like nothing will! “Mischief managed!”
and hotel reservations.

And then it is time for the big autograph session. As we are part of the Special Needs group we are more or less used to get to this rather quickly. Not this time though; it takes us about two hours and we by that time are still not done. Our assistant Maren takes us up to get Scott Bakula's autographs but next day we will have to come back for a few more, as my dear husband has politely collapsed.

After dinner the evening is filled with panels: first Richard Dean Anderson, the Paul McGillion and Scott Bakula and finally Marina Sirtis, which we actually skipped, being too tired. All three of them nice yet all three of them very different in atmosphere. I thought RDA's panel sometimes drowned in the silliness of the questions and comments fired at him, to which he responded quite well, though. Occassionally, there was an opportunity to see the 'person behind the actor'. Scott's panel was quite different: interesting and brought with a genuine warmth and a very personal touch. To me he seemed of all the Star Trek captains I've met the most approachable.

And Paul McGillion´s panel took an unexpected turn when he quizzed off his SGA ´Duet´call sheet by asking us what was the name of Nicole de Boer´s character in Stargate Atlantis. Now, purely by coincidence, earlier that afternoon we had Nicole sign two photos with her as that character, and we asked her to sign it with the character name as well, if she recalled. After a while she did, and thus we were able to yell out the answer and got hold of an interesting and unique item. Interesting, because I am still completely mystified about what is actually printed on that thing. Respect for the actors who can make heads or tails out of that one!

A day later we had that signed by Paul and told him this story (as he started out by `You guys are really a bunch of super-nerds to come up with that answer!`). So, thanks for making that effort to remember, Nicole, we owe you one big time!

So, a long an hectic day, where a lot of fun was had by all. Hopes for a bigger party opportunity were up, yet in vain. So I called it a day, actually before midnight! That early was at least one of my FedCon firsts!

Friday, 6 May 2011

FedCon XX: Day 1

A very good night's sleep, that says something, as I normally do not sleep that well first night in a 'strange bed'. First thing after breakfast is for me to get rid of my digital art pieces that I am carrying around. So, way before the official opening of the convention area, we are allowed in to set up my presentation. A change! Graphics and Models are now in one room, shared happily with the Klingon pub run by “Khemorex Klinzhai”. Klingons and fine art, I hope for the best at that combination!

I set up my presentation into what I hope is an attractive showpiece,a nd when asked if I want to participate in Art contest, I'm all like “Sure, what the heck?”. I don't believe human creativity should be the subject of competitiveness, but participating never hurt anyone.

After we're done we get into the dealers' room finding all our dealer friends in a frenzy cause “Where are all the customers?” . We try to reassure them that even though they're on the second floor, they will be found! Eventually! If I havce to run around the con areea with R2D2 on my head (which I actually did!).
But even though we do some of the autograph shopping tehy keep being a bit antsy about it. And then we found out that there is a perfectly logical explanation for everybody's absence: the convention hasn't opened yet. Oops, that's not what the programme said...

Around noon we finally get and at 14.00 it is time for the first official event (for us at least): the photoshoot with Richard Dean Anderson. When he finally comes down I am happily suprised, as I was led to believe that “Colonel O'Neill” had gained quite a few pounds. Well, he did but it is not as bad as some might have anticipated and for such a high-profile guest he is actually quite a jolly fellow. Of course these photoshoots go quick and there is just enough time to exchange some pleasanteries, but it's always quite a thrill to be standing next to someone of a more or less legendary stature. We meet RDA again at his autograph session, which takes an unexpected turn as our presigned autographs are personalized. Richard takes some time to look at my art piece for this year and then signs it, taking care not to make his autograph too big. We joke a bit about this poses quite some stress to “do it right”! Later that day we also pose with Wil Wheaton and then it is time for the opening.

Everyone's of course quite excited to see how Garrett Wang will fulfill the demanding Master of Ceremonies function for the very first time. When he enters the stage, a loud applause fills the auditorium. The usual opening issues commence: a word for the sponsors, a list of Do's and Don'ts and then Garrett invites Dirk Bartholomäe, Mr Fedcon himself, on stage. As this is the 20th anniversary, Dirk is presented by a marvellous birthday cake in SciFi style, to be consumed by everyone later that night. Dirk is visibly touched by this, but being as modest as he is, leaves the stage as quickly as is humanly possible.

And then the guests are introduced, showered with the warm FedCon welcoming applause,and given the opportunity to say a few words or practice their first words of German. My cold chills begin when Scott Bakula enters the stage. I have been waiting quite long to meet “Captain Archer”, the captain from the Star Trek series that is dearest to my heart as I witnessed its inception (and demise) from the very start. Great to have him here!

