SMS spam

I just had the unfortunate experience of receiving my first SMS (GSM mobile phone text message) spam. If this happens again, I will have to ask for a phone number change.

Batteries over two millennia old!

This BBC article (via Slashdot) describes the fascinating discovery of batteries in Baghdad dating to 200 BC. They were basically clay pots with copper cylinder cores that were to be immersed in some electrolyte such as wine or vinegar. Their purpose is still unknown.

Eat your heart out, Energizer bunny!

How the Rocky Mountains keep Western Europe temperate

Western Europe has very moderate winters compared to North American coastal regions at the same latitude, with a whopping 15°C (27°F) difference. New York is at about the same latitude as Rome, but its winters are considerably colder than those of Paris or London, which are at the same latitude as Québec or Newfoundland.

Conventional wisdom claims this is due to the regulating effects of the Gulfstream, that acts as a heat pump between both sides of the Atlantic ocean.

New research from Columbia (more details available from The Independent) debunks this theory. Apparently, most of the difference is due to atmospheric effects, and half of that due to global wind patterns whose meanderings are shaped by the Rocky Mountains (in simulations where the Rockies are flattened, Western Europe gets 9°C colder).The Gulfstream actually has only a very minor and almost negligible contribution to the difference.

I find it really amazing how mountains 9 time zones away can influence the climate so dramatically. It is a small world, after all.

Movie review: The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

I saw this movie in the early hours of this morning, and was unfortunately disappointed. While the photography, acting, special effects and narrative are top-rate, Peter Jackson has taken far more liberties with the book than in the first episode. This actually impairs the narrative. Here are some of the most important examples i can point out:

  • Theoden is portrayed as indecisive, defensive and defeatist. This is completely at odds with the book after Wormtongue is exposed.
  • Similarly, the Rohirrim are portrayed as a small band of despondent civilians, almost a rout, and not as a proud warrior nation scrambling to muster and regroup under the newly reestablished leadership of its king and heir.
  • Eomer is shown as banished, not merely in disfavor, and is absent from most of the battle of Helm’s deep (apart from appearing as a contrived deus ex machina where in the book Huorns led by the Ents mop up the bulk of the orcs). The friendship between Eomer and Aragorn is not given any development in the movie, when in the book it is far more important than Eowyn’s infatuation with Aragorn.
  • Faramir character is shown in an unflattering light, in complete contradiction to Tolkien. In the book, he nobly resists Boromir’s fate and assists Frodo in spite of his misgivings on Cirith Ungol, while in the movie he forcibly takes Frodo towards Minas Tirith.
  • In the book, the elves are almost completely absent from direct military confrontation (apart from Elladan and Elrohir, who are not at all represented in the movie). In the movie, a contingent from Rivendell (incongruously led by a galadhrim) assists in the defense of Helm’s deep. The elves’ ambivalent attitude to the War of the Ring is completely misrepresented.
  • The interaction between Saruman and Sauron is completely trivialized as a simple allegiance, when in the book Sauron manipulates Saruman, who has his own agenda with the ring. The dissensions between the Uruk-Hai of Isengard and the Orcs of Mordor in the band that captured Merry and Pippin are portrayed as simply a matter of eating the captives or not, when in the book there are complex political influence games between races of orcs.
  • In the movie, Treebeard is blissfully unaware of Saruman’s wanton destruction of trees until Pippin rubs his nose in it. In the book, he is quite aware, but must carefuly consider that striking back could lead to the wholesale eradication of the ents.
  • Last but not least, the final charge by Eomer’s cavalry off sheer cliffs into the tight pikes of the orcish phalanx is one that would normally achieve the same effectiveness as the charge of the Light Brigade (not to mention some tasty Rohirrim-Mearas kabobs for the hungry Uruk-Hai). The way Gandalf overwhelms the orcs with his radiance is as hokey as the much-reviled Lord of the Rings cartoon by Ralph Bakshi.

All this might seem like nit-picking, but whereas the changes made in the first episode (essentially exchanging Arwen for Glorfindel, although I did regret the absence of Tom Bombadil and the barrow-downs) did not alter the narrative, those made in The Two Towers are in complete contradiction with the book.

It seems to me the whole plot was twisted to glorify the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, specially Aragorn, at the expense of impugning the character of the others, specially Theoden, Eomer and Faramir. This is petty and mean-spirited at best.

Eid Mubarak

Eid stamp(Eid blessings).

Today is the first day after Ramadan, known as the Eid-al-Fitr, one of the two main Islamic holidays (the other being the Eid-al-Kabir which celebrates Abraham’s sacrifice and occurs after the yearly Hajj pilgrimage).

The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Quran was revealed, and after a month of fasting, muslims emerge with a newly refreshed appreciation for God’s gifts of food and drink (remarkably similar, in fact, to the American holiday of Thanksgiving).

My best wishes on this festive occasion and may you find peace and joy, wherever you are.