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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quotes on science and technology

Since I'm currently busy (and I am always lazy), I don't have so much time to post here, but it has been almost a week since the last post, and it's time to entertain you again :).
 
I want to share with you a small compilation of quotes about science and technology. The selection is totally random: these ones may not be the best, they are just a personal choice. I always 'sign' my e-mails with my name and a quote, and I have just compiled all the ones I have used since I started this 'tradition' (I change the quote every several months). Enjoy.
 
"The laws of nature are constructed in such a way as to make the universe as interesting as possible." — Freeman Dyson.
 
"Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down." — Ray Bradbury
 
"One man's 'magic' is another man's engineering. 'Supernatural' is a null word." — Robert Heinlein
 
"In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." – Paul Dirac.
 
"Engineering is the art of modelling materials we do not wholly understand, into shapes we cannot precisely analyse so as to withstand forces we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance." – A. R. Dykes.
 
"Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious" – Oscar Wilde. (Yes, I know, this one is not about technology :))
 
"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius, and a lot of courage, to move in the opposite direction." – A. Einstein.
 
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." – R. P. Feynman.

 
XKCD comic
 
And finally, a quotation from the memoirs of Herbert Hoover, about 'the profession of Engineering':
 
It is a great profession. There is the satisfaction of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privelege.
The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope that the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny that he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days. He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again. He wakes in the night in a cold sweat and puts something on paper that looks silly in the morning. All day he shivers at the thought of the bugs which will inevitably appear to jolt his smooth consummation.
On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort and hope.
No doubt as years go by people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other peoples money with which to finance it. But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness that flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professions may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants.

 
Do you want more? Check the best Engineering quotations list I have found so far, courtesy of the University of Bristol.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Castile, never surrender

Yesterday, 23rd of April, was the 487th anniversary of the Battle of Villalar. Few people abroad knows about this battle, and even in Spain, where Castile is a mere shadow of the past whithout any official recognition, the heros or Villalar remain forgotten.
 

 
Anyway, the Day of Villalar is considered to be the 'national holiday' of my homeland, Castile, and it's the official holiday of Castile-Leon, the region whose capital is Valladolid. Thousands of people gather in the battlefield located in the outskirts of the village of Villalar de los Comuneros, having fun, eating typical food and attending concerts or political meetings.
 
But what was this battle about? The 'Comuneros' (commoners) were the Castilians who fought against the German Emperor and latter first Spanish King (evem if Spain was just a collection of independent kingdoms) Charles of Ghent. He was Flemish, and he didn't hesitate to betray his own mother, Queen Jane I and claim the Castilian throne. The people didn't like that Flemish people were appointed to the most important positions of the kingdom, and the unrest arose when the (self-proclaimed) king wanted to collect a special tax to pay his expenses as German emperor.
 
The Castilian cities, with special laws that granted their autonomy and the free election of representatives in the 'Cortes' (sort of Parliament), set up independent democratic councils, composed by freely elected citizens. The cities formed a fellowship of 'Comunidades' (communities), hence the name of 'Comuneros' and 'War of the Communities'. They formed an army to fight against the king, and soon a lot of peasants joined, fed up with the feudal privileges. The mixture of free citizens coming from democratic-ruled cities and countryside men fighting for their freedom makes this revolt the first modern national revolution, according to some historians.
 
Anyway, the Commoner army seemed to control the situation until the 23th of April, 1521. In a rainy morning, they marched to conquer the town of Tordesillas. They thought that the way was free, but it was a trap. The imperial army, best prepared, met and defeated the commoners near Villalar. The major captains Juan Bravo and Juan de Padilla were executed next morning. The commoner army was dismantled, and the northern cities came again under domination of the King.
 In the south, the city of Toledo resisted few months, commanded by the bishop Antonio de Acuña and María de Pacheco, 'la Leona de Castilla', who was the wife of Padilla.
 

 
In February, 1522, Toledo surrendered and the dream of the 'Comuneros' ended. The war distroyed not only Castilian economy (as the cities were forced to pay numerous compensations to the King) but also its pride. The Kings have had absolute power since then, and the Castilian identity has been intentionally ignored.
 
Anyway, after 487 years, some people still remember what could have been but finally wasn't, and honour the heros who fought until death for their dreams.
 

¡Castilla entera se siente Comunera!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

20th of April, 1990

Celtas Cortos is probably the most well-known band from my hometown, Valladolid. They play 'celtic rock' and they have been quite successful in the Spanish speaking market.
 
One of their most famous songs is 20 de abril. The first sentence of the lyrics: '20 de abril del 90...': 20th April, 1990, and then a letter to a girl (a formerlove? who knows) about old friends, good memories and melancholy. Everytime I hear this song (which I have been hearing since I was a kid) I notice how time goes by.
 
20th of April, 1990... and looks like if it was yesterday.
 

'20de abril', live at 'Las Ventas' (Madrid).
 
