The importance of punctuation


So, here I was at home this morning marking exam papers during the Brisbane public holiday, while listening to Abbey Road (the greatest album of all time), when a couple of people showed up at the door. Turns out they were Jehovas Witnesses.

It was a hot day, I invited them in but they preferred to stand outside so I gave them some water.

One of them was speaking, the other much younger kid was just standing and watching. The kid looked like he was about 14 or 15. They were both very nicely dressed and really polite.

So, he started off with the "There is more suffering in the World" spiel. Easy one to dispell - I started off by comparing deaths in wars (WW1, WW2) with deaths due to war today. No contest. Followed up with death due to disease - again, no comparison. 1918 influenza vs Ebola? Not even close. Measurable numbers - it is difficult to argue against this. He started with the "yes, but what about before 1914...". I was waiting for his arument but he had nothing to follow up with. He obviously was not prepared for someone questioning his very first basic premise before we even started on religion.

He then asked me what my faith is. I answered "Orthodox Christian", but he then called me "Greek Orthodox" over and over after that despite my corrections - I suppose wearing a "I Love Yiros" shirt didn't help.

He became a bit wishy washy after that so I decided to help him along a little. I told him about how I can be saved today and do not need to wait until after I die. I told him about how Christ is Lord and I told him about what the word "heresy" really means in a historical Orthodox Christian context. He was a bit taken aback with me dropping the "H" word, but it really was the correct word to use.

Then he started quoting John and I finished the sentence for him "The Word was God". (Actually, the Greek original is more like "God was the Word", but let's not quibble). At this point I swung back to how it is possible to be saved today, and pre-empting his reply I jumped straight into “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise". I figured this was going to end quickly, so I may as well get straight to the point.

After a very short reflection on how the position of a comma can completely change hope for humanity, he politely left with his friend.

It has been at least 10 years since the JWs have shown up while I have been home, and it is interesting that their arguments are completely unchanged and are still so flimsy. I was actually genuinely interested in whether I would be able to defend my Faith, but it wasn’t really much of a challenge. As for information flow in the direction of my visitors, it was clear that they were following a very very simple script and much of what I said was just ignored. My only regret is that my Interlinear bible was upstairs, it is now close to the door just in case I need to show someone where a comma really belongs...

Nerd Jealousy

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 6.28.43 pm

The geek gets the girl in “Revenge of the Nerds”
Are nerds jealous of or seek vengeance against beautiful people?

People who know me well know how much of a nerd I am. Not quite a Sheldon, but surprisingly close. I mentioned to someone yesterday afternoon that there is scientific evidence that there is a form of discrimination in place, against people who are not "beautiful". The person I mentioned this to floored me when they replied "maybe there is discrimination in the other direction as well, in the form of jealousy".

Of course, I can only speak for myself and people I know well, but let me tell you - there is very little or no jealousy by nerds against the "beautiful people", beyond the childish schoolyard antics of children. We do not want to be like them. In fact, we kid of feel sorry for them. We feel that it is sad that they need to use their superficial beauty and enhanced social skills to compensate for their lack of intelligence and/or lack of creativity. We feel sad for the obvious emptiness they have within, despite their incessant efforts to prove to the outside world that they don't. In a sense, there is no need for apply themselves to rigorous methodology if they can achieve things using a superficial facade, by networking with the correct people or by simply taking the product of others' labour, often claiming it as their own as if they were entitled to it. These people are not sophisticated. They are just infantile bullies who would do anything to “win the game”.

We do sometimes feel some resentment that we are used by some non-nerds to further their means and not appreciated for what we are, but we certainly do not wish to become hollow, empty souls like them.  We very much enjoy and protect the richness of our personal philosophy, beliefs and interactions and sharing these with other like-minded people. We do not wish to participate in the world in which having a relationship with people is simply about using them and accepting that they will attempt to use you.

If we are not seen as weak and willing to be manipulated, we are seen as jealous and eager to take over or get some sort of revenge. Both of these perceptions could not be further from the truth. Movie depictions of nerds do not help. Get a grip - imagining that someone is jealous, then using this fabrication as a justification for using them and hurting them preemptively is silly and infantile. So is expecting someone to accept that he is inferior to you when there is no evidence at all to support it. Maybe you should instead take to heart the golden rule - treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. It is one of the fundamentals of all morals and ethics, just like "if you take something, you must give something back".

