Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut

Patent Analyst, Rouse & Co International


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Celebrity scientists

From Richard Dawkin to Brian Cox, from Sean Carroll to E. O. Willson, they have gave their talks here at TED, been on media, inspired and raised much of debates.

Who is your favorite scientist? Who haven't yet been on TED and should be invited to be on TED? and why? What is your opinion on 'Sci-celebrities'? Are they good model for kids, good educator, inspiring icon, or they are over-rated?

  • Feb 2 2013: As a psychology major wanting to become a neuroscientist, my favourite scientists are neuroscientists. VS Ramachandran might be called a minor celebrity (my neuropsych prof said that if there were Ramachandran action figures, he would buy one), and Oliver Sachs might be called a retired science celebrity. Then there's Antonio Damasio, who I wouldn't call a celebrity at all and, of course, Sam Harris, who we've probably all heard of.

    I think science "celebrities" are important in the sense that they keep those of us without access to peer-reviewed scientific journals (or the educational background to decipher them) up to date on the latest ideas and findings in their fields, as well as for their popularization of science in general. Their celebrity, however, is usually due in large part to the popularity of the particular specialization of their field or their "extracurricular" activities. Dawkins, for example, is mostly famous for his criticisms of religion and his book, "The Selfish Gene", which was actually primarily a popularization of someone else's idea. Not to take anything away from him, but if he happened to have been born in an era when religious controversies were few and far between and evolution held less intrigue, he may not be quite the household name he is today.

    There are soooooo many brilliant scientists out there doing fascinating work that no one has ever heard of, not because their work is less important or interesting, but because they just happen to be working in fields that people care very little about today. The only thing holding them back from notoriety is a lack of major modern social or political issues that their work has anything to say about, or, perhaps, a simple unwillingness to speak up about them.
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      Feb 3 2013: RE: Michael Behe. Upon what do you base your character assassination of Dr. Behe? Please be specific beyond vague generalization and personal opinion.The topic asks who might be good to invite to give a TED Talk, not who should not be invited. Thank you!
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        Feb 3 2013: google the damn thing already!
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          Feb 3 2013: Apparently you have said all you have to say on this because you are repeating yourself. Is this some new protocol you are promoting? Say anything you want and when asked for facts simply reply "Google the damn thing already!"? I'm old school so I prefer the more established,venerated protocol. . . . . Put up or shut up!. (I did research online and found nothing derogatory about Dr. Behe, but several items about a Marine sergeant).
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        Feb 16 2013: I don't know about Behe's character but I am not impessed with him as a standout scientist, as someone who's efforts has clarified the workings of nature, or as someone who can explain science. His position, nothing new, on creationism/intelligent design, what he terms irreducible complexity, was smacked down again, in federal court (Kitzmiller v Dover).

        I think decent people, even very intelligent people, can get on the intelligent design crazy train based on gut feelings alone. Neil deGrasse Tyson and others have spoken well and given historical examples about the tendency to invoke gods when we can't explain something. Many great minds have done that because they have run into something they could not fathom, only to have the mystery solved later....seems to me the default position should be to admit that we don't know, to try to be aware of our inate biases, rather than hold, with certainty, an alternate solution which is shown to be false.
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          Feb 16 2013: You would stand alone as an Evolutionist if you offered even a modicum of respect to Dr. Behe as a scientist. He flies in the face of Evoultion and is therefore categorically dismissed as a serious scientist by the always obedient science/socio/political establishment. His efforts. and many others like him, have clarified the workings of our universe and explained science. What possible advancement in understanding of our world can come from the Federal Court? Jurisprudence and politics can neither dictate nor prohibit scientific truth. Truly great minds do not manufacture explanations just to eliminate the unexplained. Simply invoking gods is no more a departure from the Scientific Method than is the Theory of Evolution. Dr. Behe, and many like him, proclaim the Emperor's nudity. There is another explanation of life on Earth although American students are carefully carefully shielded against exposure to it by the federal courts. Behe points-out the defects in Evolution. I agree 100% that we should always say we don't know whenever we don't know. We ought to stop inculcating our youngsters with unproven, theoretical possibilities and probabilities while telling them it is Truth and to deny or question it is illogical. Can I prove to you God created the universe? No. Can you prove to me the Universe created itself from nothing? No. Let's move forward from there and stop teaching only the latter to our children. Let's return to honest, ethical application of one of our greatest developments as a species. . . the Scientific Method! Long live the Scientific Method! Thank you sir.
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    Jan 30 2013: Russell Stannard, Paul Davis, Seyi Oyesola and Trefor Jenkins.
    Scientists are not meant to be celebrities because they should not be driven by the desire for fame as it is the case of the pop celebrities. But they should be celebrated within the intellectual community.

