Monday, October 22, 2012

Candidates and tenured professors

Some topical humor about recent comments made by professors as well as presidential candidates (1, 2, 3), via PhD comics.
When I first read this it took me a full minute to figure out what part was supposed to be funny; at first it just struck me as pessimistic and accurate. You know you've been in academia too long when...

This post's theme word is starets, "a religious teacher or advisor." I want you to regard me not only as your supervisor, but as the sole starets of your life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


One postdoc deadline is past and so I took a break and got around to watching Looper.

I thought it was nice. The recursive nature of time-travel was neatly introduced and explored (including a nod to nerds: "I don't want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams"). There was enough action to draw a wide audience and the concomitant funding to make a good movie. Pierce Gagnon gave a great performance as a creepily verbose and thoughtful child.

Looper was pleasant and exciting, and mildly thoughtful. But it certainly wasn't second only to 2001: A Space Odyssey! It was decent.

It had some problems. There were the usual plot issues, e.g., if I were an evil mastermind and wanted to send all minions back in time to be killed by their younger selves, I would not stagger the murders. Because some young minion will catch on, and then not kill himself, and then we have all these time-travel paradoxes plus some very angry guy from the future who's had 30 years to plan his revenge. The entire notion of telekinesis was an unnecessary, shiny dongle added for the special effects sequences. The movie seemed to have many clever bits that were edited out for the final cut -- we kept expecting certain people to be revealed as each other's older selves, and this never happened. Certain paradoxes were ignored. (More rants on plot problems available here.)  Memory was sometimes a push informational channel and other times a pull, as convenient to the level of tension.

Also, you would have thought that by now, all movie villains everywhere at every point in history know one thing: do not mess with Bruce Willis. Just leave the man alone. Because almost every movie I've seen him in --- including this one --- has one scene where Bruce Willis brutally destroys all the baddies, and their hideout, and their technology, and their MacGuffins.

But Looper's main failing in my mind was that it answered all the questions it raised. (Except the gaping plot holes.) The audience had nothing left to ponder as we left the theater: no "why did that happen?" or "how did X cause Y?" These are the interesting questions about stories with loops of time travel! Looper tied up all the loose ends into --- forgive me --- loops, leaving us no dangling threads to play with. (Except the gaping plot holes, which we mercilessly lampooned on the way home.)

If you want a looping time travel movie, watch Primer instead. Then watch it a few more times while you theorize and test your theories. It's much more interesting and difficult to figure out and fun, which is quite revealing about my movie preferences.
xkcd's take on Primer
If you'd prefer a looping, causality-warping book, I highly recommend Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which has oodles of clever time-travel ideas in it, plus some play with meta-fictional content, plus is a book.

This post's theme word is aceldama, "a place of bloodshed." The aceldama's creation invalidated the causal chain which led to its creation. Spoiler alert.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sequential timestamping

If you write your date in the American order (month-day-year) then today is momentous for its sequentiality: 10-11-12 (and even more momentous at 1:14pm!).

Today is otherwise rather unremarkable. I have lost my voice, swamped under work and viral bodies. The one pervades my mind; the other, my body. I am attempting to write a description of my research which simultaneously renders it accessible to the reader and emphasizes its broad applications and stresses its difficulty and level of mathematical abstraction.

Days like this make me wonder if I could support myself writing bodice-rippers. Well, it's a fall-back plan, way down the list.

This post's theme word is cerumen, "earwax." Is that cerumen, or are my ears congested?