Nerds can take some solace that it is largely due to their efforts that society continues to function in some sort of ethical manner. Despite some having obvious social awkwardness, there are many more nerds than there are non-nerds in the world. It's just that sometimes empty vessels make the most noise.


1. Biddle, Jeff, & Hamermesh, Daniel. (1994) Beauty and the Labor Market The American Economic Review. 84(5) p 1186

2. Biddle & Hamermesh. Beauty and the Labor Market. p 1186

3. Biddle, Jeff, & Hamermesh, Daniel. (1998) "Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination." pp. 185 – 187

4. Seligman, Daniel. (1996) "Lucky Lookers." Fortune. 133(3). pp117-119. In ABI/Inform Database, Ovid.

5. Laabs, Jennifer J. (1995 Dec.) Does Image Matter? Personnel Journal. 74(12). pp48 – 53. In ABI/Inform Database, Ovid.

The Zeimbekiko

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 6.34.39 pm

Stelios Kazantzidis
Through Kazantzidi, more than one generation of Greeks explored many different facets of emotion.

My song of the month for this month is "Roloi-Komboloi", by Grigoris Bithikotsis. My parents tell me I slept with the 45 of this song under my pillow at night, and they had to replace it once because it broke. I still have the second 45, but the song is readily available on many compilations of Greek 1960's music. It was released in 1967. This particular song is in the rhythm of the “Zeimbekiko”. The Zeimbekiko is actually a dance, but songs with the same peculiar rhythm also take on the term.

The lyrics are the typically passionate and personal Greek lyrics of the time, perhaps a little tame compared to such classics as "Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki" and others, but still well outside the boundary of experience of listeners of Western music. Almost by default, zeimbekika have depressing, almost morbid themes, a tradition which continues on to contemporary zeimbekika. The themes recur so often that most of the time Greeks just don’t notice them any more. Thankfully in this instance the composer stops well short of exploring the theme of death, which was very common in other music of the era. Greece as a nation was undergoing much turmoil in the 1960’s, and the music of the time reflected it. I did not really understand the lyrics as a child, as the theme is very adult. At the time I thought it was just about a clock, some beads and counting. Even now, while I can more fully appreciate the lyrics, I do not tend to pay attention to them when listening to this song. It is the musical accompaniment that is mesmerising.

There is a certain mathematical precision to this form of Zeimbekiko. It's a very simple, short repeating pattern, which expresses a methodical plodding and determination, in contrast to the despair in the lyrics. I have often heard this style referred to as "Greek Blues", but in actual fact it is very different. Blues is performed free-form in 4/4 time. The Zeimbekiko is precisely performed to a formula in a complex 9/4 or 9/8 rhythm. The timing tends to confuse inexperienced musicians, particularly bass players, and lends itself to the characteristic “stagger” of the Zeimbekiko dance. The lyrics themselves, while touching on similar themes, tend to be far more passionate, often desparate and way off the scale compared with Blues.

Even though “Roloi-Komboloi” has neither, I particularly like the longer, drawn-out introductions and piano accordion solos. While there are still some great Zeimbekika being released, the typical modern Zeimbekiko tends to be too complex for my taste. I like to be able to clearly discern the musical instruments, particularly the Baglama and, of course, the Piano Accordion. While the Bouzouki is clearly the lead instrument in many of these songs, it does not need to overwhelm everything else. Like many other people, I have a firm conviction that electrifying the Bouzouki is simply wrong.

“Roloi-Komboloi” by Grigoris Bithikotsis.
Not the best quality recording, but it’s all I could find on youtube. There are plenty of much better quality recordings available on CD.

“To Traoudi Tou Baglama”, by Stelios Kazantzidis.
A fine example of long introductions and piano accordion solos.

“Synnefies” by Litsa Diamanti
This was one of the first songs I learned to play on the bouzouki. Along with “Roloi-Komboloi” by Grigoris Bithikotsis, one of my other favourite songs as a child was “Tha Sou Kano Kapsonaki” by Litsa Diamanti, which is most definitely not a Zeimbekiko.

“Soma Mou” by Notis Sfakianakis.
A more contemporary work on the theme of drugs abuse.

“Anoixe Petra” by Marinella
A classic, downright depressing song by one of the greatest modern Greek female singers. The film clip contains some interesting retro-70’s Zeimbekiko dancing.
The “story” in the dance is only tangentially related to the lyrics. This appearance was a guest spot in a movie. It was common at the time to put popular singers such as Kazantzidi and Marinella in a movie to perform one or two songs to attract viewers.

