Upstream comedy

Today a friend told me about comedy flowing upstream. What I mean by that is that usually we think of comedy flowing downstream — from professional comedians to ordinary people like you and me.

But it seems that a funny incident within a blog post of mine from about a year ago was relayed to the granddaughter of Mel Brooks.

Please understand that to me Mel Brooks is a god. If he is Mount Olympus, the rest of us are just hanging out in a bar in downtown Kokkinopilos.

Imagine my surprise to learn that my little joke was relayed by to Mel himself by his granddaughter. And it seems that he found it very funny.

So now I can die happy. But maybe not right away…


A very generous individual donated to our lab his collection of classic fantasy and science fiction books and magazines. This morning I went through all thirty three boxes, and took a wondrous stroll down memory lane.

I also needed to figure out just how many books and magazines there were in the collection. When you go by total shelf space, it came to just under 90 running feet.

After that, I spent quite a bit of time this afternoon searching on-line for a set of shelves that would do justice to this wonderful gift. Fortunately I managed to find just the thing, and it is now on order — a physical object to contain other physical objects.

When I was a kid, it was easy to think of literature in terms of running feet of shelf space. Yet that idea is gradually fading from the culture.

The notion of having a physical book in your hands, of actually turning the page to measure your progress along an author’s thought, is slowly retreating from our collective practice. Soon everything will be rectangular screens, followed by whatever technology comes after screens.

Still, our lab now has our beautiful classic fantasy and science fiction library, in glorious print on paper. I love the fact that all of those retro visions of the future are contained in a retro medium.

After all, you can’t properly understand the future unless you properly understand the past.

Nine dates

Today is the 18th of September. That means it is the 261st day of the year.

Interestingly, since September is the ninth month of the year, there are a lot of nines here.

In fact, today’s month, day of the month and day of the year are all multiples of nine.

When I first noticed this, I thought “wow, I’ll bet that’s the only day of the year for which that is true!”

But then I realized there are two other days of the year for which it is also true. You can probably figure out what they are.

Outer limits

Today, as part of research for our next immersive VR project, I rewatched the very first episode of The Outer Limits. It was called The Galaxy Being.

I was struck not so much the deep layers of irony of the narrative (a given, since the very existence of the series was essentially a response to The Twilight Zone). Rather I was compelled by the sumptuous of the imagery, the oddly compelling black and white cinematography, the — strange as it is to say — romance of dystopia.

I found myself drawn into the show’s unnerving ethos of “Reality is not what you have been led to believe.” When you think about it, such shows were, in some way, our collective introduction to the existential relativism of the ’60s.

But most of all, I was astonished by the timing. By some odd coincidence, the day that I chose to reintroduce myself to this series — today, the 16th of September — was the very day of the year that The Outer Limits first aired in 1963.

For some reason, I feel that this realization needs to be accompanied by a theramin.

Lebesgue measure

I spent most of the day today with my brother. One of the things he and I share is a deep love of mathematics.

There was a point over coffee during the afternoon when we were in excited discussion about various mathematical topics. To me, the best part was when we were talking about the theory of Lebesgue measure.

Henri Lebesgue was a french mathematician who, while still in his twenties, wrote one of the most important Ph.D. dissertations in the history of mathematics. He basically created, for the first time ever, a truly general foundation for answering the question “What is the actual size of a shape — even an incredibly weird and gnarly looking shape?”

Being able to provide a good answer to this question touches on pretty much every scientific field, including biology, chemistry, physics, robotics, statistics. His insights pretty much opened the floodgates of early twentieth century math, ushering in a whole string of exciting intellectual discoveries by many brilliant people.

The way Lebesgue approaches and develops a proof of his theory is one of the most beautiful things in all of mathematics. Alas, I am not sure there is a good way for me to properly share his thinking within the limits of a blog post.

But I can definitely share a measure of my excitement.

Zom Com Rom Dram Qualm

I just finished binging the fifth and last season of iZombie. Even though it was a show about zombies, it wasn’t really scary, since the central character was an extremely sympathetic (and often quite funny) zombie.

Which was a nice twist. I can’t say I thought the show was high art, but I appreciated it immensely as social and political satire with very witty dialog.

Alas, iZombie is now over, and will be no more. I, for one, will miss it. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a truly superior Zom Com Rom Dram*.

Then again, one day somebody might try to bring it back from the dead, the way other beloved shows have been brought back, like Lost in Space, Get Smart, Dynasty, MacGyver, Knight Rider and Charlie’s Angels.

Just think, some day we may get to see a zombie version of iZombie. Now that would be truly scary.


* Zombie Comedy Romance Drama

Stranger than Fiction

Suppose you woke up one day and realized that you had been transported to an absurdist parody of reality. This is a common trope in cinema. Many films, including Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, Pleasantville, Stranger than Fiction, Idiocracy and Isn’t it Romantic, to name just a few among many, start with this very premise.

Of course these are merely movies. As much as we might find them entertaining or thought provoking, we understand that they are only fiction.

In real life we expect things to be at least a little bit sane. Which is why I was caught off guard by Sharpiegate.

Our elected political leader is doubling down on a lie so utterly petty and ridiculous, so head slappingly stupid, that it could not possibly be part of any sane reality. As though we had suddenly discovered that our elected leader was Derek Zoolander.

Suppose you made a film in which somebody was transported into a fictional world where such idiotic things actually happen. People might find your story genuinely funny.

But that’s because at the end of your movie, the credits would roll and the audience would be able to go back to a sane reality. Unfortunately, we all seem to still be trapped inside this movie.

Could somebody please wake up the projectionist?

No sweat

I was attending a technical conference yesterday in which one of the speakers was talking about the human brain. He pointed out that the only actual physical result of brain activity is muscle movement.

Lots of activity goes on within our brain itself, he noted. But when all is said and done, none of that cogitation is transmitted out into the world, except through the action of our body’s muscles.

When I heard this, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said “Just thinking about that makes me break out in a sweat.”