    They are good role models for kids.
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    Feb 4 2013: My choice would be Richard Feynman. Though he is no longer alive, and therefore could not be a TED speaker, many of his talks were recorded and thoroughly documented. And, he published many books, all of which share is great gift of being able to make complex, theoretical subjects understandable for almost anyone. He was genial, wry, creative, and smart.

    His Wikipedia page is here:
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      Feb 12 2013: My wife recently had to interview for a residency position and was tipped off that one of the Doctors on the panel likes to pose the question/situation, "teach me something", and the applicant is put on the spot and meant to squirm.

      I had just finished watching Feynman talk about why a rubber band heats when expanded: and showed it to her. She used a wide rubber band to clasp her papers while at the interview. When asked the question she removed the rubber band and asked her interviewer to put the rubber band in his mouth. She then said, "The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things....." -Thank you Mr. Feynman! It worked like a charm :)
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        Feb 12 2013: I have used that quote from Feynman many times, but had never actually watched the video where he uses it in context regarding a rubber band.

        What a great video!

        Thank you for sharing.
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    Jan 30 2013: I would like to see some non-Atheist, non-Darwinian scientists talk. And yes, there are such people on this earth, but none of them are celebrities. Here are the names of some: Paul Davies, Michael Behe, Russell Stannard, Gary Schwartz, Gerald Schroeder, Ernst-Michael Kranich, etc.
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      Jan 30 2013: Good idea! Thanks for your list. It would be great too if you will share the link for their published articles or video clips :)
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        Jan 30 2013: Science-minded folks who are interested will prefer to do the research themselves, after all, it is part of the Scientific Method.
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      Jan 30 2013: behe on ted ... hope not
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        Jan 30 2013: The OP asks, "Who should be invited?". . . not who shouldn't. You only want talks by people with whom you agree? Boring.
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          Jan 30 2013: a crackpot is a crackpot.
        • Feb 2 2013: I'm certainly in favor of hearing perspectives that aren't mine, but I want to hear them from people who are neither ignorant nor intellectually dishonest. I'm not sure whether Behe is a fool or a liar (or both), but he doesn't belong on a website like TED.
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        Jan 30 2013: Have you read his works?
        "For readers who have been persuaded that biologists have long since demonstrated the validity of Darwinian theory, Behe's observations are apt to be a source of astonishment." --David Berlinski
        Behe's work is characterized by James Shapiro as: "A valuable critique of an all-too-often unchallenged orthodoxy."
        He is qualified-contrary to your unsubstantiated charge- to give a challenging, boat-rocking talk on TED.
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        Jan 30 2013: According to you Biochemistry Professor Michael Behe of Lehigh University, noted educator, successful author, and challenging speaker is a liar and a crackpot. Do you expect to be taken at your word?
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        Jan 30 2013: Have you confused Dr. Michael Behe with Sgt. Mike Behenna?
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          Jan 30 2013: no. mr behe travels around the land broadcasting his "theory" about irreducible complexity, which was refuted numerous times. he just does not care. he continues to fool people with that.
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      Feb 16 2013: I have heard, but not verified, that among top scientists roughly 15% are believers (in one god or another), the inverse of society as a whole. I would like to hear some of them talk, have a dialogue, about their religious beliefs and clearly lay out why they believe in their god, not just a generic god, but a specific god , the god of the catholic, the Jew, the Muslim, the Southern Baptist... I think it will become apparent to most objective viewers that even smart people often can't rise above cultural indoctrination - that for the most most part a person is Muslim or Baptist, not because of some inherent logic to that religion or denomination, but simply because a person was raised with those beliefs. The time and place of your birth matters....
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        Feb 16 2013: I do not share your interest in having TED Talks focusing on the doctrinal specifics of various religious scientists (other than Atheists). What I would like to see is more talks by scientists who offer explanations of our Universe from a perspective rigidly consistent with the Scientific Method, even, and especially, when those explanations are at variance with orthodoxy. There is more to life than the theories of Evolution and the Big Bang. Long live disciplined, cautious, sensible open-mindedness! Stop the prejudice!
  • Feb 14 2013: Brian Cox, he is amazing, I think is not so much about being good role models as it is about taking science to the public to create interest on different intellectual matters.

