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Cotton, Alex, Will, Travis and David

Thrillers. Books perfect for the summertime. Even though they were not exclusively tied to the beach, in my case, of all occasions, somehow sand and Kindle went along hand by hand the best. Every time. As with default definition, thriller stories and novels engage all your senses and trigger right level of entertainment and all kind of emotions during those couple of days of intense reading. Also, they alway successfully keep away your thoughts from your job, your daily issues and raw reality from your mind. In previous couple of years (mostly summers), my stock of thrillers piled up significantly, so I decided to create a recommendation and small glimpse into stories of five different styles of writing and with that many main characters stored in the similar background of political or fictitious conspiracies. And all that in familiar form of classic 'villains vs heroes' storytelling with the hero winning the girl every time. Cliché, I know, but I love it and enjoy it all the …

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Interview With an 'X'

The 'X' is definitely one of the most important letters in the alphabet. Not only that it is the most valuable variable in all math equations and scientific chase for the unknown, but in the entire history of human riddles, and I mean not always related to math, it always marks the most interesting spot. Sometimes the one with the treasure. It was not coincidence that old Romans used it for the most important number of them all. 10. The very base of our widely used numeric system. But we are not here to talk about mathematics or treasure hunting per se. It will be more about age. Of ten. My son Viktor is turning this magic number on this year Earth Day (April 22nd) and I decided, in addition to our previous topic and post Interview With an Expert, to fire another set of questions for him to answer. This time more general and within various realm of life and .. well .. stuff...

So let's start with favorites. I guess they say a lot about personality. And they don't require a polygraph to confirm the truthness of the given answers.. For some reason, I believe everybody or the most of us will answer these honestly. Probably because of their benevolentness (if this is even a word). Even we adults will not curve the truth with these ones. And yet, answers to these questions probably reveal a lot about a person. In the modern world it is comparable to the browser history - if you want to learn about your friend's likes and dislikes just have a glimpse or two to his or her bookmarks and history.

So, let's start the interview in that fashion. Here it goes:

Do It Yourself

Languages always change when we change. Evolutionary speaking and over long period of time. Especially when we mix with others or change environment and move to different places. English is perfect example - perhaps it is the only language spoken with that many variations created from country to country, all over the world, from New Zealand throughout India toward Canada and even in those places on Earth where it is not language number one. Believe it or not, there are thousands of spoken languages throughout our planet today and with people migration over eons, mixing multiple languages into new ones are well recorded in our history. New languages created in that fashion are well known as creoles, most of them connected to the recent colonialism when two cultures or more collided for a longer period in time. Perhaps the most known of them all (and spoken by most of their population) are Haitian, Jamaican and Hawaiian creoles - mixture of French (Haiti) and English (Jamaica and Hawaii) base with influences of other European languages (Spanish and Portuguese), West African, and domestic. But there are other type of creoles - i.e. in the literature and movies (somebody thought Klingon?), perhaps the coolest of them all is Belter Creole (The Expanse series) invented by Nick Farmer* with words taken from English, Chinese, Hebrew, Persian and dozen more. For example "Den ta desh lik bodzha" in belter means, if I am not mistaken and from the context, something like "It looked like a big explosion".

But we don't need to go that far into history or fiction. Within only couple of decades of the internet, in the world of abbreviations and acronyms we, even today, need extra vocabulary power to understand the urban slang and new words in written context. Let me 'invent' a sentence from the modern technocracy - "Dude, diy asap. Btw afaik, * is in faq! Yolo man!". And this is the translation: "Dude, do it yourself as soon as possible. By the way, as far as I know, everything is in 'frequently asked questions'! You only live once, man!".

Ok, after perhaps too long and utterly unnecessary introduction which is probably more suitable for some other topics, let's talk in this post, or to better say let's watch, about one of the new internet words. DIY. In realm of home science experiments published on YouTube. By zviktor22 and mpj. Well.. us.. Viktor and me.

So, enough about languages at least for now and let's dive into YouTube phenomenon in latest years with series of DIY videos published by many youtubers in various fields. We, kind of, started with this even earlier with our "Little Chef", cooking thread and it was only logical to, by following our host age, go into other waters as well. DIY was practically waiting for us to start and with these three video clips we are introducing new playlist in zviktor22 YouTube channel and new thread on this blog. Of course, both of us didn't want just to copy similar clips on the net so we established a rule that in order to publish, it is mandatory to add our own twist or change of recipe or something new that wasn't done before.

Game of Life - The Graphic Novel

Game of Life is an old news, yes, but from time to time I get some feedback or thoughts regarding the script and the film overall but last friday I stumbled to something special that forced me to relive the film once more. It was an extraordinary comic book creator called "Comic Life", made by plasq development company which gave me genuine pleasure last entire weekend. I was looking for a comic book related application before and even tried couple of them but they were all way below Comic Life and all the features it offers. I was immediately hooked by its nativity and simplicity and instantly thought about our short film. After very little hesitation I decided to give it a try and the result is sort of "Game of Life" made by "Comic (of) Life".

After all, I had everything, the script, the video file and the free time last weekend and to create a comic book out of it was pretty straightforward. What I did was to open Game of Life in VLC player and to take couple of screenshots in order to import them into "Comic Life" and the rest is in this post. Well, soon after, couple of screenshots turned into dozens and dozens into exactly 195 images but it all was worth the effort. Actually it wasn't without little post processing but I enjoyed it all the way. Last night we went to laser print the first copy and here it is above in Viktor's hands and just below in preview (it needs some time to load).

Zeus Is Dead

After, relatively speaking and with modest human reasoning, long time spent on this Earth, the most of what I have learned about people, is that they follow their passion to the end. No matter what. It's like it is written in our DNA and cannot be altered. Not even a millimeter or less. For instance, I remember one small conversation with one of my friends, or acquaintances, to use more accurate business vocabulary, about decade ago while we shared one business trip. It was a long drive with just two of us that couldn't sustain business talk all the way and eventually it curved into other topics like usual and unavoidable political, religious and philosophic subjects, and in this case between two differently wired minds. I can't really remember the entire stream of discussion but it all started with me, when, by following my own passion, I tried to use all of my oral skills to describe how I see the future of democracy. After awhile, when I finished with 'all of the political wisdom', all what I've got in return, without much consideration, was "Meh, if you ask me, the only political system that could work is theocracy. Everything else is bogus and temporary."

For a brief moment, I considered how would that be like. Surely with this mortal world we are living in and god present only in the book, spirit and stories, it is not really possible. It would require the actual deity to be around in real physical form and be recognized as the ultimate king or emperor without any doubts. Then, he or she or it or them or whatever would appoint the most valuable worshipers in his or hers or its or theirs or whatever priestly order for presidents, popes, ministries, secretaries and other governmental stuff. In all countries. So, after short consideration, it was my turn to say "Meh". So I did. I pretty much didn't say anything else on the topic so the conversation about worldwide politics (and religion) died out pretty soon after. In situations like this it is always best to find the mutual ground so we got back into business talk again and discussed more how to write some software in order to get more money from some new clients. He had some ideas of how to get more of them (clients and money) from political institutions, ministry offices and local municipalities. He said they like to buy things they rarely use and they have lots of money. He got a point there. I didn't object.

Hmm, ok, that was a little bit long introduction to the post story that was intended to be just, sort of, a book review, but, it was somewhat related to the subject and I thought it would be appropriate opening for the rest of the text. Anyhow, what I said so far was indeed based on real events for sure and real people for that matter, including me, but I might of stretched several conversations into just one road trip event and it probably look more to the fictitious chat of the sort. So to speak. Well, sometimes and nevertheless, the thin line between fiction and nonfiction is not really visible at once but in the case of Michael G. Munz's amazing novel called 'Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure' one would say it is all about fiction and laugh out loud (LOL) moments. And yes, it is all about fictitious theocracy within nowadays modern world, created by Olympian gods when they returned from their withdrawal after more than two thousand years with all of their entourage and got back to the active and mutual life with mortals and worshippers. Which means us on the ground. And they returned with a twist.

But, before I continue with the actual glimpse to the book itself, I think I need to write a word of two about the photo I embedded above, which might be interesting to read. This is in fact the mount of Olympus. The most famous mountain in the entire world. The mighty one. It is not the highest of them all - just slightly lower than 3K meters and not even the highest in the entire Balkans, but it was the one chosen by gods to built their own abode, during their first episode in ancient times. Sitting just next to Aegean Sea, it is the first sight you see when you travel from Thessaloniki to Athens in nowadays Greece. I took this image in 2010, from the beach in the sea resort of Leptokarya, described by Wikipedia as "the former seat of East Olympos municipality, which is part of the municipality of Dio-Olympos", whatever that means. During my countless visits of northern Greece in past several decades, and all of them during summer holidays, believe it or not, all of my Olympus photographs ended with similar heavy stream of clouds above mountain peaks. It is like the Olympus is always hidden by clouds by some weird meteorological reasons. Well, that was not entirely true as I have seen the Olympus naked in the occasion or two, but still it was not often. It's like Olympus is attracting the clouds and capturing them to stay and hide it's peaks. At least almost every time I was traveling the area or visiting the region.

To be completely honest, once I have even visited Olympus myself, when I was about 10 years old or little older, during our vacation in the region with my parents in eighties of the previous century. There was a dirt road ending very near to one of its peaks, where we visited one of the rare taverns that can really print on its portfolio that was built on the top of gods' heavenly entrances. For some fairly strange reasons, Coca Cola and gyros on the tavern's terrace felt really tasty, just as the pure and clean water from the water stream just next to it. Unfortunately and despite of all of my efforts, I couldn't see or find anything divine or out of worldly items or even a glowing shiny rock. There were no gods whatsoever. Or naked muses. Or beasts with snakes instead of hair. Or horses with wings. Or mighty heroes. Nothing. Well, I was only 10 years old. What did I know.. Maybe that pair of hawks we saw flying around the highes rock across the tavern and screeching in high tones were actually Apollo and Artemis arguing about something.

On the other end, it might be that I visited Olympus during gods' withdrawal. Way too early...

In the meantime I learned a great deal about divine and what is the most interesting about old Greek gods, compared to all of the modern religions of today is that their godhood was not that estranged from their creation like it is now the case with all of those Jerusalem monotheistic beliefs. Greek gods loved to mingle with mortals. And by mingle, you know what I mean, which is especially true with Zeus (probably Dionysis too). In fact, within the opening chapters of the novel, Apollo defined it best when he said that "Gods are just like mortals, only ... better." And that means with everything that we can use to describe ordinary people, including conspiracies, hatred, intelligence, stupidity, love, sex, affairs, ... It's like the Greek gods possess everything good and bad we mortals experience on daily bases, only theirs is enhanced and powered off the charts. And of course, they could change appearances into hawks.. and to do other magical stuff.

Resurrection, Holy Grail and Dark Matter

Let me ask you a hypothetical question. What would you first type into time machine if you had one? Would it be some date in the past or in distant future? Would you go to meet neandertals or perhaps to take a photo of a T-Rex family from the distance? Or perhaps you'd go to see some historically relevant times or to meet famous people from the past? Well, there is no doubt for me - one of my first time travels would definitely be 33AD, April 1st. The time of Christ and his last days, the time of the last supper, his death and resurrection. I have no idea how would I be able to hide my Nikon and smartphone but I am sure I would find a way. Every tourist trip requires a camera, doesn't it? However there would be other challenges, and in this case, even if I would try to dress accordingly and mingled into crowd, understanding old Aramaic which was spoken by most of Jesus followers or old Hebrew, Latin or Greek used officially among Jewish people or within Roman administration and army would be pretty hard. But it would not be really impossible to understand what really happened with Jesus Christ in those couple of days even without knowledge of old languages.

The Last Supper by Fritz von Uhde*

Indeed, it would be one amazing trip, but in reality, building such time machine is pretty much impossible according to all we know about how our universe works. On the other hand we have one equally powerful tool we can use to explain different events and not just those placed in old history. The name of the tool is Occam's razor and basically it is one great principle in philosophy and science stating that the most simplest explanation of some event is usually the right one. Sure, it's not the real tool per se, but in many occasions and events it's the only one we got. Let's try it with 'Last Supper' - which table order is more simplest and more probable - the one coined by Leonardo da Vinci with Christ and all apostles sitting by just one side of the long table in a large chamber, almost like they were posing for some time tourist photo, or the more modest one in more modest room with all of them occupying entire smaller table, like in above Fritz von Uhde painting? There is no doubt that Occam's razor is winning this one big time and that Fritz is way more accurate with portraying this event. Simply put, Leonardo made it too complex to the point of being truly not real.

Should I dare to try Occam's razor with the resurrection as well? I guess it might go beyond pristine politeness, considering that one of the major worldwide religion was hugely based on that single event but still, if we test it on crucifixion and events after it, especially during Sabbath and within the tomb, bribing Roman guards, if there were any, and stealing the body looks like the most simplest explanation of the entire event. Adding divine element along with the fact that genuine Jewish beliefs went without single disturbance by entire occurrence is what seems to be way too complex explanation.

The Resurrection Maker, King Arthur and Sagrada Familia

But to be completely fair, Occam's razor allows complex explanation to be the right one too, but only when it's describing the event and all of its aspects better than the simple one. I am not sure if this is the case here but if you think that divine explanation is the only complex one for the resurrection of Jesus, you will be very wrong. Yesterday I finished a novel called "The Resurrection Maker" by Glenn Cooper and believe it or not he pretty successfully tried to merge the divine with exotic science and the most mysterious property of the universe we know as dark matter. If you add to the plot an extraordinary history thriller with characters as big as King Arthur and Antoni Gaudi themselves then this is one bit of fictitious work that deserves not to be missed.

Basically, I intended for this post to be a book review of the sort but I also want to keep my reviews relatively free of spoilers and I found that if I continue with this one by entering into plot and twists it would be not entirely possible without thorough dive into dark matter and dark energy physics along with details from the novel, so ultimately I decided to write about it later this year, maybe in my next post. Regarding the book and especially because it is already presented by Glenn Cooper in his prologue and also relieved by the book's title and cover, I can tell you this much - the basic motive behind the story is about the idea that holy grail, or to be precise holy chalice, used by Jesus and his disciples during last supper, was made out of the exotic alloy, created in early stage of the universe out of ordinary and dark matter combined. The author speculates with superstring theories and one of its properties of multidimensionality and multiverse and with fictitious possibility to use this alloy in order to create a breach between our universe and the next one floating close to ours, within vast and probably infinite multiverse void. At this point of understanding the physics of dark matter or to better say of not understanding what it really is, the void in the knowledge is providing novelists this kind of freedom to use it to describe legends, myths and stories from ancient history and Glenn Cooper did the great job with this book. Not perfect I dare to say, especially in the realm of predictivity of the story and how the novel ends, but I fully get him why he created the ending like he did. If he dared to try to explain even more about how one resurrection maker really works it would take him into even more speculative writing and this could be too much for one science fiction thriller what this book in the end represents.

Alleged tomb of Jesus under the church of the Holy Sepulchre

One thing is for sure, if I get to the Occam's razor again and looked the resurrection explanation in this book, it is indeed one hack of the complex solution for this historical event. Honestly, if I would have to create alternative ending for "The Resurrection Maker", I think I would definitely change how the portal works and perhaps create better explanation for why Jesus staid forty days on Earth after resurrection and before his final ascension to the heaven, or in this case another universe on the other side of the portal. Nevertheless and regardless of what I think of, it looks like there is no way to simplify the story to the point of being acceptable for the Occam's razor and it is definitely way too complex and walks on the edge of impossibility, to say the least. Which is completely opposite if we are talking about entertainment and educational aspect of the book and for both of them it deserves full five stars.

Her Last Day

I loved her.

I still do. With everything I've got. Ever since that cloudy day four years ago when we met in the park. Ever since I realized she was the one I was looking for my whole life and after she shared her heart and her entire life with me. Ever since I moved into her place a week after we accidentally jogged into each other.

And look at me now under this eerie rain... Standing on her grave. Alone and wet. I don't know what to do. She would be alive if it wasn't for me.

It was all my fault.

That day I was returning from my afternoon walk and saw Garry, the mailman, from across the street just leaving our building. I hurried back. When I entered our apartment she already opened the envelope and the bottle of red wine. With the glass half empty she saw me, gave me tired smile and pointed the letter on the floor.

"It's another rejection.. Oh, Husk.. I am not sure I can handle them anymore". She made one of those heavy sighs she started with in recent months and looked into the glass. "Ever since I got fired from the Tribune all my handwritings and all the scripts were rejected... All of them... By everyone." She looked exhausted and beyond sadness when she finally raised her head and stared at me. "You have beautiful eyes. You know that, don't you?"

It was not the first time she was acting like this. I always tried to comfort her. To give her hope. But today, I didn't do much. I looked at her gently and then the glass. She gave me little surrender smile, wiped the tears and went to the kitchen. With the bottle in one hand and the glass in another. "I need to prepare something. Bruce is coming to dinner." She turned and gave me that threatening look when I was about to react harshly, like I always did in situations like that. "And please behave this time. You know that he's my former supervisor at the Tribune. I need this... Maybe he is my only chance. I spent all the bright ideas... I am not sending any more letters. Not anymore."

I knew all too well that Bruce was not only her former supervisor. He was the one who fired her. He was also her ex. I hated him. There was something in him I never manage to comprehend. His eyes, his behaviour, his moves, his vague rhetorics. His fragrance. There was nothing compelling about him. He was just one of those bullies in suits. A bad man. I almost exploded at him last time. I couldn't risk another scene today so I went for a dinner downtown. I wanted to slam the door on my way out. Hard. I couldn't do it.

I couldn't eat much as well. I lost all my appetite and took a long walk before I got back. I knew he already left and I just wanted to avoid her tonight and leave explanations for next morning but at the door I realized something bad happened even before I came in. In the dining room were broken glasses, spilled wine, shattered vase and her bloody face behind her hands. She was sitting in the corner and sobbed silently. I couldn't breath. He hit her. Bad. I should've known this would happen. I was so stupid. The rage started to boil in my veins. Why did I leave in the first place? I had to be here to protect her. Maybe it's not too late. I turned toward the door and made a step.

"Stop." She cried. "Husk, no. Don't go. He's not worth it. Please..."

I went anyway.