“Dio Portes Echei I Zoi” by Stelios Kazantzidis
The all-time classic, archetypal eternal work as sung by Stelios Kazantzidis, exploring themes relating to the philosophy and rationalization of death. Judging from Stelios’ age in the clip, he would have been coming up to the time when he would have had to face his own death after battling in the courts to regain his intellectual property. This song looks death square in the face and exposes it for all to see.

Some of the most haunting words penned by Tsitsani are contained in the lyrics. Very roughly translated:

“Everything is a lie, a gasp, a breath. Like a flower, a hand will pluck us one evening.”

Quite typical of Kazantzidi - the man who showed us a thousand ways to express pain, love, and almost any other emotion you care to mention.

Nerds and Hippies

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 7.04.21 pm

Jobs and Wozniak
One of the classic hippie and nerd teams.

I recently watched the movie “The Social Network”. Prior to watching it, I read many accounts questioning the historical accuracy of the story. I very much enjoyed the movie, however, not as a historical record but as a comment on the recurring theme of the manipulation of the “nerd” in order to take advantage of his creativity, hard work and intellectual property. Among other factors, part of the reason much of this happens is a difference in motivators between the nerd and the narcissist.

I read Steve Wozniak's book, "I Woz" about a year ago. Steve is the archetypal and quintessential nerd, being co-founder of Apple Computer. In reading the book, I can see how a non-nerd could easily think on superficial examination that Woz’s personality type is that of a self-centred narcissist. Woz refers to projects he has undertaken in the past in a way that could easily be construed as boasting. To understand Woz or Zuckerberg properly, however, you need to be familiar with the nerd mindset. While both the narcissist and the nerd see people around them in a different way to the general population, the nature of the social dysfunction is different.

The narcissist sees himself as being special, and sees people around him as objects to be manipulated for his own end. If someone he comes across has a skill or an object, he naturally feels an entitlement to it and in the absence of guilt will simply acquire it. The narcissist is capable of short bursts of creativity, but often finds that it is simpler to just acquire creative work from others, many of whom are willing to give it.

The nerd often has a special skill which usually has been acquired with many thousands of hours of practice or "rehearsal", but often he is oblivious to the special nature of this skill. The nerd does not think that he is special so much as wonders to himself why others around him do not have the same skill. I wonder how many coding gods are working in obscurity, hidden from view? How many potential Einsteins are working in menial jobs to earn a living, content to express their creativity inside their own head?

A nerd will experiment and hammer away at a problem over and over making mistakes along the way and solving them, tweaking the procedure, content in knowing that his personal creative process will eventually bear fruit and enjoying the journey as much as the potential reward. Along the way, he is willing to experiment with physical reality, walk paths not yet walked, and sometimes stumble. For the nerd, this is just the price to be paid for the creative process. This is why the nerd's efforts go into creating things as opposed to the narcissist being focussed on acquiring them.  

For the non-nerd, the effort required to create is too high a price to pay when there is the possibility no financial or other material reward. For every Zuckerberg and Wozniak, there are hundreds of others who have not realised financial wealth. Nerds are not averse to wanting to have lots of money, but the reason they wish to have it is to gain the freedom to work on creating. Wozniak creates for fun - he designed and built the first Apple computer for no end other than to show his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club. Once he made enough money, he spent his time exploring his creativity in different ways. I recently met Dick Smith, who described how his billionaire friends could not understand why he sold Dick Smith Electronics to Woolworths at the age of 36 and gave up literally billions of future dollars to pursue what are essentially hobbies - aviation, geography and the like. We all know that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are giving away over half of their present and future worth and Gates has left Microsoft to pursue personal projects.

Regular people just can't get it into their heads that there are people who create things simply because they want to pursue their passion to create and for no other reason. When I describe the open source movement, regular people can not understand why somebody would put so much effort into something without wanting financial return, and at the same time allowing "competitors" to have access to their code. They probably see this as naive, as they cannot grasp the motivation. Some nerds come across opportunities that help them make millions - Woz met Steve Jobs, Bill Gates made his deal with IBM more or less by chance. The ones that come across and seize these opportunities are the ones that become millionaires. In general, though, nerds are happy to enjoy the fruits of their labour themselves or just to share with other nerds.

