The Most Radioactive Places On Earth

Need some places to put on your anti-bucket list? Derek from Veritasium heads deep into some of the most radioactive locations on the planet. As a side note: Did you know some of the potassium in bananas is naturally radioactive? I didn’t.

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The Winged Not-Quite Victory

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about art and life. Specifically, what would happen if you’re favorite work of art suddenly came to life. In my case, it would be…well, messy. Very messy. The Winged Victory of Samothrace stands majestically at the top of the Daru staircase at The Louvre. I saw it in person in 2007, and the pictures don’t come close to capturing its awesomeness. But if that ancient marvel suddenly sprung to life? It would probably topple down that huge flight of stairs, crushing dozens of tourists along the way. Since it lacks arms and a head, it probably wouldn’t be able to regain its balance or bearings. Unless it has some weird form of echolocation buried deep within its stony chest. Also, not having a head might be a good thing, because it would spare onlookers from the screams that would come from the suddenly self-aware monstrosity. How would it breathe? Does living stone even need oxygen? Assuming it doesn’t, it still wouldn’t be able to move very well. The sculpture is five and half meters tall; those wings look amazing, but there’s no way they’d be capable of flight. How durable is parian marble, anyway? They might just break off. In the end, the sculpture would end up like a wild animal tapped inside a room: feebly crashing into walls and objects in a frantic attempt to escape. I can just imagine an aged museum curator, armed with a hammer and a chisel, solemnly approaching and putting the thing out of its misery. It’d be like Old Yeller, but with classic art, French police, and tourists with camera phones.

Wow, that got grim fast.

Okay, let’s assume that the sculpture can actually function like a living creature and interact with people. The Winged Victory was designed to honor both the gods and a sea battle. The base represents a ship’s prow, giving the image of a goddess coming down to a victorious fleet. Just look at that pose: she’s graceful, even when the ocean breeze is making her robes ripple. The sculpture is also called Nike of Samothrace, which is probably the more accurate title; Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, strength, and speed. No wonder the shoe brand was named after her. She flew around battlefields and rewarded the victors with glory and fame. So if she were revived in modern times, she’d make a beeline for the nearest armed conflict. She’d probably have to wait a while, though; there are nearly as many wars anymore, and the relative few still going have no clear victors. Maybe she’ll settle for the World Series instead.

All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt is all about perfection. It’s worth noting that perfection is inherently impossible. Perceptions are subjective; “perfection” could mean “fair to middling” or even “abysmal” for someone else. It’s a matter of standards, realism, and common sense; if you have so much riding on a single thing or moment, you’ll probably be disappointed. If your expectations are too low, it’s easy to miss the real value of an experience. It’s really rare for something to turn out exactly as you’ve hoped. And while I can’t say that I’ve seen perfection, I’ve come pretty close a few times.

My visit to Paris was one of the most enthralling and awkward trips of my life. It was early March, and winter still held France in an icy, iron grip. It never went above 25 degrees the entire week I was there. It was the coldest temperature I’d ever been in; imagine a kid raised in California suddenly having to stumble around in five layers of clothing. Now imagine that same kid standing in line for the Eiffel Tower elevator for an hour and a half, trembling against the wind chill and the ice forming on his nose and cheek. Yes, the view was definitely worth the wait, but my face literally ached when I showered later. The Eiffel Tower is a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge here; they’re both amazing marvels of engineering and symbolism, and they’re huge tourist magnets. The Arc de Triomphe was slightly more enjoyable, only because there were less crowds and I’m a history geek. Its massive scale and unbelievably intricate designs almost made me forget that it stood in the middle of a gargantuan, noisy roundabout.

