Friday, November 27, 2009

Photography and the four dimensions

(Clic on the image for a larger view)
By Dr. Jiménez
Photography is the only art where each and every one of the four dimensions take part.
In the diagram above, figure a. represents an hourglass in the three dimensions. Its image in the form of parallel rays of light (fig. c.) passes through a convex lens (fig. d.), converging at a focal point into one dimension (fig. f.). At the precise moment in time (b.) or fourth dimension, a exposure is taken resulting in an inverted two-dimensional photograph (fig. g.).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Darwin's valet dilemma

(Notable Quarrels, &c.)

"To suppose that the eye with all of its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection is absurd in the highest degree."
–Charles Darwin,
"On The Origin of Species"
(Early draft, ca. 1839).

"Syms, may I have a word with you?"
"Certainly, Sir."
"In the study, if you don't mind."
Syms follows Darwin upstairs.
"Close the door."
"Yes, Sir."
"Drop the Sir, would you? At least when we are alone. How many times do I have to tell you?"
"I'm sorry, I forgot."
"Nevermind. What is this?"
"A piece of paper, Sss..."
"That far I got all by myself. What else do you observe?"
"Well, it appears it has been crumpled, but now it's not."
"Very cunning. Look closely. Who's writing is it?"
"It is in my hand, no doubt about it."
"No doubt indeed! I can recognize your penmanship with my eyes closed! I know it better than mine! Posterity will be reading my research in your handwriting, for Christ sake!" Darwin crushes his cigar on an ashtray shaped like a bivalve while holding the uncrumpled sheet of paper at arm's length. "I presume you might have a rational explanation for it."
"I do, it is a letter of resignation, a draft actually, and because of its personal nature I kindly and respectfully request that you return it back to me."
"It belongs to the waste-paper basket, where I found it, and that's where it'll return! Furthermore, it is addressed to me, isn't?"
"I believe it is."
"This is all most upsetting. Let's sit down for a moment, how about a glass of brandy?"
"Thanks, I rather not at this moment..."
"I still would like one myself!"
"Oh! Yes, of course." Syms hurries dilligently to the liquor cabinet, lights a candle, warms a cut glass snifter over the flame, pours about 2.5 fl. oz. (Imperial) of brandy and brings it to Darwin in a platter."
"Your brandy."
"Thank you, Syms. Mmm! Ah! Much better! Well, I am all ears."
"If I may..." Syms sits in the edge of the ottoman, making sure not to rest his back or indicate that he is too comfortable. "Last Thursday, when I was transcribing your dictation, I couldn't help but notice something you said, something that troubled me greatly –still does– and that it has given me quite a few sleepless nights since."
"I'm truly sorry to hear that. And what would that something be, that unwillingly caused you so much distress, dear friend."
"It's what you said about the eye."
"What about it?"
"Well, I'm confounded, to say the least. Has not the eye developed, like all the rest, as a result of evolution, through natural selection?"
"Maybe the eye didn't need to evolve because it was already created perfect."
"But it is not! Many of us need spectacles."
"That's highly arguable, my research is inconclusive in that regard, could myopia be an early step on an evolutionary trait? what's more, I think we should give some credit to the Almighty where credit is due, and about the spectacles, well, there is the matter of freewill... you can choose to wear eyeglasses or you can choose not too, like many ladies do. I myself keep mine in the waiscoat most of the time."
Syms stands up. "Sir, for five years we circumnavigated the world, endured all kinds of perils and tribulations. I have netted, twisted the necks, sketched and catalogued thousands of birds of all sizes, colors and beak shapes, trapped mice, dived after gentle turtles to cook them into your favorite soup. I shot, skinned and gutted monkeys that just moments before were beautiful, graceful creatures up in their magnificent trees, I got chased by vicious emus, smacked by a kangaroo, spat at by llamas, I even became ill with malaria!"
"I got sick too!"
"Yes! ALL sacrificed in the name of science and exploration! And now, with the due respect, you conclude that the eye is too good to be part of evolution?"
"I don't have time for philosophy at this moment. This is all nonsense! I'm going to burn this hasted scribble and pretend you never had anything to do with it. After all you threw it away without signing it, didn't you?"
"I had misgivings."
Syms snatches the letter from Darwin's hand, goes to the desk and swifly pens his signature on it.
"Not anymore!"
"Syms! This is most unbecoming!"
"It might be, Sir, but from now on I am only following the dictum of my own conscience. My trunk is packed. I'm leaving tonight for Liverpool, where I'll board the first ship to... to the farthest place away from here. Farewell!" Syms storms out of the study and runs downstairs.
"Syms! Syms! Come back here!" Stunned, Darwin drops himself in the Berber pillows and finishes his brandy in one gulp, realizing instantly that it might be the last drink served by the hand of his beloved friend and companion of countless adventures.

Twenty years later
Syms Covington walks in the beach. He carries a tightly wrapped parcel under his arm. His thoughts muted by the roar of the vigorous waves. A few paces away, his youngest son pulls barnacles from the rocks with a pocket knife. Syms sits nearby, unties the twine and opens the package. It is a thick volume: On The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Syms flips through the pages, stops at one and reads.

"To suppose that the eye with all of its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light..."

Syms smiles and yet his eyes fill up with tears, then he closes the book and looks at the horizon.
Syms Covington will die one year later, at 49, in Pambula, in the south east coast of Australia.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

God's Eye View

The world is divided in believers and non-believers. The believers believe the non-believers don't have morals, are untrustworthy, unworthy, will rot in a place called "hell" or, in the opinion of the more extreme believers, should die violently. Contrary to the believers' belief, the non-believers have some strong beliefs of their own too, like for example: the believers are gullible, irrational, crazy and wrong, follow absurd rituals and quirky superstitions, and have arbitrarily created more moral rules than there are morals. Most believers believe man was created in God's image, while the non-believers think it's actually the other way around. In this point the believers score 1-0, because the non-believers forgot to explain how something that doesn't exist could ever be created, unknowingly admitting that God does exist, (although it might be a creation of the imagination).
There is a new age of alternative believers, that in order to avoid the dogmas of more traditional Belief Organizations, believe that "God is the Universe." Perhaps these are amongst the most colorful and least dangerous of the bunch. Some of those on the fence but leaning in a precarious angle toward believing will explain their unexplainable spiritual world simply as a "kind of energy." We must admit, to their credit, that in truth very few people today would like to live without the comforts provided by electricity, gasoline, burning coal, solar panels, a cooking stove or a humble bonfire.
The problem gets further complicated, because from the myriad of different kinds or factions of believers many have profound dislike for each other, even if they basically agree that they are worshipping the same one and only God, and their beliefs are inspired, copied, borrowed or stolen from each other's books.
Finally, there are the agnostics, or non-committed, which are those that having the benefit of the doubt, prefer –just in case– not to make up their minds yet, holding their own judgement until –and in the eventuallity of– the advent of the "Last" one. Agnostics pretend to get the best of both worlds (believer's and non-believer's) without getting either. As non-believers go, they are the purest, for their only claim is to be clueless. Unfortunately, they are perceived as folks that have their cake and eat it too by believers and non-believers alike, and it is because of this that –in a rare occurrence of agreement between believers and non-believers– there are the ones that most deserve to die and hopefully come back to let us know if there is really anything on the other side, or not.

A little known fact about the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon

It's a little known fact that, during the Apollo 11 mission, astronauts Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin had yet to decide who was going down to step, leap, walk, bounce and frolic on the surface of the Moon, and who was going stay behind, orbiting in the command module. 
After flipping a coin in the air and waiting for more than two hours without a definitive result due to the lack of gravity, Armstrong and Aldrin managed to convince Collins that it was best to go by alphabetical order, and thus history was made.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gilbert & George start their day

(Notable Quarrels, &c.)

The kitchen at Gilbert & George's house. Gilbert is looking out the window into the garden. George enters.
"Good morning Gilbert, what's for breakfast?"
"I don't know, to be perfectly honest, I don't feel like eating much."
"Oh, I see."
"And what do you suppose to mean by that?"
"What do I mean by what, my dear?"
"Oh, I see."
"Why, I mean absolutely nothing."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't. "
"Yes, you do."
"Alright! Alright! I SEE... that you're still upset about last night."
"Carry on."
"And I SEE that you woke up rather unusually bitchy this morning."
"I did, as a matter of fact."
"Do you feel any better now?"
"I'm starting to, actually, thank you."
"Jolly good, then, jolly good, because now it's me who... doesn't! You see? you made me..." George starts sobbing, leaning over the kitchen table.
"I'm sorry, it's just that when you drink a little too much, and as lately it happens more than not, you start to break character, and we are Gilbert & George. That's who we are. Just look around us, all that we have, that's our job, our life!
"Do you think I did it on purpose?"
"I know you didn't, silly."
"But you agree that sometimes it gets tiresome to reckon with being Gilbert & George all the bloody time! Doing the stupid robot dance..."
"I understand –it's the automaton dance– but please don't cry. I forgive you about last night. Look, I even forgot already what all the fuss was about. Listen, why don't you let me make you a couple of eggs with your favorite sausage, hash-browns, grilled tomatoes, beans with molasses, white toast and a nice and warm cuppa, alright?" George nods.
"Alright." They kiss tenderly.
"Look at yourself, your nose gets so rosy when you cry... I love this pinky little nose. Who does this itty-bitty peach belongs too?"
With a smile still framed by tears, George answers: "To... Gilbert?"
"That's right, and it breaks my heart to see my little Georgie glum. Here, take my hankie. There, that's better, a little smile, chins up."
"Thank's, Gil." George gets up from the chair and Gilbert spanks him graciously in the bum.
"Now you go upstairs, get off your pijamas, take a bath, dress up, and today you can even pick our ties! meanwhile Gilbert makes us a wonderful breakfast. Alright?"
"I hate ties."
"I know, I know, deary, but it sure does beat a job from nine to five."


It is in those rare occassions when I don't feel too inspired, that I feel generous instead. This is one them. Without setting a precedent, I will humbly cede this space today to my friend and colleague Dr. Jiménez, with whom not only I share some of the fondest memories, but to whom I'm also deeply indebted for all the years of loyal and helpful advice, and although not always intelligent, forever unbiased criticism and patience. Enjoy it.
–Mr. Cruz

"Early" by Dr. Jiménez
At dawn even the flourescent lights of the bar feel warm. We all look like if we just came from a funeral, sad but not depressed, because we are the ones still alive, and everything at this hour is more real and more alive, just like after a funeral. "Un café con leche, por favor." Who is up so early? it's not even day yet. Obviously a lot of people. Some walk quickly to work, showered and clean, wrapped in coats and scarfs, a few maybe coming home to a bed still warm from the bodies of their wives or husbands or lovers or friends. That might seem good, but they are not the lucky ones. Who knows. "The city awakens...!" says a voice on the radio, and it sounds like we hear it for the first time. But no, the city is not awakening, because the city is not sleepy, it's just gradually getting busier, that's it, like the night that goes away in just 30 or 40 minutes, a giant shadow in a hurry.
There is something comforting about the pressured steam of the espresso machine, the huffing and puffing of a new day. The energic banging in the trash bin to get rid of the used coffee puck, the grinding of fresh one, and the pumping of the water. The hands of one of the waiters are already pink from doing dishes. It's February, and he's wearing short sleaves, maybe that explains it. "¿Me pone un cruasán?" "¿Se lo paso por la plancha?" "Sí, gracias." A cup of coffee on a beaten saucer on a stainless steel counter of a bar somewhere in Spain.