Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Tangled Web

OK, so I cringed as I wrote that title, but I'm gonna keep it.

So you know how sometimes you start browsing at a page and 30 minutes later you end up somewhere completely, radically different? I just had one of those. I started at Zach Braff's blog on his new movie Garden State (which I've blogged about before), and ended up at a full proof of Euler's Identity.

So, with the help of Firefox's history I shall record this journey for prosperity.

As I said, I started at Zach Braff's blog, to see if he had added anything new. From there I browsed along to the pictures of the premier, coz well they would have a certain Ms. Portman. While browsing through these very fine images, particularly those of the very fine Ms. Tishby, I noticed that Jenna Elfman was also there. Being an old fan of Dharma and Greg I decided to check out it's credits on IMDB.

At IMDB I remembered that Chuck Lorre was the producer, and that he would put up a vanity card after each episode of the show with various thoughts, which I always found interesting. So, I googled 'chuck lorre' and got to this fantastic website with all his 'vanitiods'. How cool was that?

Bookmarking this site I returned to IMDB to look at the latest box office takings. Looks like the new Bourne Identity movie is doing well. Out of curiosity I decided to have a look at the worldwide figures. Titanic was at the top as expected, but Lord of the Rings had done a few billion worth of damage too. Then I noticed that Passion of the Christ was actually one of the top grossing movies world wide. I missed a lot of the hype on this because I was on the big Europe trip and pretty much oblivious to what was happening in the world.

So I took a quick look at Passion and decided to read Ebert's review of the film. Looks like he liked it quite a bit. Anyways, he made a reference to the fact that the film would have been NC-17 if not for the fact that it was Jesus they were torturing. Since I wasn't quite sure what NC-17 was I googed that. Nothing useful, so I thought "might as well try Wikipedia".

Wikipedia certainly helped. It had a full description of the MPAA rating system and described the NC-17 rating pertty well. Interesting that in America that classification is optional, but it ain't so here... Anyways, that page had a link to a list of NC-17 rated films, so I decided to check that out. On the list I noticed that one of my favourite films Requiem for a Dream was originally NC-17 before being re-edited for a R rating.

Wikipedia even had a page for Darren Aronofsky the directory, and his previous movie Pi which I absolutely LOVE. Of course this being wikipedia the page had a reference to the real 'Pi'. Being a maths geek I decided to follow that and read that. It turns out that a whole bunch of people from Ancient Greece to China to India and the middle-east were fascinated by Pi.

Anyways, the Pi page had plenty of links to important theorems which need Pi, so I opened up a bunch of them in tabs (what would I do without tabs?). Of course a bunch of them are still sitting there as I type this, coz there is no way I can read all the stuff I opened just now.

So anyways from Pi, I head to reading about the Riemann Zeta Function. I'm sure we least brushed over that at Uni, but Dear Lord! that maths looks complicated! Anyways, I left Riemann there and went over to the next tab, which happened to be on Euler's Identity - see, we're almost at the end. We definately did this at uni, since the rule of e^jx = cos(x) + jsin(x) is a pretty fundamental part of signal theory and something they beat all electrical engineers over the head with.

From what I remembered, we didn't actually do the full proof of the Identity, so I decided to follow the link to the full proof of the identity. Which was actually quite understandable - maybe I did take something away from those years of maths at uni. It's funny how I now read for "fun" things which I hated at uni. Much the same way I decided Shakespeare and Austen were worth reading after I finished high school.

So I will stop my jouney there. But just to note the other tabs I have open: Taylor Series, Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Fractals, Mandelbrot Set, The fundamental Theorem of Algebra, Leonhard Euler, Augustin Louis Cauchy and Taylor Series. I think I have some nice reading to do for tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Munich and Amsterdam

I think that I will squeeze both of these places into one entry coz we didn't spend too muchtime in these places.

First to Munich. We took a trainfrom Berchtesgaden to Munich - via Salzburg. It was a prettyquick trip and got us at the main train station (hauptbahnhof - that's about the limit of my German :)to follow our now familiar ritual of trying to find accomodation. We finally managed to get rooms at aplace out in the burbs, but least it was really nice, in a sort of cafe district.

We went out exploring the city, starting off at the famous Marienplatz. We walked around the cafesand beer gardens for a while, and even though it was pretty early in the day (a week day at that!)the place was full of people downing beer from massive (probably 1 litre) steins. After seening theglockenspiel (sp?) which was pretty sad - and the bells were out of tune! - we decided to catcha movie.

We had tried to see Van Helsing in Salzburg without luck (no English versions) but we managedto find (with the help of the people at the hostel) an "art house" cinema near the Deutsches Museumwhich showed movies in English. Oh, and Van Helsing - pure Oportos magic. Easily the campiest movieI'd seen for many a year. Probably in running for best Oportos movie of the post-uni era along withHebrew Hammer.

After that, the only other place we wanted to visit was the Deutsches Museum. Kinda like the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, except like 100 times bigger. We spent almost an hour in the first room, which was on ancient ships. Once we realised that there was over 200 rooms like this, we went through it quickly..But even the seven or so hours we spent was hardly enough to scratch the surface. Definately coming back to the Museum.

After finishing up at the Museum we decided to take an overnight train to Amsterdam to save 14 hoursof travel. How bad could it be, right? Well, pretty bad, actually. For starters, the rooms are absolutelytiny, with bunks for 6 people. It could maybe fit two or three in comfort. So, six people would have beenok, if we got some nice germans to share the room with... but instead of nice Germans we got a bunch of drunk Croatians! Funny thing is that all along the trip we had met people who had gone to Croatia and weresaying how nice everyone was.. probably coz all the assholes were visiting Munich!

I mean, these guys didn't understand a word of English or German, would just talk (shout) all the timeand stunk like they had been in a gutter all day. The best we could hope was to stay in our bunks and justpretend to ignore them.. that was probably the worst time we had on the whole trip.. God it was awful!

Anyways they left in the morning, at the last town before crossing into The Netherlands... we got to Amsterdamat about 10 am. We had booked accom in the only hostel that had any vacancies, The Shelter. This was aChristian hostel right next to the red light district... oh well. :) So we finally manage to find it, aftersetting off in the wrong direction and walking for about two hours.. the place wasn't too bad, the staffwere very friendly, and everything looked nice and clean.. Only problem is that they seemed to have a"turn no one away" policy and quite a few of the people staying there were illegal immigrants! All throughthe day you could hear people talking about how they've been moving from place to place and avoiding thepolice and stuff. Very nice.

So we were in Amsterdam for a few days.. we did the usual.. took a walk around the city during the day.. visitedthe sex musuem (yawn) and the van Gogh Museum (yawn - I'm not a fan). But luckyly the van Gogh Museum had an exhibition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - which I abosolutely LOVED!

Apart from that we walked around the red light district.. Paul was quite keen to go take in a show.. but I hadmoral objections and Lucky had monetary objections, so he didn't go.. That didn't stop him from stockpiling anumber of special DVDs that Amsterdam is famous for... :) Oh, and a word of warning, if you want to have a smoke,don't ever buy joints coz they're mostly tobacco.. roll your own...

Amsterdamn was also the first city we had been in almost three months with a sizeable Asian population. So we took every opportunity we could to eat asian food. We did pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) on the first daythere, and we did Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian for the rest of the time there. It was good to eat familiar stuffagain!

After a few quick days our time in Amsterdam was up, it was off to the Airport and onto the plane to Edinburgh!!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Berchtesgaden

So we finally made it to Berchtesgaden (BG from now on, it's too bloody long to type). It was just a short trip from Salzburg to BG, which was literally the end of the line.

It was just our luck to arrive in BG on a Sunday afternoon, so the whole place wasdead, there wasn't even anyone at the railway station. After much effort we managed toidentify the bus that MIGHT take us to where our hostel was.. and of course, being aSunday we had a 2 hour wait for the bus... when it finally got there the driver didn'tactually know where the hostel was along the route.. Having no other option, we tooka taxi.. cost us about 3 Euros each. Moral of the story - take a taxi!

Anyways, our hostel was another one of those HI type places a few Ks outside the townproper, in it's own little villiage. It seemed that there was a big scool group stayingthere, so we only had accom for one night. Having no option, we decied to stay there forthat night and find accom for the rest of our time in the town... Luckily, the three ofus got our own room, with a pretty cool view of the mountains from our window.

Lucky for us there was a resteraunt near our hostel.. unlucky for us it really wasn'ta touristy place, and the waitress didn't know any English... So I got to practice my(very bad) German. It was quite weird each time the waitress looked at me when she didn't understand what Mach or Lucky said... :) So after a dinner of schnitzel (they hadlike 15 different kinds!) and weizenbier we went for a walk about the villiage. Therereally wasn't much, it was quite deserted.. except for the huge ass military base right in the middle of town!

The next morning we set off for the town, with our packs... on foot. It wasn't sobad since we had some pretty awesome scenary to look at

So we finally managed to find another place to stay, which just happened to be at thetop of this huge-ass hill.. Great fun getting there with our packs. Anyways, after settlingin at the hotel, we headed back to town to hit our main targets, Dokumentation Obersalzburg (the museum documentingthe time of Nazi rule in BG) and of course, Kehlsteinhaus - the Eagle's Nest.

But then, our dreams were shattered. There was a sign saying that the Eagle's nest wasclosed for repairs! Argh! We asked the helpful dude at the information centre, and hesaid that it was being repaired after winter storms, and that it wasn't possible toget there on foot! aah! to be foiled after coming so far! Anyways, we went through themuseum and one of Hitler's bunkers which was built into the mountain and headed back home.

Since our plans were foiled, we decided to finish our tour of BG that day and head off to Munich.From Obersalzburg we headed to beautiful Konigssee. Of coursethe main attraction was the lake, which was just absolutely gorgeous. We went for a walk along the shore, and you could see the green water of the lake filtering through the trees...

We finally found a spot where we could climb down to the water (it wasn't easy) and just sat around fora while and enjoyed the view. Fantastic!

And that was pretty much it for Berchtesgaden. We headed off towards Munich the next morning (via Salzburg).Of course, there is one thing that I can say for sure. I'll be coming back to Berchtesgaden, and stayingfor a few weeks next time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Austria - Salzburg, Ice Caves and "The hills are alive..."

So we arrived in Salzbug and booked into another one of those massive hostels.Fortunately this one was in a nice place, in the old part of the town, rightin the shadows of the massive fortress the dominated the whole city. That afternoonwe went for a walk around the city, well, the old part of the city anyways. It'sreally a very pretty town, with small cobblestoned roads and plenty of old buildings.The new part of town looks just like any other city, as Paul Kelly said, "Every f'ncity looks the same." Our walk pretty much ended in Mirabelle Plaza, which is abig house with a fancy garden. :)

The next day we decided to take a tour of Salzburg castle.. which was supposed tobe the biggest working castle in Europe.. whatever a "working castle" is.. Insidewas pretty much standard fare (we had seen many castles by this stage), though it was definately the most richly decorated castle we had seen. The guide tookus through a number of rooms, explainging how something-burg of somethingelse-burgadded this wing and how they were married to Hasburg of Ausbenburg or whatever. Therewere lots of "burgs" in either case.

Following this was our much anticipated trip to the "Giant" Ice Caves. Not just regular,but GIANT! So we took a tour with a bunch of others from the Hostel (a Canadian dude, anAmerican girl and a Costa Rican dude) and drove about 1.5 hours there. Right near thecaves there was this fantastic castle, on top of a sheer hill maybe 100m up from the valley floor..

So anyways, we got to the car park, and after a short walk we got to a cable car, whichwas apparently the steepest cable car in Austria.. or Europe.. or something. It wassteep, by any measure.. A quick trip up about 400m and we were near the top of the mountain.In the freezing cold. With big fat flakes of snow blowing around. This was late springand I don't think I had seen the sun yet, in Austria. From the cable car we had another15 minutes or so to walk to the entrance, through the freezing cold, wet and snowy path.

There were actually peple climbing up the side of that mountian, in the parts wherethere is no footpath! There was even a dude taking a small kid (maybe 8-10 year old).That's how they breed em in Austria, I guess. Anyways, so we finally make it to the cave,which happened to be warmer than outside... few minutes after we got into the cave thesnow really started coming down.. you can't see it too well in the picture below, but thewhite "fog" is actually snow flakes...

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the caves (not that it wouldbe any use, coz it's really dark).. There isn't much lighting inside, but the guideshave flares which they light up when you get to an intersting part.. I must say that it wasreally quite amazing in there, some of the formations are HUGE, like 50m high huge.. andsome of the caves are massive! You couldn't see the top of them even with a bunch offlares lit..

The next day we did what apparently everyone does in Salzburg - the Sound of Music Tour. Iwasn't too keen on this, but went along anyways. There were five people from the Hostelgoing, us three and two other Aussies who were down for the weekend from England (Hi Ali and Heather!).It was drizzly and cold yet again, and it even snowed while we were driving through the hills that were alive. This was in the last week of Spring! The tour itself was so-so.. me not being a big fan of the movie didn't help, I guess.. but the guide was pretty cool, with a repertoire of bad jokes being told in a German (well, Austrian) accent, complete with "ya? ya?"s.. We went to a whole bunch of places where the fim was made, and theguide filled us in on the REAL story of the von Trapps. I didn't even know it was a realstory! :)

So anyways, we wrapped up our Salzburg adventure, looking forward to what is going tobe the highlight of the trip - Berchtesgaden and of course Kehlsteinhaus - the Eagle's Nest!

Monday, July 5, 2004

Austria - The Vienna Oddesey

OK, so after a few days in the Tatras, we have to start heading back west. Since we were so short on time we decided to skip Bratislava (will definately have to come back and see that) and head straight toVienna. On our last day in the Tatras, we decided to take the train to thewesternmost town of the Tatras, Strbske Pleso. From here we could lookover the magnificient lake, with the mountains in the background.

It was quite simple (and cheap!) to get a ticket to get usall the way from Stary Smokavec to Poprad, to Bratislava and Vienna.Thank God for the European railways! :)

The ride across Slovakia was amazing. There was just heaps of forest, butquite a lot of pasture / fields and pretty little postcard towns. And ofcourse there were castles everywhere! Only problem was that they zippedby so quick I couldn't get a picture of them. Anther thing noted downto do on the next trip to Slovakia.

We managed to change trains and arrive in Vienna without any problems..but we had some issues when we got there. All the accomodation was booked.And I mean ALL. Everything upto and including the 90 euro per night hotels!We finally managed to locate a HI type hostel out in the burbs of Vienna,which involved a train and a bus trip. After some difficulty finding the hostelwe were getting quite sick of Vienna.

This hostel was our first experience with the huge corporate-stylehostels in Austria and Germany. No more cute little places run bywierd locals - welcome to capitalist western Europe! Anyways, aftera pretty shabby dinner at the local "Wiener World" around the corner(where the dude serving us was quite surprised to see "Australians"), wedecided to skip Vienna and head straight to Saltzburg.

So, it was back on the train the next morning, headed for the "Sound of Music"city. Boy, was I excited!