Escape plan

Me and my friend string theorist were discussing who we want to become. Or at least, who are we not ashamed to become. Here’s the list we compiled:

  • Work in Google on quantum computing – an experimentalist superstar Martinis from Santa Barbara is about to make quantum computer. He and all his lab was recently hired (read: bought) by google.
  • sniffing the homeworks – generally speaking, it means going to a university without serious research groups, and teach students. Or even high school kids. Recall who taught us to perform in Science Olympiads? Slobodyanin, Kozel and their PhD students at PhysTech.
  • third world countries – as far I understand, not only 3rd world, but even better off countries like Malaysia will happily employ us. You just need to call the right people. Also, you might remember younger Polyakov who works in South Africa on higher spin string theories.
  • computer graphics porn – something that (almost) happened to me.
  • music journalism – Sergey Kolesnikov has a column in online music magazine, and also had been a postdoc until he left for innovation business a year ago, when his istitute died in Russia.
  • internet celebrity – a certain Max Kac was selling soda vending machines in the 90’s, playing poker tournaments around the world in the 00’s, and is a politician of the opposition party in the 10’s. You can learn about all of it on his blog.
  • Russian army – it is more of an anti-escape. That’s what’ll happen to Grisha (aka the best of us Landau institute graduates of 2011) if he feels homesick in Princeton..
  • standup comedian – a regular conversation in our department: “Are you doing an APS march meeting talk?” – “Yes, I’ll just do 20 minutes of standup.” Meanwhile in Russia the comedy team of PhysTech made it to the TV screens again. Last time it was in the 70’s in the Soviet Union.
  • Kickstarter for toilet seats #PottyGlo – Mr. and Ms. Pai from my year at Caltech are rather inventive.
  • Communications manager ( “I hire you to tell me that I should make a twitter account”) – apparently postdocs can hire another postdocs. Now they are concerned with getting rich people to give more money to Caltech because they can.
  • Actuary – we met a person who permanently rents a room in one of the NY hostels and is an actuary for one of the more vicious Wall street companies. She smokes a lot and doesn’t try to hide the fact that her company has been one of those causing the crisis of 2008. And prospers today.
  • Advertising – pretty much the only way for STEM people to get involved with actual politics. See The Obama campaign digital masterminds.
  • Making an arXiv for engineers – already made, actually: , Finally we theorists can help make something that exists in the real world!
It is a museum where cool devices and things that work from different epochs are gathered

What crazy things am I gonna do if I get rich

I was considering what crazy things I am gonna do if I get rich.

The general idea is that after hipster subculture to be trendy, the next one should be nerd subculture. Only under the mask of nerd subculture people would learn that there are way more possible interests and hobbies, not only the ones that are considered ‘nerdy’. There are also some that are just not well know, you can only stumble upon them if you use your mind more. So how to foster this transition in the society, if I have some money to waste?

Continue reading “What crazy things am I gonna do if I get rich”

Shakespeare jokes

So I watched Twelfth night lately, and this time I caught the meaning of the most of ‘witty replies’. I was thinking of comparing it to the modern sitcoms. There’s even an analogue of the ‘offscreen laughter’ – a jester that laughs a lot during the course of the performance. We also have a range of completely delusional characters, and a certain love line which is a matter of jokes like ‘she’s completely in love and he doesn’t notice’, but is mostly delivered seriously. Some of the lines are an improbable and elaborate setup for the following joke “I’m not the horse of that color” “and that horse will make him an ass!”

There’s also the whole culture gap, with counts and countesses, duels, pirates – but most of it is easily translatable to modern day situations. The only thing that is a Shakespeare trademark and haven’t caught on elsewhere is the whole ‘mistaken identity’ comedy. In the modern days of computer graphics and fashion industry, it is hard to impress anyone by changing a costume in between scenes. Fashion has always been around, is it really computer graphics fault? Twenty years ago there were movies where characters dressed as somebody else.. Conan the Barbarian 🙂

Anyway, this made me thinking that Americans don’t know too many jokes. Me myself, I used to have a book “Collection of jokes” as a kid. Here, on a rock concert when somebody took their time to tune the guitar, the guy on the bass said: anybody knows a joke? There was one guy after all, he told a pun about a puppy (I don’t remember, to me it sounded like “why is puppy sad? it’s bloated”). So yeah, apparently (and it’s confirmed by going to the local improv night), the jokes in US are divided into puns “X and Y walks into the bar..”, sitcom jokes where somebody is overacting or <define sitcom here>, and also rare cases of sarcasm which is even harder to define. Yeah, there is also internet humor. There seems to be something missing, what we called ‘ordinary jokes’ back in Russia. I wonder if that’s just my impression..

