Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back from AFO 2011

Some comments about the contest and the movies have been added

Hi! Sorry for the week of absence. I am back from AFO 2011, International Festival of Science Documentary Films, in the historical Moravian city of Olomouc - where I was a Czech jury member. They kindly picked me "because they didn't understand a word in my 2009 stringy lecture after 'The Elegant Universe' but they liked it".

It's been a great experience and I've met lots of fascinating and fun people and participated in many social interactions.

I only had my iPod Touch with me, avoided computers, and suffered from a limited Wi-Fi access. So you may imagine that the amount of unsolved tasks on the Internet that are waiting for me right now is immense. ;-)

In the context of the festival, I have watched several dozens of Czech as well as international documentaries and I actually plan to write something about them - and about various stories - although it is impossible to cover the gigabytes of impressions and data that are flowing through my skull. You really can't expect this blog to be a mirror of my life, especially not in the weeks when my life is dominated by offline processes. ;-)

This blog entry is likely to be updated but right now I am overloaded, sorry.

Some non-AFO news

I am aware that the XENON100 experiment has claimed that dark matter can't be detected even with 5 times higher sensitivity than what was previously available.

Also, D0 seems to shockingly contain a similar 150-GeV bump (see page 108) like CDF although they haven't published a separate analysis of it.

Israel approved its CERN membership today, so the process of entry is probably completed now!

A new skeptical book about the climate, "Climate Coup" edited by Patrick Michaels, has been released: buy via

Coral reefs, one of the main emotional symbols of the climate catastrophicism, defied predictions of a 40% drop and stayed pretty much constant in the last decade. And I don't even have to tell you what happened with the prediction of 50 million climate refugees by 2010.

On Monday, Wal-Mart will announce it's going "back to basics" which means that it will eliminate the focus on biofood, green products, Priuses, and similar stuff. People often ask how the companies could have made more profit with all this hot air. The answer is that they were not making profit: Wal-Mart was losing for years. It just hasn't paid any attention to this fact.

Back to the film festival: jury, winners

There were three juries: about 6 local students in a student jury, about 5 international film professionals in the international jury, and 4 Czech people in our Czech jury. In the latter group, your humble correspondent was joined by Mr Martin Uhlíř, a journalist from Respekt, a serious social magazine; by Prof Miloň Potměšil, a local expert in special pedagogics who has also spent some time in the Greater Boston; and Dr Alice Červinková, a top Czech feminist. I kid you not. ;-)

Of course, we didn't really fight. However, I think that the festival was ultimately totally un-ideological - especially when it comes to global warming (which was largely absent) as well as feminism (which didn't have any monopoly to interpret various social gender-related issues). That was very refreshing.

The (numerous) viewers as well as our Czech jury chose "Save Edwards", about a family with a kid who suffers from the Edwards Syndrome (they rejected abortion despite general expectations that it's the only possible answer to the genetic test), to be the winner of the Czech contest.

The student jury chose its winner, "Chernobyl, a natural history?", a French 90-minute document about the ability of Nature to adapt to seemingly unfavorable conditions (especially wild life in Chernobyl). It was also the international document that attracted the highest number of viewers - the very big hall was overflooding, the demand exceeded the supply of chairs by a factor of two or so (the Fukushima echoes played a role again).

Note that this Czech students' winner essentially carries a pro-industrial message. That deeply contrasts with the international jury's choice: "Plug and Pray". In that document, an old guy (Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT) who has worked in IT for decades (and invented "ELIZA" in 1966) reveals how he hates it and that artificial intelligence and robotics bring nothing to the mankind, a point that Ray Kurzweil, the other main protagonist, doesn't really disprove. The difference in "political correctness" between the Czechs and non-Czechs is striking even though one could say that 1/2 of our jury was politically correct, too. ;-)

The non-statutory prize of the Universe magazine - which was delivered by me because the editor was giving a lecture about photography and journalism in Prague - was given to "My Great Grandfather Chingis Khan" about the genetic composition of the Czech nation and the way how different sorts of bloods were combining and are combining. The editor who chose this winner appreciated that it fights against racism. A similar non-statutory prize of the History and the Present magazine was given to "I haven't harmed anyone" about the collaborators with the communist secret agency.

I was happy to meet Ms Markéta Baňková who was reading from her "Magpie in the Land of Entropy"; I have acted as a sort of science adviser for her book of physics fables, an unexpected bestseller that just unsurprisingly won the Magnesia Litera contest for the best Czech books. Congratulations to her!

There were 13 other Czech competing documents but I will probably not translate my notes about all the contestants - it would be a kilobyte for each. And I liked lots of internation documents - about Lise Meitner; history of chemistry; movies and discussions about asexuality; Laughology - everything about the laughter (it's much older than humor; children don't have to learn it; there were pandemics of laughter in Africa; Inuits needed for survival; the most contagious laughter in the world is the winner because it sounds piggy); about suicides; about disappearing authentic playing by the children (and the consequences) whose time is increasingly masterminded by the parents, schools, and institutions and who are being monitored by GPS.

Next year, they will try to attract Brian Cox to Olomouc, among many other plans.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing generic film festival "Finále" in my hometown of Pilsen and I have nothing to do with it. ;-)

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