Woke up the other day with this playing in our head. Why, we have no idea. We read the chapter on earworms in Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia, but he doesn’t know what causes them, either. Earworms are also known as “last song syndrome”, but in this case we hadn’t heard Bob Dorough in years when he started singing in our head. We have a cassette of one of his albums, which a friend recorded from vinyl, but our one surviving cassette player has a perpetual whirr. So we were happy to find Devil May Care on YouTube, along with his other songs including Baltimore Oriole and Blue Xmas, an anti-Xmas song that ranks up there with Christmastime is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Yes, we like bebop, our musical tastes are guy-ish and Dorough’s singing IS odd.
The danger of Science-Fiction Week is that you may feel like abandoning other genres altogether, they seem so staid and predictable in comparison. We saw Alex Garland’s excellent Ex Machina, starring Alicia Vikander as Ava the artificial intelligence, Oscar Isaac as her creator, and Domhnall Gleeson as the programmer chosen to administer the Turing test. Garland got his SF cred from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, in which a team that includes Cillian Murphy and a bearded Chris Evans embark on a voyage to turn the sun back on. He also wrote the novels The Tesseract, set in the Philippines (reportedly he wrote it in Quezon), and The Beach and the screenplay for 28 Days Later.
Alicia Vikander, like Oscar Isaac, is in every other movie that opens this year, and she’s so good we cannot begrudge her Michael Fassbender assuming they’re still together. We loved Domhnall Gleeson in About Time, in which he was part of a family that used their ability to go back in time to read Dickens over and over again (there are worse ways to use time). And Vikander and Gleeson were by far the best parts of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (they were Kitty and Levin), except possibly for Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s moustache.
In Ex Machina, the tech billionaire behind the world’s most popular search engine—we think of him as Larry/Sergey—creates AI and gets one of his employees to test her. Lonely geek becomes emotionally attached to a program: it’s Spike Jonze’s Her, minus the whimsy, romance and the high-waisted pants. Ex Machina challenges the viewer to define what “human” is, and the results are uncomfortable. It makes us think that the singularity isn’t near, it’s already here and Asimov’s Laws no longer hold. The movie is chilly, and it’s supposed to be, so the sudden disco break is welcome.
Then we saw Alicia Vikander in James Kent’s Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of World War I. Vikander plays Vera, and she’s surrounded by some of the most adorable young British actors today, including Kit Harington (or as we call him at home, Christopher Darling), Colin Morgan (from the TV series Merlin, which makes us very angry because it takes painful myths we love and makes them cute), and Taron Egerton (from Kingsman). If you still haven’t recovered from the season finale of Game of Thrones, see Jon Snow clean-shaven here.
Testament of Youth reminded us of Joe Wright’s Atonement, no surprise since Brittain’s book is cited by Ian McEwan as one of the sources of his novel. Vera is a young woman who falls in love and gets accepted to Oxford in the same year—she’s all set to go to university with him when WWI breaks out and everything goes to hell.
Sapiens, available in hardcover at National Bookstores, Php1255
Seveneves got us to thinking about the survival of the species, so we picked up Sapiens, a history of the species by Yuval Noah Harari. We’re on chapter 4. It’s a fascinating book that makes leaps of logic that academics may scoff at, but we have no problem with.
The first part tries to answer the question: How did a species in the middle of the food chain suddenly vault to the top? We’d always thought that Homo sapiens descended from earlier versions of the species, Neanderthals and so on, but Harari points out that a mere 70,000 years ago there were six human species on the planet and sapiens basically won out. The competition was bigger and stronger, but sapiens could work together towards one goal, thanks to their ability to imagine things that did not exist, and to tell each other stories that bound their community together. In short, their weapon was fiction. So all you people who don’t read fiction, you’re doomed.
As viral phenomena go, the math problem posted by Singaporean TV host Kenneth Kong is more interesting than the latest celebrity stupidities. It made people use their brains for a change. However, Kong claimed that this math problem is given to fifth graders. Nope, not even the vaunted Singaporean educational system dishes this out to fifth grade children. Turns out it’s a question in a high school math Olympiad.
Before I learned that it’s a mathlete problem, pride compelled me to prove to myself that I am smarter than a 10-year-old Singaporean (Sucker!). Time I should’ve spent writing my column, so now it is this week’s column.
1. The Problem
Albert and Bernard just became friends with Cheryl, and they want to know when her birthday is. Cheryl gives them a list of 10 possible dates.
May 15 May 16 May 19
June 17 June 18
July 14 July 16
August 14 August 15 August 17
Cheryl then tells Albert and Bernard separately the month and the day of her birthday respectively.
Albert: I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know that Bernard does not know too.
Bernard: At first I don’t know when Cheryl’s birthday is, but I know now.
Albert: Then I also know when Cheryl’s birthday is.