Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nerd Journal: Music for an Allnighter

Spring exam season is upon us!  We all know - with a sick sense of familiarity - that we'll be up at all hours for the next two weeks, so let's at least have some fun tunes:

Run, Bernie, Run!

This is probably the first actually interesting thing that's happened in the "I wanna be a candidate!" blitz.  

I'm not saying that I would leap on the Sanders bandwagon in earnest, but I would be darn pleased to see him challenge Hillary, because the whole "Hillary is inevitable" PR attempt reeks of ludicrous entitlement and should be challenged vigorously (not to mention soundly mocked).

While we're at it: Can we PLEASE on principle say no more Bushes and Clintons and nose-wrinkling whiffs of political dynasties and oligarchy?

Monday, April 06, 2015

March Madness 2015 Crowns Duke the Champion

Fine, fine, the hated Blue Devils and diabolical Coach K beat Wisconsin and took the championship.  Congratulations.  Now here's that song, because it's not March Madness without it!  (Sorry it's just a link, but the NCAA wouldn't let me embed it. Booooooo.)

Say Hello to My Little Friend: the Taiwan Navy's Latest

"Carrier killer"?

(Snarky) Quote of the Day: the Purposes of the EU

The European Union serves three main functions. It gives the French the illusion of power, the Germans a possibility of being something other than German and the political class of all European countries the hope of eternal life, or at least of power beyond the normal natural life of a democratic politician. It is a giant pension fund for European politicians.

Monday Therapy: For All of You/Us No Hopers, Jokers, and Rogues

From a little fishing village on the coast of Cornwall, England, comes this group of Cornishmen who made their mark singing sea shanties:

Sunday, April 05, 2015

God Help Us All: the Iran Mess

You know, over the course of watching this entire absurdity happen, I've said more than once - granted, more as a curse than a prayer - God help us all.

So when I looked up the Pope's annual Urbi et Orbi Easter message, I couldn't help smiling just a little bitterly when I read this part of it:
"At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world."
Good luck with that!  Really, good luck with that.

Well, if we're going to be reduced to prayer, there's probably nobody better credentialed to offer one to the Almighty than the Pope, aka the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.  

Still, I can't resist quoting that old line: "Trust in God ... and keep your powder dry."

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll try to offset my pessimism and bitterness with sweet, sweet chocolate bunnies and cream-filled eggs.  When I'm in a sugar coma, I'm sure Iran will be the least of my worries.

Awesome: Rube Goldberg's Passover Seder

Happy Easter 2015! Christos Anesti!

Happy Easter, everybody!  This year's Easter art is a painting (c. 1511) that was only recently identified as a work by Titian, one of the artistic giants of the Italian Renaissance.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Couch Potato Chronicles: Laddie, Come Home - "Outlander" Returns

The STARZ adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's historical fiction novels returns, and not a moment too soon.  I need to forget the lunacy in the news and the home stretch-to-final exams rush at school.  Fun fact: Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica is one of the showrunners for this.  (At first the two shows seem wildly different, but they both deal intensely with politics and characterization.)

Short version of Outlander: Claire Randall, an English World War II nurse, is on a second honeymoon to Scotland with historian husband Frank when she suddenly finds herself transported to the 1740s in the same location.  Those are the days of Highlander clans, English redcoats, and the Jacobite risings for Bonnie Prince Charlie that would culminate in the catastrophic Battle of Culloden, the last pitched battle in the British Isles.  Claire finds herself a stranger in a strange land ... and a dangerous one, in which she is a Sassenach, a foreigner, a stranger, and - yep - outlander.
She soon gets caught up in local political turmoil, for the redcoats suspect her of being a spy (for the French, perhaps?) and the Scots suspect her of being an English one.  What would you make of a stranger who suddenly appears in your lands, who has odd mannerisms and no connections? As Claire quickly finds out, she's caught between two radically different worlds.

OK, I must admit, it doesn't hurt in the slightest that the scenery is beautiful, the re-creation of that historical period is quite evocative, Caitriona Balfe as Claire offers us a heroine with brains and spunk (thank goodness for that as an anti-Anastasia Steele!), and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser provides both a complex personality and ample testimony to just how much of a chick magnet an outlaw Scotsman in a kilt can be. 

There's a good deal of violence and some nudity, but both are pretty much nothing compared to HBO's (also wildly popular) fantasy-political epic Game of Thrones.  Still, Outlander is a cable show and not for little ones.

Holiday Humor: Jon Stewart vs. Easter and Passover

From the archives and still hilarious: 

Well-Known Right-Wing Rag Calls Iran Deal a Disaster

Call the deal what it is with a headline of "Obama’s Iran deal falls far short of his own goals."  So, yeah, even by his own stated standards.  Compare and contrast.

By the way, I was being sarcastic in the post title.  Nowadays I can never tell if people understand what sarcasm is.  

Oh, and the Onion nailed it 2 whole years ago.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree

Actually, it's an entire family of kookaburras, and they are adorable.

It's nice to remember that there are, after all, a few creatures in Australia that aren't bound and determined to kill you or frighten you to death

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Celebrity Dude Mobbed By Rabid Fangirls

Wait for it ...

Disgustingly Cute: Meet the Ili Pika of Northwest China

Funny name, weapons-grade adorable furry face.

Up in Flames? Oh the Humanities!

Why are humanities not only valuable but freaking awesome?  You'd better figure it out on your own, because university presidents can't mount a substantive defense of the humanities.  Of course, I think most university presidents aren't worth the pixels it would take me to express my displeasure with most university presidents.  No wonder higher ed is in trouble: its putative leaders have no idea about education.

Music Hath Charms: Vivaldi's "La Primavera" (Spring)

The calendar tells me that spring arrived on the 20th, even though the weather is still chilly.  Ah, well.  Let's have some Vivaldi, shall we?

Awesome Nerd News: Meet John Urschel, Chess Player, Mathematician, and NFL Athlete

John Urschel, offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is one smart cookie.  He's just published a paper entitled "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector" in the Journal of Computational Mathematics.  Sound mind in a sound body, indeed, mens sana in corpore sano.

Here's the abstract:
In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.
I have no idea what that means, but I do know how hard it is to get published in a scholarly journal.   Congratulations, John!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Supermoon, Solar Eclipse, Vernal Equinox, March Madness, Starbucks Race Hustling, and Netanyahu Derangement Syndrome All In One Day!

Well, I guess the only thing I can do as commentary is post this Onion story

It's been a lunatic day, in which learning that Starbucks is actually encouraging its baristas to engage customers in discussions about race relations wasn't even the craziest thing that happened.  The inevitable backlash has, admittedly, provided its own form of Schadenfreudelicious entertainment. (Of course the incomparable Iowahawk has a quip.)

Elsewhere, my head is spinning from all the post-Israeli election howling from various people and quarters and media outlets.  I really can't take any more of it, because all the yelling and yammering has coalesced into one wordless collective shriek.  Maybe later I'll try to consider the fallout and talk about foreign policy again, but for now let's just call the furious reactions together "Netanyahu Derangement Syndrome" and let it go at that, mmmkay?

Finally, let me add: THANK GOD March Madness has finally started.  It's the only madness right now that makes any damn sense at all.  

(PS: Go, Anybody-But-Duke!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quote of the Day: Kurds vs. ISIS

From an anthropologist and a retired general writing together in the New York Times opinion pages today (well, that's not a combination you see every day):
Together with Lydia Wilson and Hoshang Waziri, our colleagues at Artis, a nonprofit group that uses social science research to resolve intergroup violence, we found that the Kurds demonstrate a will to fight that matches the Islamic State’s. The United States needs to help them win.
"Them" means the Kurds.