I have heard it said that great technological startups are mostly founded by a hippie and a nerd. I think that perhaps a more accurate description would be a narcissist and a nerd. The narcissist will approach a problem by attempting to change reality - hence the "reality distortion field",and the flair for marketing and hyperbole. Through persuasion, the suitably motivated narcissist is able to create his own market. This approach, in its pure form, is incompatible with creativity. The nerd will create because he has a firm understanding of the physical world and is willing to explore how the world behaves and manipulate it within discrete, unbending rules. When the nerd observes the edge of the playing field as defined by these rules and nudges right up against it, creativity results.

It does not take much effort to see how the relationship between the nerd and the hippy results - the hippy lacks internal creative ability or the willingness to expend the enormous effort required to develop or cultivate it, and the nerd lacks motivation beyond his intense focus on the immediate task at hand and will not undertake a task or carry it out effectively unless it is interesting, fun or challenging. It is also easy to see why, as financial rewards flow and the opportunity for creativity wanes, the relationship often drifts apart because the core motivation is different. Thus, Apple Computer continues on while Wozniak is gone. Microsoft continues without Gates, and Dick Smith Electronics carries on without Dick Smith. The company lives on - it has already been bootstrapped and as long as it is managed properly will continue to exist. The nerd, however, has moved on to a place where he is able to create.

I think this may be why Mark Zuckerberg refuses to sell Facebook. He has no hippy on his back to tie him down and he still has great creative control. The world sees Facebook as a fabulously successful tool for communication that has made billions of dollars. Zuckerberg sees it as a creative work in progress. For him, the process of creation is reward in itself.


Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 7.11.52 pm

Do nerds in general have more filotimo than non-nerds?

Filotimo seems to be a word in Greek that is not shared in western cultures. This is not to say that all Greeks actually possess filotimo - many demonstrably do not. This is also not to say that the quality of filotimo does not exist in other cultures - many people in the English-speaking world have filotimo, they just do not realise there is a word that describes it.

Many attempts have been made to define "filotimo" in English - google the word and see for yourself. Literally it means "love of respect", which is essentially meaningless. It is often described as "honour", but this is not accurate. Honour is an outward expression of respect, while filotimo resides within and is hidden most of the time. One aspect of filotimo involves putting aside one's own needs with no expectation of return. Filotimo is impressed on Greek children from a very young age and either grows with them or is rejected.

Filotimo is usually portrayed as a positive trait, and in terms of harmony within society it generally is. The problem comes about when one with filotimo deals with someone without. This often leads to behaviour by both parties that is perplexing to each other, or leads to one person taking unfair advantage of the other. For example, a Greek will invite a stranger to dinner and treat him to a lavish spread, but the same stranger will not understand why the Greek becomes deeply offended when he pays his half of the bill. Likewise, the people of Greece will have no problem at all with using the people of Europe to earn a living through tourism, but are genuinely confused when the same people will not bail out the country when it is in economic turmoil.

The concept of filotimo has entered my mind, as it is one way to describe the open source movement. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nerds every day give quite considerable toil and effort towards coding for projects for no obvious gain. In many cases these same projects are eventually used by others for the purposes of creating profit, none of which flows down to the original coders. While it is not "filotimo" in its classic sense, it is not far from it.


President Obaba attempting to describe filotimo.

A fantastic documentary on Filotimo by the Oxi Day Foundation

George Logothetis speaking on filotimo

On Gossip and Heresay

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 7.14.25 pm

Narcissus, from ancient Greek Mythology, in love with his reflection in a pool.

I read a great blog entry by Kathy Krajco today, concerning gossip and the effect it has on people. The essay concerned the effect of slander on people who know you. In essence, if you are honest, kind and gentle, those that have known you for many years will know this as the many experiences will have built up a strong picture of what you are really like. If this is the case, then misinformation spread about you will not, in general, be believed by these people. Likewise, if you are sensible then over many years this will show in people’s experience of you and an insinuation that you are crazy and imagining things will not be believed. To believe this, those that know you would have to erase the history they have of you. As Kathy states, this is why it is called “character assassination”.

When unfounded gossip does manage to take hold, your life is erased with a figment of the imagination becoming substituted for it. This can be quite distressing. Fortunately, in general, the narcissist’s allegations are ironic in that your good qualities are attempted to be smeared with the semblance of one of his own vices. Thus, the allegations always seem preposterous and those that know you should not be fooled by them.

In any case, such attacks always have a positive aspect in that they draw out who your true friends are.


Blog entry by Kathy Kraico

© Steven and Andrea Kazoullis 2014