20 de abril del 90, hola chata, ¿cómo estás?
¿te sorprende que te escriba? tanto tiempo es normal.
pues es que estaba aquí­ solo, me habí­a puesto a recordar
me entró la melancolí­a y te tenía que hablar
 
¿recuerdas aquella noche en la cabaña de Turmo?
las risas que nos hací­amos antes todos juntos
hoy no queda casi nadie de los de antes
y los que hay han cambiado, han cambiado...¡sí!
 
pero bueno ¿tú qué tal? lo mismo hasta tienes críos
¿qué tal te va con el tío ese? espero sea divertido
yo la verdad como siempre, sigo currando en lo mismo
la música no me cansa pero me encuentro vací­o
 
¿recuerdas aquella noche... [...]
 
Bueno pues ya me despido, si te mola me contestas
espero que mis palabras desordenen tu conciencia
pues nada chica, lo dich, ohasta pronto si nos vemos
yo sigo con mis canciones y tú sigue con tus sueños
 
¿recuerdas aquella noche... [...]

 
There is an English cover of the song, performed by the British folk-rock band Oysterband, which keeps the same spirit of the original, both in the music and in the lyrics.
 

Oysterband's cover: '20th April'
 
20th of April, 1990, thought I'd write and say hello
Are you surprised to get this letter? It all seems so long ago
Sitting here alone, I was thinking, memories came rolling back
I felt a strange kind of sadness and then I knew we had to speak
 
[Do you remember that night in the hut at Turmo's?
The laughs we had then, all together...
now there's almost no one left around from those days,
and the ones that are have changed, they've changed....]
 
How has your life been, I wonder how do you get on with that guy?
Maybe you've even got kids now, I hope it all works out fine
Me, I just go on as usual, this same old road that I ride
Though I don't get tired of the music, sometimes I'm empty inside
 
It's time now, time I was going, drop me a line if you like
Meanwhile these words that I send you I hope they stay in your mind
Goodbye, girl, it was nothing, maybe we'll meet again some day
I'll carry on with my music, you carry on with your dreams

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bureaucracy

Definitely, I'm not a friend of bureaucracy... it's so stupid when you are asked to go to an office to get some papers that say obvious things. But still, bureaucracy is everywhere, trying to make our lives a bit more difficult.

Public transport in Barcelona is really expensive (more than anywhere else in Spain), but anyway few weeks ago I decided that I needed to get a card with unlimited trips. You can get it for 3 months, and it costs 127€. There aren't any discounts. BUT you can get a similar one (also for 3 months) if you are under 21 or if you are older than 21 but younger than 25 and you are a student.

Youth metro card

So few weeks ago I went to a metro station and tried to get my youth card (it's 108€, not much cheaper, but at least...). I showed my ID and my student card. My student card looks like a credit card, has a picture and the logo of the University as well and the word 'STUDENT' is clearly written on it. Well, it wasn't enough. I was told to go to the headquarters and prove there that I was a student, giving a copy of my Uni registration.

Then I went to the headquarters and gave these documents, hoping that they would finally give me the card, but... no way! I needed to wait up to a month for a special card (which is not valid to travel but just to certify that you are a student under 25) to be delivered to my home! the only solution they were offering was to buy a normal 3-month card, and then they would give me 15 extra days presenting 'the Special Card Which Is Not Valid For Travelling But Just To Prove That I Am A Student Under 25'.

So I got the normal card (127€ poorer :S) and after 3 weeks I received the 'special card'... delivered to my address extra-urgently by a private company! And well, the card is just a small piece of laminated paper with my name.

To summarize, instead of just accepting my student card (as they do in shops, museums or train stations, for instance), they made me to lose time and money going to the central office, and they ost time and money issuing a ridiculous card (which you can easily fake with a scanner, a printer and a laminating machine) and sending it to my apartment as if it was the most special and precious document ever... and I still have to go to the office so they will give me the 15 extra days!

Bureaucracy might be necessary sometimes. But sometimes, it's just ridiculous.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Spanish Republic

Today, 14th of April, is the 77th anniversary of the proclamation of the II Spanish Republic. The elections held on the 12th of april of 1931 yielded a clear result: the republicans won, and the people started to demonstrate in the streets of the Spanish cities. On the 14th the King left and a provisional government was established in Madrid. Few months later, new elections were held and Spain started to experience huge reforms.
 
Republica española
Flag of Spain during the democratic period (1931-39)
 
The republicans wanted Spain to become a truly democratic state, limiting the power of the Army and the Catholic church, improving the educative system and reducing the existing inequalities. The result of this was the Constitution approved by the democratic Parliament on December 9, 1931. The (short) live of the Republic was hectic and difficult, and the threat of a militar coup-d'état was always present. Nevertheless, the reforms were carried out, and Spain experienced a period of freedom and progress.
 
But not everybody was happy with the situation. After the victory of the left-wing alliance in the elections of February 1936 (after a couple of years of conservative governments) the unrest rose and the number of violent confrontations due to political reasons increased.
 
And then, on July 18, 1936, some of the most important generals of the Spanish Army decided to take the arms and fight the legal and democratic government. Their plans were to take over the power in few days and set a conservative, militar-controlled government. But the Spanish people, afraid of losing their freedom, resisted fiercely, and soon Spain was mixed up in a bloody and devastating war, with the nazi Germany and the fascist Italy supporting the rebels, while the democratic government begged for international help.
 
Aidez l Espagne
French stamp designed by Picasso: "Help Spain"
 
The nazi-supported militars won, and the democratic dream ended with the brutal repression. After 3 years of war, Spain had to suffer 36 years of fascist militar dictatorship, and after the death of the dictator, his successor, King John Charles I, managed to stay in the power. Spain is now a democratic country, and we are probably living the best moments of our whole History. But still, there are millions of us who still believe in the democratic dream of the Republic and are sure that the Red, Yellow and Purple flag will rise again, as the symbol of the unity and diversity of all of us.
 
¡Viva la República!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Multilingual

I had never thought before about it, but yes, studying 2 languages at the same time is kind of difficult. Especially if they are similar. That's what happens with Catalan and French. I can't avoid using catalan words when trying to say a sentence in French, and the other way round.
 
Es parla català
I signed up in some free Catalan lessons. The level is very basic and they are intended for inmigrants (mostly Spanish-speaking) unfamiliar with the language. Although it's perfectly possible to live (and survive) in Barcelona just with Spanish, knowing Catalan is always a big advantage (and it's necessary for most official or public-oriented jobs). Living in other areas of Catalonia (such as Girona), Catalan is a must.
 
I'm taking these lessons for 3 reasons: They are free, I have a lot of free time and I want to speak a bit. I can read Catalan almost perfectly, and I do understand it (I have lessons in Catalan at the University and most of my friends here in Barcelona are Catalan speakers and they usually speak Catalan when we meet altogether). But things are a bit different whn you have to put your own ideas in a different language. For instance, it took me not less than 10-12 years of study, and a lot of practice, to think in English, and still my English is far from perfect. But still, I will try with Catalan. If I have the chance to learn it... why not? Speaking a new language means having bigger horizons.
 
On parle français
About French, well, it seems I need a lot of practice. I used to study French at the secondary school, and even if I still remember a bit of grammar and some vocabulary, in my first class, a couple of weeks ago, I hardly understood anything. It's getting better, but slowly... I guess I'll need to work harder with it (I'm not attending to basic lessons, but intermediate). For some strange reason, I like French language and I find it quite... sexy? I quitted because of a stupid teacher, and I have been planning to study it again for the last 8 years. Finally I did it.
 
So, by the end of the semester, I hope to be able to communicate in French (even if it's very basic French, and with a horrible Spanish accent) and to answer in Catalan to my friends. Probably this knowledge will be much more useful than all the stuff I'm studying in the faculty (I have quite a light semester). And that's all for today... good night, bonsoir, bona nit.
 
PS: I got one of those metro tickets that allow as may trips as you want during 3 months. Although it's very expensive (127€) now I couldn't live without it. I can go from my apartment to the uni as many times a day as I want (I can even go back just to rest for an hour), I can go for a walk to the opposite corner of the city if I feel like doing so, I can go shopping everyehere, and basically, I don't need to worry about tickets any more. It would be a pity to lose the card!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Barcelona, Inc.

First of all, sorry for my laziness... I knew I should have written something before, but these last 2 weeks have been quite busy for me (I hosted up to 6 people in my apartment of Barcelona and then I came back home to Valladolid for 4 days). Anyway, here I am again.
 
Yesterday I was reading the last issue of Distorsió (the magazine of the students of my faculty) and I found a very interesting article about Barcelona, which states the same opinion as I did in a post wrote in my old blog, titled Barcelona S.A. (if you can read Spanish just take a look!).
 
The abstract of this article in Distorsió goes more or less like this (now I'm translating from Catalan xD):
 
For some years now, Barcelona has been promoted as a cosmopolitan city, mediterranean, multi-cultural, 'poly-ethnic' and 'supercool'. This is being done at a sperficial level, it's pure façade and nothing can be found behind. Today Barcelona is a brand rather than a true city. As a brand, it's succesful and well positioned, but also deceitful, frivolous, hypocritical and fraudulent.
 
That was something that I thought when I visited Barcelona almost 4 years ago, and I still think it somehow. Barcelona is the city that all thhe foreigners know and want to visit, the Eldorado for all the Erasmus students, the city of sun, sangría and cool buildings. As a matter of fact, Barcelona is so tourist oriented.
 
But in the other hand, the people who live in Barcelona have to pay incredibly high taxes and suffer all kinds of restrictive rules (don't drink, don't park, don't be loud, don't use your bike, don't, don't, don't), more than in any other part of Spain. Public transport is more expensive (and quite worse) than in a bigger city such as Madrid. And not to talk about the prices of drinks and discos!
 
It's really annoying when you see a bunch of hooligans walking around, making noise, being totally wasted... and policemen are just watching the scene. This happens every time that FC Barcelona plays an international match, for instance. Last time, they were even given a public space in Plaça Espanya (next to where I live) so they could do there whatever they wanted. But if you are a 'normal guy' just walking down the street holding a can of beer with your hand, beware of policemen. A ticket of 30€ is awaiting for you.
 
Being part of this huge theatre for tourists is not cheap, neither easy. But, what the hell, I still like it... this is Barcelona!

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