I chased him for three blocks in all directions before I gave up. He probably took a cab or came with a car, otherwise he couldn't outrun me. Not after what I have just seen. The running calmed me down enough so I turned back and hurried home. I wanted to be there for her. I hoped that would be enough.

But she wasn't there. She didn't take anything with her. Not the jacket, nor the phone. Not even the shoes. The door was wide open and I saw the blood stains on the hallway walls here and there. She left enough trace to follow her path. But I didn't need anything to know where she went. The place where I found her last time. I hurried like hell. I needed to find her on time. Before it could be too late. Before...

I ran faster.

When I passed second building to the south and reached dark alley in the back, I found her sitting against the wall. She was already dead. I was not fast enough. Syringe and the spoon were fallen next to her and the rubber band tangled in her palm. She was looking at me with her open eyes for the last time. I froze. I didn't know what to do. I just sat next to her.

It was all my fault.

I loved her. All the way and all too much.

I still do.

So, here I am, standing on her grave on this eerie day. The rain had stopped. I still don't know what to do. I failed her. I should have been... Better. But I wasn't.

The life today was like this dark rain. It came to an end. So I just lay down on the grave, put my head on my paws and closed my eyes.

Basketball, The Game of all Games

Have you ever thought about first ever practiced team sport on a grand scale? Perhaps, like mine, your first thought could be some competition within ancient Olympic games, right? Well, no, old Greeks didn't like team sports at all - instead their first athletes competed within what we consider today as individual sports or disciplines. Boxing, racing, running, jumping, wrestling, throwing and similar individual competitions or fighting. On the other end of the world and perhaps in the more or less the same time, ancient Chinese practiced sport competition just the same and during the Han Dynasty around 3rd century BC it was documented a game that resembles very much to modern football or soccer if you will. It was called Tsu'Chu with kicking the ball in the field in the team effort and with the goal of putting the ball in the net. But perhaps millennium before Tsu'Chu, on the third ancient continent, the origin of another modern sport was invented first and it was vastly popular among old Mesoamericans. Even as early as 3000 years from now they played, well, sort of a basketball. The only sport I really enjoy to play and watch.

The Ancient Mayan Ballgame

History of mayan religion and myths says that their famous game was connected to mayan gods Hun Hunahpú and his brother Vucub Hunahpú, who descended to Earth, or came from underworld, I am not sure which, to play the ballgame they adored. Unfortunately they played the game too near to the backyard of even more powered gods of the Xibalba and the looser, Hun I think, had his head cut off. I am pretty sure the other brother was killed as well. Apparently the reason for this was that they were too loud and that annoyed the mighty ones. Anyhow, the maya and all other civilisation before and after enjoyed the same game and its variations for centuries in BC and the ruins in central america are full of courts and hoops all over the ancient cities. No doubt, that the real losers in the game were forced, by following their gods and belief, to climb on the top of the pyramid were couple of priests were waiting to take their hearts out in order to please those in Xibalba. I am pretty sure in some occasions even the winners suffered the same fate as a reward. Apparently mayan gods never really made a difference between losers and winners and I guess, if you were ancient basketball players, whatever you did, you were doomed to your death.

But, let's divert back to the sport, after all, people evolved a little since brutal religious past and today nobody dies after the game. Today is more about gold, money, popularity and fame. Well, kidding aside, ancient mayan game was flexible, so to speak, when it comes to courts and rules. It was played with rubber ball and it was forbidden to touch the ball with your hands or feet. Kicking the ball was done by your elbows, hips or knees. If the ball was mainly hit by knees and hips, hoops were located low and the game looked more to handball or basketball for children. However if the main hit was performed with players' elbows, the vertical hoops were fixed high on the wall and the game resembles more to the modern basketball. The ball was heavy and it was very difficult to score through the hoop so in many occasions the game ended with 1:0 and it could be played with up to six players. Also on some drawings and from some sources there were also referee in the court monitoring the game. The game was very popular over the centuries and it was number one sport in the ancient times and the best of all it survived to the modern times and in nowadays Mexico and other neighboring countries we still have a game called Pok-ta-Pok that is real sport, folklore event and tourist attraction, all in same time. Just google it or do the googling in YouTube - can we say youtube it?

The History of Basketball*

Well, it is unclear if James Naismith had in mind ancient mayan ballgame or just "Duck on the Rock", a field play he probably enjoyed during his childhood, but 1891 he invented first modern basketball game, all in effort to create an indoor recreation for young sportsmen during winter time. His new sport was played with soccer ball and peach baskets and all within his original 13 rules. Of course, the game started to be interesting only later when dribbling is added to the rules and surely when peach basket bottoms are cut off and with removing the ladders from the sport's gear. It was pretty annoying to have someone to get the ball out of the basket after each score. Joking aside, the basketball is maybe one of those new sports invented by just one man that evolved so rapidly in following years and with enormous popularity as it possesses today.

The history of the basketball in first couple of decades or perhaps until second world war was mainly connected with YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) that was very active at the time and especially with promoting new sports (basketball, volleyball and swimming competitions) and it culminated with foundation of FIBA (International Basketball Federation) in 1932. Only four years later in Hitler's Germany, basketball was introduced for the first time as an Olympic sport. James Naismith was special guest and he was the one who awarded the medals to the winning team of USA. Unfortunately, the tournament was played outdoor on muddy tennis courts but nevertheless it was decent start of one remarkable game that soon after earned its place among all the major modern sports and always in the top 5 list in all countries worldwide. The take off started just after the second war and popularity gaining fast among American colleges, foundation of NBA and with FIBA organisation of world, continental and regional championships.

Viktor and KK 'Naisus'

Here in Serbia, basketball is definitely sport number one. At least in previous years and decades. Others sports are simply either not popular or not successful enough to attract young boys and girls on a grander scale. I believe that only in our town which is not that big compared to worldwide cities and bigger communities there are at least four basketball clubs with focus on children and their first steps in the game. Viktor joined KK 'Naisus' not so long ago when he was still not in shape to even hit the hoop with a ball and now after only 18 months, the improvement is more than obvious. He is even very good defense player and regularly participates gatherings and competitions for his age group. I still remember one of their games that ended with score 2:0, when all the children were still in stage of understanding the game and all the rules, but that one score is made by Viktor and he did it in Steph Curry fashion - very fast in turn and from the long distance. The ball bounced from the back rim and heavily disturbed the net by passing through. It was one of those lucky shots when you are bare beginner I knew, but still for couple of prolonged seconds I was unable to close my mouth with odd disbelief look all over my face.

Serbian national team and basketball clubs are pretty good and every year there are opportunities to watch quality games in Euroleague championship, that year after year becomes one respectable competition and many teams are playing the ball on the level of many great NBA teams. Serbian top players are scattered all over the Euroleague teams, with some of them playing in NBA as well, but the most of the best Serbian players are currently in KK "Crvena Zvezda" (BC "Red Star", Belgrade) and when they are in high mood and shape they can beat all other teams especially in their own arena. National team is even better and within the last world championship and last summer Olympic games, they played in finals against the USA (or NBA selection if you will). They lost both games and won silver medals but to be honest, if NBA brought three teams to the competition they would most likely take all three medals. Currently and in previous couple of years American basketball players are simply the greatest. But they are not unbeatable - one game against Serbia in the group at the last Olympic tournament was pretty close and Serbian players had the last ball to even the score. Sometimes, overconfidence is a weakness that can sink you down pretty easily.

USA vs Serbia first game, Rio 2016**

Well, we'll see what next competitions will offer, and I hope to see next time the top USA players in the worldwide tournaments, including Stephen Curry and LeBron James. I am sure that would give the game additional level in the upcoming years. Also, it should not be bad idea to have some worldwide playoffs, perhaps to have a final eight tournament between four top teams from NBA and four from Euroleague. That would be something exceptional and more likely equalize the game levels on both sides of Atlantic. Also the rules are slightly different and it is only fair to equalize that too. Only the playing time of the game in NBA, which is 8 minutes longer is probably giving their players an unfair start. Simply put, just because of those 8 minutes, they are probably better physically shaped then all the others.

Childhood's End, Babylon's Ashes & Rogue One

"It is unwise from some interstellar species to give us technology to leave the Earth - chances that we would use it for star wars are bigger than we would go the next level and use it for peaceful exploration of solar system and beyond." - What is Intelligent Life?

As promised in my last post story about one grim political view of the last forgettable year, please behold another glimpse to the humanity from another angle. Let's move today from raw reality to the reality-inspired fiction and make a little peek into three science-fiction masterpieces. Two of them, product of current almost expired year, that if you ask me, are making this forgettable year, well, little less forgettable. But before Daniel Abraham's and Ty Franck's "Babylon's Ashes", sixth book of The Expanse and "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", eighth Star Wars' episode, I think this is a perfect moment for me to start the review with another classic, in the most genuine meaning of the word - Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" that also deals with the same topic - humanity, all his weakness and soundness and the potential future based on our current conditions. And about the war that is, as it seems, inwrought in our core to the bone. So deep, that we still can't imagine a life or our own evolution without it.

Childhood's End

In "Childhood's End", Arthur C. Clarke answered the question of what would happen if everybody on Earth disarmed and dismantled all their weaponry. In his novel, alien race forced people to do just that and the result of hypothetical 21st century without militaries and conflict and with just one world-state is described with these words: "The abolition of armed forces had at once almost doubled the world’s effective wealth, and increased production had done the rest. As a result, it was difficult to compare the standard of living of twenty-first-century man with that of any of his predecessors. Everything was so cheap that the necessities of life were free, provided as a public service by the community, as roads, water, street lighting, and drainage had once been".

But we are humans and evolutionary speaking only half a step ahead of the most advanced living creature on Earth in the realm of entire animal world. Therefore, for many years or decades and maybe even centuries in the future, world without armies, animosities and all kinds of hatred will only stay in fantasy stories like this one. On the other end, this is what I admire the most about Arthur C. Clarke. In most of his novels and stories, if not them all, this pacifist note is always present, including two other of his masterpieces "Rendezvous with Rama" and "Space Odyssey" series. Maybe this fact and the one that there are no real heroes in his imagination from the ordinary 'Hollywood' point of view, is what his books will always be considered as classics. "Childhood's End" is no different and the portrayed possible human evolution with total ascension of human collective mind is something that will give you lots to think about days after last page in the book is read. There is also a TV miniseries created last year based on the novel but I warmly recommend a book. They are not comparable after all, even though the script is not too much diverted from the original.

Babylon's Ashes of The Expanse

However, to make sure this post is true sequel to the previous one with reflection of this year political affairs or hatred if you will, let's get back to the old good war. The cliche, that if told or filmed right is guaranteed to bring you back success, glory and not the least, money. Please don't get me wrong here, I do like this kind of stories with lots of battles, heroes, villains, happy ends and well known fight between good and evil. After all, worldwide authors are not the ones who created the mess - they are only inspired with current political, religious and other types of conflicts in nowadays Earth and her history. This is the exact truth with "The Expanse", the novel series and last two books in sequel. What we had in first four was largely driven by science fiction and existence of alien protomolecule and the gates system. Last two are all about war and expanding conflict between people living on different planets, moons, stations and asteroids. Even though, concluding the conflict in the end of the "Babylon's Ashes" is anticipated from the beginning and with good guys winning as expected, the story is written pretty well and one year of waiting for conclusion, for me was worthwhile and with reading ended with great dose of entertainment. However, while "Childhood's End" is leaving you with many thoughts with its imaginative ending, "Babylon's Ashes" left only with bitter impression that humanity in its core didn't changed in the span of 200 years and all the hatred survived with only different background. All the racial, class, religious and all kind of known animosities survived just the same and spread across Solar system creating another series of wars, only this time with railguns.

On the other end, and also contrary to "Childhood's End", SyFy TV show of "The Expanse" is really extraordinary and exceptional. It is advertized as the best science fiction show after Battlestar Galactica and I agree fully. First season was simply great and visual effects are only adding another value to the equally exceptional novels. When I first wrote about "The Expanse" in posts Martian vs Expanse and Science of Life in Solar System, I expresed all the hope that all the characters, places, events and scientific tools as well as gravity and its changes, would be portrayed in the series just as it was in the books and after first season I can only confirm that they didn't divert at all and with all the filming technologies and effects managed to provide the same experience as the one from the reading. On some occasions even better, as one space opera, or franchise, is perhaps more suitable for the screen than for just the words. I do recommend both especially because the books are way ahead from the TV show keeping in mind that filming only started last year.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

And finally, at the end, the series that doesn't even hide the word "wars", even from its title. Sadly, since first three movies was filmed long ago in the era of the old FX 'analogue' special effects, "the war" in the galaxy far, far away didn't really look too great. Don't get me wrong again now, it was awesome for the time being, but indeed warfare was not the prime theme in the first movies, perhaps with little exception in "The Empire Strikes Back". But even that one only a little. Next three movies came later to fill the gap but, even with decent effects and storyline, with me they left only a feeling for "Star Wars" being more a fairytale for children than one serious franchise. Somebody says Jar Jar Binks? The effect was little improved with last year "The Force Awakens" but I have to admit that I had more hopes in that one. It was good alright, but still the feeling was not really perfect. Maybe over the years we all ended with too much high expectation?

Forgettable Year

Some years are more memorable than others and there's no doubt that this is one of those subjective feelings if we are looking to the past solar cycle from individual point of view. Some are forgettable and disappointing by using the same perspective. If I had to judge about 2016, I would say its one of those forgettable ones. Perhaps not really because of what happened badly or poorly during past twelve months but rather of what didn't happen again. Perhaps it was me, who once again made a mistake and had higher expectation from the humanity and ended in sort of letdown once more.

Obama & Medvedev at Ray's Hell Burger in 2010

Actually if we want to get into disappointment fast, it's easy, the only thing we need to do is to have a glimpse or two to the worldwide politics and worldwide affairs. But it wasn't always like that. Every now and again we got ourselves into illusion that things can be perfect, or better to say the least. Ever since Barack Obama was elected back in 2008 I had that feeling of rising optimism. He was, well different, compared to other US presidents and all others in EU and the world. Promising even. I really thought things will start to change for the better - and they indeed started to change in the beginning. If you look at this image of him and Dmitry Medvedev sharing the burger in New York back in 2010, you had to admit that old ways had started to change for good. But that didn't happen. The rising star in face of Obama's presidency and promising changes in Russian government faded out many steps backwards soon after. Why? I don't have a clue, but this year, it culminated into another election in US with people electing a man who doesn't recognise that even a global warming is a real thing. In Russia, Medvedev and Putin are exchanging places in each election and with another Putin's turn, Russia suddenly decided to act as a worldwide military player outside their borders, just like USA are always doing, despite all my hopes that Obama was going to change that as well. Well, that didn't happen and instead of recurring 'burger' meetings in NY and Moscow we are now having rising heavily armed fractions of various religious or who-knows-what-their-agendas-are based armies in Middle East. In 2016 it culminated into endless migrant columns toward EU countries and several terrorist attacks in France, Germany, Belgium... Not to mention another wave of cold war activities with polite political threats and rising military provocations and exercises on NATO-Russian borders that on some occasions put a little fear into my guts after listening the news.

If we transfer worldwide macro politics into micro ones and, for example, start reading news with political statements of Serbian and Croatian politicians these days, I sometimes have a feeling that outside is raging a real war on the streets. Please don't ask me to translate some Serbo-Croatian political daily provocations. It's disgusting. And if we go even further, to the people level and start reading what they are saying on social media or live it goes even worse. Let me give you just one example - last summer I was returning from Denmark to Serbia and taking direct flight from Malmö to Niš and had to take a shuttle from Copenhagen to the airport. When we crossed the bridge, the bus was halted for inspection by heavily armed policemen, contrary to my couple of crossings the same path without any interruptions during last decade and at the airport's passport control, policeman hinted something like Swedes are way better than Danes. At the time I was convinced that he was talking about football, but now, looking it from this perspective I am not so sure. Month or two later another border event happened to us, this time on Serbian-Macedonian crossing - Macedonian custom officer took our passports and singled out our car for no reason with words "Go park there for 30 minutes" following with "I hate all Serbs". I couldn't believe my ears - nothing like that ever happened to us in our vacation travel history. He sweetened his talk later but the sore expression stayed in my guts for days. And during our extended stay aside no one inspected our car or luggage at all. It was pure bullying. He did the same to others and for some he even pointed his flashlight directly into people's eyes..

Migrant crisis at Serbo-Croatian border

I don't know if you are sharing my conclusion but for me it's obvious - simple people simply and literally digest the news and following what their leaders are saying and doing. They will always take their own leader side. At least majority of them. No matter what. I think in MIB, agent K or J said something like this "the person is smart, people are dumb" and in this case it looks like ultimate truth. And if we assume that worldwide politicians are just staging and acting and doing their daily statements and provocations just for daily politics and for their own political benefits, I am afraid that people overall will not understand that. They will start to hate and act for real. And it starts with angry border policemen and custom officers. I just hope this year is only forgettable and not start of something ugly in following ones.

Well, although this year with my glimpse to it was sort of forgettable, it doesn't mean it was disaster. Far from it. While we cannot escape political absurdity in our news feed and broadcasts, we still have our own corner of the world called family. It's little place where everything is more or less positive and optimistic. Yes, there are ups and downs and this year was no exception like any other but overall, what we remember was all those bright moments that one day we can remember with, for example these words: "Yes that happened way back in 2016, it was great time". I guess all of us tend to forget bad things and political stupidity if they don't escalate into nightmares. I would really like to have some globally optimistic moments to share on this post, like the one in introducing image of Obama and Medvedev, but as it seems nothing like that happened in 2016. Let's see if there's gonna be some wisdom in 2017. So, while I have nothing truly positive and optimistic outside our family to share from this ending year, allow me to once again embed what was our own best thing that happened this summer. If you were reading my blog before you would probably guess that I was most enthusiastic about our "Game of Life" short movie, Viktor and I made this year. Indeed I have couple of more memories to compete for "a best moments of one forgettable year", but in the end, this project of ours gave us more than two months of entertainment without nothing negative or spoiled about it.

Scenes from the "Game of Life" short film

At the end, I guess, this time I am not going to conclude anything for this post. I will leave that to you. Hopefully, in your corner of the world, the feeling is flooded with more light than in here. Instead, I will only say Happy New Year with all my wishes that new one will be less forgettable and more ... well not. This surely will not be my last post for this year - I have plans to write a book review after I finish reading "Babylon's Ashes", the last novel in "The Expanse" series, but I am afraid it will be about possible future of humanity if it spreads throughout Solar system with all of our animosities and hatred that made this year so forgettable.

