Friday, January 20, 2006

Numbers Don't Lie

Public confession of a secret shame: I like math.

I'm not very good at it, though, but I don't think that is a result of lacking ability. Rather, it is the legacy of not paying attention in school for over a decade. Helpful hint: if you're going to stop paying attention in school, check back in every once in a while to see if you need to start listening.

My downfall came in ninth grade. It turned out to be the year that everything else would build on. Now that I have taken geometry, trigonometry, and calculus (or, if you will (and you will!), The Calculus), the only times I have done poorly have been right after the professor has said, "And we know this next step from basic algebra...." I know there are laws of exponents, but I have to plug in numbers to see what they are. Is x to the y plus z the same thing as x to the y plus x to the z, or is it x to the y times x to the z, or is it neither? Better pull out two to the fifth and compare it to two to the second plus two to the third.

But I have always had an interest in numbers, and when algebra isn't involved, I think I have a penchant for them. For instance, ever since I was introduced to the analog clock, I have been fascinated by one aspect of it: where the two hands meet. For instance, the number five on the clock represents the fifth hour and also the twenty-fifth minute, but when it is 5:25,the hands have not yet met. They meet at a random time, a time that seems to have nothing to do with anything.

Tonight I was lying on our couch, looking at our mantel clock, and wondering again about it. Over twenty years I have wondered about this. I thought, "It is pretty embarrassing that I took calculus (The Calculus!), which is a study of nothing but rates of change, and I cannot come up with an equation to relate the rates of change for the two hands. They don't even involve exponents!"

And here is what I got: x/12 + 5y = x, where y is the given hour and x is the minute of coincidence. This can be simplified to a better equation, which is 60y/11. That's it. 60y/11. How cool is THAT?

So, when do the two hands meet during the four o'clock hour? Two hundred forty over eleven is 21.8181 (and so on), meaning the two hands meet at precisely 4:21:09. Again, how cool is THAT?

It even works for eleven and twelve! Plug in eleven and you'll get 60 minutes, or one hour. Plug in twelve and you'll get 65.4545 minutes, meaning the hands do not meet again until 1:05:27, because the twelve o'clock hour is the only hour where the hands will never meet. One last time, how cool is THAT?

I've always been a little on the crazy side when it comes to numbers. For instance, as I walked home from the bus in the snow this evening, I figured that my current reading total for the year is 142% of what my pace needs to be to meet my end-of-year target of 25,000 pages. I constantly compute the percentage completed as I read each book. When I borrowed my wife's copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (or, as I call it, Neville Longbottom and the Half-Blood Prince), she became irate that I folded down the corner every five percent, bending twenty pages of her pristine book.

But us crazy numbers people do crap like that. Just once every one hour, five minutes, and twenty-seven seconds.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Measure of the Movie

I thought the other day about two articles I had recently read on the Internet (on company time, of course): one was about Hollywood's box office receipts for the last year, and the other was about the adult film awards show held in Las Vegas. According to these accounts, Americans spent $8 bil. on tickets to Hollywood movies, while the adult film industry did $10 bil. in business. This means that, every time a guy takes a date to a movie and drops sixteen bucks on tickets, he buys a twenty-dollar porno DVD (or, probably more accurately, for every five couples who go to the movies once a month, there is some guy who buys sixty adult DVDs each year, and he probably works in your office.)

Since the two are obviously related, I am doing my part to keep the receipts of the porn industry down by no longer attending Hollywood movies. In the five years of my marriage, I have been to see nine movies, and many of them were under extenuating circumstances.

