Monday, July 23, 2007


I was just purusing, which is a riot, and has as a central premise "Superman is a dick," supported by a wide array of Superman comics covers showing Superman being a... well, you get the picture. But it also includes a great gallery of ridiculous super powers, including heroes such as "Kite Man", and powers like super weaving and super ventriloquism. Which got me to thinking about a conversation I had years ago with a fellow grad student in which we tried to think up reasonably good, but unusual, superpowers we could have. I picked the power to locate any specific penny anywhere at any time. I thought this was reasonably good, actually. You could track anyone by just slipping one tiny penny onto their person. Tape a penny to everything you own, and presto--no more looking for the remote. And pennies are so ubiquitous, no one notices them, but pretty much everyone (in the US, anyway) has them. Plus you'd likely be able to find your keys when they fell out of a hole in your pocket because you probably dropped a penny at the same time, even if you didn't tape a penny to them. I think it's superpower which is just at the right level of being useful without being in any sense overpowered. My friend wanted to the power to inflict pain on men. I don't think she was joking, but I don't think she was really getting into the game, either. I suspect there were unspoken issues with some man or another in particular.

I also remember a good conversation regarding the premise of massive numbers of random mutations granting superpowers in the X-men series. We reasoned that there would have to be a whole bunch of mutants with totally useless powers. Like the guy who can move his nose to any location on his body. Or a woman with unlimited flatulence. (Interesting combination, those two.)

My deep desire for a superpower 'though is to be able to teleport anywhere instantaneously. (And I've had this wish even since before I was living seven hours away from the significant other.) Consider the travel possibilities. (And say goodbye to admission fees at Disney World. :-) ) Commuting would be a snap. Live where ever you found a nice, cheap place, and work where ever you want to. Miss your favorite restaurant in another state? Have dinner there tonight. Or explore the restaurants in Paris, Hong Kong, or Sri Lanka. As an added plus, you don't even have to worry about whether you're walking in a bad neighborhood or not. If you don't like it or someone jumps you, just zap back home. You even have a good entrepreneurial opportunity: no one could beat your very expensive one-hour delivery service. (Although it might be in less demand in a world with e-mail.) Of course, if you're unscrupulous, there are plenty of opportunities to do anything you want, too. Have I spent too much time thinking about this? Yes, of course, but that's what I do. You should hear the elaborate plans I have for what to do if I should ever find a genie.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Back Again

I'm back again. I do tend to have these lapses as things get busy, but I think I'm justified this time. I spent the last five weeks with a double summer session load, teaching for about two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening on Monday through Thursday. Then spending two and a half hours in office hours each afternoon, to which some of my students actually came on a regular basis. I had to resist the tendency for it to become "The professor does your homework for you" afternoons. We had a prof in grad school who was famous for that, actually. When I am relatively rested and alert, homework questions always turn into "20 questions from the Prof", which start with "What are they asking you to do here?" and end with "And does that answer the question we started with?" Very Socratic of me. When I am worn out, my answer tends to more sound more like "take the limit; watch your algebra; you'll get 13/4.")

We did not end up on strike, although we have yet to see (and vote to approve) the final agreement. At least I got to finish my session without interruption. It felt rushed regardless. (I still seriously can't believe anyone can learn calculus in three hours a day, four nights a week.)

And since I'm not teaching, I can just be amused at hearing the students streaming by my open door in the hallway this morning on the way out of a quiz, saying:
"It probably would have helped if I'd done my homework."
"Yeah--I just put down whatever I thought it might be."
Ah, the wonderful sounds of Not-My-Problem. In fact, I've had a passably good afternoon. I think I've even proved something, which makes me feel like a real mathematician. (I ran across an interesting probability problem in considering the distribution of candy in my candy bowl just before the session started, and I've partly solved it now. But the bowl is empty now, so maybe I won't get any more inspiration.) And thank goodness I did, because one of the things I still have to do this summer is get something published.