The Professor’s Beloved Equation

This was so beautiful! It couldn’t have been done anywhere else but Japan. The premise is that this math professor has Alzheimer’s, or at least a special form of it, such that his memory is only 80 minutes long. In the movie his memory was shown to have reset every day at the least, so every morning when his housekeeper arrives, the following conversation takes place:

“Konichiwa!”
“What’s your shoe size?”
“24 centimetres.”
“My, what a noble number… It’s the factorial of 4.”
“What is a factorial?”
“If you multiply all the whole numbers from 1 to 4, you get 24.”
“What’s your telephone number?”
“576-1455”
“Did you say 5,761,445? Why, that’s wonderful. That’s equivalent to the prime numbers up to one billion. In any event, come in.”

And then every day she came in after that, the same thing would repeat.

“What’s your shoe size?”
“24. The factorial of 4!”
“That’s wonderful. What a noble number…”

He meets her afresh every day, and while she goes about her daily chores he disrupts infuses her housekeeping experience with a good dose of math.

On the day one of the professor’s papers got accepted for publication in a journal:

“Do you often submit your papers to magazines?”
“Right.. I sent my proof to the Journal of Mathematics, Vol. 37 today. That’s good. ”
“Oh, no! I should’ve sent it express. Only first place takes a cash prize.”
“No, there’s no need to send it express. It’s important to arrive at the truth before anyone else, but it’s more important that the proof be beautiful. ”
“Are there such things as beautiful or ugly proofs?”
“Of course. In a truly correct proof, air-tight and compelling reasoning coexists without contradiction, with supple logic. Just as no one can prove why stars are beautiful, it’s difficult to express the beauty of mathematics.” He paused for a beat.
“What’s your birthday?”
“February 20th.”
“What a charming number!” The professor takes off his watch.
“220… Take a look at this. Back in college, I won the President’s award for my paper on Transcendental Number Theory.”
“Ah.. what a great honor..” the housekeeper tried to be relevant.
“No, that doesn’t matter. Can you read the number?”
“President’s Award No. 284. Does that mean you’re the 284th person to receive the honor?”
“I suppose. The question is 284 and 220. This is no time to be washing dishes. Come with me, quick!”

They walk over to the blackboard. The professor writes 220 and 284 on two ends.
“What do you think?”
“Well, I.. Both have 3 digits… How can I phrase this? At the meat counter at the supermarket, if there are two packets of ground beef, one 220g and one 284g, they seem the same to me. One quick glance, and they look similar. They’re both in the 200 range, and all the digits are even…”

“That’s a keen insight. Intuition is important. Grasp the numbers intuitively from your heart. Do you know what a divisor is?”
“Yes, I think so, I remember studying them.”
“Let’s write out all the divisors for 220 and 284, excepting themselves.”
220: 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, 110
284: 1, 2, 4, 71, 142,
“You can calculate all those divisors in your head?”
“I’m just using the same intuition you did. Onto the next step.”
1 + 2 + 4 + 5 + 10 + 11 + 22 + 44 + 55 + 110 = 284
1 + 2 + 4 + 71 + 142 = 220
“Will you behold, this beautiful chain of numbers. Add all the divisors for 284, and you get 220. Add all the divisors for 220, and you get 284. They’re amicable numbers.”
“Amicable numbers?”
“Mm. Such pairs are very rare. Even Fermat and Descartes only discovered one pair each. They’re numbers bound to each other by God’s design.”
“God’s design…”
“Mm. Isn’t it beautiful? Your birthday and the number engraved on my wristwatch are so perfectly intertwined.”

He gave everyone in his acquaintance names, mathematical names that represented their characteristics. To the housekeeper’s son, he gave the name “Root” (of course, pronounced “Root-oh” in Japanese)

“I can tell you’ve a wise heart in here. All right, you’re a Root. You accept any number that comes your way, rejecting none. A truly generous symbol, Root.”

Root starts coming by the house everyday since the Professor cannot stand the idea of Root waiting at home alone for his mother while his mother prepares dinner for a complete stranger. After being thoroughly schooled in the beauty of numbers by the professor, Root goes on to become a math teacher, and teaches his students about the professor’s lifelong equation:

“Pi is the circle ratio, right? “i” is the square root of -1 and an imaginary number. Here we have pi, a number that continues to the ends of the universe, and the imaginary number “i” which never shows itself. What’s tricky, is “e”. “e” is also called the “Napier number,” after John Napier, the British mathematician. The Napier number is one of the constants so critical to math. For now, I’ll just tell you the conclusion. If you calculate this “e”, its value is 2.7182818284…. This is just like pi. It goes on and on and on forever. It’s an irrational number. From an infinite universe, pi drifts down to “e”, and shakes hands with the bashful “i”. They come together, and hold their breaths… none of them are connected. But, if a single human adds just one thing… the world is transformed.
root
The contradiction is resolved. Zero. In other words, the realm of nothingness embraces them.

Today, we celebrate this equation. When a single human added just one thing to my contradictory and irrational life.

First day of Winter Quarter

And the homework has hit like a full cannon. Algebra is due on Friday, Manifolds due on Monday… and I’m still in denial. I think I cook more when school is in session to try to avoid doing work. Just today I made Vietnamese banh tet – small bananas wrapped in sticky rice steamed in banana leaves. And a brussels sprout gratin – to finish up the leftover brussels sprouts from the branch I got from Trader Joes during, get this, Thanksgiving. So apparently brussels sprouts can last > 1 month in the crisper. Good to know. I have no real experience cooking them except at thanksgiving where I sauteed them with bacon and then doused it in heavy cream before gratinating it with shredded gruyere and parmesan on top. Toasted a hunk of cheesy garlic bread I prepared eons ago and froze, and heated up a satchet of soup from Whole Foods which tasted horrible even though the packaging looked so nice. Well now I know.

After dinner, we headed to the Crest to catch Gone Girl, which is now out for only $4 a ticket! It was morbid and horrifying, but also a really, really good movie. Reese Witherspoon was one of the producers. When her name came up on the screen you could hear everyone around us whispering “Hey, Reese Witherspoon is one of the producers.” It’s really obvious because they have to whisper ‘Reese’ and suddenly the whole room is filled with hisses.

If you haven’t watched it, you should. It totally screws with your mind. Like inception, but without all the geeky stuff. A plain psychological thriller. Like the Page Turner. There’s a bit that’s really gory, but I just kinda shut my eyes for that. Rosamund Pike is PERFECT for the role, I can’t emphasize how perfect she was. Ben Affleck was also really good as the always-one-step-behind cliche of a professor but Pike plays the perfect writer, who’s got the whole world hanging on every last development of her story, which instead of writing a book about, she orchestrates in real life. It’s pretty Woody Allen-y. I didn’t like the casting of Neil Patrick Harris though, he strikes me as somebody waay too slick to be caught up in the protagonist’s lies. Modern film crit had better come up with more terms for key characters in movies, since there’s going to be a whole lot more of the protagonist-who’s-actually-the-antagonist-who’s-actually-the-protagonist-hah-gotcha-again-didn’t-I-she’s-actually-the-antagonist. Actually they probably already have a term for it but I’m too lazy to google it I’ve got some complex analysis reading to do. A mathematician would call it the protagonist with order n, i.e. the protagonist who plays with the audience’s feelings n times (protagonist squared = antagonist, etc. etc.) before reverting to his identity as the protagonist that everyone loves and sympathizes with in the end. If who the audience thought was the protagonist turns out to be the antagonist (does not achieve identity) as in so many Agatha Christie books, then the cast/character list would be said to be non-cyclic and that protagonist is described to have infinite order.

What I absolutely adore about the Crest is how everything has the human touch. Right before the movie this guy comes up to the front, welcomes you, tells you that the previews will start in the few minutes, and politely requests that you silence your phones. And when the movie is done and you stream out, the guys at the popcorn bar ask you how the movie went and say they want to catch it too. It must be really fun working that popcorn bar – you can decide which movies to watch based on the crowd’s reaction at the end of every movie. And not just the crowd’s reaction, but also the dressing and the general vibe of person each movie attracts; you can decide if you identify with that or not. I’ve heard that they do the best popcorn in town too – you can smell it, that buttery aroma wafting all about the lobby – but it’s pretty pricey, so we haven’t tried it yet. I’m also not a super big fan of salty popcorn (in Sg you have the option between sweet and salty, and the sweet popcorn there is crunchy because it’s usually coated with a thin layer of caramel), but I think they just might change my mind.

Sick

Spent the whole of this week in bed down with a bad flu. It started with a minor fever/ache on Sunday and then I went through a sore throat, nasal congestion, and now a cough. Amazingly, I spent the first four days doing random things like reading and playing the piano (LZ moved the keyboard into my room right next to my bed. My room is truly optimized now) and online shopping. On our last (and only) trip to Pike Place, we discovered a store called Watson Kennedy along Post Alley that stocked a bunch of really awesome books, like Vahram Muratyan’s Paris vs. New York that features dual graphics like these:

and

And Madeleine Floyd‘s Birdsong, which I have been sketching from ever since I got my waterproof micron pens from the university bookstore. I was supposed to spend this week designing the wedding invite haha. That never happened, but I do have an idea in mind.

Only on thursday I decided that being sick is a prime time to binge on korean dramas, so I downloaded a drama called “Let’s eat!” haha which sounds really stupid (and is actually, quite dumb.. every episode has a good 5 minutes of airtime showing the cast scarf really delicious looking korean food), but I downloaded it just because I saw this screen grab on fb:
centipede
which happens in the first episode. Hilarious. Another good thing I took away from Let’s Eat is that I discovered Priscilla Ahn, who does amazing music that seems to be indie and new age all mashed up together.

Midway between episodes of Let’s Eat, I also decided to watch Yoo Ha’s The Frozen Flower, which is the first work of his that I’ve watched. This was triggered by my seeing Jo In Sung in The Classic, which I rather liked. The Classic (or Keul-ra-sik, as it is in Korean) was so melancholy and old school with some really cheesy lines, and the sort of dark scenes that clash horribly but also resonantly with the simplicity of country living. So I quite liked the Frozen Flower, even though it was pretty explicit in the manner of Lust, Caution (which I didn’t like), but you could kind of tell that each sex scene had its own artistic purpose? It was always interspersed with shots that did not revolve around the couple, but all the background threads that hold the story together. The cinematography was really good (pretty similar to Wong Kar Wai’s period movies, but set in Goryeo), and it really made me think. So Frozen Flower’s main plotline plays on the tensions that arise in the palace due to the homosexual relationship between Gong Min and his palace guard (yes, the same Gong Min as in Faith), and his inability to produce an heir to cement the Yuan-Goryeo relationship. It’s vastly different from 3 peas in a pod, which I think I’ve complained about here before. The Frozen Flower portrayed the love between Gong Min and Hong Lim to be so much more noble and untainted compared to the heterosexual love between Hong Lim and the Queen, because their relationship went above and beyond what I feel typical heterosexual relationships encompass to include the unshakeable tie of brotherhood, the betrayal of that sort of loyalty (the same loyalty showed between Prince Yang Myung and the Emperor in Moon Embracing the Sun) is hard-hitting and painful to see, especially when the betrayal is no longer just against a brother, but a brother who also happens to be your lover. It’s certainly worth watching! I still don’t really understand Hong Lim’s feelings in the end.. He obviously didn’t fully comprehend the extent of the King’s love for him, and I felt so sorry for Gong Min.

Now I’m excited to see Gangnam 1970 (which I was already excited see thanks to Minho-sshi), but my brain probably needs to recover with a bit of fluff before another Yoo Ha film :P I thought it was cute that Yoo Ha admitted in an interview that he cast Lee Minho because his wife was a big fan of LMH’s lol. It really is a woman’s world :P Like how Xi Jinping’s wife wishes her husband looked more like Kim Soo-hyun than his current self. I’ll probably go back to Let’s Eat for now, but it’s dangerous to watch it not at meal times, because one really wants to go out to hunt for whatever they’re having. There’s even a whole Soompi thread discussing all the dishes that appear in the drama and where to find the best stalls selling haemul jjim or jajangmyun in Seoul :P

The Wind Rises

We went to see Hayao Miyazaki’s last film last night, and it was not as good as much of his other work, I think. I liked Spirited Away, Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle much better. This one was a bit similar to the Indonesians naming their battleships after two terrorists who bombed the Macdonald House in Singapore – The Wind Rises was about prewar Japan, with particular focus on Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero Fighter plane that is so famous in our social studies textbooks. Horikoshi himself was opposed to the war, which probably explains the dream sequence at the end where he somewhat regrets his unintentional role in assisting the Japanese army wreak mass destruction in other weaker countries.

The movie paints a pretty rosy colored picture of this guy, one whose main passion is airplane design – flush rivets, retractable wings, and mackerel bones. The other full metal body planes designed by Germany and Italy as illustrated in the movie were really clunky and ugly, but were cooed over by the Japanese engineers of that era. The movie also pictures Jiro as a regular salaryman who loves his wife and whose sense of wonder at great feats of engineering is almost child-like, one whose dream of building beautiful, cleanly designed planes was hijacked by the military for their own ends.

I don’t know, I don’t like my worlds of excellent Japanese anime and Japan’s role in WWII to merge. I think of them as completely separate entities, although obviously they are not. I don’t think it was a very good subject choice for his last movie – his animations have always handled serious themes (Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, etc.), a lot of aviation themes (Porco Rosso, Kikki’s Delivery service, which I hear is going to be made into a movie with real actors), but of all the Studio Ghibli animations I enjoy those that are more fantastic than war-rish. I think of Japanese animators quite separately from Japan’s history, as if they exist in a race of their own: a weird, disturbed people whose creativity eclipses their ugly past.

This movie has won numerous awards but I thought it was slow-going, I didn’t enjoy a lot of the cheesy dialogue (is it meant to be consumed ironically?) or the completely redundant love story that reeks of a bad Korean drama. Perhaps I have become too shallow to get these kinds of movies but I also don’t really understand the choice of subject matter. Is it like a posthumous apology? A kind of excuse making, portraying the vast numbers of Japanese people who were just “caught up” in the war without really intending to be involved? Why couldn’t M. be proud of any other feat of Japanese engineering that had no relation with the war? There are plenty of those.

I don’t get it.

Posthumous Movie Reviews

We watched a bunch of really great movies in January/February that bear mentioning here. I can’t wait for Saving Mr. Banks to be out, or perhaps we’ll watch it when we’re in the states, since we’ll be gone for nearly 3 weeks, and it only took a week for August: Osage County and The Dallas Buyer’s Club to streamline the showtimes to only ONCE per day. Is that reasonable?

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I was never really a huge fan of Ben Stiller but he was really good in this film. I highly recommend it if you want to be inspired to travel again. Not the type of travel that brings you to big cities, but the kind where you trek across snowy landscapes (say the High Tatras) or Iceland, etc. The direction, cinematography, music, photography/stills etc. were amazing. Even Ben Stiller looked more handsome in the movie (I suspect it’s because of his age). I think the next holiday we take ought to involve hiking in the nearby SEA countries, like caving in Vietnam. Z&J’s hike up Kilimanjaro was really something. I don’t think I would survive at that altitude, considering how I fared in Cuzco/Ollantaytambo.. i.e. collapsing the minute I got to the hostel which was in the middle of a slope, which probably means Eyjafjallajokul is out for me as well :P Icelandic sounds like a pretty difficult language to learn! But that just makes English a breeze for them, as evident from Hot Springs, the icelandic indie music CD we purchased from icelandair. They are excellent at enunciation and getting the vowels right. We native English speakers on the other hand, are likely quite hopeless at pronouncing their language. We barely got to shop at Ff after that though cause the movie was pretty damn long.

American Hustle

We caught this one week after The Secret Life of Walter Mitty because tickets are cheapest on Tuesdays :P It was really good! Bradley Cooper was hilarious with his hypothetical endings to his boss’ ice fishing story and Jennifer Lawrence was amazing in her victimized wife part and intentional mistakes. I like Amy Adams but everytime I see her I think of how her character screwed up in that Debra Messing movie, what was it – something about a wedding? The Wedding Date? With Dermot Mulroney. Needless to say she has really blossomed as an actor, as has Mila Kunis (considering I am old enough to have first watched her on That 70s’ show). I can see how it got a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a funny, intelligent, movie and totally worth watching. It’s one of those that actually held some appeal here in Singapore (probably because of the 4 big stars) so it had a longer run and everything.

Her

The best thing I liked about this movie (above all the other movies in this list) is the soundtrack. The kind of music Samantha composed (easy listening/new age-y) was really nice! The kind that holds mass appeal, if not terribly technical. I thought the climax of the movie (where the protagonist (can’t remember his name for the life of me) discovers that Samantha is also in love with 600+ other people she talks to) was a little weak, because that the same AI algorithm that is used for each consumer is somewhat obvious? Still, worth watching this for the music, and some pretty good voice acting by Scarlett Johannson.

The Dallas Buyers’ Club

I didn’t know Buyers’ Clubs were things in the what, 1970s? 1980s? where people went to get alternative medicine. I guess they’re not called that now, you see things like chiropractors and homeopathy clinics more commonly. Honestly speaking, their premise is not all that stupid/primitive/uninformed, given the way I’ve previously expounded on how many doctors exactly enter the profession with some moral aim to help people. Most of them were good at science in high school, and at 17/18 when you are choosing your major (I am beginning to see why Americans make it a post-graduate degree.. A longer, more tortuous path to getting your MD will somewhat prune out those who are in it for the money and the prestige) the average high school graduate will usually make extra tenuous links like: “I always did well in biology, or chemistry, I must be cut out for a career in medicine.” while choosing their major. I’d say many of my friends who go for professional degrees like these probably treat their pursuit as an intellectual exercise, and how much can you trust a doctor to look out for your best interests as opposed to his own intellectual pursuits when it comes to medical research in progress? There was great acting here by Matthew McConaughey (I used to have a crush on him, that delightful Texan drawl and well, suaveness) as well as by Jared Leto, which I honestly couldn’t tell was a man, I don’t know why everyone found it so obvious. The homophobia in it was stunning and I’ve always wondered why so many civilizations start with homophobia/racism before becoming “enlightened” to be less bigoted. Are we hardcoded to dislike anything that is not “like us”? Why don’t we dislike left-handers then? And why isn’t there heterophobia? I really should have taken an anthropology/sociology class about that.

August: Osage County

The dialogue in this play-movie was bullet-like and feeling. Meryl Streep was excellent as usual, and had some great interaction with Julia Roberts. Benedict Cumberbatch was just a weird casting choice.. all his Sherlock fans will be rather surprised at the role he was cast for. All the same, I can see why there isn’t more mass appeal for this film (and the Dallas Buyers’ Club) in Singapore. Not many people here have read widely enough to have a comprehensive understanding of American colloquialisms and slang phrases (even L has problems now and then, even though he generally does quite well), so many jokes are actually lost on people here. Even jokes in something as simple as Frozen can be lost on the audience so it’s sometimes depressing to watch movies in cinemas here. Definitely watching this movie makes you want to read the original play by Tracy Letts. Perhaps Pangdemonium will perform it one day? Considering nearly everyone here managed to miss the movie due to its brilliant show times (1pm in the afternoon most weekdays). We actually took a half day one tuesday to catch the Dallas Buyer’s Club and August: Osage County at Vivocity, and both were so art-house-y (compared to the average blockbuster anyway) they were screened in the smallest theatre there (8).

Harvey Nichols

This is the best ad I’ve seen in awhile. The music is perfect, the acting, the directing.. Couldn’t have said it better.

