Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Apparently the bar is pretty low...

You Are a Smart American

You know a lot about US history, and you're opinions are probably well informed.
Congratulations on bucking stereotypes. Now go show some foreigners how smart Americans can be.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Six Degrees of WikiBacon

So, this evening my brother Dave and I invented the awesomest game in the universe by accident. Here's what you do. You go to Wikipedia and hit the random article button on the top left hand column. Then, you try to get to Kevin Bacon in six links or less. No cheating, such as looking stuff up on Google or using your back button.

Here are some examples:

0 US House of Representatives
1 California State Legislature
2 California
3 Hollywood
4 Walk of Fame
5 List of Stars
6 Kevin Bacon!

0 Indian Institute of Technology
2 Counterculture
3 Brokeback Mountain
4 Randy Quaid
5 American film actors
6 Ba
7 :( Kevin Bacon (So close, yet so not six degrees...)

0 Dolores Project
1 Ute Tribe
2 Utah
3 Footloose
4 Kevin Bacon!!!

0 Chromosome 15
1 Marfan syndrome
2 Vincent Schiavelli
3 Ghost (Yes, we thought Kevin Bacon was in Ghost. That's right. We suck.)
4 Demi Moore
5 A Few Good Men
6 Kevin Bacon!

0 Douglas Head Lighthouse
1 1986
2 1986 in film
3 Tom Cruise
4 A Few Good Men
5 Kevin Bacon!!

0 Parseval's identity
1 Mathematics
2 Space
3 Outer Space
5 Apollo 13
6 Kevin Bacon!

We also could have won on that last one by going from Math to Combinatorics to Paul Erdős to Erdős number to six degrees to Kevin Bacon. But I only remembered that there was some math guy that people played a game with like Kevin Bacon, and I had to look up some info to make the connection. That's cheating, so it doesn't count.

Anyway, it's totally sweet. And easy to play. It would be even easier if I knew something about Kevin Bacon. (I only know like four movies he is in-- the other one I haven't used yet is Tremors.) Others of my imaginary readers will have superior knowledge, and thus do much better at this game than I. But that's okay. The game is my gift to the world. I'm like Dr. James Naismith. I don't have to be good at it, because I invented it. I think.

Has someone else already played this game? I don't think so, but it seems pretty obvious in retrospect. Anyway, if you have, you're Dr. James Naismith, and I'm not. But if you haven't, then I am. So there.


PS - Feel free to play the game yourself and leave your scores in the Comments, or Trackbacks or whatever. Party on.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Celebrity endorsements

It's true what they say: being a professor is exactly like being a rock star, except with even more rock and roll. Last semester I got my first tastes of fame: I had an interview published*, I was quoted in an article in the newspaper**, I opined on the radio***, and I even got a speaking gig****. It should now be obvious to all that I am not just an established pundit, but a celebrity.

Life in the fast lane accelerated for me this semester as I was (and continue to be) sought out for a series of celebrity endorsements. Even better, I am being asked to endorse people. Most celebrities only are trusted to render judgements on things like breakfast cereal or cars, which Consumer Reports does better anyway. But my advice is being sought on the worth of individual human beings.

The power I hold in my hand is truly awesome. I can make or break someone's summer internship. It's quite an "authority rush," as the kids say, but I am careful not to let the sensation go to my head. I keep myself grounded through a combination of yoga and old G.I. Joe cartoons.

Wait, that should say yogurt and not yoga. (Custard-style Yoplait, just like the movie stars eat.)

Anyhow, you, my imaginary readers should be grateful that you are getting in on the ground floor of the House of Payne fame elevator as it rockets through the roof and into the sun. It's just a matter of time now before I am elected Emperor of Earth through popular acclaim. How many academics can say that? Besides Alan Dershowitz, I mean.

Peace out, peasants.


* The interview was in the Political Review, a 4-page magazine written by students and handed out for free to anyone who will take one. The circulation is in the hundreds, I am sure, if you count trash cans as subscribers.

** I was quoted in the Daily Universe, the student newspaper. They asked me about border security as it relates to immigration, about which I know very little.

*** Me and two other guys who work here got to blab about nukes on a program called Thinking Aloud. The thinking I am not so sure of, but I believe we were actually vocalizing, so the aloud part is right.

**** Some folks who work at the bureau of reclamation here in town asked me to come in and talk a bit during their lunch break. It was not, strictly speaking, a paying gig, unless you count prestige as money-- which I do. I assume that dozens of people work there, and I assume that the five or six people who showed up with brown bags took my words and carried them back to share with their co-workers. So the potential impact of what I said is basically limitless.

Friday, February 02, 2007

First post in many, many moons

And of course it is a silly piece of nothing. The Butchers linked to this post on Texas Best Grok, and I feel compelled to waste fifteen minutes on this silly sci-fi internet meme.

Here are the rules:

This is a list of the 50 most significant science fiction/fantasy novels, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club.

Bold the ones you've read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

Here we go...

  • The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
  • The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
  • Dune, Frank Herbert*
  • Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein -- HATED IT! SO MUCH!
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick*
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov*
  • Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  • Cities in Flight, James Blish
  • The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  • Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
  • Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
  • The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  • Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  • Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey*
  • Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card*
  • The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  • The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  • Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
  • I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  • Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Little, Big, John Crowley
  • Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny*
  • The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  • Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
  • More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  • On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  • Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Ringworld, Larry Niven*
  • Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  • The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  • Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*
  • Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
  • The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  • Timescape, Gregory Benford
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer