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.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Nerd News: Home Schooling in the News

Article in the New York Times.  Honestly, with education being the mess that it is with No Child Left Behind and Common Core and the obsession with standardized testing, I would probably want to home school too if I had a Mini-Me.  As it is, I've already been asked to consult a bit on my areas of specialization by some friends home schooling their little ones.

LOL: New Book Satirizes Overbearing NYC Parents

Mommie dearest.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

LOL: A Deliciously Demented Detail

I just saw this hilarity on Imgur: "After ten years and many viewings, I just noticed the streets of Paris are paved with croissants in Team America, World Police."  OMG, HOW HAVE I NEVER NOTICED?!  Go and look for yourself!

Thoughts on Broken Windows

William Bratton, NYC police commissioner, and George Kelling, criminal professor emeritus from Rutgers, take time to write:
Critics have posed a variety of arguments against Broken Windows.  Some assert that it is synonymous with the controversial patrol tactic known as "stop, question, and frisk."  Others allege that Broken Windows is discriminatory, used as a tool to target minorities.  Some academics claim that Broken Windows has no effect on serious crime and that demographic and economic causes better explain the reductions in crime in New York and across the United States.  Still other critics suggest that order-maintenance policing leads to over-incarceration or tries to impose a white middle-class morality on urban populations.  It is rare to have the opportunity and space to correct all the misconceptions and misrepresentations embedded in such charges.  We will counter them here, one by one.

Friday, January 02, 2015

DVD Review: "Pacific Rim" (2013)


The holidays are for watching all the things you never had time to watch before!  This time it's 2013's unabashedly silly summer popcorn flick Pacific Rim, which is really more entertaining than it has a right to be.  Disclaimer: I was a kid who loved Voltron and mech suits and Gundam and Godzilla and all that, so I was pretty much going to consider Pacific Rim a guilty pleasure and love it (and then feel no guilt about any of it), especially since it has a cast that includes Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, and Ron Perlman.  Anyway, the premise is simple enough: gigantic monsters called kaiju are invading the planet via a fissure in the ocean floor, and it's up to hotshot warriors in enormous mechanical suits called Jaegers to fight them.

Sure, there's plenty of nonsense and silliness in the flick, but - hey, let's be honest - I didn't care!  I was willing to let it all slide because the movie itself is so much bombastic FUN.  It's style over substance, but come on, it's hilariously entertaining.  This is a movie that features Idris Elba (!) as a commander named Stacker Pentecost, for goodness sakes!  Charlie "Jax Teller" Hunnam plays a pilot named Raleigh Becket (seriously), and he has a Jaeger called (I'm not making this up) Gipsy Danger (ex-girlfriend of Anthony Weiner perhaps?).  A trio of hoops-shooting Chinese pilots run a machine named Crimson Typhoon.  Another pilot is named (with a straight face) Hercules Hansen.  The nomenclature of everything seems to have an uproarious Engrishy twist to it.  Alessandra, watching with me, shouted, "It's pure anime!" and meant it as a compliment.

Ignore the silliness ("drift compatible" and whatever), logical pitfalls, Rinko Kikuchi's almost unintelligible Mako Mori character, and a climax that is a little too reminiscent of Independence Day and The Avengers.  Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the sight of giant robots battling giant monsters while wrecking Hong Kong with cheerful abandon.  For an hour and a half you can be a kid watching a cartoon and having a grand old time.  You can be a sensible adult before and after, but for the run time of Pacific Rim you can be a schoolboy/girl enjoying eye candy mayhem, monsters, and mechs.  Oh, and be sure to sit through the first bit of credits.

Mad Minerva gives Pacific Rim the grade of B+ for sheer enjoyable popcorn amusement.  Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's ridiculous fun ... and rather more fun than the latest Godzilla.

Pacific Rim runs 132 minutes and is rated PG-13 for monster/mech action, some disturbing images (kaiju guts are gross!), and Charlie Hunnam's abs (they could give Thor's a run for their money).

Rotten Tomatoes gives Pacific Rim the Fresh rating of 72%.

I could give you the actual trailer, but I think it'd be far more amusing to give you the Honest Trailer:

Friday Fun: The Scaredy Swan

Nerd News: Winter Commencement at the University of Hawaii

A nod to one's heritage.  Congratulations to all the new grads!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The 2015 Rose Parade

This year's Tournament of Roses, one of my favorite New Year's traditions, has the theme "Inspiring Stories" to honor remarkable men and women.  I was surprised and delighted to see this beautiful float!

Recognize the motto "Go For Broke"?  It's from the 442nd, of which several veterans were on the float this morning.  If you aren't familiar with its history, please do look it up when you have a moment.

Happy 2015!

Delightful Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has a great message about optimism and the conscious resolution to do some good this year to make the world a better place:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'll Fly Away: Jetliner Cross-Section

Since we're all traveling a lot for the holidays, here's something cool and relevant.  Ain't technology grand!  

*tries to hang onto sense of wonder about human flight even as babies howl in crowded cabins and people drop bags on one's head from overhead compartments*

Mamma Mia! 30 Best Fictional Parents

Atticus Finch et al!