Photos in the dark

«What to do in your free time?  Note that people who are contempt with life have something in common about their leisure activities: they do something they’re good at, and do it in front of people who can appreciate it. If you are an artist, you probably have a lot of friends on facebook who support you every time you post your art. If you like sports, then you participate in a team sport and enjoy your teamwork. Or you can join a competitive sport. If you ever join a marathon, you meet all these supporters you don’t even know along the way, and after the finish line. Even for a gym running track, you can bring a friend and boast about how many miles and inclination and speed you have on display. Same is true for less worthy activities, like getting drunk. You are much more likely to get drunk if everybody around you encourages you to, as compared to when they don’t care. So positive reinforcement that you get of your quality time should better be there. You’d better spend time with someone who respects you, than strive to earn that respect where there is none.»

The above little sketch attempts to explain why some people always look happy, and other always have a grin on their face. Those others probably found themselves in situation “That awkward moment when you’re asian, but you don’t have any special talent”. In other words, you’re not good at anything. You try to join clubs, do various sports, dances and go the bars, but the positive reinforcement is nowhere to be found. The bars have been broadely discussed on this american blog, I have to add that sometimes the people you’re with are not the people you want to get drunk with, and then the positive reinforcement is not there and you don’t come back to the same bar the next week. So very quickly you end up in a situation where the best thing you can do around that area is to sit in front of your computer. You probably heard people complaining “There is nothing to do in this town” etc., they are likely to be in this situation as well.

Have you noticed how all the dance classes and similar activities in US are very careful to never criticize you directly, instead they will say “try doing this instead” or “some of you (without pointing) have this mistake”? And of course, there’s a lot of encouragement going on every minute. Compared to that, the instructors back in Russia were way more strict and direct. But somehow, even with all the nice words being said, many people still don’t feel like continuing to learn a dance. So what’s left if you had given up on almost everything listed above?

What follows is my story, which is in many ways ridiculous. First, I found that cartoons/comics are safe in a sense that they give you a positive reinforcement, but don’t make you feel inadequate because you’re not good at anything. I think most of the adults who play computer games, read comic strips, webcomics and blogs with funny pictures are actually avoiding some more introspective activities, that would make them sad. I’ve recently found out about popularity of Calvin and Hobbes comics, you may note that they are mostly about returning to childhood – the “safe” topic for many of us. To explain what would be “unsafe”, I’ll just say most of the american top TV shows are, as the main characters are usually much better (more handsome/ more well spoken) than you, and you can’t help comparing yourself to them. For some reason, this doesn’t happen as much for inherently nonrealistic cartoon characters. Someone in the review said “everybody wants to be a kid like Calvin”, but there’s hardly any negativity in this feeling.

Then, with all the bad things said about US, it also has free food events, which are like the exaggeration of free sampler that you can encounter in the food shops around the world. Finding one such event, and being sufficiently hungry to devastate the table is a positive reinforcement of a stronger, primitive type. If one watched an anime Ben-to, there’s nothing to add really. As my friend said, “This show doesn’t have the right to be that good.”

If you think on a global scale, bringing people positive reinforcement is certainly not a goal of science and technology. It’s the goal of arts. So even if you are not an artist, there are artists in this world whose work will trigger your response, make you express yourself, and give you positive reinforcement in the end. You can go to a garage rock concert, if you feel like loud music that makes your ears blocked for a few minutes after you exit. Shouting and shaking your head inside, and then get a sticker of the band at the shop, or a signed copy of their album. This is kind of a positive reinforcement, isn’t it?


You can go to a modern art performance, and get your feet soaked in paint, or interact with other crazy props they have. After the performance, if it was sufficiently provoking, you can ask question about something you didn’t understand to pretty much anyone around you. Well, actually some people are busy between themselves, but them aside.


Other than that, just finding an event with a good music in the background, and taking your sweet time to listen to some of the songs, maybe dance if it’s a club music and you don’t mind dancing for yourself. This may be hard, but it’s also fulfilling regardless. You can talk to drunk people instead, they may randomly want to introduce you to somebody.