  • Alex & Emma: my wife's birthday forced me into this snore-fest. I knew before we went that it was going to be a "chick flick," but Luke Wilson is funny and Kate Hudson is pretty. Lesson: it takes more than funny and pretty to make a non-crap movie. And when I turned over a twenty dollar bill and got a SINGLE DOLLAR BACK AS CHANGE, I nearly wept.
  • Some Movie With Ryan Philippe: he works for a software company run by the evil Tim Robbins, who ruins his life. So moving that I cannot even begin to remember its title. We were forced into this by my sister-in-law, who thought we needed to do more things together with her and her husband. This leads me to one of the unfathomable bits of popular culture: why do people think that sitting next to each other silently in the dark is a good way to bond with one another? However movies came to be regarded as a date activity is beyond me.
  • Spider-Man: another we were forced into. We were house-sitting for my brother-in-law, who wanted us to record the M*A*S*H reunion show for him. We went out to eat, then had no place to go until the show ended. I cannot stand M*A*S*H because the show was not filmed in a studio but it has a studio audience laugh-track. When they did it on The Flintstones, it was ironic, but on M*A*S*H, it was just insulting.
  • The Game of Their Lives: we were invited to go with a group of nice people. The movie tickets, dinner, and the babysitter ended up costing more than any piece of my clothing aside from my suit (but it was close, since my suit was a really good deal).
  • The Lord of the Rings: my brother bought my ticket for Number 1, I went to see Number 2 by myself at a matinĂ©e (thereby missing the first half of the Steelers playoff loss to Tennessee), and we went to see Number 3 at the discount movie theater.
  • Star Wars: saw Number 2 at the discount place and waited until Number 3 came on DVD to our local library, where it was free.
  • Napoleon Dynamite: the only film I have seen in five years for which I bought two full-price tickets of my own volition without regret.

Even when movies are free, as they are when we check them out of the library, most still do not meet my minimum standard of worth. I have three basic categories for movies: I Would Have Paid Money to See That, I'm Glad I Didn't Pay Money to See That, and That's Two Hours of My Life I'm Never Going to Get Back. Nearly all films fall into the last class. The latest examples are:

  • The Prince and Me (moral: intransigence is noble)
  • Stepford Wives (moral: happy suburbanites aren't real humans)
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (moral: every romantic movie line--"we'll always have Paris," "you had me at hello"--has been taken, so we're going to use "bullshit" as ours)
  • Maid in Manhattan (moral: Republicans can only love immigrants in fantasies)
  • Cinderella II (moral: you'll buy your kid anything)
  • Uptown Girls (moral: nice is nice)

Only a smattering of films break into the second category, where I don't begrudge them the time they take: Batman Begins, Guess Who?, and Spider-Man 2.

I work with people who go to the movies every weekend. I worked with one woman, with whom I attended high school, who averaged two movies every weekend. Even without the two income-parasites we're raising, I still would not be able to feel good about myself going to the movies more than twice a year. And any industry where $8 bil. is an off-year can stand to put out a little less crap. The only movie I would pay full-price to see next year would be Napoleon Dynamite 2: Kip and Lafawnduh's Baby. Now that movie would be worth my money.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Losers of the World Unite!

I've always had some thoughts about bloggers, most of them unkind. And now here I am, a blogger myself. But given how I have been sucked into this thing quite by accident, I think I should be a little more forgiving of other bloggers. I mean, there's no telling how many of them are just normal, well-adjusted members of society (such as myself) who took a wrong turn on the Information Super Et Cetera and ended up being a blogging nerd.

You see, the first person to get sucked in was my wife. Her friend created a blog, and my wife, who doesn't want her real name used, so I'll call her Persephone, wanted to post a comment. In the process of registering, she had created a blog. I laughed at her. Then I wanted to comment on HER blog, and now here I am.

How many of the world's blogging nerds were similarly suckered? Thousands, I hope. Because the only other explanation for the blogging explosion--that everyone thinks someone else is REALLY going to care about his views on the World Trade Organization, or just how great a particular episode of Star Trek: Next Generation was--spells doom for modern society.

Yet, I now have my own blog. So should I water-down the criticisms? Probably, but I'm not one who usually does the things I "probably" should do. Like washing my hands upon finishing in the restroom: probably should, usually don't. Even when I know I'm going to be eating a sandwich. So criticism, full speed ahead!