Friday, September 28, 2012

Poem of the week - "A Cloud in Trousers" by Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky was a firebrand Russian poet who flourished in the early decades of the 20th century. A passionate and no-nonsense poet (he despised the idea of using flowery language), he was widely popular outside of the newly formed USSR, and toured extensively in the US, France, Germany and Britain.

Like many brilliant but volatile literary figures Mayakovsky suffered bouts of depression and agitation. He shot himself at 37.

"Cloud in Trousers" is a long poem that earned him widespread recognition. Here's the prologue from that poem. Mayakovsky's assertiveness and brash confidence can be seen clearly in many verses:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Badass Mathematicians - 2: Emmy Noether

(Part 2 of an occasional series where I profile some influential mathematicians. Part 1, covering the volatile Frenchman Evariste Galois, is here )

Emmy Noether was that special type of badass whose contributions to pure mathematics ended up becoming the impetus for much of modern physics. Before we get to that bit of badassery, some details about her life. She was born in Germany in 1882. Father Max was a mathematician also. Wikipedia tells me he names a couple theorems in his own right. Couple of her brothers got doctorates and such. In short, she was part of an academically inclined family.
What a badass bowtie

After going through routine schooling, where she was a pretty good student, she reach a dead end. Society expected her to become a teacher for girls' school. Noether had other ideas. The powers that be at her university saw great ills in allowing mixed education. They let her enroll grudgingly. Within a few years, she hammered out a fine PhD thesis titled "On Complete Systems of Invariants for Ternary Biquadratic Forms". Later she called it crap. Sounds perfectly fine to me, but hey what do I know.

Contemporary mathematical beast David Hilbert invited her to join him at Gottigen university. There, despite toiling hard as a superb professor without pay for the first two years, she produced some solid papers on topics well above my pay grade.

It was there she formulated the theorem that would propel her into the pantheon of badasses. Here's the statement:

"To every differentiable symmetry generated by local actions, there corresponds a conserved current."

Huh? What? Here is what it means in plain (relatively speaking) English: if a physical law does not change under conditions of space and time, it must have a quantity that is conserved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poem of the week - "Ulysses" by Lord Tennyson

Lord Tennyson patented the art of writing melodramatic poems depicting acts of great stoicism and valor. The same sombre tone permeates most of his poems. A sunny day's readings they are not - but then again, I prefer overcast skies over sunny skies anyway. Here Tennyson has taken the age old story of Odysseus (or Ulysses, if you have something against using Greek names) and made it into a manifesto of the worn but undefeated spirit. The speaker talks about suffering a lot and is in a nostalgic mood, but doesn't let any of this hamper his indomitable mind. Despite all his struggles, he is restless. He sees glory in seeking and striving for eternity. A bit long, but well worth the read.


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known---cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all---
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, my own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle---
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me---
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads---you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

UG Sports: Football's here!!!!

Aaaaah. That time of the year again. The air is thick with the stench of premature exams (I am glaring at you pharmacology) and failed experiments in lab. But then I pause, lean back, and take in the simpler pleasures of life. Rain, overcast skies, autumn. And FOOTBALL.

Two years ago, when this blog was still in its infancy and was still learning not to put toys in its mouth, I ran a weekly segment highlight major sports events. Did not keep up with that last year. But that's all about to change.

After a highly eventful offseason that saw the titillating  (Peyton Manning becoming the most coveted free agent in the history of football) to the droll (beast back MJD refusing to show up to work until a couple days ago) to the LOL (the Sanchize-Tebow circus is in town everybody!), the richest and the most badass sport in the world is ready to flex its biceps. Let this obstreperous (I'll wait for you to look it up) gentleman tell you all about it:

Now normally kickoff happens on Thursday. That's mandated in the constitution. But El Presidente is holding a party in Charlotte this week and is giving a speech on Thursday night. So the all powerful Emperor league commissioner Roger Goodell deferred, and with a wave of his wand declared Wednesday season opener.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Poem of the week - "Something" by George Harrison

Thought I would do something different this week. Obviously this is not a poem in the traditional sense, but the beauty of poetry lies in the difficulty of defining what exactly counts as poetry. I am normally ruthlessly dismissive of sappy and hokey love songs, but the simple lyrics are pretty powerful.

Here's George Harrison with "Something":

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me

I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don't need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me

I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

You're asking me will my love grow
I don't know, I don't know
You stick around now it may show
I don't know, I don't know

Something in the way she knows
And all i have to do is think of her
Something in the things she shows me

I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

And here's a clip of this mesmerizing song:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Trumpeter with a mohawk - an evening out

I am huge fan of the St. Louis symphony. Its repertoire is broad and enjoyable, its performances warmly received, and its hall beautiful. Students are treated like royalty - for a measly ten bucks you can get a seat only a few feet away from world class pianists and violinists.

Last Tuesday the symphony awoke from its ritual summer slumber and put up a performance free of charge to kick off its upcoming tour of four European cities. Tickets were gone hours after being made available couple weeks ago, but I was agile enough to snag one for myself. At 5:15 pm I wheeled out my bike and pedaled over, taking special care to snootily sneer at the large "$10 for parking" sign outside the hall.

The musicians were tuning their instruments, shuffling chairs around, ruffling papers and all that jazz. It took me a few seconds to realize something was odd. Normally these people dress to impress. Somber, elegant black, faces placid and studiously bland. But today it was all about t-shirts, scruffy beards (as a connoisseur of facial hair, I have a keen eye for such things) and mischievous smiles.

And a dude in the back row brandishing a trumpet had a freaking mohawk!

This was awesome! I am always allergic to dressing up for classical music (in fact I ranted about it in this post a while back) because it makes the genre seem so pompous and stuffy.

Minutes later, the conductor bounded on the stage, also sporting a festive t-shirt.  Mayor Francis Slay spoke for a few minutes.

This was one of the best performances I have attended. The conductor made some nerdy music jokes before the start of each piece. There was a freshness to the whole performance. The audience enjoyed it immensely. We were treated to not one but two encores at the end.

The good people of London, Berlin, Paris and Lucerne are in for a treat this coming week.