December 19, 2011
I love films. Just like I love reading. By love, I mean rarely do I get a chance to do them. However, I am working on doing both more (currently in the middle of Lady Vengeance and Borges on those fronts). Anyway, I went to visit some friends in Houston a few weeks ago, and we watched the movie Limitless. What a disappointment. They had such a great premise and then they frittered it away on trivial things. It’s like they couldn’t really follow through on their thoughts to a good conclusion. If only they had that damn pill.
For those of you who have not seen the movie, the premise is that this loser gets a magic pill that allows him to use all of his brain. I want to state that this guy really is a loser. He’s a slob who is a struggling writer, by which I mean drinker. He gets dumped by his girlfriend that he has been mooching off of in the first few minutes to show just what a shmuck he is. Anyway, he gets this magic pill, and he immediately changes. He cleans his pig sty apartment and writes his novel in two days. The novel is amazing and everything is totally rosy. Then there’s this whole intrigue about the drug maker and drug user and yadda-yadda-yadda.
The whole time we were watching the film my friends and I were yelling at the guy to take the drug to a chemist and get it synthesized. The film goes to great lengths to make the scarcity of the pills a big plot point, but using the pills our loser makes oodles of money. To their credit, he eventually gets a chemist to start making the pills. Anyway, I don’t want to keep summarizing the plot as it just fails miserably.
Let’s go back to their excellent premise. A pill that allows you to recall everything you have ever been exposed to and makes you super observant and able to instantly recall everything relevant. Imagine a Google search for your brain where everything you have every even glance at or overheard has been neatly tagged and indexed. Amazing! Absolutely incredible! And what does the director, Neil Burger who did The Illusionist, do with this? He churns out a lame action flick that raises so many questions that it fails to answer. I’ll point out the holes in the plot.
First off, why does this loser become the top dog? The pill enhances your innate ability, so why does this guy manage to outcompete everyone else on it? Furthermore, if all the users were so damn smart why didn’t they just do what our protagonist ends up doing and fix the pill? Why didn’t the pill makers (who are never identified despite our protagonist’s near omniscience) fix the pill themselves?
Second off, what does our loser decide to dedicate his life too? He junks writing and replaces his drinking with copious sex. He murders someone, and it is never addressed. Seriously, you kill a person for the first time and you have no worries about it aside from getting caught? It seems like the only logical explanation is that the pill does not just enhance innate ability, but it also alters what is inside of you. Our wannabe writer sets his sights on presidency, but we are never told why he wants to do that. The movie makes it a point that he has found a mission, and then totally fails to explore this. Wouldn’t you want to know what the world’s smartest man wants to do? I know I do, and this is why this movie so disappoints.
December 4, 2011
It is now the last week of classes. This semester has absolutely flown by me. Easily the most difficult aspects have been breaking out of my old mental habits. For instance, I did undergraduate research. My mindset as an undergrad was classwork first and research second. So there were some weeks where I would barely touch my research due to exams or projects. Graduate school is not like this. My first priority is no longer classes but research. Or rather, that is what it will be once I pass my qualifying exams.
For those of you unfamiliar, the quals (as they are affectionately called) are exams that all graduate students take to prove that they are ready to begin studying for a PhD. The quals prove that you are qualified, by which I mean that you learned everything you needed to learn in your undergrad. Well, the kicker is that what your undergraduate institution thought was important may not be thought of as important by your graduate institution. In studying for the qualifiers, I realize how rusty I have become at some problems. My thermodynamics was particularly poor thanks to a totally non-standard course I received. In order to shore up my deficiencies, I have been reading and working problems. I never thought of myself as an autodidact, and I still think that it is a poor learning method. But sometimes you only have yourself and your books to teach yourself from. This can be particularly frustrating when you become “stuck”. Now that quals are getting nearer, I have formed a group of people to study with and this is proving very helpful.
Another mental habit that I had to kick was turning off my brain after a day of class for about an hour. I’d just watch something and while it was relaxing, it was not really rewarding. In order to break this habit, I simply put in the time to make good, rewarding content readily available. If you follow my twitter (logisticmiasma), you’ve been seeing some of the articles I read. Well, I’m going to just make this post ramble even more by doing a bit of a link round-up. My browser tabs slowly build up with interesting articles that I want to talk about but never get a chance to.
- How a collapsing scientific hypothesis led to a lawsuit and arrest This article should help demystify science for people. There are often high stakes riding on a theory, and that is why every one tries to disprove theories. This article shows just how messy this process can be especially when someone becomes wedded to a theory. Then that person feels personally attacked when their theory comes under fire. Divisions can form and relationships and careers can get ruined. If you think I am exaggerating, Dr. Dan Shectman, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry this year, faced huge opposition to the idea of quasicrystals. (For more watch this video. Cut to around 6:05 for the ridicule he faced. Shectman was mocked, called a disgrace, and forced out of the lab.)
- We are running out of time to prevent drastic climate change! Two interesting studies looked at this: one focused on California, the other was global in scope. Both reached the same conclusion that there are huge, but not insurmountable obstacles to dealing with climate change. The problem is that the more we delay, the more we will have to pay. “For every $1 of investment in the power sector avoided before 2020,” the IEA concludes, “an additional $4.3 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the higher emissions.”