30 May 2010

Hm. It seems the U.S. government did fly flying saucers out of Area 51 after all. If this story is to be believed (and I think it is), Area 51 was the home base for a top-secret spy plane named OXCART which had a large disc-like fuselage to carry fuel. Information about the program is just now becoming public because the records are being declassified as they become fifty years old.

Not quite as cool as reverse-engineered alien technology, but pretty cool nonetheless.

24 March 2010

My mathematical grandfather just won the Abel Prize. (I.e. the "Nobel Prize of math", with apologies to Good Will Hunting.)

05 March 2010

So there was just an article in the times arguing that the best actor oscars shouldn't be gender-segregated. I'm pretty sympathetic to the argument. The obvious problem with making this change is that you can't really just cut the number of acting awards in half, and "second best actor" somehow wouldn't quite work. Anyway what really interests me here is who would have actually won a unified award. Here's my guesses (these are for would have won, not should have won). I'm starting in 1996 cause that's where my movie knowledge starts. Which do you disagree with? I think the toughest guesses are 99, 03, 04, 06

1996: Frances McDormand (Fargo) over Geoffrey Rush (Shine)
1997: Jack Nicholson (As Good as It Gets) over Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets)
1998: Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) over Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love)
1999: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) over Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry)
2000: Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich) over Russell Crowe (Gladiator)
2001: Denzel Washington (Training Day) over Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) [though maybe Crowe if he didn't win in 2000]
2002: Adrien Brody (The Pianist) over Nicole Kidman (The Hours)
2003: Charlize Theron (Monster) over Sean Penn (Mystic River)
2004: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) over Jamie Foxx (Ray) [on the "she was robbed for Boys Don't Cry" theory]
2005: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) over Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)
2006: Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) over Helen Mirren (The Queen)
2007: Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood) over Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
2008: Sean Penn (Milk) over Kate Winslet (The Reader)

24 February 2010

Poll numbers show a staggering majority of voters oppose the Citizens United decision overturning limits on political expenditures by corporations. The numbers are high enough that a constitutional amendment overturning the decision isn't out of the question.

If there is a constitutional amendment, the next question is what the amendment should say. My home state senator, Tom Udall, has introduced what I would call a narrow amendment, which would enable Congress and the states to regulate corporate political expenditures.

A more intriguing option would be to draft a broader amendment limiting the freedom of speech to natural persons (i.e., not corporations or other artificial entities). This would have all sorts of effects outside of the campaign finance world. To name a few, this would greatly aid in the regulation of pornography and advertising.

About the only downside that I can think of (although I am sure there are others) is that a poorly worded amendment might enable interference with the press or with churches. Because the First Amendment separately protects the freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the freedom of the press, however, I don't think it would be impossible to maintain those protections that I think most people would want to keep in the First Amendment.

21 December 2009

I was reading the other day about how, at the temple of Delphi, when the holy fire was extinguished, it could not be re-lit by earthly fire. Instead, according to Plutarch, it would be lit using "concave mirrors, of a figure formed by the revolution of an isosceles rectangular triangle." A few days later, inspired by the Greeks (and in imminent danger of falling asleep during a meeting at work), and wondering what was meant by the term "isosceles rectangular triangle," I decided to try to derive the formula for the focus of a parabola. I gave up after muddling into trigonometric identities long since forgotten, and didn't bother looking up the answer. (I did, though, manage to stay awake through the rest of the meeting.) Today, I saw this picture in a NYT story about how students are taking too many AP tests. Hopefully those students will be qualified to be Delphic priests!

03 November 2009

There's a shelf at my mother's house that is devoted to storing, apparently for eternity, the fruit preserves that people give her as gifts. This summer I decided to help her clean off the shelf. We threw out the jars that looked obviously toxic, but (I'm still not sure why) I decided to salvage the unopened jars and try them out.

So, for the past month or so, I've been testing these aged fruit preserves. I've thrown out some, but a few have been ok. I ate one jar of a brownish fruit that could have been either figs or some unknown berries, and another jar that was either apricots or peaches. Now I'm eating a jar that's simply labeled, "Crabapples '92."

Apart from an admonition about botulism, AM's comment was, "why would anyone want to preserve crabapples?"

02 October 2009

Unless the Twins manage to pull off a miracle in their last three games, this year's MLB postseason lineup is going to be very disappointing. When the Twins aren't in the playoffs, I root for the team that "deserves it most" as measured by when they last won a championship. By that measure, almost none of the teams in this year's postseason deserve it. Seven of the eight teams have appeared in the World Series since 2002 (Yankees '03, Red Sox '04 & '07, Tigers '06, Angels '02, Phillies '08, Cardinals '06, Rockies '07), and five of those teams have won this decade (the Rockies and Tigers lost; the Yankees lost in '03 but won in '00). The remaining team is the Dodgers, who technically deserve it the most, but as an adopted San Franciscan I have a hard time rooting for them, especially after how their fans behaved at the game I went to in August.

So I guess you can call me pretty apathetic about this postseason. This is probably just as well, since all of the games will be on at 2.30 in the morning where I am. Of course, last time I spent a fall in Europe (2002) it was one of the most memorable postseasons in recent history. So I guess my position is: I'll get up in the middle of the night to watch any Game 7, and World Series Game 6 if it was 2-2 after four.

Unless the Twins are in it.

18 September 2009

I arrived in Virginia yesterday, and I'm staying with Almea while I continue to look for an apartment. For those of you who don't know about it, the website spotcrime.com is a lot of fun. It gives you a searchable map pinpointing all the reported crimes in an area during a specified time period.

Something interesting I saw on the website: Arlington, a city with a population of about 200,000, had about 200 reported crimes in the past two months. Alexandria, with a population of 150,000, had about 200 reported crimes in the past two weeks. Washington, a city with a population of about 600,000, had about 200 reported crimes in the past four days.

According to the spotcrime map, most of the Washington crimes are not in the poorest neighborhoods, but are instead property crimes in some of the trendiest parts of the city. Perhaps criminals have easy pickings among the young and well-to-do. (I am reminded of the Harvard students who were repeatedly burgled when they left their dorm rooms unlocked.) I'm not sure, however, why the trendier parts of Arlington have so many fewer crimes; maybe would-be criminals are deterred by northern Virginia's famous transportation problems.

08 September 2009

My apartment in Arlington just fell through, so I'm back on craigslist looking for a place to live. My favorite listing so far: "$650 Basement near Ballston with 20 Some restaurant workers." After I clicked on it in sheer fascination, I realized they were refering to their ages, not their numbers.

19 August 2009

In the past month, three people independently recommended that I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Two bought me the book. The other said, "this book will make you want to tear off all your clothes and go running into the wilderness."

I just finished the book, and I can only nod in agreement. And I bet it has an even more profound effect on non-runners.