Cyberstorm vs Rogue Black Holes

Sometimes I think we are just like ants. Too small and with lifespan too short to make a valuable difference. Our civilization I mean. After reading another book or watching another movie or documentary it's difficult not to notice that there are far too many 'apocalyptic scenarios' capable to put 'the end' sign in the thin air. Far too many boots to step on our little fragile anthill. This november thanks to Matthew Mather, one of the definitely greatest stars of the Earth's science fiction realm, I am 'proud' to announce two more ways of how to kill the Earth. Two more latest addition to this blog Post-Apocalyptic thread.

Black hole and Sun direct collision with Earth close by

I know you are now wondering about this above image and already expressed couple of frowns and disbelief looks, but before diving into rogue black holes, let's first glimpse the first scenario from the title. If nothing else, then just to ease things a little bit and to meet one apocalyptic way of destruction that is still not something we should fear too much today. While Matt's novel "Cyberstorm" is still very frightening from certain point of view, the very technological background that was causing it is still not believable to the point of becoming apocalyptic threat, capable of triggering something big and worldwide. In the past I already wrote a little about Internet of Things in post Daemon of WarGames, speculating about the near future possibility that everything might go online, including your chandelier or your water valve in your bathtub. While, even today, the most important communal systems, like power plants or water supplies are pretty much automatized, they are far away from not having back doors or manual overrides. I am sure that there is no city on Earth that has fully and only internet-controllable communal system and they are most certainly all manufactured in a way to easily go back with manual functionality in case of any disasters, human made or inevitable. Same goes for all those military facilities with nuclear or heavy-duty armory - I think the probability of launching a nuclear missile or any other for that matter just by hacking some computerized network is very much zero and within all the armies worldwide.

Nevertheless, "Cyberstorm" is one of the kind novel and I enjoyed it very much. All the gadgets and technology used are from today and yet, it perfectly portrays that even the small(ish) cyber attack(s) triggered against couple of communication dataflows, in addition to real nature hazards, can cause a devastated miniature apocalypse. It also demonstrates how deeply we are dependable on digital communications in this stage of our civilization and how easily our own animosities can deceive us unbelievably. That's all I will say. I truly hope the upcoming movie will be able to spread the same message the book does.

Miniature apocalypse of the island of Manhattan in Cyberstorm

However, Matthew's latest novel trilogy is what inspired me for this post and this weekend activity. His Nomad series is perhaps one of those science fiction works that already scored one prediction right. "Nomad" is actually a binary system containing two primordial black holes gravitational bonded to each other, that was created at the beginning of the universe as we know it in the process of hyperinflation just after the Big bang. Combined they have mass of around 40 Solar masses entering Solar system with speed of about 8000 km per second*. The path, velocity and mass of the Nomad are inevitably changing the shape of Solar system, the orbits of planets and most importantly triggering violent apocalyptic events on all planets affected by encounter. As with policy not to spoil the content of the books all I can say is that the plot is strictly following the science of the encounter and for me that is the best part of the story.

The prediction I mentioned was with author using LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) data in the book to detect upcoming Nomad, that in real life, just a year after the Nomad was published, detected gravitational waves, from two ~30 solar mass black holes merging about 1.3 billion light-years from Earth. That's amazing, along with super intense and great story. I am definitely looking forward for the third book in series that is around the corner.

Not many novels and movies was that inspirational and beyond entertainment like Matthew's "Nomad". For me this is because of this blog and one of its thread where I am sorting out all the posts with apocalypse and doomsdays. But not just that - in the novel, the main character was using a piece of simulation software that actually exists and available for download. It's called "Universe Sandbox" which I recommend highly along with Matt's books. This amazing application took away from me entire last weekend providing endless entertainment and fun. Well, if by "entertainment and fun" can be called numerous simulations I played with in order to see how Solar system reacts and often being destroyed by immediate threats and rogue objects bulleting right into it's inner ring.

It was surely educational, to say the least, to monitor what happens with planets colliding with other planets, asteroids and comets but simulating 'Nomad like' intruders gave me couple of stomachaches with brutal awareness of how fragile our neighborhood actually is. For example, in above video I created three different trajectories, for a small black hole with mass of exactly one Solar mass, and projecting one through the Solar system (crossing the ecliptic plane in between Mars and Jupiter orbits), second passing just above the Solar system directly above the Sun and third one on collision course with our mother star with Earth with close encounter with upcoming black hole. "Luckily", the Earth staid in first two cases in the habitable zones and in stable orbit around the Sun, but third scenario ejected the Earth out of the Solar system that eventually became a binary system of the Sun and black hole. The introduction image above is a snapshot of one of such simulations.

Nomad - novel series by Matthew Mather***

Well, even though Nomad was way massive than the black holes in my simulations, it came with super speed and its trajectory and position of the Earth at the closest encounter produced more or less happy ending for the book's plot, but I can't get rid of the feeling that this kind of fictitious apocalyptic scenarios are not far from being the real danger. In the past there were five of mass extinctions I already wrote about in post The Sixth Great Dying and while it is difficult to understand what really caused them in the first place, it is not far from logic that at least one (if not all) was triggered by some large object transpassing Earth orbit or entire inner system of rocky planets.

Fringe Dream of Virtual Particles

Last night I had a vividly strange science fiction dream. Like with most of my dreams, and dreams in general I guess, it was hard to recall all the details in the morning and this one was no exception, but in the nutshell the scene started with me in some science lab, describing the idea of how to effectively make a tiny hole in the universe. It was pretty simple - I was using four Tesla coils, perfectly aligned in the room at the edges of a large square with a side of around couple of meters and with a small, battery sized, two metal plates positioned in its center of the square. At the precise moment, Tesla coils fires four filaments of thunder, reaching the center point exactly between two metal plates in the same time, creating a process that in the end bring into being a tiny breach in the universe that I was describing in the dream as a brane between dimensions and within the void between multiverses. Anyway, in the process, one plate goes from metallic through dark and eventually invisible while the other started immediately to glow and emit light and other sorts of radiation.

