Saturday, December 19, 2009

Science jokes

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A biologist walks into a bar...

I challenge anyone to make jokes about theoretical math. The Klein Four Group does the best job I know of.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Auditorium: the game

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Play the online demo version.

It's a puzzle game with an aesthetically dynamic interface -- sleek, clean, minimalist color scheme. The object is to direct a photon beam via adjustable force fields in order to initiate various instrumental voicing simultaneously... and generate a symphony.

It's a festival of topology, visual arts, music, with physics references. Not much else I can ask for in a puzzle game!

The music is Philip Glass-style hypnotic. In Act 2, the chord progression of i-VII-VI-V in C# minor works quite nicely with the elegant black background and bright particle beams. The visual and the audio together convey a sensation of cruising in space -- with an MP3 player and headphones.

I'm sorely tempted to get the full version of this.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

[In progress] Dark justice (more spoiler warnings)

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There have been some memorable characters in fiction - some call them messengers of justice, others call them... serial killers. The shortlisted ones are Dexter Morgan of the TV series Dexter, Yagami Raito of the manga Death Note, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the numerous novels and movies featuring him. (Spoilers follow...)

They come from different backgrounds and have their distinctive modus operandi, but they are all hyper-intelligent, meticulous, confident about their abilities, and sociopathic. Very charismatic sociopaths who are (or in the case of Death Note, have been) quite successful in hiding what they do.

(to be continued)

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

[In progress] Some takes on The Prestige (Spoiler alert)

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(One can always check out Wikipedia for more spoilers.)

Some have said that this movie packed too much into the limited time frame. But movies like these are so much more fun because one could realize new insights upon multiple viewings.

Those who think this film is like "Batman vs. Wolverine" probably are more into plot-driven movies than character-driven ones. And The Prestige is most definitely a character-driven movie.

Michael Caine's "Alfred the Butler" aura works very nicely to soften the cutthroat competition between the magicians.

Tesla, science, magic

I like the way Nikola Tesla is portrayed. I admit to partiality toward scientists and engineers... but only those with good sense and wisdom. Tesla is a curious character with quirks and a brooding contemplative tendency. Though in this movie, he's the brilliant mind with the voice of wisdom.

He builds a device that creates a double of the original in another location, be it living or not. He understands the implication of his teleportation-cloning apparatus and warns Angier not to use it, and knows that Angier would anyway. Here we have the scientist who must watch an inherently neutral machine get abused.

One can say that the scientist has a responsibility to prevent that, but honestly, some people can turn anything and everything into weapons. Harnessing the force within subatomic particles has led to radiation therapy and fission bombs. Same with dynamite, airplanes, genetic manipulation.

Science can be like magic when it's not well-understood. But even after it's well-understood, it can still be like magic. If one does not lose the ability to appreciate the aesthetics of the underlying mechanisms.


The magicians' rivalry is a positive feedback of ever-escalating obsession with perfection and maintaining the illusion of success behind their rather imperfect life. That's the ultimate magic trick. As Buddy Kane from American Beauty puts it, "In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times."

But what about the inside? What if it's just an emptiness? Like Borden/Fallon each living half a life and driving their loved ones to demise? Or their thirst for revenge veiled by constantly trying to one-up the other on the stage?

Random aside

Twins who're in love with two different people while pretending to be the same person... just asking for trouble :-P

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interactive games for the love of science [WAY TOO MUCH NERDING OUT]

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[Procrastination from final exams studying]

Learning about science should be more "fun" in the "playful" sense. Call me neotenous, but I was daydreaming about creating a game to learn quantum mechanical concepts during class today.

Some possibilities arise:

(1) Puzzle game -

perhaps the most obvious, but this eventually degenerates into a press- button- to- pick- the- right- choice scheme. A good starting point though.

(2) Real-time strategy -

In the conventional market, this usually involves building home bases with personnel units and resources while taking over additional territories and attacking enemies.

So maybe something like... generating wavefunctions that are of certain energies in order to "fill-up" quantum wells... Or making the enemies fall into forbidden optical transitions of the hydrogen atom and die... A sample final objective might be solving the hydrogen atom, and along the way one needs to conquer sub-goals. Like perturbing the enemies' wavefunctions while defending one's own.

Or somehow factor in the probability distribution functions... say Precious Particle X is distributed in such a way at well location A, etc... resource allocation.

(3) Role-playing game (RPG) -

Here we get into the Bizarro category because I can't think of a way to make this format convincing. A possible idea is to have a large and complicated potential well, and the player has to navigate and wield their weapons of various approximation methods of calculating wavefunctions in the meantime... (yeah I know...) with many possible eigenstates (i.e. game endings) that collapse into only a single observable state upon each measurement (::headdesk::)

(4) MMORPG (...) -

Similar to RPG, except now many players can suffer along the overflowing nerdism.

This analogy could also be applied to device physics. I mean, transistors, moving charges, structures that seriously look like skyscrapers under the microscope... I see SimTransis-tower. (Insert major eye-roll and groan for bad pun.)

One could imagine that the whole research process is as such, except in real-space with real stakes. So... these ideas are fail-safe ways to fool around with concepts and experiments. Except for anything unverified in real-life. That's where cutting-edge research comes in.

[/Procrastination from final exams studying]
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

[In progress] Detective modalities

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The hypothesis is that fictional detectives are curious characters that illuminate the temperaments of their creators to some degree... though I can't "prove" that without researching about the respective creators. Something I will have to postpone till a later time.

(1) Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The one that inspired many to follow. For the Jungians, a textbook example of INTJ.

(2) Adrian Monk, created by Andy Breckman

The obsessive-compulsive detective.

(3) Kudo Shinichi from Case Closed by Aoyama Gosho

High school student-detective trapped in a six-year-old's body.

(4) Shawn Spencer from Psych, created by Steve Franks

The self-proclaimed psychic with no psychic abilities, though with razor-sharp sense of observation and quick wit.


Baaad Apple!! (Warning: Really really catchy)

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Music video (subbed lyrics)

(Piano version)

Elegant and fluid motion. The dichotomous hues are suggestive of light and shadow with all that they imply, and the minimalism conjures up wandering thoughts about abstractions.

One can catch glimpses of fantasy elements -- a mage's hat, angel's wings, reaper's scythe, various head gears... like rabbit ears. Going down a rabbit hole? Perhaps this is a representational fairy tale. More like a dystopic fairy tale...

Not sure how good the translation of the lyric is, but the inflection reminds me vaguely of Romanticism and Gothicism. Expressive angst! One reason to learn languages is to appreciate works of literature (and songs!) in their original form...

Totally dig the punky jazz piano with major-2nd chords. Great pacing too, with the lyrical section in the middle. The counter-melodies around 1:27 and 3:14 are reminiscent of gliding over clouds -- pure exhilaration. The recap section at 2:12 could use some more subtle textures, as the percussiveness is a bit jarring. But overall a nice rendition. That last few seconds of Philip Glass-like periodic motion about sums it up.

These videos are based on a game called the Touhou Project. I'm not familiar with the game, but the creator seems like a highly interesting character...

(Alternate variation... Russian-style)

The music actually goes with the visual pretty well :-P

Monday, November 23, 2009

Biologically-inspired choreography

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This made me speechless. One could go about analyzing what each move and each gesture signifies, but the overall message is elegantly presented. Evolution aptly represented.

Reminds me of the Cirque du Soleil with their exquisite motion of artistry.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parodical homage of classical music?

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Apparently a lot of songs follow the same progression! Oh man, those descending fifths. ROFL.

This is rather silly... Perhaps Igudesman is bow-poking fun at the dual Russian/Ukrainian tradition of violinists and balalaika players running in families? Aside from the example in Dr. Zhivago. And the people in the video are actually violinists :-P

Classical music needs people like him and his buddy Richard Joo... check out more of their performances on Youtube. I would go for their live concerts.

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And there is of course Victor Borge, who's a classic on his own... (more Youtube videos!)

I particularly liked the Beethoven and the Mozart versions. Spot on. I was hoping for a good Liszt version, sigh... too bad. I suspect his Hungarian Rhapsody has seen many renditions of randomness in Tom and Jerry already. Aaaand we have the circle of fifth again in the J.S. Baaaaaach version at 3:15...
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[In progress] Numb3rs chronicled - WARNING: spoilers galore.

