Saturday, June 30, 2007

She is.


"When marrying, ask yourself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory.
"
-Friedrich Nietzsche

I have only honestly considered, or wished, to marry one girl in my life.

And to that question, I can respond with a very confident "yes."

Citizen Kane

It's considered to be the #1 film of all time - or at least the #1 "American" film (I say "American" because the AFI includes British films on their list, too).

I recently saw this film and couldn't figure out exactly what made it so popular. When I watched it, my first thoughts were of all the Simpsons episodes that parodied it. After seeing it, I thought about it a lot, and just couldn't figure out why it was so highly revered.

Then my professor spent about the first hour of our class talking about it, showing us clips from it, that kind of thing. After that, I started to understand why it's #1. I can't say I fully comprehend it, but I think in time I could. When I start collecting paychecks (in the next couple weeks) I'm gonna pick up the DVD so I can watch it again. I've heard the commentary by Roger Ebert is worth listening to (two different people have told me this), and it's a film I really just want to see again; this time to actually watch the film - the cinematography, the use of shadow, sound and other subtleties - instead of just watching it for the story. The story is good, of course, but it's not "#1 film of all time" good. When everything is combined, however... I may agree.

I'm excited to see it again.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dana Scully, FBI

I've been a fan of The X-Files for a couple years now, and the more I watch it, the more I'm convinced it really is the best show to ever be on television.

I recently picked up all 9 seasons on DVD (Best Buy had a sale, $20 per season; I couldn't resist) and have been watching through them again. About three years ago I bought Asian bootleg versions of all 9 seasons labeled as "Collector's Editions" off ebay for a little over a hundred bucks. The quality wasn't great, and occasionally the DVDs would have trouble playing. I still feel it was a good purchase, because at the time the official DVDs were over $50 each and I hadn't seen enough of the series to warrant spending $450 on it. After watching through much of the series and finding out how well done it is, I can now justify my $190 purchase of all 9 seasons.

With the new purchase, instead of picking up at season 8 where I left off, I decided to start fresh. I started over.

Season 1, episode 1: The Pilot.

It's a well done episode, and really does set the tone for the entire series. It does a good job of introducing each character without making it seem trite and obvious, yet at the same time leave enough so that they can grow and evolve throughout the series. I learned some interesting things that I hadn't really otherwise picked up

  • Mulder is an Oxford graduate with a degree in psychology.
  • He's regarded as the best criminal profiler at the FBI.
  • Scully did her undergraduate work in physics and her senior thesis was on Einstein's Twin Paradox and a new approach to it (which is cool, but rather pointless, because it'd already been explained about 50 years prior).
  • She then went to medical school and was recruited to the FBI. They even mentioned that she may have taught at the academy.
  • The Section Chief and the Cigarette Smoking Man are the ones who assign Scully to the X-files.
  • The storage room at the end of the first episode is later seen again in season five, but at no point in between (that I can think of).

Part of the reason I believe that The X-Files is such a great series is because so many of the things that occur throughout season one that begin in the pilot extend throughout much of the series. Theres a beautiful blend between single-episode stories - the monster episodes - and the numerous story arcs. The story telling itself is extraordinarily well done, often leaving episodes "solved" in such a way that you're never quite sure exactly what happened, while not leaving the viewer thinking "that didn't make sense" or "uhm, what?"

I think the thing I find most intrguing on that list is that Scully's undergraduate degree is in physics. Since I started watching the series, she's easily been one of my favorite television characters - one of my favorite fictional characters. Aside from her prepossessing appearance, which is subtle, respectable, and alluring simultaneously, her attitude towards the unexplained phenomenon she constantly encounters is realistic. I like to believe that in such a scenario, I would have a similar reaction: pessimistic and doubting, without denying the facts, even though they appear unbelievable and impossible. She's a truly respectable character.

Without trying to sound like every other X-files fan, I have actually considered applying for a career in the FBI. At the moment, I do not meet the current requirements for application and admission (they have a very complex application process, quite unlike the CIA). However, graduate school is something I've been interested in for years, and the idea of medical school is something I've never cast aside. As a matter of fact, I've been told that medical schools are very open to physics majors and that they often do quite well. One of my professors has worked in the medical physics field and he once told me that the few physicists he knew who went into medical school were always greatly respected for their critical thinking abilities. It may sound impressionable, but hearing that Scully went from physics to medicine is actually encouraging. Medical shows have often ranked among my favorite - Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, House - and I've always been intrigued by medicine. It seems like a very worthwhile and respectable thing to do with my life; devoting myself to learning about the human body and how to help others.

One thing that makes me believe I could actually do it is because I find real medicine (i.e. not television show medicine) interesting. I'm fascinated about how the human body works and adore talking to medical doctors whenever I can - their knowledge is so impressive and enthralling. I've been trying to figure out what to do with my life and just recently received a job offer (not a career-type job, just a basic job). It might be worth applying to medical school, just to see if I can get in. There's no harm in applying, right? I don't think I'll go to any graduate programs (whether in physics, medicine, or something else entirely) for at least a year, though. I want to just live for a little while. I want to relax and have fun before becoming a responsible adult.

During that time, I think I'll keep watching The X-Files.

[ for the life of me I can't figure out what's wrong with the formatting after the bullet points. I've been messing with the html for an hour now and I got nothing. Fixed.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Purple Toupee and the Color of Infinite

I try to go running at least two or three times a week. I don't run for time like some people, but rather for distance. Since my sports days, running was always something you did to get from point A to point B faster than someone else, not something you do for a set period of time. While running, I pop in my ipod and set it to shuffle to give me something to listen to, as I find running on its own rather dull. It's always fun to see what songs my ipod plays. Most often I just use it as background music, but from time to time, I find myself actually listening to the song. Last week, when I went running, that happened.

I remember a couple of years ago my brother telling me that I had to check out a new video on homestarrunner.com. Lee got me interested in that site when I was in high school, but I don't recall whether I got Jeff into the site or if it was because it was such a huge phenomenon at BYU. It doesn't really matter either way. The video was for a song called "Experimental Film," by none other than They Might Be Giants, and the video was "directed" by Strong Sad. I remember watching it and thinking it was alright, but it didn't really grip me. It was well done and fun to watch, the song was alright, and it was something different. After it was done, I went back to watching Strong Bad E-mails and Cheat Commandos ("Commandos in the Classroom" still makes me burst out laughing).

While running last week, my ipod chose to follow "The Hand That Feeds," by Nine Inch Nails, with "Experimental Film." A slight change in genre, yes, but it worked and was enjoyable nonetheless. This wasn't the first time I'd heard the song outside of the music video, but it was the first time I ever actually paid attention to it. It's definitely a They Might Be Giants song in that it is somewhat nonsensical, but at the same there was something that really intrigued me about it, aside from the fact that whenever I try to sing it in my head, I always up end up singing "Purple Toupee" about halfway through. The particular line, "The color of infinite inside an empty glass" really made me think. I realize it's They Might Be Giants and thus I really shouldn't think too hard about it lest my face implode, but I can't stop trying to visualize it.

Have you ever tried to visualize the color of a mathematical concept as it would appear confined in an empty glass container? It's not easy. It's downright hard.

I analogize this to trying to visualize the 10, 11, or 26 dimensions that string theory predicts. String theory is still very, very theoretical, but how do you honestly comprehend something like that? I can visualize space-time as it is, with three spatial dimensions and time - even Special Relativity and the relativity of simultaneity paradoxes I can do - but I'm hopeless on this. Of course, I shouldn't really be upset about this, seeing as how no one can figure out what it would look like. It still bugs me, though.

As I was saying, there's something about the line "The color of infinite inside an empty glass" that's not only poetic, but mesmerizing. The concept of it is almost tranquil. It's like the old Zen koans, "
In clapping both hands, a sound is heard. What is the sound of one hand?", "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?" and the lesser-known "If a tree falls in the woods and lands on a mime, does anyone care?" that are meant to inspire deep meditation and lead the pupils to enlightenment (ok, that sentence was seriously a punctuation nightmare). I imagine in the future, when trees have been eradicated and no one knows what a falling tree is, Zen Buddhism will decide to modernize and adopt new sayings. I hope "What is the color of infinite?" is one of them; including the "inside an empty glass" part will have to be left out for a few centuries as I imagine it would cause more mental break-downs than enlightenments.

It just seems like it belongs on that list.

Someday, I hope I create a saying that ends up on that list. I'd feel pretty good about that, knowing that I contributed to people obtaining enlightenment. Helping them obtain low-interest loans just doesn't come with the same sense of satisfaction.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On Reading, Part Two

About a year back while in a medical study, I read all of Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus in one sitting.

I don't recall much about that book except that I truly enjoyed it. I don't recall many of the chapters nor many of the scenarios he describes in his theories. For that matter, I barely recall the theories themselves. I
remember it ending upon the myth of Sisyphus itself - a man condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a mountain for eternity - and how at each moment when the boulder is at the top of the mountain, before it falls back down to the bottom, Sisyphus had beaten the gods. He accomplished his task and for that one, brief moment, he should be smiling because he did it. The fact that it was to start over again did not matter; that was another challenge to be conquered. Camus' final conclusion was that Sisyphus, a man condemned to an eternity of meaningless physical labor, must be happy. I recall after reading it that, for reasons I still do not quite understand, I was happy.

Two years prior my fiancee had left me and I had sunk into a rather deep depression: slept on average 14-16 hours a day for about three months straight, worked a graveyard shift at a tech support job, dropped out of college for a semester and was never happy to wake up because I knew the day would only bring more sadness. I had somewhat pulled myself back together over the two years time. I had gone back to school and was getting good grades, I was sleeping regularly; I still wasn't happy or really making any new friends.

When I read those final words, I remember smiling. I remembered what it felt like to look at a cloudy day and smile at how it looked like God had put a blanket over the world, keeping it safe. I remembered how beauty could be found in watching a leaf fall from a tree, thinking about all the various physical forces acting upon it caused it to move in a completely unique way and how, for that one instant when it fell, it was able to get noticed over all the other leaves on the tree and on the ground. I remembered what it felt like to wake up and be happy that a new day started, because it was a chance to learn new things, appreciate beauty, and experience life itself.

I remembered what happiness was. I smiled, and I've always kept a part of that smile with me since then.

Things haven't always been good for me since then and I've been sad now and again. It's part of life. But through it all, I've always remembered the final line: "One must imagine Sisyphus happy." That line alone has always made me smile because it embodies everything that happiness is. Happiness isn't something that I achieve or finally arrive at. It's not something that will come around when all my problems go away. It's something that I have inside me. If Sisyphus is happy, there's no reason I shouldn't be.

I can be happy.

I am happy.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On Reading, Part One

I like to read.

I really do like to read. Taking the time to lie back and read is one of the many pleasures in life that I often overlook. I suppose that could be due to my reading material. Over the years, I've grown accustomed to learning
new things from reading textbooks and science books for fun that I find it almost meaningless - detrimental, even.

The problem with this philosophy is that I tend to read books that stretch my mind or that force me to understand new and sometimes very complex things. At the moment, I have a copy of Wider Than The Sky on my nightstand, a book by Gerald M. Edelman, a Nobel Prize-winning neurosurgeon and the head of various neuroscience intitutions. It's incredibly complex and being only about 150 pages long it moves very rapidly. Chapter 3 is entitled "The Elements of the Brain" and is a 16 page crash course in the biology of the human brain that I imagine if I memorized would get me through at least a year of med school. Other books on my nightstand include On Being and Time, by Heidegger, The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky, and The Essential Nietzsche, by Nietzshe. All of these books are perhaps out of my league, which could very well explain why I find reading to be not so much a leisurely past time as a complete workout for my consciousness often resulting in the need for some Excedrin and a quick nap.

I should not blame my lack of reading on it being difficult nor intensive. The reading itself is difficult, but should I desire I could just as easily pick up an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel and go to town on it. Anita Blake is, for all intents and purposes, a series that is simply for enjoyment and pleasure with no new concepts of reality or headache inducing theories. Its just a world where vampires exist and her job is to hunt down the ones who break the law; a world fairly easy to imagine nowadays. It's simple and fun and takes me about two or three hours to clean through a novel. My lack of reading is simply because I just don't make time for it in my schedule.

Ok, that was a lie.

Not the "make time for it" thing, the "schedule" thing. I don't have a schedule. I like to think that someday I might have a schedule - a calendar on the wall covered in writing, my days packed full of meetings and nights out with friends. As it stands, my calendar is empty save for school two days a week for 9 hours, and the remainder of the blank space I often choose to fill with any combination of sleeping, eating, showering, and watching old episodes of Newsradio and Futurama. In all honesty, I have too much time to read. I could easily read a couple books a day if I chose. This is where my post comes full circle: it's hard for me to read what is essentially a condensed textbook in one sitting and fully comprehend it. I have to read parts at a time and let them sink in so that later, when the Dr. Edelman talks about the hippocampus, I know what he's talking about. It's a similar scenario with Nietzsche and Heidegger, only in both those cases their verbosity in and of itself demands I read it with a dictionary nearby. The Brothers
Karamazov is quite frankly the least intense book I have on my shelf, however the bookmark stuck on page 327 for over a year makes it difficult to pick it up and start reading as I have no idea what's happened or who anyone is anymore.

Writing this, I feel like I'm making an excuse. I know what I need to do. I need to start over on The Brothers Karamazov or perhaps just find a new fictional novel to begin reading to vary my material. Come to think of it, I believe I have just the book:

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams.