October 19, 2004

Flat-screen TV emits international distress signal

Monday, October 18, 2004 Posted: 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) -- TV hardly gets much better than this.
An Oregon man discovered earlier this month that his year-old Toshiba Corporation flat-screen TV was emitting an international distress signal picked up by a satellite, leading a search and rescue operation to his apartment in Corvallis, Oregon, 70 miles south of Portland.
The signal from Chris van Rossmann's TV was routed by satellite to the Air Force Rescue Center at Langley Air Base in Virginia.
On October 2, the 20 year-old college student was visited at his apartment in the small university town by a contingent of local police, civil air patrol and search and rescue personnel.
"They'd never seen signal come that strong from a home appliance," said van Rossmann. "They were quite surprised. I think we all were."
Authorities had expected to find a boat or small plane with a malfunctioning transponder, the usual culprit in such incidents, emitting the 121.5 MHz frequency of the distress signal used internationally.
Van Rossmann said he was told to keep his TV off to avoid paying a $10,000 fine for "willingly broadcasting a false distress signal."
Toshiba contacted Rossmann and offered to provide him with a replacement set for free, he said.

October 16, 2004

Absinthe (banned in America) - tastes like the licorish-tasting Ouzo from Greece

Last night, out with friends, I tried a very little of this banned in America drink called absinthe. It didn't taste that much different from the licorish-tasting Ouzo from Greece, as in, not good. :)

Here is a little history about it since it is a little interesting it is banned in America:

Absinthe is flavoured distilled liquor, emerald green in colour, turning to cloudy, opalescent white when mixed with water. It inspired many prominent artists, writers and poets. Just to name a few - Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Manet, Ernest Hemingway - in fact his masterpiece " For Whom The Bell Tolls " was written under the influence of "The Green Fairy". Absinthe was first produced commercially in 1797 by Henry-Louis Pernod, who purchased the formula from a French exile living in Switzerland.


The Origins of Ancient and Modern Absinthe
Absinthe was considered a vivifying elixir long before it could be ordered in a cafe. When Madame de Coulanges, one of the leading ladies of the seventeenth-century French court, became ill, she was prescribed a preparation containing wormwood. When it calmed her stomach, she wrote to Madame de Sevigne, " My little absinthe is the remedy for all diseases."
Hippocrates recommended absinthe for juandice and rheumatism. Ancient absinthe was different from the liquor that Verlaine and Picasso imbibed, generally being wormwood leaves soaked in wine or spirits. Most likely the word absinthe derives from the Greek word apsinthion, which means " undrinkable " presumably because of its bitter taste. Pythagoras recommended wormwood soaked in wine to aid labor in childbirth. Hippocrates prescribed it for jaundice, rheumatism, anemia, and menstrual pains. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder called it apsinthium in the first century A.D. and noted that it was customary for the champion in chariot races to drink a cup of absinthe leaves soaked in wine to remind him that even glory has its bitter side. He also recommended it as an elixir of youth and as a cure for bad breath... Over the centuries, however, wormwood drinks moved away from being just bitter medicine. Independent distilleries were producing absinthe made from the dried leaves of wormwood steeped in equal parts of malmsey wine and " burning water thrice distilled." The " Purl " of Tudor England was compounded of ale or hot beer and wormwood, and although it was mainly popular with the working classes, Samuel Pepys reported in his famous diary that he had enjoyed several glasses of wormwood ale one night " in a little house...which doubtless was a bawdy house." These dusty tales convey something of the mystique surrounding absinthe; one imagines a flask of it sitting beside the alchemist's crocodile and the mandrake root. Absinthe incorporated Olympian legends of debauch and rather downhome peasant notions. Modern absinthe allegedly was invented in 1792 by an extraordinary French doctor called Pierre Ordinaire, who fled France's revolution to settle in Couvet, a small village in western Switzerland. On his periodic journeys by horseback, Dr. Ordinaire is said to have discovered the plant Artemisia absinthium growing wild in the hills of the Val-de-Travers region. Like most country doctors, he prepared his own remedies, and being acquainted with absinthe's use in ancient times, he began experimenting with it.
Dr. Ordinaire's recipe probably included the following herbs: wormwood, anise (Pimpinella anisum), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), dittany (Dictamnus albus), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), Melissa (a type of mint), and varying amounts of coriander, veronica, chamomile, parsley, and even spinach. The 136 proof elixir produced in his sixteen liter still became popular as a cure-all in town and early on was nicknamed La Fée Verte. On his death, he supposedly left his secret recipe to two Henriod sisters from Couvet, who then left it to a visiting Frenchman, Major Dubied, whose son-in-law was named Pernod, and the rest is history.

Absinthe comes to America.Absinthe soon found its way to the Little Paris of North America, New Orleans. The drink, which was spelled absynthe in an 1837 New Orleans liquor advertisement, enjoyed a vogue under such brand names as Green Opal, Herbsaint, and Milky Way. (Today, one can still find a version of this made without wormwood and marketed under the name Herb Sainte.) Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans's famed French Quarter, none has been more glorified by drunks and postcard photographers alike than a square, plaster and brick structure at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets. " The Old Absinthe House " with its scarred cypress bar was visited by many famous people: Oscar Wilde, Lafcadio Hearn, William Thackeray, Walt Whitman, Aaron Burr, and General P.G.T. Beauregard are just a few of the many who relaxed over a green absinthe in this shady retreat. Alexis, Grand Duke of all Russians, drank here, and the chairs once creaked under William Howard Taft's presidential bulk. The great O. Henry was just a struggling newspaperman named William Sidney Porter when he came to dream over an absinthe frappé.
The building was constructed in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, two Catalans from Barcelona. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native Spain, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, clothing, and Spanish liquor. Relatives of the original owners turned it into an épicerie, then a bootshop. Finally, in 1846, the ground floor corner room became a saloon known as " Aleix's Coffee House," run by Jacinto Aleix and his brother, nephews of old Senora Juncadella. In 1899, the Aleix brothers hired Cayetano Ferrér, another Catalan, who had been a barkeeper at the French Opera House. In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place and renamed it the " Absinthe Room " because of the numerous requests he had for the drink which he served in the French manner.Stationed along the long cypress bar were marble fountains with brass faucets which slowly dripped cool water, drop by drop, over the sugar cubes perched above the glasses. Over the years, the place became known as " The Old Absinthe House." Absinthe was also drunk in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, which had a popular restaurant called the Absinthe House. Up until 1912, many of the more exotic bars in New York would serve an absinthe cocktail. One can imagine a piano player at one of these watering holes singing this Victor Herbert melody with lyrics by Glenn MacDonough:
I will free you first from burning thirst That is born of a night of the bowl, Like a sun 'twill rise through the inky skies That so heavily hang o'er your souls. At the first cool sip on your fevered lip You determine to live through the day, Life's again worth while as with a dawining smile You imbibe your absinthe frappé.
But on July 13, 1907, Harper´ s Weekly noted, " The growing consumption in America of absinthe, 'the green curse of France,' has attracted the attention of the Department of Agriculture, and an investigation has been ordered to determine to what extent it is being manufactuired in this country." Just five years later, on July 25, 1912, the Department of Agriculture issued Food Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in America.

Learning second language changes brain Bilingual people have more grey matter in key region

Updated: 6:58 p.m. ET Oct. 13, 2004

LONDON - Being bilingual produces changes in the anatomy of the brain, scientists said on Wednesday in finding that could explain why children are so much better than adults at mastering a second language. advertisement They found that people who speak two languages have more grey matter in the language region of the brain. The earlier they learned the language, the larger the grey area. “The grey matter in this region increases in bilinguals relative to monolinguals -- this is particularly true in early bilinguals who learned a second language early in life,” said Andrea Mechelli, a neuroscientist at University College London. “The degree is correlated with the proficiency achieved.” Learning another language after 35 years old also alters the brain but the change is not as pronounced as in early learners. “It reinforces the idea that it is better to learn early rather than late because the brain is more capable of adjusting or accommodating new languages by changing structurally,” Mechelli said. “This ability of the brain decreases with time.” 'The bigger the change the better the proficiency' Mechelli and his team used structural brain imaging to compare the size of the grey matter in the brains of 25 monolinguals, 25 early bilinguals who learned a second language before the age of five and 33 late bilinguals. All the volunteers in the study, which is described in the science journal Nature, were native English speakers of comparable age and education. INTERACTIVE • The brain An interactive road map to the mind In the bilinguals, the grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex was larger than in the monolinguals or the bilinguals who picked up the second language between the ages of 10-15. “By looking at the size of the change (in the brain) I can tell whether someone is very proficient or not because the bigger the change the better the proficiency,” said Mechelli. Grey matter in the brain is made up of neurons, or brain cells. The scientists do not know whether the change in bilinguals means there is an increase in the size of the cells, the number of cells or the connections between them. “The next step would be to understand the change better at a small-scale level,” according to Mechelli. He and his colleagues are planning further studies with people who have difficulty learning languages to see whether their brain behaves differently. They also plan to study speakers of several languages to determine whether the increase in grey matter is proportional to the number of languages they have mastered.

October 10, 2004

My week in review - October 3 - 10

Well it is 9:34pm on a Sunday evening and for some reason I have a strong enough internet connetion from my neighbors that I can adequately update my blog for this week.

Sunday, October 3rd
I previously covered this date with my trip to Madrid for my LSAT. I spent this day at the Prado museum and with Burak at a park fighting off his food poisioning. We got back to Barcelona late Sunday night and I left my really great bday gift for Burak on the bus but luckily I can try to find another one and it wasn't too expensive.

Monday, October 4th
I went to my only class for the day covering the EU. I had coffee with my new friend and classmate, Natalie who happens to be from UC Berkeley. We figured out that we were both at Berkeley in May, both in DC in June/July, and now happen to be living just 2 blocks from each other and going to the same university in Barcelona and well take 2 of the same classes.

She told me about an awesome computer lab on campus and I camped out there for 5 hours. I had so many people to email and things to do now that I was done with the LSAT.

I rushed home to go grocery shopping before the stores closed at 9pm. I had another friend coming over later that night. Katy offered to take my suitcases and store them in her room. She had a lot of extra room and our suitcases were taking up too much in ours. We hung out and then Burak took out suitcases to her place since I had to go to bed earlier my long day of school Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 5th
I had my first class at 11am but I had almost 4 classes today. I had lunch with Natalie after doing some computer work in the lab.

Go to my blog about 'Going to university in Catalonia' to understand my last two weeks at university.

I came home by around 9pm from my last class and Burak came home around 10pm from teaching. We ate dinner and caught up on the day and went to sleep.

Wednesday, October 6th
Ella's party
Cops came

Thursday, October 7th
Cancelled interview
Texas Exes

Friday, October 8th
School - computer stuff

Saturday, October 9th
Fix up the room
Prep for party
Party - 18 or so people - you know all these people in one month?
La Paloma - home by 5:00am

Sunday, October 10th

Going to university in Catalonia

Ok, let me explain my university. I live in Barcelona, the center of Catalonia, where they speak Catalan but use Castellano (what most people call Spanish and what I studied in school for ages) to communicate with Spaniards from outside of Catalonia and people studying Spanish.

At a meeting welcoming exchange students, we were told that during Franco's time people were not allowed to teach in Catalan. Now, that this oppressive rule is over, professors have the right to choose whichever language of instruction they want. Hence, it is a highly political issue and the language they choose to teach with is not listed for the students anywhere. Now the only problem is when foreigners and Spainards outside of Catalonia try to take classes in Catalonia, well they might have to take them in Catalan.

Now, how often in life are you going to the first day of class and you not know what LANGUAGE the class will be taught in UNTIL the professor opens their mouth for the first time? Well, that has been my life the last 2 weeks as I and other exchange students have been shopping around not necessarily basing our descisions on subject content or liking the professor but merely is the class in Castellano or Catalan.

I studied Spanish for ages in middle school, high school, and college and now I might be taking classes in Catalan!

Background: Catalan is basically another miniority latin/romantic language that is spoken only by about 7 million people in the world. It, coming from the region between France and Spain, looks a lot like a mix between........French and Spanish. Therefore, whatever French I remember from my year (4 years ago) in Belgium and the Spanish I have studied for ages, is being mixed with this beautiful thing called Catalan. :) Now, the blessing is that I can usually read the Catalan I see and have been able to pick up about 30-40% of spoken Catalan in a class, but the problem is that I am forgetting how to spell things in Castellano and I don't remember which language I am reading or writing at some times.

So, basically, I am convinced that the only reason a person that wants to improve their Spanish would come to Barcelona is to live in a fun, exciting international city on the beach. I think the beach must be on almost all exchange students minds when they choose this city. Or else, no one really realizes that Catalan is a language and that they speak it here! :) I might be a little harsh but I am just enjoying writing out my thoughts about this peculiar situation.

My first class I sat in was in castillano and I was sooooo happy. But then I realized it was over the environment and I had thought the Catalan title .......medi meant that the course was about population and movement but then I realized medi was Catalan for medio ambiente in Spanish. Therefore, even though I found a class in Spanish.......it wasn't about a topic I was planning or intersted in studying.

Good news though, after some class shopping and exchange student networking, I have set up a nice little schedule where I only have classes on Monday for 1 hour, and then all day Tuesday and Thursday. This means I do not have classes on Wednesday and Friday! Which is really wonderful because it is a 50 min commute to my university so I just camp out and make the trips worth it on Tues and Thurs. Plus, I use the lunch time to catch up on lunch with friends and doing computer work.

I was really stressed on my first day of classes on Tuesday, Sept 28th but now after 2 weeks, I am pretty happy with how it all worked out. Plus I have classes with people I like and we help each other catch all the notes from the professor.

Yeah, happy ending to my university adventures!

October 4, 2004

Weekend of the LSAT in Madrid - Oct 1-3

On Friday, October 1st, Burak and I hopped on a bus to Madrid. We arrived late at night and quickly found the last double room at a cheap hostel in Sol before 9pm. We wondered around trying to find some food because we were quite hungry. We eventually found a tapas-style place called the Museum of Ham. Yes, that is its name, no joke. :)

Afterwards, we walked down the small narrow streets almost getting lost. We popped into a grocery store, by the way most stores open past the normal Spanish hours of 9-2pm and 4pm-8/9pm are usually run by immigrants, but this might be another topic all together.

When we were in the store we were being watched as we searched for items to buy, I almost felt like a criminal even though I hadn´t done anything wrong. The store had an elaborate security system set up. They even had small cameras in the store and the screen showed 4 different views of the store at the cash register.

Well, either it breeds a stealing environment or the extreme security is needed in this area, because a man in line in front of us tried to steal 4 bananas. It was quite an ordeal. I was trying to stay calm with my LSAT just the very next day. In the end, he bought two of them and admitted to stealing them beforehand.

We went in early for the night so I would have a good rest.

Saturday AM I wake around 10am. The test is normally given at 9am in the US but in Spain we were being administered the test at 2pm for some reason. Maybe because at that same time people in the US would be in the test and no one can send answers or suggestions to anyone else in the world. Hmm..not sure.

I eat an omlet and have 2 cups of coffee, the 2nd coffee was a mistake, and try to stay calm and not get overly excited that today´s performance would determine the REST OF MY LIFE! :) Just kidding.

I arrive at the university an hour or so early which was all a great idea because they started registering folks 45 minutes ahead of the time they said they would. I meet other people, mostly Americans, arriving to the testing site.

It was a weird place to meet other Americans in Spain that all wanted to go to law school next year. We had this rendezvous point of Avenue de Valle, 28 in Madrid, Spain at 2pm on October 2nd. People flew in from Morocco and other parts of Spain from what I learned from those I spoke to. It was quite refreshing to be asked, ¨Wazzup?¨ I wasn´t quite sure how to answer.

I ask to go the bathroom one last time before I start 1.5 hours of testing and I was permitted to go - thank goodness! I take 3 sections of 35 min each then get a 15 min break to breathe, eat, and get some blood circulation. Then I go in for 2 more 35 sections. My 4th section was games which means answering questions about scenarios of hypothetical situations.

Like, Sally has to interview Alpha, Beta, Catrine, David, Emily, and Flo in three days. She can´t interview David and Emily on the same day. If Catrine is in the PM, then Flo is in the AM. When is Beta going to be interviewed if Alpha is interviewed on Friday PM? Well, they are a little more coherent than this but this is an example of how you have to set up a diagram and follow the logic of the situation.

I love those so I was happy to come back from the break with some fun stuff. After 5 sections of 35 min, they ask you to write a 30 min essay. By this time, your brain is fried. Good thing about the essay, there is no right answer.

After the test, I asked one of the girls I met during the breaks if she wanted to go celebrate and go out that night. She agreed and we met Burak in Plaza Mayor for some sangria.

After cleaning up and getting out of grubby LSAT clothes, we went out to 4 different tapas restraurants and ended up in a discoteca called Sweet. At this place, we breathed enough second hand smoke to have smoked about a packet of ciggerates that day. In the end, it was fun to let loose after the LSAT.

The next day, Emily (the girl we hung out with the day before) and I met for breakfast and then went to the Prado museum. The Prado has a great collection and is free on Sundays! After about an hour or so we had walked through most of it and the rest of the Spaniards had decided to wake up and take advantage of the free admission. We headed out, bought some postcards, and then met up with Burak at a cafe.

Burak got food posioning from something from the day before. Emily said goodbye and Burak and I searched for the closest 24 hour Pharmacy for some medicine.

We bought some medicine and food and sat out in a park reading about the Kerry-Bush debate and other news while watching other Spaniards sit out and watch other people and watch dogs on leashes try to attack each other. After a couple of hours, we were back on the bus to Barcelona.

During that ride, we crossed through the Greenich Time Meridan. Quite interesting!

I came home with the LSAT behind me and a cold overcoming me. Happy ending I´d say!

Note about Air Conditioning - part 2342656

Ok, I knew documenting my thoughts about living in a new place would really help me watch my views evolve over time. In the beginning, ie the late summer, I was complaining about the heat and no AC.

Now, I would like to complain about AC being so rare to me after 3 months without it, that I am now getting sick anytime I am surrounded by it. Take for example, my 7.5 hour bus ride to Madrid in AC and then my 5 hours of LSAT in AC and then my return 7.5 hour bus ride back to Barcelona. I am officially fighting off a cold once more.

Anyway, I knew the irony had to be admitted. Ok, so many this place only needs AC for maybe 2 months (July and August). What I am really curious about is why do I not get sick in AC in America?