I could say that wandering around the city was perfect. I love exploring, so I was drooling at all the stuff to see and do. Stumbling across Les Invalides about an hour after it closed, settling for pictures of its front instead. Checking out Musée d’Orsay, specifically Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone and Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. And managing to talk the guards into letting me view a special Impressionist exhibition, for that matter. Wandering down and crossing the Seine, coming across Notre Dame without even realizing it. Walking down the seemingly endless line of cafes and restaurants as evening fell, a boisterous maître d’ trying to coax people inside with promises of amazing French cuisine. Retreating into a quiet Greek place and wolfing down my first gyro. Catching the last train back out to Marne-la-Vallée, and desperately trying to keep myself warm while waiting for a hotel shuttle.

Speaking of which, Le Métropolitain deserves a special mention. Before that, the only trains I’d ever ridden were BART, New York City Subway, and the Washington Metro. Paris’s subway system trounces them so much (the horrible, wretched stench at Les Halles notwithstanding), it’s not even funny. It’s not because of its size, but the layout. On a map it looks like a gigantic multicolored spiderweb, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate once you’ve gotten the hang of it. I got lost on it for a few hours, mainly because I didn’t speak a word of French. It took some trial and error, but I eventually got it down. At one point a beautiful young woman approached me:

Her: Bonjour.

Me: (Glancing up in surprise) Huh?

Her: Savez-vous comment atteindre cette station?

Me: (Looking around awkwardly) …Uh, no parle vous français.

Her: …Oh. (Moves away)

Me: (Mentally) Damn it. WHY? Why didn’t you study French before coming here?

Any missteps were promptly forgotten once I visited The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. If you’re a history and art geek, you already know how awesome they are. The former is the museum; 35,000+ items spanning across the whole of human history. The place looks huge on just the street level, but it’s much, much bigger once you enter that little pyramid and go underground. You’d need at least a month to see everything. If I could, I’d totally live there. I distinctly remember making a beeline for the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ancient Greece. I was positively giddy at seeing The Coronation of Napoleon, The Raft of the Medusa, and Liberty Leading the People, and so many more. It’s very different from reading about them in history books or on a computer screen; you’re confronted with their sheer size and scope. Some of them are literally bigger than the rooms in my house. The amount of effort and skill required for those works must have been mind-boggling.

That’s also true for Versailles. If you want to see “living like royalty” taken to its logical (and historical) extreme, the palace is probably the best example. It doesn’t look like much when you’re approaching it from the front; its sloped entryway looks bland and aged. But that changes really quickly once you step foot inside. I spent hours gaping at The Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the ornate drawing rooms, the Battles Gallery, the gardens that seem to stretch out into infinity, that ridiculously detailed bust of Louis XIV…it just went on and on and ON. Of course, it was also a reminder of why living so lavishly isn’t such a good idea; the amount of upkeep required for a place like this must have been staggering. This palace had so many fountains that it created water shortage issues. Such extravagant living was just one of the many factors leading up to the French Revolution. It may have been completely wasteful and unsustainable, but the king lived in style.

Looking back, the only thing that kept my trip to Paris from being perfect was the timing. I went about a decade too early; there were no digital cameras back then. I forget how many rolls of Kodak film I went through, but my pockets were stuffed with them. There’s a photo album somewhere down in storage, and there’s no feasible way to upload it for posterity. One of these days, I’m going to go back and do the adventure over. It’ll probably be better the second time around.

Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me, Or: The Paradox Of The Shy, Adventurous Writer

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about confidence. Specifically, what you’re good at, and what you’d like to be better at. This one’s actually hard for me to explain. I understand that I’m good at writing; it comes naturally to me. I’ve only improved over time and effort. My standards are much higher than they were a decade ago. The words flow from my fingers like a river, and the ideas therein are the rocks and rapids. You know how most students loathe writing essays? I thrived on that in college. A good piece of writing is like a puzzle; each word is an individual (but essential) component of a more complex structure. It’s just a matter of examining each piece and arranging it correctly to convey your message. Oh, and the key to developing a writer’s voice? Just read what you’ve written out loud. If it sounds weird, then you know you need to change something. It’s that simple. Unless you want to sound like a space alien pretending to be human or blatantly show off your thesaurus-perusing skills, but that’s an entirely different issue…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m good at this. Getting the words together on paper (though it’s more on-screen these days) is really easy. Dealing with my internal critic, however, is a struggle of epic proportions. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that little voice in your head that just loves to sow doubt and undermine everything good you believe about yourself. Typing again, huh? It’s not even worth your time. Who’s going to read it? You think anyone will actually care, let alone notice? Where’s the money? Writing is your greatest skill? What a joke. Why can’t you get a real job, and be like everyone else? Failure! You don’t have a future. You’re never going to make it. You’re going to starve, man.

…Yeah, I need to work on the confidence thing.

For the longest time, I bought into all of that. On my really bad nights, I still do. But if you get me motivated and focused, I will be on fire. It’s all about the situations and objectives. The last time I did NaNoWriMo, I burned through 20,000 words in a single sitting. When I found out that that I might miss the deadline for my college graduation, I buckled down and scheduled more than a full course load, aced every single class, and got my degree on time. You give me a goal I’m interested in, and I’ll show you what tenacity and willpower can accomplish. Resolve is one of the greatest and most terrifying qualities a person can have.

My skills aren’t limited to writing, though. I’ve got a critical eye with regards to pretty much everything, so I’m good at picking up details. You know how kids are capable of absorbing tons of information? It’s kind of like that. Facial expressions, vocal tones, languages, accents, structural designs, philosophical concepts, colors, anything. It’s pretty handy when you’re tasked with reviewing something; I can take a game/story/whatever apart quickly. I can read and predict others easily. People think I’m insightful, but my observations seem really obvious. Anyone who’s ever played against me in fighting or strategy games knows what an utterly ruthless tactician I can be. It’s not about thinking outside the box; it’s about thinking outside the room the box is stored in. I’m capable of memorizing lengthy procedures and scheduling around them; I used to have my college commutes calculated down to individual steps. I’d like to think it was practicality over OCPD, but I know better.

I’m also a really good traveling companion. Whenever I travel in a group, I’m usually the one with the map or an idea of where to go. Give me a little time to figure out the layout of a new place, and I’ll quickly adjust to it. I explored Paris on Le Métropolitain, and I didn’t speak a word of French. Someone even asked me for directions! The pigmentation of my skin is ambiguously olive enough that I can pass for a local most of the time. Since I’m good at reading facial expressions, I don’t always need to verbalize to communicate. I’ve also got a cast-iron stomach; I’ve eaten local cuisine that have left others bedridden for days.

Huh. It’s surreal reading the last few paragraphs. I know I’m good at all of that, but it clashes with my personality. I’ve mentioned before that I’m introverted. It’s not a flaw (no matter what social expectations say), but it’s completely the opposite of adventurous side. Wandering a foreign city? I’m fine. Stuck in a crowded room? I’m lost. I’m really shy and uncomfortable in social situations. It’s tiring and awkward, and it makes me look arrogant and aloof. I don’t want to talk about my interests, because I just end up confusing the other person. People are sometimes intimidated by my use of direct eye contact. It’s a tactical measure; people know I’m paying attention, which puts them more on edge and gives me the advantage. I’ve also been accused of being a charmer, which always seems bizarre to me. I’m not trying to be charismatic; I’m trying to survive the conversation without making a fool of myself. You’d be amazed how far a smile, a joke, and polite conversation can get you. I’m always taken aback when women (and men, with surprising frequency) try flirting with me. I never know what to say, and I just want to back away as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Ye gods, I’m actually blushing now.

I need to work on the social skills. I get that. I’m not good at connecting with people beyond a purely academic level. It’s just scary, awkward, and unnerving. I wish I had a stronger voice, too. It’s annoying when people can’t hear you because your indoor voice is apparently a whisper. I can hear myself just fine. I wish I was more physically coordinated, too. I can hike for hours at a time, but I’m not good at conventional sports. I did pretty well in jujitsu, though…There are so many other things I wish I could do better. When I have the time – I’m heading out to a party now, incidentally –  I’ll make a list. It’ll be a long one.