Saturday, March 17, 2018

cinema history class: tales of terror

Session: Price and Poe -- a Match Made on Heaven, Week 2
Movie: Tales of Terror (1962)
Directed by Roger Corman
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

1) A dying woman comes to visit her father. And her mother's corpse. Hilarity ensues.
2) A drunkard is more interested in wine than in his wife. Hilarity ensues.
3) A dying man seeks the comfort of an end to his pain, but his doctor has other plans. Hilarity ensues.

As implied by the plot synopsis, ToT is an anthology move -- three short films unconnected to each other. And it was a wonderful showcase for Vincent Price. I note with a bit of bemusement that, last week when we saw The Pit and the Pendulum which failed to engage me, I concluded that maybe I just didn't care foe Vincent Price. Now, I see this and do a complete reversal. Ethan has mentioned that, at first, he didn't care for Vincent Price, but that he grew on him. So...

The three parts, "Morella," "The Black Cat" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" are each based on a Poe story. Sort of. Kind of. Each is named for a Poe classic and shares some elements with that classic, but otherwise bears little resemblance to its namesake.

The best of the pieces by far, and this opinion was shared by the rest of the class, was "The Black Cat," which paired Price with Peter Lorre. Before things took a turn for the dark, Lorre seemed to be channeling Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden. Then, when Price entered, he took on Art Carney's Ed Norton. The whole wine-tasting sequence was arguably the highlight of the movie. Then, when things did get dark, Peter Lorre was great with the one liners delivered to Vincent Price as straight man. It was enough to make me wish that the two of them had done more performing together.

In one way I was a bit of a contrarian. Most of the class commented that the Morella was too short. That it would have benefited from a little more fleshing out. And that, since the movie only runs 82 minutes, there was room. I understand where they're coming from. It was very short. But I don't think it needed anything else.It was a good quick gut punch of a story. It got right to the point and it thrilled.

Me: 9
Dave: 9.8
Ethan: 8.5
Joe: 10
Sean: 3 out of 4
Sharon: 7

Monday, March 12, 2018

keratoconus: fingers crossed for a cure

Someone on FaceBook posted an interesting question about keratoconus, the eye disorder that afflicts Ethan. The question was whether we think there's hope for a "medicine for keratoconus in our lifetime.

By way of background, keratoconus is a weakening and/or thinning of the cornea. It gets distorted, typically forming a conical shape due to the pressure from behind it. The cause is unknown, there is some speculation. The treatment is a process called "crosslinking." Riboflavin drops are administered to the affected eyes as UV light gets shone on them. Under the UV light, the riboflavin bonds with the collagen in the cornea, thereby strengthening it and slowing or (hopefully) stopping the progression. I'm not a medical professional, but that's the nickel tour.

With that in mind, I answered yes. I do think medicine will be developed to treat keratoconus. Why? Because, essentially it has been. The riboflavin drops -- are essentially medicine. The fly in the ointment is that it has to be administered with UV light. Also, many believe it's not efficacious unless you first remove the epithelium from the cornea. But that means that the big issue is finding a way to deliver the riboflavin so without having to remove the epithelium. And, hopefully, without needing the UV light. I think -- I hope -- they're on their way.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

i hate when i forget math stuff

This is kind of frustrating. I was up last night trying to recall about a proof from grad school, and realize that I can't remember one important point.

Henri Lebesgue
The topic is Lebesque Measure. Specifically, the existence of nonmeasurable sets. It's a pretty fundamental question. There's all sort of stuff built up, starting with the basic definitions and rules. Then there's all sorts of stuff built up around measure, and theory. And, yes, I know the foregoing is a bit hazy. That's because it's been long enough ago that I don't fully remember what are matters of definition and what are results that are proven.

At any rate, with all that stuff around measure, it's good to establish whether there actually are sets that are nonmeasurable. It's not immediately intuitively obvious (at least it wasn't to me when I was a first semester grad student) that there are nonmeasurable sets. All the obvious ways of constructing sets -- take some intervals or single points. Take intersections or unions of them -- don't immediately work.

But I recall the basic construction. Start by splitting the unit interval into equivalence classes where two points are in the same class if their difference is rational. Then take one element from each equivalence class. That set, call it N, is nonmeasurable.