After the opening I move to the small room to sit in with Kate Hewlett, who admits she's a bit nervous and wonders if we're all misplaced as Lance Henriksen is on themain stage. She need not worry as she puts on a very nice and interesting and -shall I use the word?- cosy Q&A session, with lots of inside stories and jokes about her dear brother, David. After Kate, I return to the main adutorium to listen to Wil Wheaton's panel. He was really amazing, very witty as we have come to know him from his blogs, tweet and books. To me his was the most inspiring of them all!
(To read it from his own perspective:

After all this (and three panels in a row is not such a good idea) it was party time. Or at least a serious attempt at partying. As in Bon we had a ginat dancefloor available, we where sort of expecting something equally magnificent. NO SUCH THING. Just the dancefloor in the bar which was smaller than the one in Bonn, the same DJ we had before and that was it. It beat me how 1000+ people were supposed to have a party theer and the answer is of course: they could not. After an hour of sweat and too many people to really dance, I gave up and went to bed around 1:00 am, infernally early for a FedCon (where sleeping is optional).

Day One is gone and it was already a blast! See what comes tomorrow! And Garrett? He´s already doing just great! As if he´s never done anything else!

Me in my R2D2 Disney hat, bought from Kenny (KIF's collectibles).

Thursday, 5 May 2011

FedCon XX: New place, New Beginnings

There is something inspiring in meeting a person -in this case Star Trek The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton- and listen to him talk about his stories and his blog. It made me realize I also do have a blog, which is currently sadly empty. Time, therefore, to start using it for what it was meant.

We met Wil at the 20th edition of the European SciFi convention FedCon, of old a gathering of Star Trek fans but nowadays more into the general SciFi genre. Recently it has grown considerably and therefore it has moved to a new location: from the cosy and comfortable Maritim hotel in Bonn to the state of the art and awe-inspiring Martitim in Düsseldorf. This new place it great, though at first one has to overcome an awkward feeling: it feels a bit as an extension of the adjacent airport.

We arrived on a Wednesday and as usual we stepped right into the preconvention buzz: things being built up, things being hanged, merchandise being unpacked and it is always fun to step inside and watch this, careful of course not to be in anyone's way. We were also a bit concerned as this was the first FedCon the hotel staff had to deal with. No matter how many conventions one runs, FedCon is just a bit different, has it's own problems.
That night we had scheduled a special Reunion Dinner with some friends, sixteen in number, who were also early-bird arrivals. First thing after check-in was a run to the elected restaurant to make a reservation, to make sure we had enough seats. No problem, it was written into the big book and off we went, into the dealer's room for the usual pre-convention browsing of stuff. And we were not disappointed, and some great autographs (Harrison Ford as Han Solo! Matthew Fox in LOST!, Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine!) went home with us.

Of course it is fun to kill time just sitting somewhere and let the people pass you by, often interrupted by enthousiastic cheers, waving of hands and a hug or two...

Evening falls and it is time for the Reunion Dinner, so we head for the restaurant. It feels as if the number of persons expected has doubled in the meantime, so I just take it easy and see what happens...and then the Maitre'D tells us that “there has been a mistake with the reservation, there's no place for you in our inn”...eeh, what? She explains that the restaurant is fully booked (by the FedCon staff, as we find out later), but she let's us in and leaves us. To come back after five minutes to tell us that we can't stay here but there's a table for us in the adjacent bistro, and we will get the menus from this restaurant. I could have kissed the lady for her problem-solving skills. We pack up and –indeed- there's more of us waiting in the bistro.

It becomes an animated and quite international party: Dutch, Belgians, Americans, Scottish and the occasional Swedish. It in fact becomes so animated that the maitre'd of the bistro (which is a lot more uppity than the down-to-earth homecooking restaurant we originally wanted) asks us to turn it down a bit as there are still some business people around. If this is how FedCon XX starts, where wil it end? Well, we'll find out tomorrow.

One thing is sure: I now have the utmost confidence in the hotel staff to deal with the organised craziness that is FedCon. No matter what crisis...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Spring is in the air?

No, silly, it is still Winter!

It is my observation that people – in general- do not like Winter. Granted, it is a tough season to like. Everything alive seems to either hide underground or otherwise become as unattractive as possible. Days are short, dark and cold, the nights long and even darker and colder. That is probably why so many of us are longing for the advent of Spring.

Still, I do think that there is a lot to be said for Winter. Purely paganistically speaking, Winter is a necessary ingredient of what's known as the Wheel of the Year, the endless rhythm of the seasonal changes. Winter is Nature's expression of “What Goes Up must Come Down” and it is the down-coming part of that. It reminds us sharply of our own mortality.

Yet, I happen to like the Winter time. Outside it is dark, cold and wet, but inside it is warm, cosy and light. The world outside seems barren and sometimes, when everything is white after a good snow storm, even primordially so. It has its own beauty and attractiveness to those who are not afraid to open their eyes towards its beauty.

But to many, Winter is a period of the year that's best passed over as quickly as possible. That's why so many surround themselves with the 'symbols of Spring' sometimes as early as December when Winter proper sometimes hasn't even arrived yet. These symbols more often than not involve Spring flowers, artificially forced to blossom way before their time in Nature. When I look into my garden I see hellebore, crocus and snowdrops; the flower shop, however, sells tulips, daffodils and hyacinths who in Nature are not supposed to flower until next month. It is also why so many start saying that they can feel 'Spring is in the Air' upon the first mild and sunny Winter's day. We have those over here sometimes as early as January, when the bulk of Winter's still before us.

I also think these feelings are related to a rather common tendency not to live in the Now but sometime in the future. Many people are always planning for something in the future, but in the meantime forget to live now. In Winter, our mind is already in Spring, when it is Spring we are looking forward to Summer. When it is High Summer, some start looking forward till Autumn, especially when they get tired of the heat and draught. And when Autumn is upon us, we look forward to Winter, or more accurately, we start preparing for the Winter Holidays, each year sooner and sooner, it seems.

Just a week ago, the weather was so fine, I spent most of the day outside pottering in the garden. Today, I am looking outside and it is snowing, and the temperature's around freezing. Was that the coming of Spring I felt last week? Nope, just a little upward weather spike. Winter is still here! And that's just as it should be!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Egyptology: a Beginner's Story Part 2

The need for a proper text book...

It's about two months since I first wrote about my beginners' endeavour into Egyptology: the art and science of reading and comprehending the hieroglyphic script and the Egyptian language. Well, I have made a considerable progress: I can read and write the monoliteral signs with comparative ease and I am currently involved in getting to know the most common bi- and triliterals. Parallel to this there is a lot to study regarding all aspects of Egyptian culture, from online sources, some great books I purchased -or downloaded- and the occasional visit to a museum or exhibit. Thank the gods for the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden!

As I wrote before, I am using several books concomitantly to tackle the language and script study. As much as I love the books I described before, I gradually started to notice that neither of them is really written as a course or curriculum. Interesting as they are, there is a certain lack in systematics that began to bug me. And then I read about the one textbook that many seem to recommend: James P.Allen's Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs.

It's a bit tricky to get -it seems to be available only from second-hand booksellers-, but is extremely well worth the effort for a serious student of Egyptology.
This book systematically teaches you the intricacies of both the hieroglyphic system -including the exceptions to the various rules- as well as the Middle-Egyptian language itself. It does so in a concise and comprehensive manner, and the most amazing thing is that the text is quite lively as well. In the first few lessons I learned a lot that I did not find in any of the other books about the flexibility of the script.

Believe me, Egyptian reading, writing and the language are complicated enough without the additional energy spent on assembling your learning material from various sources. If you want to learn it, do yourself a favour and get this book! You will not regret it!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Book Review : The Essential Zohar: The Source of Kabbalistic Wisdom

 In this book (ISBN 978-0609609279 )  the author,  Rav P.S. Berg, embarks on quite a monumental task: to disclose the wisdom of the Zohar – the most influential and important of all kabbalistic texts – in a readable and easy to understand format and also aimed at everyone, regardless of faith or religion. The Zohar is a very complicated and difficult text, which requires careful study and a more than passable acquaintance with Torah and Talmud.

I started to read this book quite eagerly but -alas!- I was disappointed almost right from the start. This task clearly and painfully has proven too formidable for Mr. Berg. The book is divided into three parts: an introduction to the Zohar and its history followed by an exploit of some general teachings and in part three an analysis of various well-known biblical stories and concepts. I somewhat enjoyed reading parts 1 and 2, but definitely lost interest in part 3, which read more like a biblical exegesis than anything else.

To me, the book never fulfilled its promise of unlocking an all-encompassing, profound and life changing wisdom, as propounded in the introduction. At no point in the book did I get the feeling that something substantial, something really valuable had been revealed. “Be nice to each other, and be a good person” seems to sum it up. All too true, but we probably don't need reference to the Zohar for this!

Another point that made me rapidly loose interest is the almost constant reference to various 'kabbalistic wisdoms', that we as readers have to take at face value in order to follow Berg's reasoning. And unfortunately, he needs to use this technique too often when dealing with a document so intricately intertwined in a vast body of knowledge and wisdom.

To me the title “Essential Zohar” does not cover the contents of this book, as I feel it hardly touches the surface of what the Zohar really has to offer humanity. I would not recommend this book to serious students of Kabbala, the mysteries or judaeica.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Low-Carb Recepten : winterse soepen I

Ik ben dol op wintergroenten: kool in alle soorten en kleuren, spruitjes en boerenkool en natuurlijk zaken als koolraap, knolselderij waarmee de heerlijkste dingen gemaakt kunnen worden. Toch ga ik daar nu geen recepten voor geven. Ook heel winters is het werken met groenteconserven: ingeblikt, in pot of uit de diepvries. Het geeft je de mogelijkheid om ook hartje winter, heel betaalbaar en ecologisch verantwoord lente-en zomergroenten op tafel te zetten. Daarom twee recepten: een voor spinaziesoep uit de diepvries en een Oosterse soep van sperzieboontjes uit blik. Mag natuurlijk uiteraard ook van verse groenten gemaakt worden!

Pittige spinaziesoep (ca 1,5 l)

1 ui
1 takje selderij
1 tl sambal
1 pk diepvries spinazie a la creme
1 el olie
3 runder bouillonblokjes

Schil de ui, snijd haar in stukjes en doe in de soeppan, samen met de sambal, selderij, peperkorrels en de olie. Laat de uien op zacht vuur lichtgeel worden en voeg dan de bevroren spinazie a la creme toe. Laat het geheel op zacht vuur smelten onder af en toe roeren. Voeg vervolgens 1 liter kokend water toe, de bouillonblokjes en laat het geheel ca 10 minuten zachtjes koken. Pureer de soep vervolgens met de staafmixer en serveer.

Als u deze soep met gewone diepvriesspinazie of met verse spinazie maakt, voeg dan voor het pureren ½ bekertje crème fraiche aan de soep toe. De soep wordt daardoor zachter van smaak.

Sambal goreng boontjessoep uit blik

“Sambal goreng” is een bekend gerecht uit de Indonesische keuken, dat van groenten, vlees, vis, eieren enzovoorts gemaakt kan worden. In dit recept zijn de specifieke kruiden voor dit gerecht gebruikt voor een Oosterse soep.
1 grote ui
1 teentje knoflook
1 tl sambal
1 tl laospoeder
1 el olie
100 ml kokosmelk
3 runderbouillonblokjes
1 groot blik sperziebonen

Was de sperziebonen en laat uitlekken. Snipper ui en knoflook in de soeppan, voeg de olie, sambal en laospoeder toe en bak dit even op op een laag vuur. Voeg de uitgelekte boontjes toe en laat het geheel ca. 5 minuten op een zacht vuur onder af en toe omscheppen sudderen. Voeg 1 l kokend water toe en tevens de bouillonblokjes. Laat het geheel ca 5 minuten koken en voeg dan de kokosmelk toe. Pureer de soep met de staafmixer. Serveer haar, bijv. met wat gebakken uitjes erover gestrooid.

Als u dit gerecht van verse sperziebonen maakt, neem dan 250-300 gram en kook de soep dan 10-15 minuten tot de bonen gaar zijn, voeg dan pas de kokosmelk toe en pureer.

Eet smakelijk!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Book Review: "The Way of the Crucible" by Robert A. Bartlett

"The Way of the Crucible" is the successor to Robert Allen Bartlett's highly acclaimed book on "Real Alchemy". Bartlett is a practicing laboratory alchemist, and both these books are real treasure troves for those of us who are interested in or even pursuing this occult art.

In "The Way of the Crucible", Bartlett further delves into the fascinating world of practical alchemical work within the mineral realm, a vast topic already discussed to some length in "Real Alchemy", but explored in more detail here. The book opens with a sound teaching on the basic principles of the ancient Indian system of Ayurveda, which shares many commonalities with western alchemical philosophy. It is a fascinating subject by itself, but it raised the question why Bartlett has chosen to use a more Eastern approach rather than stay with the equivalent and perfectly satisfactory traditional  western ideas and terminology. As alchemical nomenclature is already confusing enough and often highly redundant (often, various terms are used to describe the same thing), I found using the Sanskrit terminology of ayurveda on top of the usual western terms highly confusing.

Bartlett then proceeds to discuss three mineral pathways in extraordinary detail: the Acetate Path, the works with Antimony and works with Gold itself. Extensive quotations from well-known alchemical artists complement these descriptions. Paracelsus, Glauber, Basil Valentine, Sir Isaac Newton, Nicholas Flamel and his method of confecting the Philosopher's Stone: they and their wise words and recipes are all there! For a chemist such as myself, this book is a complete delight as Bartlett also discusses various chemical aspects of the Works, and even -in the Appendix- presents analytical chemical data on various products obtained from the acetate and antimony paths.

"The Way of the Crucible" is a highly inspiring and thoroughly researched book which is also quite a good read, provided one is conversant with general chemistry and alchemy. The book focusses predominantly on the practical side of things and less on the intimately connected spiritual significance of these Works to the operator. This -of course- is something we all should discover for ourselves, whether we follow Bartlett in reality or only 'in token'. I'd highly recommend this book to those who loved "Real Alchemy" and to those  who are interested in practical alchemical work in general.

For further information: