Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flash Gordon

We watched the movie Ted last week but this post isn't about that movie. The movie has several references to the 1980 movie Flash Gordon including an extended cameo by Sam Jones who played Flash.

Flash Gordon and its soundtrack from Queen saved me senior year of high school--whenever I felt down I would listen to the album and run the movie through my head escaping reality for a little bit. These were the days before videos and CDs, now I've rewatched the movie several times on DVD.

Flash Gordon was not a great movie by any means but it resonated with me with its action sequences, great music and corny lines like "Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!". The stars of the movie Sam Jones and Melody Anderson were and still are relatively unknown but it had a great supporting cast.

Topol, best known as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, played a scientist who many mocked for his crazy (but true) ideas of what was happening in outer space. Basically the same character as when he played Galileo.

Timothy Dalton played Prince Barin and would go on to be James Bond and the Max von Sydow, who played chess against Death in The Seventh Seal, was the Ming the Merciless.

What does this all have to do with computational complexity? Absolutely nothing. But today I turn 50, it's my party and I'll post what I want to.


  1. All the best, with a mighty flash...

  2. Flash Gordon is also one of my personal favs. It is one of the great "popcorn" movies and the soundtrack was perfect. But, no love for Ornella Muti?

  3. Happy Birthday, and thanks for the great blog

  4. Some previous fictional narratives (that had reasonably solid technical foundations) that acted to sustain the public's image of STEM enterprises:

    Conquest of the Moon (Werner von Braun, 1953) "Really big rockets could feasibly travel to the moon."

    The Tempter (Norbert Wiener, 1957) "Patent law is legally, morally, and technologically subtler than you think."

    The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson, 1995) "Broadband MOOCS are the future of education!"

    Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson, 1999) "Control of information controls the flow of history."

    It's striking and concerning that present-day STEM narratives — in contrast to 20th century STEM narratives — are lacking in technical and moral foundations. For example, Harry Potter's world is morally strong but not technically strong (Harry has no idea how magic works, and he has no desire to learn either). Whereas Walter White's world is technically strong yet deplorably amoral (hmmm … but how *will* Breaking Bad end?). Can't we conceive better, stronger narratives regarding the 21st century STEM enterprise? Because (as it seems to me) we're in pretty serious trouble if we can't.

    In any event, please let me join in the swelling global chorus that is singing "Happy Birthday Lance". Our thanks go to you (and Bill) for a FUN, GREAT weblog! :)

    1. Actually, let me criticize my own post!

      The Internship (written and acted by Vince Vaughn, 2013) "What happens if our neighborhood gets a little bit bigger? It's natural to be a little bit afraid … but there's a lot of great opportunities out there!"

      (the above are direct quotes from the film, by the way).

      Thank you for this 21st century classic (as it seems to me) Vince Vaughn!

  5. Also worthy of notice as an optimistic STEM narrative is Serge Tabachnikov's account "Israel Moiseevich Gelfand's School By Correspondence"" (Notices of the AMS, 60(2), 2013, pp. 166-169), which can be found on-line as part of Dusa MacDuff's (outstanding!) compilation of tributes to Gelfand.

    Vince Vaughn's The Internship is (nominally) fiction, while Israel Gelfand's School By Correspondence is (nominally) real … and yet (as it seems to me) there is a very considerable overlap in their narratives, such that these two narratives are well-worth studying side-by-side.

    A natural triptych of 21st century STEM narratives is completed by the lead story today in Slashdot is "Big MOOC On Campus: Georgia Tech's $6,600 Master's in Computer Science," and the Slashdot comments are comparably interesting to Georgia Tech's official announcement of their accredited Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS/CS).

    We can all of us hope that the Georgia Tech OMS/CS degree program will honor and advance the ideals, optimism, and innovation of Vince Vaughn and Israel Gelfand. Because as a perceptive reviewer (namely, Joseph Kanon) of John Le Carre's enduring classic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) has written, all three narratives — Vaughn's, Gelfand's, and Georgia Tech's — are centrally about the committed rejection of, and creative resistance to, a world in which "the only thing worth fighting for is the individual, and that's the one thing that no institution cares about any more."

    1. Postscript  The above references regarding Israel Gelfand's School By Correspondance were gathered in regard to the legal considerations and the academic context of the recent Aaron Swartz matter (anyone familiar with John Le Carre's novels will appreciate the parallels).

      Summary  Vince Vaughn and Israel Gelfand are showing us a concrete path forward for corporate/academic cultures (the MIT corporation plays both roles, obviously) that can mitigate the sense of powerlessness — a sense of powerlessness that is entirely legitimate and well-founded, as it seems to me — that is felt by young STEM researchers like Aaron Swartz.

      Thank you, Vince Vaughn and Israel Gelfand!

  6. Lance, what are your thoughts on the revised mission for the Journal of the ACM including the loss of the "flagship journal" status?