In contrast, we watched the Counsellor last night and it was so horrible. I don’t know how it could have been worse. I suppose they could have chosen a talentless cast to boot. Was Penelope Cruz really necessary for that little side story? There was no real, loving, relationship built between her and Fassbender so naturally nobody felt sorry for Fassbender when her neck got snapped – I don’t even know why whoever it was killed her wanted her killed. The entire thing was just very unmotivated and confusing; I’ve never read anything by Cormac McCarthy so I didn’t know he was actually any good – the lines were so awkward and tortuous. And I think it’s difficult to perceive something to be profound when it’s lisped by Cameron Diaz. It’s like asking a 5 year old to give the Gettysburg Address. At least we watched it on GV Tuesdays when tickets are $2 less than other weekday. I predicted a rotten tomatoes rating of < 50%, maybe around 30% but LZ thought it would be higher on account of its execution. (I was right.) What a flop! I can safely cross that off my list but there was certainly no satisfaction to be had in watching it. Also next time I think a movie is rated Mature 18 for violence, I would do well to not watch it >< The next movie will be the Hobbit since Gillian is giving us free tickets to the Desolation of Smaug for next saturday! Hopefully it’s not as draggy as the first one.

The Queen and Mangosteen

I’m celebrating the return of flickr accessibility to my work computer :) For weeks (I only discovered it when LZ went to Minnesota and I was editing his photos and uploading them there, but couldn’t access my album for the link to give to him at work) flickr has been “not available” even though it’s not on the list of blocked sites. Obviously I couldn’t report that, but some other guy reported on the intranet that the Microsoft website was also “not available” and the security department explained there we were having some problem with the VPN but now everything is up and running!

So we had dinner last night at the Queen and Mangosteen, a British pub in Vivocity. Everytime we walked past it in the mall it looked pretty empty, but when we actually reserved a place yesterday, we were brought to another wing of the very much thriving restaurant that is right at the waterfront.


They have an open bar there (much like the Chop House and Jamie’s) that leads into the air conditioned area, so you get both the alfresco feel AND the air conditioning. The sunset was magnificent.

Of course the million dollar question is: How was the food?
Well it surprised me how decent it was. I’d definitely come back. And, it’s MUCH better than Jamie’s!


We started with the Thai crab cakes, which seemed to be made entirely of crab – juicy, with the kind of bite that feels like you’re biting into a deshelled Alaskan King crab leg. None of that filler stuff like potato or celery you get in your typical Maryland crab cakes. I’m not sure these are “Thai” either, because Thai crab cakes usually comprise of blended up crab meat, something like Singaporean fish cake – with glutinous rice flour or some other additive added. Their crab cake was served with mango salsa and pretty damn reasonable at only $12.


I had the steak and guinness pie [$24], which was pretty good, although I think the mashed potato could be seasoned better. There’re salt and pepper shakers on each table, so all is good. You’d think that was a basic necessity in opening a restaurant but you’ll be surprised how many restaurants in Singapore don’t have them. The beef stew at the bottom of the pie dish was pretty awesome, though there were too many potato/parsnip(?) chunks. Some fresh mushrooms in there would have been nice.


LZ had the grilled king prawns with truffle spaghetti (whatever that means) [$26]- there isn’t a real strong truffle taste in the spaghetti, but I liked it quite a bit (though I wouldn’t necessarily order this again).


Here it is again.

I’m constantly faced with this problem in which there are too many restaurants in Singapore to try and too little time. Nearly 2-3 times (or more) a week we have dinner at home, cause his mum cooks, or my mum cooks, which of course is a privilege. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are all these restaurant pokemon out there and I gotta catch’em all!

Why we were at Vivocity: We were watching 3 peas in a pod, Michelle Chong’s new film (she’s the director, producer, and screenwriter). I thought it was quite different from the typical make of Singaporean film (mainly because most of our films are comedies and written/directed by men). This one was like a part romantic drama, part advertisement for the Australia Tourism Board (which sponsored parts of the movie). The acting was unusually awkward, but the actors were pretty cute. Both the Singaporean girl and the Taiwanese guy. However I thought the entire thing obsessed about homosexuality to a somewhat childish degree. And also there didn’t seem to be a point to the relationships – the punchline of the movie was pretty much “omg he is gay!” which is really not very interesting in and of itself don’t you think? But that should tell you how foreign and new and still slightly taboo the concept of homosexuality in Singapore is.