The proof that N is nonmeasurable relies on taking the union of all sets N+a where:
1) N+a is defined as the set of all numbers n+a where n is an element of N; and
2) a is a rational number in the unit interval.
Let's call that union U.

If N is measurable, then it has a measure which must be either zero or positive. Also, because N+a is just a translation of N, its measure is the same as that of N. Finally, N+a and N+b are disjoint for a not equal b.

So, what is the measure of U? We know it has to be finite because U is a subset of [0,2], which has finite measure. But if N has positive measure, then the measure of U, which is the sum of the measures of N+a (for all a in the unit interval) is infinite. Therefore N has measure zero. If N has measure zero, then U has measure zero. This is a contradiction.

And that's where I'm stuck. How do we know that U cannot have measure zero? I think it has to do with the assertion that U contains an interval, and therefore has to have measure greater than or equal to the length of the interval? Maybe it's that U is equal to [0,2], and therefore has to have measure 2? But how do we know that?

Help! Help, help!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

bitcoin not for me

Warren Buffet, the brains behind Berkshire Hathaway, has said that he doesn't invest in companies if he doesn't understand what they do. There's a lot of sense in that.

Which is why I do not and will not invest in Bitcoin.

Other, mainstream investments I understand. Equities? Bonds? Mutual funds? Options and other derivatives? I understand the basic principles. And, on the macro level, I understand the risks and rewards. And what drives prices up and down.

But Seriously...I don't get it. As near as I can tell, there are two reasons to invest in it:
  • To hide money, income or transactions.
  • All those great stories of other people who got rich as Bitcoin traders. Berkshire Hathaway ain't gonna get me a lambo.
The first reason doesn't apply to me. No more elaboration needed. The second? Yeah...It's kind of tempting to try to make an easy fortune. But there's that risk/reward tradeoff. Too much is at stake. I suppose, in theory, I could invest a little bit of money in the things and forget about it. Then, some years later come back and see what happened. But I seem to recall reading about someone who lost a large bitcoin investment because he threw away the hard drive where he stored some critical information. Is it seriously the case that it's that easy to screw up and lose your investment? Like a winning lottery ticket? No...I can't believe that. I gotta figure there are some kind of services that will track your investments for you, through which you buy and sell. Aren't there? That guy who lost everything -- he was just being a dumbass. Right? Please tell me I'm right?

But, anyway, the fact that I have to seriously ask that question indicates how little I know about the Bitcoin Market. So, yeah, it's artificially-created currency, tracked on computers through some kind of (presumably) tamper-proof coding to ensure the accuracy of record-keeping.

Other than that?

Is "bitcoin" synonymous with "crypto-currency"? Or is it a subset?
Are there different types of bitcoins whose prices move differently? Or is it all the same?
What drives prices? Is it seriously just supply and demand? If so, are we talking tulip bulbs or something more real?
I hear talk of "mining" bitcoins, which I assume means there's some means of creating new ones. How in the hell does that work?

I suppose I can look it up on Wikipedia to get some answers. WHich should not be interpreted to mean that I'm actually going to invest in the things. Just that I'm curious about the mechanics.

cinema history class: the pit and the pendulum

Session: Price and Poe -- a Match Made on Heaven, Week 1
Movie: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Directed by Roger Corman
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

A man, grief-stricken over his sister's untimely passing, visits his brother-in-law to understand what actually happened. Hilarity ensues.

I had a really hard time getting around the fact that this movie felt like a live-action episode of Scooby Doo. I kept expecting someone to pull some mask off and say "It was the groundskeeper all along!" On the other hand, the flashbacks reminded me of dream sequences from Gilligan's Island. That said, the use of color -- Corman shot some scenes in monochrome and then printed on color stock --was inspired at times.

I knew going in that the movie's connection to the classic Poe story would be tenuous at best. And Richard Matheson's script didn't surprise me in that respect. But it was a decent story with some very good twists. Dave noted the wonderful irony of Elizabeth, having pretended to have been entombed while still alive, actually did get entombed alive.

The fact is, I'm not a huge Vincent Price fan. Unlike Ethan, who counts Price among his favorite actors. But I do have to hand it to the man -- he was perfect for this role -- especially the part at the end when his grip on sanity dissolves. This was a better movie than it should have been.

Me: 7
Dave: 9.9
Ethan: 9
Sean:2 out of 4