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It's refreshing to see a TV series that's not all about doctors, lawyers, politicians, or a combination thereof. And it's also nice to see that certain characters' nerdiness is not objectified as an easy target for humor as in a few other TV programs. Even though the technical details are glossed over for the sake of maintaining the abstraction barrier (and for having commercial breaks), the writers have done an overall good job in presenting said technical details.

The premise is using mathematical techniques to solve crimes, but the show is not just about math -- the characterization and relationships among the characters bring life to the math and the science. As the seasons progressed, the audience can see how the characters develop, how they gain wisdom (or cynicism), and how their relationships grow.

Charlie starts out with a sheltered, academic-brand naïveté that metamorphoses into confidence, social grace, and some cynicism.

Don learns that he has to let go sometimes and trust his team more.

David grows from a rookie agent to one who's capable of leading a team of his own.

Colby has his share of issues after serving in Afghanistan, but he eventually overcomes them in his own ways.

Megan's experience with some cases eventually makes her leave the FBI team... Larry's space trip expands his spiritual existence, and their relationship opens up both their world.

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(1) The Eppes

1.1 Don

He's responsible, dutiful, dependable, loyal to his family and colleagues, though he gets suspicious easily with a history of commitment issues in romantic relationships. It's not clear why he has trouble trusting others, but it's sometimes an asset, if not an occupational hazard, of working in law enforcement.

In Season 2, it was revealed that Don always had a knack for policing ever since his first game of "cops 'n robbers".

1.2 Charlie

His first appearance captures his essence in a rather flashy way -- driving around in an electric car around Cal Sci campus. (LOLrioKart, anyone?) Typical portrayal of a nerdy character who likes to think about and play with concepts, mathematical abstractions, their applications... and occasionally their physical manifestations in the form of Mythbusters-style experimentation.

1.3 Sibling rivalry

A recurring theme is the rivalry between Charlie and Don. Charlie is five years younger but attends school in the same class year as Don. That creates lots of issues for both of them, especially in high school. Wanting to ask the same girl out to prom was just the tip of the highlighter. (Don got the girl, not surprisingly.) Charlie constantly felt awkward and Don constantly felt like the "stupid one" next to Charlie.

Don felt like he had to compete for parental attention because Charlie needed extra attending to from skipping five grades (the non-academic aspects of life). Charlie, on the hand, wanted to be popular like Don or at least socially accepted.

Earlier in the series, it is apparent that this tension replayed itself numerous times throughout the boys' school years. It has forced Don to be more independent than otherwise, because he perceives that he can never ask anyone for help and has to take care of everything himself.

For what it's worth, had Charlie and Don not worked on cases together, they might have remained one of the "distant" sibling pairs. Though according to their father Alan, Don is always protective of Charlie and Charlie looks up to Don, even though neither of them likes to admit it. This dynamic is central to the plot as Charlie gets more involved with Don's FBI cases. Their relationship becomes more collaborative.

1.4 Parents

Alan is the epitome of a supportive father. He always shares his wisdom whenever he sees either Don or Charlie in a quandary, whether it be work or relationship problems. To invoke an analogy, Alan is like the Obi-Wan Kanobi for the two young and headstrong Jedi knights. He keeps the brothers together, especially after his wife Margaret passed away (1~2 years before the series begins).

It can be inferred that the Eppes brothers were close to their mom, especially Charlie. Her presence has an overarching bond for the Eppes, as evident in a few Season 2 episodes. The literary analyst in me says that she's a plot device for the purpose of illuminating certain aspects of the brothers... but this overarching effect works very well in softening the otherwise tough-guy atmosphere of the series.

Charlie and Alan live in the same house -- at one point the ownership technically transferred from Alan to Charlie after Charlie placed an anonymous offer to buy the house when Alan put it on sale. And even though Don has his own apartment, he comes by all the time. During one episode where an ATF agent is suspected of committing suicide, Charlie runs the math model he devised to analyze Don's suicide risk -- and concluded he'll be fine mainly because of "strong ties to family". It's heartwarming to see a close-knit family (on TV no less... quite rare these days) that gets along so well despite everything.

