Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

De Roeter

Having dinner in De Roeter with my former office room mates.

Monday, October 23, 2006

New York 2006

Last June I visited New York for an expert meeting I was invited to. I had never been in New York—well, actually I was there two times before: one time when I was about 10 years old with my parents, but we landed on Kennedy Airport and drove a rental car straight into New Jersey and from there to Toronto crossing the border at the Niagra Falls, and one time on my way back from Charlottesville, Virginia to Chicago when I had a transfer at LaGuardia Airport which was last year—so I took a lot of pictures. I've uploaded most of them to a public album at Picasa Web. Not all of them are worthwile, but what the heck.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

from: Dam 1, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands to: Binnenhof 1, Den Haag, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands - Google Maps

So Google Map finally indexed detailed street information for the Netherlands. It's realy cool to be able to type in a street name and address number (!), and be directly transported to a satelite view of the address! What's more is that Google Map also gives directions! (Well, it already did, but up till now you had to provide geo-coordinates for starting point and end point, which was slightly less convenient...) Here's an example: from: Dam 1, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands to: Binnenhof 1, Den Haag, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands. Oddly, Google hasn't yet announced the extension on their main blog.

What's even more (and maybe even better): It also works on my cell phone! If you want to try, just surf to on your mobile phone and allow the Java application to be installed (google automatically detects your phone brand and make). It's realy extremely useful! Perhaps in the near future it will be able to tell (approximately) where you are?

By the way, it also works across Europe: Here's the route from my work to Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Beautiful september morning in Amsterdam

This year we had an unusually hot july and an unusually yet august. And now we have a slightly more common very nice september. This is a picture from the back side of Artis - Zoo.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Light up with Diet Coke

Have been drinking to much Cola Light (diet coke' for US-ees) lately. Wonder if its any good for your health... You probably shouldn't combine it with Mentos, as this video shows:
The Dutch national public news broadcaster NOS reported that Cola sales have risen recently because of youths trying this at home.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Yes, we have a talented cat..."

The video below really makes you wonder about the intelligence of cats, and maybe even more so about their level of awareness. And I thought cats were relatively stupid... On the contrary. Have a look at environment unfriendly flushing Gizmo:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beijing 2008: Race For Tibet!

I wholeheartedly support the case for Tibet:

Beijing 2008: Race For Tibet!

"Help make the Beijing 2008 Olympics a catalyst for change in China! China has a historic opportunity to show the world that it is a worthy host of the 2008 Olympics. But time is critical and the countdown to the Games has begun. The Race for Tibet harnesses the energy of the Olympics and goodwill of people worldwide to call on China to: End human rights abuses in Tibet, and Directly engage the Dalai Lama to find a negotiated solution for Tibet. Join the Race for Tibet today!"

If you can't see an animation here, that's because your browser either does not support the Macromedia Flash Player or have the Flash Player installed. If you want to install the Flash Player (or see if you can install it) please follow this link and install it from there.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

VENI-grant congratulation

I was happily surprised by a letter I received from the rector of the University of Amsterdam. If you click the image you can read it... well, if you speak Dutch. (For the few people out there who don't, it reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Grasman,

On behalf of the Board of Goveners I would like to congratulate you with your recently awarded "VENI-innovation impuls" application. The awardment of your application again shows that research that is conducted within our university is both nationally as well as internationally acknowledged.

I wish you good luck in conducting your research.


prof. mr. P.F. van der Heijden, rector)

They even announced it on the UvA website, just like the research school and the Netherlands Science Foundation did. It made me realize that I didn't get anything like it from the Psychology department... Not even a single word from the very same person that brought flowers to congratulate Eric-Jan—whom I share a room with—with his VIDI-grant... Even when I expressed my surprise that apparently only VIDI-grant applicants received flowers... Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all bitter .

Thursday, July 13, 2006

VENI Award

It is official and definite: I got a VENI-grant! That means getting paid for 3 years of self chosen work at a self chosen institution. Stated otherwise: € 208,000 for my own research... . Well, it is bound by a couple of if's and but's: The 'institution of my choice' holds actually as long as it is willing to accept me (...mmm ...let me think ...I think I will stay at the UvA), and I had to write down the work that I will do on before hand (grant proposal ...yep). Oh, and it has to start within 6 month of the award date (which will be August 1, 2006)... I hope I will be able to keep working on stochastic catastrophy theory, but that's a “luxury problem” I guess. I didn't get any flowers from the Pscyhology department though... A bit strange 2 years ago all VENI awarded researchers received flowers ('een bosje bloemen') in a vase, and this time apparently only the VIDI-awarded researchers got flowers... Anyway, “flowers are for girls” as Wery put it (he also didn't get flowers).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Goodbye comic passport!

I have to renew my passport before going to New York in July. I'm sort of sorry about that for two reasons: The first is, that in order to comply with international and EU agreements, a new passport containing biometric marks and an RF-chip will be issued from August 26th this year, and the new passport that I will have to get before July 6th will be valid for 5 years. So I'll be stuck another 5 years with an outdated passport. 'Another' 5 years that is, because my current passport is already outdated: I am one of the relatively few people who 'ownes' a Dutch passport that is also a comic book about the entire written history of the Netherlands... writen in very tiny tiny but still legible fine print. Unfortunately, when I renew, I will have to hand the current one. And although I can ask it back (which I always do), they will have to make it 'clearly invalid'—which means that they wil make a big cut with scissors or drill three large holes through it. To rescue the internal images, I scaned my entire passport and save it to my blog. (I was amazed that no one appears to have put this unique passport online yet...)         

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cool Google Spreadsheet... (?)

Google already announced its acquisition of Writely, a web based word processor that enables you to edit, save, share, and real-time co-edit Word (-like) documents through a web browser from anywhere in the world (... eh... you'll need an internet connection), and we already saw Google Calendar (which together with Gmail replaced Outlook for me). Then we saw Google Pages, a great web based web page editor that even my mom can easily use, and the google-labs version of Google Notebook which allows you to annotate (segments of) web pages for public or private use (exactly what I have been waiting for...). But now, Google comes with a google-labs version of Google Spreadsheets, which is, no surprise, a web based spreadsheet program. It's really quite cool and promises a lot for the online word-processor (=Writely?) that they have in preparation. It's limited compared to's Calc program, or Microsoft's Excel, but it's better than the Excel version I have on my PDA: apart from crunching numbers and statistics with an extensive range of math-, stats-, financial-, date- and string-functions, formatting, sorting, importing and exporting from and to excel or csv, it allows me to collaborate with colleagues in real time on a single sheet, while 'talking' to each other with a messenger service as in your Gmail account. Thank god I have a Gmail account! How unfortunate that I don't use spreadsheets a lot, nor do my colleagues... :'( Screenshot Google Spreadsheets (Jun 19, 2006)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

New scientific review shows vegetarian diets cause major weight loss

Although nutrition science is not most well known for being steadfast (not to mention the popular beliefs based on scientific mistakes; see also The Skeptic) and the title of this post can be interpreted both in favor and against, but as a vegetarian myself I'm delightfully reinsured by the article below. I can't say it worked for me in the ways claimed unfortunately though (unlimited amounts of fruits and whole grains??). And of course, some meat fanatics will argue that vegetarians at least tend to look unhealthily pale... Anyway, health wasn't a motivation in denouncing meat from my diet, but this new finding suggests a beneficial side effect. The article was published on, here's a link that also explains how to obtain a copy of the report as published in Nutrition Reviews.

New scientific review shows vegetarian diets cause major weight loss

Controlled research trials prove diet's efficacy WASHINGTON—A scientific review in April's Nutrition Reviews shows that a vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. Vegetarian populations tend to be slimmer than meat-eaters, and they experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening conditions linked to overweight and obesity. The new review, compiling data from 87 previous studies, shows the weight-loss effect does not depend on exercise or calorie-counting, and it occurs at a rate of approximately 1 pound per week. Rates of obesity in the general population are skyrocketing, while in vegetarians, obesity prevalence ranges from 0 percent to 6 percent, note study authors Susan E. Berkow, Ph.D., C.N.S., and Neal D. Barnard, M.D., of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

The authors found that the body weight of both male and female vegetarians is, on average, 3 percent to 20 percent lower than that of meat-eaters. Vegetarian and vegan diets have also been put to the test in clinical studies, as the review notes. The best of these clinical studies isolated the effects of diet by keeping exercise constant. The researchers found that a low-fat vegan diet leads to weight loss of about 1 pound per week, even without additional exercise or limits on portion sizes, calories, or carbohydrates.

