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I can only name and identify about 20 different kinds of fruits, certainly not more than 25. [Try it yourself! You should be able to easily beat this yourself. Don’t forget to include the various berries and various citrus fruits!]

When it comes to non-standard vegetables, the gap to a “normal” level of knowledge is even bigger.

Needless to add that I’m completely lost when it comes to such “exotic” dishes as Risotto, Crespelle or Bruschetta.

But I’ve never had illusions about this fact and I’ve always considered myself at the very the bottom of the scale. Little did I know that a similar-minded friend of mine did not even know what Pesto was! [I realized this when he came to visit me and spaghetti was pretty much the only dish I could offer … but at least I had to different kinds of instant sauce to choose from!]

If years of living off frozen pizza and (not frozen) pasta has taught me anything, then it has taught me to appreciate a jar of good “pesto alla genovese“.

Oh, glorious day! Finally I made to the circle of culinary experts.

Harilal Gandhi. Ever heard of him? Well, at least I hadn’t.

He was the oldest son of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma. The latter, a person of seemingly infinite wisdom and compassion, lost all ties to his own son when his son was 23.

“Harilal had always wanted to go on to higher studies, including becoming a barrister as his father had been. His father was firmly opposed to this, and disallowed him from pursuing it, believing that receiving this Western styled education was not helpful in the struggle against British rule over India. Eventually Harilal rebelled against his father’s decision. He renounced all family ties in 1911 and embarked upon a tragic, lifelong path of self-destruction.” (Taken from the Wikipedia article.)

Here are a few (hopefully correct) quotes from the two (taken from this site):

“Dear Bapu,” wrote Harilal to his father once. “In your laboratory of experiments, unfortunately, I am the one truth that has gone wrong… Yours Harilal.” Elsewhere, he said, “He is the greatest father you have… but he is the one father I wish I did not have.” As for Gandhi, he once said, “The greatest regret of my life…. Two people I could never convince – my Muslim friend Mohammed Ali Jinnah and my own son Harilal Gandhi.

This “black spot” adds a facet which I wasn’t aware of before to a fascinating person.

Originally (= 10 minutes ago), I was planning to write something on the Human Development Index (as the term itself somehow bothers me) or the Gini Coefficient (which I like because of its mathematical simplicity), but then I came across the Happy Planet Index.

This is not a joke. In fact, it is highly interesting to look at as it tries to challenge established measures of “how well is a country doing”!

The index was conceived by the New Economics Foundation and tries to measure the happiness of people in a country, rather than then amount of money they have. To quote from the official website:

“The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an innovative new measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives.”

How is it computed? The Wikipedia page says:

“… conceptually it approximates multiplying life satisfaction and life expectancy, and dividing that by the ecological footprint. Most of the life satisfaction data is taken from the World Values Survey, but some is drawn from other surveys, and some is estimated using statistical regression techniques.”

What’s also interesting: such a number could be computed on a per-person basis (though I’m not saying that it should). You could every day ask yourself: “How satisfied am I today with my life?” Additionally, you’d probably have to measure your CO2 emissions and your waste production. Do this on a daily basis and, just before you think you’ve finished your job on this planet, you can compute your very own “Happy Person Index” to see how you did in your life.

Probably not very meaningful on a personal level, but still a whole lot more meaningful than looking at your bank account.

That in its own would not seem troubling at first, as the man was just playing his oud as part of an exhibition on Moroccan culture, and not giving a speech.

What troubled me was that I could not really tell whether he was improvising all the time or whether he was playing a classical melody and my ear was just not accustomed to hearing and understanding Moroccan music. What he was playing sounded a bit like this song here (which I found on this site), but without an discernible pauses and with a smaller variety concerning the pitch. But was he playing the exact same sequence of sounds he was playing 30 seconds earlier? I couldn’t tell. So I asked him.

He said that he was actually improvising on classical harmonies (and he played the “scales” for me, which didn’t sound anything like do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do at all). He then went on to play some classical melodies which did sound more “melody” like, but I still could not have repeated (by whistling/humming) anything he was playing. He then said that “usually” there would be a singer and probably a taarja player (see the images here). I would have liked to discuss more but then one of the organizers shooed me away, as the guy was supposed to play his oud and not give lessons about music theory.

Even with a bit of explanation, it is still really, really difficult for me to “understand” this music. Just to quote a bit from the Wikipedia article:

“Morocco is home to Andalusian classical music that is found throughout North Africa. It probably evolved under the Moors in Cordoba, and the Persian-born musician Ziryab is usually credited with its invention. Ziryab invented the nuba, a suite which forms the basis of al-âla, the primary form of Andalusian classical music today, along with Gharnati and Malhun.