(2) Prof. Amita Ramanujan

I was initially skeptical about this role of a hyper-intelligent and beautiful math geek... ingrained stereotypes die hard, as the simultaneous occurrence of desirable traits from these disparate fields is quite rare. I mean, when one thinks of someone who built a working computer from scratch at age 13, what kind of image comes to mind? ... Yes, most likely someone like Napoleon Dynamite.

Somehow Amita does not end up being as well-developed as she could have been. Maybe because she's treated as an "associate" of Charlie. The only scenes where the audience gets a deeper glimpse at her character are where (1) she interacts with an Indian girl forced to become an organ donor on the black market, (2) she objects to her department's decision to take a grant from a pharmaceutical company with a record of shady practices in the 3rd-world, and (3) her getting kidnapped by a domestic radical.

In (1) and (2) we see her generous humanitarian side, and in (3) we see her strength of character as well as vulnerability, albeit in the form of her connection to Charlie. It is unfortunate that the audience doesn't get to see her as much as an independent character as Megan is, perhaps. Her role is more like an extension of Charlie, initially the advisor-advisee relationship they started out in the beginning of the series. The whole iffy-taboo of "dating your TA". Although they do wait until after Charlie's not her thesis advisor anymore to officially start dating.

In any event, it's nice to have such a stereotype-defying character, even if the acting is somewhat awkward at times. Amita has opened up Charlie's world to more than math, despite their disastrous first date where they decide not to talk about work (i.e. math) and end up unable to talk about anything else!

(3) Prof. Larry Fleinhardt

He has the best lines. Mostly with cosmological and/or philosophical metaphors about life. Larry is the most neotenous character in this series, even more than Charlie, in the later seasons. He asks many questions, experiments with ideas, and is always filled with awe much like a child -- aside from his knowledge in astrophysics.

He likes to explore the universe intellectually, with an enviable ability to detach himself from worldliness. Such as not having a house (he camps out in the steam tunnel of Cal Sci). Or a cellphone (until he accepts a space mission from NASA and has to get one for convenience). Well, the spirit is enviable, even if the consequences are not so practical... but hey, it's TV.

Larry is a central element in the series because he has such a unique temperament. He infuses an aura of peacefulness with his philosophizing and child-like wonderment, and this adds a special texture to the otherwise tough-guy fast-paced style of most TV crime series (except Monk!)

It was a sad moment when he left Numb3rs, because after that the plot has fallen into the usual sarcasm-laced matter-of-fact wisecrack dialogues with minimal character development. Although by Season 6, all the characters are pretty much developed anyway...

3.1 Relationship with Charlie

They go waaay back when Charlie begins university at age 14. :-P Larry is a trusted mentor, and later a colleague and friend. A favorite scene is when Charlie calls NASA to vouch for Larry's capability to participate in the space mission, because NASA found out that Larry has been living in the steam tunnels. Even though Charlie doesn't want Larry to leave for 6 months, he decides to help Larry achieve his dream, just as how Larry has helped him achieve his.

Larry is the Yoda of this series. He gives Charlie the right hints at the right times with a slightly manic inflection. Although his grammar is more conventional, he has quirks like a predilection for white foods (which may suggest an OCD tendency... then again, intellectuals often have this tendency or else they would not be intellectuals.)

3.2 Relationship with Megan

When I first started watching Numb3rs (Season 3 or so), I couldn't fathom how Larry ended up with Megan. But when I watched all the episodes in order from Season 1, I found out why. And they've become one of my favorite couples (perhaps even more than Charlie and Amita :-P).

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Organic designs

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Good designs should be simple, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. No surprise that many of them are Nature-inspired, considering that Nature has been experimenting for millions and billions of years... even if by trial and error.

That car design has potential. Although it'll be a whole other matter to deal with the petroleum industry and the whole infrastructure reformatting.

It's refreshing to hear him shoot down the myopic view of the corporate representative in such colorful vocabulary.

And... Work should really feel more like play. That's the ideal. I would love to visit his office, from what it sounds like.
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