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Monday, August 11, 2008

Is it or Isn't It?

This is one of my favorite visuals. Look at the squares marked A and B. Could I convince you that square A is not darker than square B? Care to place a wager? What if I offered you $20 if I'm wrong, and you give me only $1 if I'm right? How confident are you now? Well, kid... do ya feel lucky? As strange as it may seem, those two squares are exactly the same shade of gray! Your mind is playing tricks on you. It's impossible, right? Nothing so obvious could be that much of an illusion... In truth, when your eyes see what they perceive to be a shadow, they automatically overcompensate. And the squares around square B are much darker, making square B seem lighter than it really is.

The moral of the story: appearances can be deceiving. (If you're still doubting, copy the image and then open it in a photo editor and use the eyedropper tool to compare the two areas)

I always enjoy watching the Olympics, because there are fascinating stories and events at every turn. When you get the world's 10,000 best athletes together in one setting, interesting things are bound to happen.

The men's 400m freestyle relay on Sunday was electrifying. This is where short highlight reels fail. To get the true feel for the event, it must be watched in its entirety. It has to build up, like a fine drama. The 30-second snippets you get on the news are like reading the Cliff's Notes to a classic novel instead of reading the novel itself. There just is no substitute. If you recorded it but haven't watched it yet, it's worth going back and finding it. It was at the end of Sunday's regular primetime broadcast, so it would have concluded around 11 pm.

A mystique of the Olympics is that the layperson has no earthly idea what the scoring systems are about. The judges behind the curtain of Oz could be rigging everything, and we'd have no way of knowing. A gymnast seemingly nails their routine, but they sneezed in the middle of it, which gets them a three-point deduction. Meanwhile, a gymnast with a difficult routine knocks over the whole apparatus, and the judges turn their heads and take off just a tenth of a point.

The diving competitions have some intriguing scoring rules. Everything falls within the 4 and 6 point range. All you have to do to get at least a 4 is fall in the water. You could trip off the diving board and land on your face, and that would be worth some points. And yet ironically, on any dive, if you touch the water, it's an automatic ½-pt. deduction. I've never figured that part out.

I wonder about the silver medalists at the Olympics. A lot of them seem disappointed in being only the 2nd best in the world. That's still not too shabby when you think about it. Having only one person on the planet with a better time should be reason for celebration. But instead, they've set themselves up only for being elated at coming in first, or being distraught at getting a lesser medal. To those of us who would be in awe just to be at the Olympics, we're not going to have much sympathy for those who feel bad that they didn't become a household name and score all those endorsements. They should simply enjoy what they did accomplish even if it might not have quite been their goal, and lose graciously. While it's not fun to lose, you can still be philosophical about it.

My favorite is track and field, particularly the sprinting events. The amount of training and how good of shape one must be in to compete at that level is staggering. Within the physical realm, this is the pinnacle of individual human achievement, and it's a sight to behold. Viva la Olympico...

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