A Law Professor Considers the University of Oklahoma Speech Kerfuffle

The umpteenth reminder: free speech also protects speech that you don't like.

Here's a bit of it:
Though some ignorant people argue that "hate speech" is unprotected under the First Amendment, that is not the law and never has been. Nor should it be. The test of our commitment to free expression, after all, isn't our willingness to tolerate speech that everyone likes. If you only support free speech for ideas you agree with, you're a hack. If you only support free speech for ideas that everyone agrees with, you're a coward. 

MM in the Kitchen: Cupcakes for Saint Paddy's

Look at that green frosting!

The Best Ad of the Israeli Election?

Apparently Netanyahu is not doing very well in the polls, but I have to say that I really liked this ad.  I thought it was clever, funny, and made its point without being nasty.

Here Are the Best 3 Minutes of Your Day. Guaranteed.

Is this Swedish sign language interpreter the new Numa Numa?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Movie Review: "The Imitation Game" (2014)

Demand the genuine article. 
This movie review is long delayed, but I promised La Parisienne that I would write one ... and a lady keeps her promises (even if she's not always punctual!).  The Imitation Game is Oscar-bait biopic filmmaking at its most quintessential, and even if the film ultimately failed to win that golden statuette for fangirl favorite Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as Alan Turing, it is still a largely solid project even if it (inevitably) takes liberties with factuality and (even more inevitably) verges on hagiography.  

In short, The Imitation Game is a movie you watch once and enjoy in the watching (hey, look, it's Tanner from the Bond movies, Tom Branson from Downton Abbey, and Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones!), but it is also a movie that (aside from Cumberbatch's elegantly messy turn as Turing) I swiftly forgot when I left the theatre.  Maybe I should simply refer to the famous Turing Test for seeing if an intelligent machine can be mistaken for a human being.  This movie plays as a machine.  It's not human.  Oh, it tries.  Cumberbatch tries, and he tries on an Oscar caliber level.  But this movie both tries too hard and not hard enough.

I think part of the problem is that the movie keeps leaping among three different time periods: Turing's schoolboy days as an awkward adolescent, the thick of World War II and Bletchley Park's attempt to break the devilishly complex Nazi code enabled by the Enigma machine, and then 1952, when Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality (still criminalized under British law at the time).  The three separate threads do not come together into a unified whole, and so the final product seems disjointed and not a little incoherent.  Besides, Turing as a historical figure is far more (and far more interesting) than "tortured, persecuted genius," and I'm sorry to say that in the end, that is what the film makes of him, first and foremost.

Mad Minerva gives The Imitation Game the grade of B+.  Part of that grade is in grateful acknowledgment of how the flick resists the temptation to be a bloated, 3-hour-long, self-indulgent behemoth.  Another part is for Keira Knightley, who manages not only to be not annoying but actually interesting as a character.  Most of the B+, though, is for Benedict Cumberbatch, who is hands down the single best thing about this entire film.

The Imitation Game runs 114 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual references and some adult themes and situations.

Rotten Tomatoes gives The Imitation Game the Fresh rating of 89%.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Quote of the Day: Charlie Hebdo

Time to repeat this fundamental point:
... it is vitally important to resist the impulse–so common among “responsible” institutions, whether foreign ministries or large newspapers–at a time like this to somehow imply that the victims brought their fate upon themselves and that the best line of defense against such attacks is to practice greater self-restraint in the future. ... That is giving the terrorists precisely what they want, indeed the very reason they carry out such attacks is to deter others from similar mockery in the future.

The right to offend is the very essence of free speech–and as long as a publication doesn’t incite violence (which neither Charlie Hebdo nor The Interview did) its right to say whatever it likes must be defended to the last inch.  That is, after all, the very bedrock of freedom upon which Western democracies rest–and the very opposite of the kind of totalitarian state that Islamists have created in Iran and a large chunk of Syria/Iraq.