There used to be twenty-four nuba linked to each hour of the day, but only four nuba have survived in their entirety, and seven in fragmentary form. An entire nuba can last six or seven hours and are divided into five parts called mizan, each with a corresponding rhythm. The rhythms occur in the following order in a complete nuba:

  1. basît (6/4)
  2. qaum wa nusf (8/4)
  3. darj (4/4)
  4. btâyhi (8/4)
  5. quddâm (3/4 or 6/8)

Each mizan begins with instrumental preludes called either tuashia, m’shaliya or bughya, followed by as many as twenty songs (sana’a) in the entire mizan.”

It’s both fascinating and sad how non-universal music is.


Somewhat unrelated: I knew what an aqueduct was, but I had never heard of a “qanat” (or Khettara) before.

Coulrophobia – that’s my word of the day!

It refers to the fear of clowns. Even kids who are far too young to know It or other evil clowns don’t find these guys funny, but only odd and sometimes scary.

This is the outcome of a study done by the University of Sheffield with 250 children in hospital between the age 4 and 16. The hospital was hoping to reduce anxiety in kids by placing images of clowns, but this seems to have backfired.

“Children are much more happy with things stuck on the wall that have some sort of personal relevance for them, not images that are foisted upon them by adults.”

Last weekend, for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to be involved in the organization of a surprise party for a friend here (who recently returned from a three-month trip through South-East Asia). In particular I had the honor of escorting her from her home to the party location. Of course, she did not know that it would be a small party with several of her friends and, of course, she was blindfold.

Originally, I thought that it would be impossible for her to figure out, where we were going. But, to be sure, I used every available round-about to cover any traces I might have left so far by going around at least twice each time. Still, in the end she knew/guessed exactly where she was. The main reason for this was: we were at her work place! (A very good friend of hers had rented a room there in the basement.)

And, stupid me, we took the same way to work she takes every day. Even the roundabout-confusion didn’t help as there were certain significant landmarks (e.g., a ramp onto a highway and also the roundabouts themselves). Looking back the obvious solution would have been to go for a significant detour and take an alternative route through the city and to approach the location from the opposite direction. I still can’t believe that I didn’t think of this before!! Stupid me!

But, the next time you plan a surprise party for somebody, feel free to hire me as a chauffeur, with all the experience I’ve now gained.

Today I’ve reduced the length of the list of important principles in philosophy/physics, which are unknown to me, by one: I now know the “Floriani Priniciple“. It is in fact closely related to the Somebody Else’s Problem Field, but predates the discovery of the latter by at least 1000 years.

The Floriani Principle states that a problem is just as good as solved, if you can turn it into somebody else’s problem. In its original form it is expressed as the following cynical prayer: “O holy Saint Florian, spare my house, kindle others”

One of its most popular applications concerns the location of new landfills, which is a problem which Naples is currently facing.

No, not durak (дурак), the Russian word for “fool“, but “buraq“.

That’s a word I learned today in the small exhibition “Présence absente du prophète Mahomet” about Islamic art. (The things on display were similar to the things here.) A buraq is a flying half woman, half pegasus being (… or rather, a third woman [the head], a third eagle [the wings], a third horse [the legs/body]). If I understood correctly, such a buraq carried the Prophet Muhammed up to heaven.

Given my ignorance concerning the Islam (and pretty much all religions) I was a bit surprised that there were actually depictions of female heads (belonging to buraqs or angels) without a veil on such holy images.

I was also surprised to find out that Muhammed and Jesus were actually very, very, …, very distant cousins (whose last common ancestor was supposedly Abraham, compare e.g. the lists here and here, or the more critical account here.). Funny, what you can learn by studying the genealogy of other families (which were beautifully drawn).
Another thing I learned (which I actually had to read up on later to understand) is the existence of Seth. Every heard of Cain and Abel? Well, there was a third brother! In fact, according to Jewish/Christian/Muslim belief, the whole human lineage descends from Seth’s children.

If there were only sons, where did the children come from? Adam and Eve during their lifespan of about 900 years “multiplied” (as they were told to) and had sex about 55 times, creating a total of 32 sons and 23 daughters (at least according to the account discussed here).

From then on it was incest all the way. But this was no problem, as Adam and Eve’s genes where still perfectly pure without any genetic diseases (as is also discussed here).

What were Henderson’s words again? – I don’t have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with …

Outside of urban areas (“geschlossener Ortschaften”) it is allowed to use both light and sound signals (“Schallzeichen” also known as “Hupe” in German) on your car to express your intention to pass the car in front. At least in Germany. This is new to me (but I should have known it).

You can look at &5 of the StVO to verify this.


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