    I guess Lawrence Krauss, Michio Kaku and Robert Sapolsky (Specially him) would be my dream TED talks
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      Feb 15 2013: Brian Cox is very good at public engagement. He make science like a "friendly guy next door", isn't he? :)
      However, I don't know if you have seen his new documentary "Wonder of life"? It's enjoyable to watch; kind of biological world through eyes of physicist. But I think it could be better if there's a good biologist co-host this show. What do you think? :)

      Thanks for your list, by the way, I'll check them out (especially Sapolsky :)). I like Michio Kaku too!
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    Feb 12 2013: My favorite scientist is a young canadian named Cadell Last. He started a website called "The Advanced Apes" which strives to bring science writers together and encourage young people to get excited about science. It focuses largely on primatology but all of the sciences seem to be represented. Here's a link: It's nice to see an emerging crop of young scientists willing to take the torch and continue popularizing the various disciplines.

    You never mention who your favorite scientist is, who is it Kelwalin?
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      Feb 14 2013: Wow! Thanks for your link :)

      I have quite a lot of favorite ones. Newton, Schrodinger, Feynman, Curie, Darwin, Hook, are special to me.
      The young blood like Brian Greene, Sean Carol, Sebastian Seung, etc. are good at explain complicate stuffs to general public; I like them too.
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        Feb 15 2013: Good choices Kelwalin. I know this is often mentioned, but we need someone to pick up the mantle that Sagan once held. To popularize not just "science" but inquisitiveness. Children are by nature curious and somehow we manage to rid them of this. Some people remain curious and its these people that end up our scientists, artists etc. There's more exciting science than ever before and there are more media apparatus for conveying the discoveries, advancements and ideas than ever before. Recently, I have been encouraged to see organizations like NASA begin to embrace making "exciting" videos like this one: about the Curiosity rover's landing plan. -It's a fantastic video, it's exciting! In the past it would have been drab.

        All of the sciences need to get better at communicating the excitement behind what they're doing. I think CERN has done a great job of this. The Higgs Boson is probably the least understood (by non scientists) but most celebrated discovery of 2012. Why? Because they've done a nice job of packaging it and selling the enthusiasm to the public. We need more of that energy!
  • Feb 4 2013: He's sort of a rising star at this point but Neil deGrasse Tyson has to be inspiring people to don the ugly white labcoat. Bill Nye did a lot for the average American too.
  • Jan 31 2013: My sister is my favorite scientist, call me bias however many would say she is exceptional in the area of math and science. Having said that much I don't think we could invite her to participate in TED as she is a computer scientist and her level of participation on the internet is limited considering her career and its constraints.

    The point of this comment is to say that all too often we look to well known scientists abroad and perhaps there is a hero close at hand that one might be taking for granted.

    I was always afraid of the sciences until a wise man pointed out a few philosophical points and having done so a cathartic moment came to surface, anyone can be a scientist irregardless of schooling and degrees, although these elements assist greatly we are all scientists at heart if we want to be we have the tools to move forward and all too often we are scientists without realizing it.

    Returning to your question however my sister is a scientist by way of education and merit and she would be my hero at large.
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    Jan 31 2013: G'day Kelwalin

    Celebrity scientists are usually light hearted & humorous at times within their curricular which is great for people who have little understanding of such knowing. As a child growing up we had a science prof called Julius Sumner Miller on TV, he made you sit up & watch & there are numerous other celebrity scientists who do the same today.

  • Jan 30 2013: Parents and teachers are ideally good models for kids because they are accessible. Many of these science celebrities are not available to anyone outside the media.

    Celebrity scientist who have an agenda outside promoting good science are over-rated. Unless there is a natural disaster, where a scientist is asked to comment, most are promoting a new book related to their brand of science. With that in mind, I think they are all over rated.

    Never seen one give a lecture on what it means to have good character and ethics as a scientist. What could be more important than that.
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      Jan 31 2013: I agree with you, Jamal, that many scientists who bask in the celebrity spotlight are over-rated. There are some who are the real thing. And some "science" celebrities are not scientists at all, though they may think of themselves that way, using "we" to include themselves in a category of which they are not a part. [We have a TED talk about neuro-bunk, the practice of trying to take legitimate scientific findings into illegtimate or pseudoscientific extrapolations. In my opinion we could use a similar talk about quantum bunk].
      • Feb 4 2013: Are you sure TED would allow a Quantum Bunk talk? Many celebrity scientist are quantum physicist or the like (String Theorist) and they have amazing influence in physics, astrophysics and mathematics. I know because they stopped the most important paper in all three fields from receiving the exposure the research deserves in the USA and Europe.

        Einstein's work is already complete, peer-review published, conferenced and it has a minor astronomy report outside the USA. The national and international public paid billions to see that research and its answers. I wish TED was the right forum to make the public aware.
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          Feb 4 2013: I would not expect TED to invite a talk that promotes pseudoscience. Technically that subject is also outside the terms of use of TED Conversations as well.

          The talk about neuro-bunk was not promoting false representations of neuroscience. Rather, it was about how people try to use legitimate science to support theories and products the science in no way supports. I would expect TED to allow a talk about how results in a science are in popular culture often distorted to support various agendae.
          Do you know the book written by an MIT physicist, I think, called Voodoo Science. It is specifically about these common misrepresentations and misinterpretations of science.
      • Feb 4 2013: TED invited Brian Greene, to talk about String Theory which is a pseudoscience. There is no experimental evidence today or expected to be in the future to support the claims he and other invitees make about strings.

        There are facts and then there is the interpretation of facts: String Theory is a pseudoscientific interpretation of real scientific observations. They have no problems promoting that brand of voodoo in any media outlets. It is the benefits of amazing influence. Let me guess, this MIT physicist did not include any of his fellow scientist at MIT. Princeton, Harvard and MIT are the centers for STring Theory
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          Feb 4 2013: I misunderstood you before.

          I read Voodoo Science so long ago that I cannot remember who he took on.
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    Jan 30 2013: neil degrasse tyson: gold
    michio kaku: fools' gold
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    Jan 30 2013: I would like to see Michio Kaku. He is brilliant and has an amazing way of explaining complex concepts.
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    Jan 29 2013: Great Topic!!!

    Have you seen the Symphony of Science Site?

    It was researching a science topic for my students that I came upon it, and then through researching some of the scientists on that site that I connected to Jill Bolte's Ted talk and the site itself.

    I would love to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson on TED...........and of course, if Richard Feynman were still alive, I would have loved to have heard him give a TED talk.
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      Jan 29 2013: Does this count?
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        Jan 30 2013: I have seen of it are put to music on the Symphony of science site....BUT....I really would have loved to have seen him on the TED stage.....and go on and on for like an hour.

        Dr. Feynman died in 1988. A great loss.

        Have you clicked on my link above? There's a great video on "We are stardust"....that has a clip of him.
        [EDIT] is the Quantum Theory video that has a nice bit by Feynman.....check it out.

        "The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things"..Richard Feynman
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      Jan 30 2013: Thanks for links :)

      I love Feynman! I haven't yet seen any Neil's talk, but he seems a hit. Would you like to share the link? That would be very awesome :)
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        Jan 30 2013: Hi Kelwalin,

        Here is a great 6 minute interview with Neil done by Time.

        You will be pleasantly surprised, in that he will answer your question as well, as to who is his favorite scientist and why..

  • Feb 17 2013: Yes, I have seen it, in fact I first looked into it because of Brian, and I expected it to be more about physics, but I liked it anyway. And even though he is not a biologist it would be great (in my dream world) if Sapolsky was his co-host..
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    Feb 16 2013: One of my current favorite thinkers and expositors is philosopher A C Grayling who can be seen on YouTube as can many other thinkers along with, unfortunately, many posers. Grayling can speak better than many noted scientists on the use of science and reason to understand the world around us. Not 100% sure, but don't think he has been on TED.

    Prof Grayling can be seen at The Science Network ( ) which is home to many good talks as well as panel discussions . Highly recommended. Roger Bingham does an excellent job as interviewer and ringmaster. Two of many interesting panel discussions are What Is Life and Beyond Belief.
  • Feb 14 2013: No. No. No.

    In this insane world of celebrities and celebrity worship, the last thing i want to see is a "Celebrity scientist".
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    Gail .

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    Jan 30 2013: Kaku - but ONLY if he stays within his area of expertise. He has a way of simplifying things without making them simplistic.

    When he goes on about what aliens might look like or how they might behave, and other similar rants, he exceeds my toleration level.
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    Jan 30 2013: Kelwalin, It is nice to grant a title of celebrity scientists to these great minds ... and I agree. However, There remains a great problem. I will use examples from the USA. If convased in high school who could name the nobel prize winner for last year ... few .... who could name the top ten students ... some ... who could name last years valvictorian ... relatives ... who could name the last four quarterbacks for the footbball team .... the majority.

    Steven Hawkins is not a star because of his mind .. he is a star because of his ability to overcome his handicap and his contributions are an inspiration.

    This is basically a geek webstie ... most here recognize the names and could probally tell you the field ... but this is the choir you are preaching to.

    The question should be how do we get todays youth involved in math and science. Look at this years tech show in Vegas. All of the new "gadgets" were where the money is ... new cell phones ... new TV ... new apps .... new computer ... erverything.

    I did not see one stall that hyped "green" ... CERN discoveries / projects .... better medicine .... and I ask myself why. Because there is no future or money in these things that we at TED admire.

    Only because I break the word down do I see Immunology as the study of the immune system .... if you were to go to Wal Mart ... the grocery store ..... local pub ... or ask on the street ... how many people would know what you do.

    This is a very selfish .. self centered generation ... they judge by your cloths, address, your car, your job, your salary, your title .... In short they could care less about science that does not impact them here and now. The science they respect is those who brew their drink and drugs.

    Yes this is a dark picture ... but one we must face and work to overcome. How?

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Jan 30 2013: Thanks for taking you time to discuss. I'm really glad you did, cause I wished to see this kind of answer and wish that this conversation can expand and go on.

      I know that some or many, scientists on telly are considered celebrity cause of their contributions to science + "the extra factor". It's true that all the rest of "greatest minds" should be more recognisable. (i.e. those who got Nobel, etc.). But these scientists on media, in my opinion, play important role in sciences education and public engagement. I think that if we have more of them or promote our shy greatest minds, this will encourage kids to have more intention in sciences. Then from that, hopefully, when these become a demand, there will be more of good science.

      There must be more than one way to inspire kids. I only think this is one of many. I wish kids will have more scientist idols :)
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        Gail .

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        Jan 30 2013: The TV series "Through the Wormhole" explores the sciences in depth and outlines some of the major and minor theories that have evolved from experiments. It's an awesome show. Unfortunately, in my area, the science channel is one of those extra channels that cost more. Too bad. The regions that need this information the most are those who can least afford it.
    • Feb 16 2013: I think you are over generalizing today's generation. I would argue that past generations would be even more inept at naming nobel prize winners, or current scientists, in comparison to today. Regardless, though, I agree with your bigger question - how do we get kids more involved in science/math. I believe this is being done by non-professionals...What I mean here is that kids are being inspired by the reporters of current research, not by the researchers themselves. This should make sense. If current researchers were educating the general public then they would not be doing research work! Some examples of "reporters" would be sites such as Veritasium, Vsauce, CPG Grey, ViHart, etc. As someone who has been working with kids for the past decade, I hear more and more talk (and excitement) about sites like these. This also leads me to believe that today's children are much more informed about science and math than pretty much any past generations (anyone that disagrees may be blinded by nostalgia).
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        Feb 16 2013: Ben, You had me in your corner nodding agreement right up to the last sentence. If I disagree with you then something is wrong with me.

        Sorry you feel that way. Bob.
        • Feb 16 2013: Bob
          I did draw a pretty hard line there (which was not my real intention). However, I do feel that often times current generations take the brunt of the abuse from older generations - I'm sure this is not unique to present times. While it is certainly not always a " my generation is better than yours" mentality, it does seem to be a prevalent feeling. This is where I was coming from when I said nostalgia may be to blame.