Mathematics, Its Contents, Methods and Meaning – A Book Review

Back in the times before the Great Flood, I was a lowly undergraduate student in a public university.  I started out as a chemistry major but credits back then were very cheap, almost free, so I ended up taking an enormous number of credits in mathematics too.  When I reached my senior year, I had taken all the requisite chemistry courses for the BS degree but I also had discovered that I found the lab work extremely tedious.  What was a nerd to do?  Well, I took a few more math courses and got my degree in mathematics instead.  Since I was planning on raising an expensive family with Camera Girl, I decided to get a job as an actuary at one of the many fine insurance companies in Manhattan.  Imagine my embarrassment to find that compared to being an actuary a lab chemist was like being James Bond.  These insurance actuaries were the most boring human beings that walked this green earth.  With two strikes against me I had to be careful what I did next.  I talked to some smart guys and they asked me what I thought of chemical engineering.  I asked them, “What is chemical engineering?”  Well, these wise men told me that it was the golden road to wealth, fame and happiness.  Since I’ve always been gullible, I believed them.  Where things went from there is a story for a long winter evening but suffice it to say that I abandoned science for the greener pastures of the engineering world.  In other words, I sold my soul to the devil.  But I earned enough to raise a family.

But I always hankered for the chance to take more math classes.  While I was taking my engineering courses I had the chance to speak to an old math professor of mine and described my regret that I’d be too busy for the next thirty years or so to take anymore math classes and wondered whether he could recommend a self-study text that covered all the fields of mathematics that I might be interested in.  I knew that this guy was something of a bibliophile and luckily for me he said he had the very thing.  He told me it was a Soviet Russian three volume set published in translation by the MIT Press.  It wasn’t too pricey so I bought it and stuck it in a corner of my bookshelf and there it sat mostly unread for thirty years.

About ten years ago I finally got my last kid out of college and paid off the house and I was looking at cleaning out all the junk I had accumulated over the years when I rediscovered this set of books.  On a lark I started thumbing through it and opened up the section on topology.  And quickly discovered that I still enjoyed mathematics.  Now you may think that engineering was a field where mathematics abounds.  But after almost thirty years in the field the mathematical content of what I did on a daily basis had degenerated from differential equations into spreadsheets to figure out equipment depreciation and maybe the odd pressure drop or heat transfer calculation.  I had become a lapsed mathematician.  So, it was with great pleasure that I scanned the various sections of the set.  Non-Euclidean Geometry, Topology, Prime Numbers and other equally useless but interesting things.  Now whenever I have time I delve into the books and lose myself for a few hours and enjoy the guilty pleasure of contemplating the whichness of what.  Today I was reading what these long dead Russians had to say about the relevance of Non-Euclidean Geometry when considering the details of our actual universe.  When a ray of light can be bent by gravity what exactly is the validity of the concept of the parallel postulate?  With our current understanding of particle/wave duality what exactly can we consider empty space?  These esteemed commies made a statement from what they call dialectic materialism and define space as the form of existence of matter.  Now what the hell does that mean?  From what I read they are saying that the concept of space only has meaning in the contest of matter.  Well does that mean there is no such thing as empty space?

This is great stuff.  It makes me feel young again and inspires me to want to write a science fiction story where everything in the universe is adjacent to everything else and therefore problems like faster than light travel are merely a matter of having the correct mental picture when attempting to go from your leather recliner to, let us say, a planet in the Andromeda galaxy.

Anyway, if you’re ever in need of a general reference on mathematics that might spark your gray matter, I highly recommend Mathematics, Its Contents, Methods and Meaning by A. D. Aleksandrov, A. N. Kolmogorov and M. A. Lavrent’ev.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 21 – Patterns of Force

Space Nazis!  In the immortal words of Dr. Zachary Smith, “Oh the pain, the pain.”

The Enterprise is headed for stellar system blah, blah, blah where there are two planets with humanoid life.  One planet, Zeon, is more advanced and peaceful.  The other, Ekos, is less advanced and warlike.  The Federation sent an observer ten years earlier name John Gill who was an historian that Kirk knew from back at the Academy.  Nothing has been heard from him for years.  Their mission is to establish communications with Gill and find out how conditions on Ekos are progressing.  As the Enterprise nears Ekos a missile with an H-bomb approaches and has to be destroyed.  Ekos should not have that level of technology so Spock and Kirk go down to the planet expecting trouble.

When they beam down they find that the Ekosians are dressed as Nazi soldiers and they are treating the Zeonians as the Nazis treated the Jews during their time in power.  We get several episodes of Kirk and Spock dressed as Nazis trying to infiltrate the Nazi headquarters to reach John Gill who they learn is the Führer of the Ekosian Nazi state.

They are captured, jailed, whipped and threatened.  Eventually they escape by manufacturing a laser out of the transponders that were subcutaneously emplaced under Kirk and Spock’s skin as a way to locate and rescue them if their communicators were lost.  They escape to the sewers where they join up with the underground resistance of Ekosians and Zeonians.  Eventually they reach John Gill.  They find he’s been drugged and he eventually explains that he used the Nazi model as one that could overcome the disorganized nature of Ekosian society.  It worked but then Melakon, his deputy, drugged him and seized power with the intent of going full tilt Nazi.  At this point the final solution is about to be unleashed on the Zeonians.  Kirk rouses Gill and forces him to make a speech denouncing the treatment of the Zeonians and blaming Melakon.  Melakon shoots Gill and is himself shot by the soldiers present.  The Ekosians renounce Nazism and focus on manufacturing high end automobiles.

What can I say?  What can anyone say?  Space Nazis!

So let’s get down to it.  Shatner has moments where he embraces his Kirkian magnificence.  At the beginning when McCoy is rambling on about what could have happened to Professor Gill Kirk very good naturedly reminds him that that is exactly what he and Spock are heading down to the planet to find out.  Later on when he is being whipped in the Gestapo dungeon he does a great Shatner pain face.  Not full intensity, but more as if an annoying hemorrhoid were flaring up.  Later on Spock has to climb on Kirk’s recently whipped back to reach a light bulb placed high on the prison cell wall to work his Rube Goldberg laser device.  Kirk reminds him very pointedly about the high quality of the whipping he had received and stresses that time is of the essence to finish the maneuver before Kirk collapses in pain.  The exchange may actually be the humorous high point of the episode.  A few funny non-Shatner lines are thrown in.  When Kirk and Spock are first disguising themselves in Nazi uniforms Spock notes that Kirk will make a very convincing Nazi.  Later on when Spock is brought before the deputy Führer, he has to stand passively by as the high ranking official gives a very insulting description of Spock’s physiognomy in pseudo-scientific terms that highlight the supposedly degenerate aspects of his distinctive ears and eyes.  Spock’s expressions while listening to the lecture are amusing.

Space Nazis!

I give this episode 4 // 7.

Executive Suite (1954) – A Movie Review

“Executive Suite” is a drama that details the personalities and ambitions of the executives of the Tredway Corporation, a furniture manufacturing company, as they react to the unexpected death of the company president Avery Bullard.  It also showcases the difference between two different kinds of corporate executives.  One is the inspirational leader who recognizes that a company is the intersection of human beings as customers, employees and ownership.  Someone who wants the company to succeed by striving for excellence in all the aspects of running a business.  The other vision is expressed as the narrowest focus on maximizing the stock dividend by any means possible.

The movie has an all-star cast with William Holden, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon and Barbara Stanwyck as the big names and other fine actors such as Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch, Shelley Winters and June Allyson rounding out the cast in support roles.

Bullard is leaving New York City to attend an executive board meeting at the Tredway factory in Pennsylvania.  He has a stroke and dies on the street in front of the office building where the Board of Directors meeting was just held.  His death on the street is observed from a window by one of the board members George Caswell, played by Louis Calhern.  Caswell take advantage of this insider information (Bullard’s death) to short 3,700 shares of Tredway stock in order to take advantage of the stock price drop that he expects to occur after the news breaks next Monday.  But unfortunately for Caswell, the company is about to report an extremely large stock dividend based on excellent profits.  This will make his short position extremely unprofitable.

As the news of Bullard’s death begins to filter through to the Tredway management, we get to see how each of the five vice presidents responds and what kind of men they are.  Walter Pidgeon is Frederick Alderson, Vice President and Treasurer.  He was Bullard’s loyal second in command.  He never had the drive to challenge any of Bullard’s decisions and he therefore has begun to drift into a more passive role in the company management.  Fredric March is Loren Shaw, Vice President and Controller.  He is currently the dominant force in the company.  Bullard has backed Shaw’s methods to maximize short term profits, even when that has meant producing shoddy product lines.  Shaw also maintains thorough surveillance of his fellow executives.  He knows about their private foibles and uses this knowledge to blackmail them when it suits him.   Paul Douglas is Walter Dudley, Vice President for Sales.  Walt is the epitome of the shady salesman.  He is having an affair with his secretary (played by Shelley Winters) and often ignores his family and business responsibilities to satisfy his own pleasures.  Dean Jagger is Jesse Grimm, Vice President for Manufacturing.  He is an old man who has seen the idealistic practices that Bullard espoused abandoned under Shaw’s penny-pinching program.  He is fed up with the shoddy products his plant has been forced to manufacture and is preparing to retire to escape it.  And finally, William Holden is Don Walling, Vice President for Design and Development.  Don is aggravated that Bullard’s promises to allow him to modernize and optimize the manufacturing processes have been abandoned to pursue short term gain.  His wife   Mary (played by June Allyson) wants him to quit and go someplace where his design talents will be put to good use.  The other two executive board members are stockholders.  One is George Caswell and the other is Julia Tredway (played by Barbara Stanwyck).  She is the daughter of the founder of Tredway and also Bullard’s long-time lover.  She is angry and depressed and looking to escape from all of the anguish she feels about Bullard and her unsatisfied relationship with him.

We watch as Shaw gathers up the votes, he thinks he can collect to assure his election to president.  Dudley’s vote he will get by blackmailing him over his affair with his secretary.  Caswell will sell his vote in exchange for a sweetheart deal to buy company stock and therefore cover his short position.  And Julia gives Shaw her proxy just to escape from the necessity of attending the painful meeting.  Along with his own vote this should give him the four votes he needs.

Meanwhile Alderson and Walling are attempting to stop Shaw.  Not knowing of some of the pressure that Shaw can bring to bear they try to persuade Dudley, Grimm and Tredway to elect Dudley as an alternate to Shaw.  Dudley because of the blackmail he is under of course turns them down.  Walling and Tredway get into an emotional argument because of her very traumatic feelings about the company and Bullard.  And when Dudley is no longer a viable choice for candidate Walling offers himself to Alderson as an alternative.  But Alderson breaks the news to him that Grimm will not vote for Walling because he feels that he is too young and inexperienced.

It all comes down to the board meeting and the voting fails to put Shaw over the top on the first ballot because Shaw had to provide Caswell with proof that he would be given the stock deal he wanted.  Shaw then provides him with this assurance and the meeting prepares to come down to a second ballot.  But before a motion is proposed for a vote Walling questions Shaw about his vision for leading Tredway into the future.

Shaw clearly articulates that the duty of a corporate leader is to do everything in his power to maximize the return on investment to the stockholders.  And he proudly claims that Mr. Bullard completely approved of the “improvements” Shaw had made at Tredway that allowed for the exceptionally large quarterly dividend that Tredway had just recently announced.

Then Walling answers him with a vision of a company thriving on excellence and integrity.  At one point he finds a small table near the wall of the boardroom that was an example of the shoddy craftsmanship that Shaw’s policies had fostered and he rips it apart with his bare hands and reviles a corporate philosophy that throws away the company’s reputation as a manufacturer of quality products to realize a short-term profit.  After this stirring appeal even Shaw votes with the rest of the board to elect Walling president.

I am not an idealist.  I understand that the good guys don’t always win.  I recognize that the market is a dog eat dog reality.  But I also have seen what lowest possible cost manufacturing has done to this country.  Corporate responsibility by American companies to its employees and the public is just as important as responsibility to its stockholders.  I watched this movie for the first time this week and I think the message it makes is very timely.  Add in the responsibility of government to protect American companies from unfair competition from rock bottom labor costs in the third world and you could be talking about a MAGA campaign ad.  And from the point of view of entertainment the movie is enjoyable and well made.  Even though this isn’t a movie I’ve seen over and over I can highly recommend it.