I was explaining in my dream that the breach positioned one plate just outside of our universe while the other staid here. Most of the pairs of virtual particles that was popping between two plates all the time out of vacuum are torn apart by the invisible plate making them real particles from that point and attracted one toward itself, while the second particle is always attracted by the other plate creating radiation and the glow in the process. Very similar to the Hawking radiation emitting from the event horizon of the black hole. Even though those two plates were positioned very near to each other, after the Tesla coils did the job by breaching the universe, they staid in different realms from that point, keeping relatively close distance between them and finding new equilibrium even when coils were shut down.

The plates were then taken out of the square center, wrapped in the bigger case and used as a battery that never drains. Or to be precise not until the invisible plate in the system that is always outside of our universe depletes itself by doing its job of separating the particles, but it was explained in the dream to be extremely slow process that takes centuries, even if the battery is used to generate lots of power, like empowering entire city blocks.

I know, having a geeky or nerdy dreams can be weird for most people, but it's not that we can choose what to dream, can't we.. It is surely product of my daydreams, so to speak, and definitely outcome from my daily interests in astrophysics by watching various documentaries and reading articles online. The novel-like storyline was definitely the consequence of all of my science fiction fascination in both movies and books I am enjoying from time to time as well. In this very case the background of the entire story from the last night and today post is all about the most intriguing feature of the universe. The one that might change everything one day. Virtual particles. They are one of those scientific theories that has extraordinary potential for the future. If we find a way to capture and control them. Hopefully not by poking our universe with bolts of lightning. :-)

Autumn in My Neighborhood

I do have regrets. Everybody does. One is that I was born before the Internet and possibility to be worldwide and online when I was young. To be able to expand my own neighborhood outside the front yard fence. Well, on second thought, that is not entirely true - sometimes I feel the opposite and there is no real regret. Childhood without networking and computers was not that bad at all. As it seems, the word 'outdoor' for me and my son today has almost completely different meaning. Without the almighty Internet, and it is not too hard to imagine - boredom in my time was easily experienced indoors and to break it fully you would have to go outside. It was as simple as that.

But without this habit of mine, blogging to be exact, I think I lost many things from my childhood as well. Tangible things. Like all of my еssay exams from the school. I lost all of them. It's not that they were that good or something. Just, if I had Internet back then I would most likely wrote some of them down in the online form and kept them for the record. I didn't score the highest grades too often in those exams, simply because I always wanted to do it differently and that often meant I didn't have all the elements teacher demanded for one short written story. They needed to have proper beginning, the middle elaboration and the conclusion and all of that with using lots of positive words and adjectives with proper usage of the commas and all the grammar.

Rudjer, Nikola, Mihajlo and Milutin

First names. They are of the most importance. Not the middle ones. Not even the last ones, even though with some people family name comes with higher significance, especially if they you are part of some important heritage or well-known royalty. Even so, the first names comes, ... well, first. And not by accident. This is how you are remembered for your entire life. This is the word you turn to when you hear somebody is calling around the corner. This is you. With me is the same and while ago I decided to start a thread with first names in titles. First names that are telling connected tales, historically or with any other linked stories. So far there are two in the row: Jules, Isaac, Arthur and Carl and Giordano, Isaac, Albert and Stephen. Behind those names are, according to me, people who gave the biggest push in the worldwide literature of science fiction and science itself. These are people who fit my own interests and fascination and they will be remembered for eternity for their work and achievements.

Lords of Lightning - Tesla coils in action*

Today I like to present on the blog and this very thread new set of first names and while we are still in the realm of science and engineering, with today's post I am narrowing down the list to the geographically and anthropologically small portion of the world with similar national lineage or genealogy if you will. The very one where my own belongs as well. Surely, I am not emphasizing nationality in this post - this is not what's important, brilliant people comes from all corners of the world, but even so, history tends to localize the biographies and sometimes is easier to remember people nativity by their heritage than with anything else. Countries, borders and states varies over time and during the centuries centers of scientific realms belonged to different areas and almost by definition they were never near to your place of birth, so to speak. This was especially true with Nikola, Mihajlo and Milutin who even though born in Serbian communities of historically different states or in case of Rudjer who was born in one truly multinational city-state, they all had to move early in their lives and contribute to the scientific world within academic and financial centers of their time. So let's meet them all in chronological order. And you will learn who is my favorite.

First in line(age) is Rudjer Bošković. He was born in early 18th century in Dubrovnik, the capital city of the time well known and wealthy republic of Ragusa, one of those small maritime (city-wide) republics from the Middle Age that flourished in 15th and 16th centuries along with similar Italian republics of Venice, Genoa, Pisa and couple of others. The city was mixture of many residents of different nations with officially spoken Latin language in the very beginning among majority of people. That changed over time with domination of Dalmatian (Romance language with Illyrinan dialect in origin), Italian (Venetian and other Romance languages from across the Adriatic) and mostly Croatian (of several Slavic languages spoken within city walls with the same historical origin).

Little Chef 4

"Gently, he took her by the shoulders and turned her around, facing her back into the house. - Let's go have dinner. Vincent said he made us that Serbian cevapcici." - Eureka, TV Show.

Finally and after almost five years from my first glimpse into the most famous Serbian dish, our cooking thread matured enough to step into the adventure of making the royalty. The well known, the most popular and the most amazing of all BBQs in these parts of the world. And by that I mean many of Balkan countries, If you are resident here you probably know what I am talking about. If not and you are just a traveler visiting Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and/or other neighboring countries and stumble to some restaurant with a grill and hesitated what to order just say "ćevapćići' (pronounced 'checapchichi') and you will experience one of a kind and one extraordinary dish.

The quote from the beginning was from the Sci-Fi TV Shows "Eureka" that aired 2006-2012 and the central gathering in many episodes was in the town's great diner called "Café Diem" and its chef Vincent once selected "Serbian cevapcici" as a daily special. He made it from lamb patty, paprika and garlic and literally described it with "a little hunk of Balkan heaven". However, and in the nutshell, for a dish so widely prepared there is not just one recipe out there. Instead different people and restaurants use their own (secret) ingredients and little sausages can be very different from one place to another. Yesterday we were in the mood for a BBQ and this is the resulting new video in our "Little Chef" series.

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