"Our research reveals that people can enjoy unlimited portions of high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight without feeling hungry," says Dr. Berkow, the lead author.

"There is evidence that a vegan diet causes an increased calorie burn after meals, meaning plant-based foods are being used more efficiently as fuel for the body, as opposed to being stored as fat," says Dr. Barnard. Insulin sensitivity is increased by a vegan diet, allowing nutrients to more rapidly enter the cells of the body to be converted to heat rather than to fat.

Earlier this month, a team of researchers led by Tim Key of Oxford University found that meat-eaters who switched to a plant-based diet gained less weight over a period of five years. Papers reviewed by Drs. Berkow and Barnard include several published by Dr. Key and his colleagues, as well as a recent study of more than 55,000 Swedish women showing that meat-eaters are more likely to be overweight than vegetarians and vegans.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How Islamic inventors changed the world

I encountered the article below on the internet. I'm not sure if all of it is true, it's always hard to verify claims like this, but it provides nonetheless an interesting perspective on modern day life.
From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. As a new exhibition opens, Paul Vallely nominates 20 of the most influential- and identifies the men of genius behind them
Published in the Independent: 11 March 2006
  1. The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.
  2. The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.
  3. A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.
  4. A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.
  5. Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.
  6. Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.
  7. The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.
  8. Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.
  9. The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.
  10. Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.
  11. The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.
  12. The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.
  13. The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.
  14. The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.
  15. Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).
  16. Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.
  17. The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.
  18. By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.
  19. Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.
  20. Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.
"1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World" is a new exhibition which began a nationwide tour this week. It is currently at the Science Museum in Manchester. For more information, go to

Monday, January 09, 2006

Psychologists make better shareholders

You see, we psychologists knew this al along. Psychologists are much keener on what to believe and what not. They know that often things are not what they seem, and they particularly know very well how easily people let themselves be fooled (the psychologists self included)!

Public release date: 9-Jan-2006
Contact: Dr. Andreas Roider
University of Bonn

The 'herd instinct' is less important than expected in share-buying

Shareholders seen to be swayed by the buying pattern of other shareholders much less than has hitherto been assumed. This at least is the conclusion arrived at by economists of the Bank of England and the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn. Together with the corporate consultants McKinsey they scrutinised the share-buying behaviour of about 6,500 persons in an Internet experiment. They found no signs of 'herd instinct' during the experiment – on the contrary, some of the test subjects decided against buying those specific shares which had just been bought by so many other players. Psychologists, particularly, mistrusted those shares which they regarded as overvalued. This strategy benefited them enormously: on average they were markedly more successful in their speculation than physicists or mathematicians – or even economists.

On average the psychologists earned three times as much as economists and physicists in the stock exchange game. 'They tended to decide against buying shares precisely when a lot of other players had bought them,' Dr. Andreas Roider of the University of Bonn's Economics Department explains. Many discussions up to now have assumed the opposite: investors, it was thought, behave like lemmings. They always buy those shares which are most in demand at a particular time, thereby pushing the share prices too high (or too low). Hardly any explanation of the turbulences on the financial markets are without some reference to the marked predisposition to the herd instinct which allegedly investors show. Yet it might also be the case that each investor has decided in favour of buying independently of the behaviour of other investors – for example, because information has become available about a particular share which argues in favour of buying. Whether shareholders really are influenced by the 'herd instinct' is therefore hard to determine in practice.

New Years Day

The holiday season is already gone again. Another year. Etc. I went with Joris and his kids to "Zaanse Schans": a dike with centuries old wind mills (and a replica of the first 'Albert Heijn' grocery store ("kruidenier")—for those who know what I'm talking about). Well, you know, the view is sort of winterish pretty: Zaanse Schans: dike with century old wind mills