24NOV2020 – OCF Update

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Americans out there.  I know we’re all living through the horrors that the Left has cooked up for us.  The lockdowns, the rampaging psychopaths and finally the fraudulent election plot.  It may seem insane to even talk about a happy anything but I refuse to let these horrible people rob me and my family of at least part of the joy that the holiday is supposed to provide.  My family gathering won’t be as large as some years but it will still be joyous and include children and grandchildren and a whole lot of turkey and other fattening food.  I hope to introduce my two year old granddaughter to the March of the Wooden Soldiers, Gulliver’s Travels and the art of getting the larger piece of the wishbone during the contest.  So please make sure to have some joy on Thursday even if it has to be by phone or video call.  After all generations of Americans have had to delay gatherings because of war and other emergencies.  We can hope that the present travesty will be ended some time in the near future if for no other reason than because a vaccine is imminent.

Secondly, I want to say that content may be a little sparse here because of all this merrymaking.  I intend to put out posts as often as possible but usually there is a lull in news and in web traffic during the holidays so the resource and the need may both lag to some degree.  But I intend to put up various reviews of movies, tv shows, books and other items that I think will be of general interest.  And I will continue to look for content from guest contributors.  So if you have something you’d like to contribute leave a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

Thirdly and lastly, I’d like to just address the election situation.  Many gloom and doomers seem extremely eager to throw in the towel.  They call me every day with some latest disaster that they hope will convince me that I must join them in the ranks of the defeated.  I’ve asked several of them whether they’ll get some kind of early bird special bonus for conceding now rather than wait for the actual resolution.  I have to say I really don’t understand why they’re in a hurry to concede the election to Joe Biden.  That seems like a situation that I would want to delay for as long as humanly possible.  But to each his own.  Anyway, I’ll allow President Trump and his legal team all the time they need to plead their case before the Supreme Court.  I think that anyone who claims to know in advance how that decision will be made is mistaken.  My opinion, and it is just that, my opinion, is that the odds are exactly 50/50.  So I’d prefer to enjoy Thanksgiving and let the process play out.  There’s plenty of time to react to the facts on the ground once they are.  So I’ll wait until there’s something interesting to discuss and then I will.

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 11 – The Lady Vanishes (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last movie filmed in England before leaving for Hollywood.  The plot involves a train somewhere in central Europe with some British citizens on their way back home.  An old English lady named Miss Froy is involved in some kind of espionage.  She befriends a young woman named Iris Henderson who is going home to marry a rich man she doesn’t love.  When Miss Froy disappears from the train and all the other passengers and crew swear she was never there Iris recruits Gilbert Redman to help her solve the mystery.  There are comic touches that involve a pair of friends named Caldicott and Charters who are obsessed with reaching England in time to watch the National Cricket match.  In fact, the comic bit they did in this film was so popular that the actors, Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford respectively, reprised their characters in a number of films for many years afterward.

Hitchcock builds up the characters with plenty of background and personal details in scenes that take place before the train ride and once the young couple begin delving into the mystery it is obvious that a criminal conspiracy is taking place to kidnap Miss Froy, although no apparent reason exists.  On the train is a noted brain surgeon and he tries to convince Iris that a serious blow to the head that she sustained just before getting on the train is the source of her delusion about the missing Miss Froy.  Later on, we find out that he is the ringleader of the plot.

Finally, Miss Froy is freed and she reveals to Iris and Gilbert that she is a British spy and she must flee the train and go cross country to return to England.  But first she teaches Gilbert a musical phrase that is code for some top-secret information.  The adventure comes to a climax in a gun battle between the storm trooper and the English passengers as they attempt to take control of the train and flee over a border to a non-hostile country.  After several casualties they escape and return to safety.  When they reach England, Iris decides to forsake her rich loveless bridegroom and go off with Gilbert.  But first they head for the British foreign office to give them the musical code message.  But just as they reach the office Gilbert realizes he has forgotten the music.  But then hears the tune being played on a piano in the room they are about to enter and they see Miss Froy playing the tune.

This all sounds like a ridiculous jumble and in a way it is.  There are all kinds of odd things going on as there always are in a Hitchcock film.  A homicidal magician complete with a booth for making women disappear.  A mysterious burn victim with bandages that cover her face who is brought on the train well after Miss Froy disappeared.  There’s a deaf-mute nun in high heels.  A platoon of storm troopers that I guess are supposed to be German.  An avalanche, a murdered singer, clog dancers, a comedic Italian innkeeper who promises things he can’t deliver in four or five languages and scantily clad women.

But it’s actually highly entertaining.  All the little details of the story are well done and diverting.  The various characters are given enough development and even the villains are well rounded characters.  I thoroughly enjoy this movie and highly recommend it.