Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fermat

Last night, I stayed up super late, past 1AM reading a book that recounted how Wiles, a Princeton University professor solved Fermat's last theorem.
Believe it or not, it was a quick and entertaining read. Of course I skipped most of the math parts and didn't try to do any of the equations myself.
Any way, it is a wonderful story. Fermat's last theorem was unsolvable for over 300 years. The theorem itself is really easy to understand but the proof is over 100 pages long and requires years of training, luck and genius. Wiles studied math for many years and sequested himself for 7 years before producing the bulk of the proof.

I found it hilarious that the mathematical community is gossip-y and political just like the rest of the world.
I felt bad for Galois, a math genius who tragically died in a duel at the tender age of 20! I'm glad that duels are now illegal.
Finally, I felt depressed that I'm pretty much washed up. If I was supposed to accomplish any good, it would've been done a while ago. Oh well.
And it was really cool to learn that infinity - whatever = infinity. Infinity / whatever = infinity. Infinity * whatever = infinity, blah blah blah.

Commuting anger, drama and etiquette

One of the shitty things about living in Scarsdale is overcrowded trains.
This morning like all weekday mornings, a large group of us wait for the train to arrive. When the doors open, we rush to file in like herded cows into the crowded train heading for Grand Central. Once you are standing in the train, the immediate task at hand is to find a seat. There's no guarantee that you'll get a seat but most likely you'll get something, even if it's one of those miserable and undesirable seats where you sit facing a complete stranger and your knees knock into each other's. (Maybe that should be a Craigslist section for singles looking to meet other singles.)
Any way, the woman in front of me requested to sit in an empty middle seat of a three seat arrangement that already had occupants in the "aisle" and "window" seat. Usually when this happens, the person on the "aisle" seat will get up and the seat requester can scoot into the middle seat. Sometimes, on rare occasions, the person in the aisle seat may actually scoot over and you can sit in the coveted aisle seat even though you were the last to the party. (Actually I'm bummed when this happens because I hate the aisle seat. The height of the aisle seat is low and I like to sink my whole body into the seat and lean my head and neck against it and fall into a drool-y sleep. This is not possible in the low back aisle seats - you have to sit up straight).

So anyway, this guy does not do one of the two possible options - doesn't get up to let her into the middle seat or scoot over. Instead he kinds of makes a fuss, which is nerve wracking. For whatever reason, every nano-second counts towards some kind of weird efficiency we're all striving after. Plus, any delay, no matter how minute, will only add to the waiting time of the person behind you who's trying to do the same thing, get a seat. And New Yorkers, even though we have a reputation for being rude, we are actually very polite when it comes to other people's time - we try very hard not to waste it. A few excrutiating nano-seconds pass and this guy still hasn't done the appropriate thing. He then scoots over like 3 inches - essentially taking up 1 3/4 seats. She decides to give up on this seat and probably feels humiliated. She passes him and walks further back to secure another seat.

I wanted to confront him. "Did you pay for two seats?" I wanted to say. Of course I said nothing but I've been seething since.

Anyway, what are you supposed to say to someone when you want the seat that they're blocking? It feels like a strange power dynamic. Why do I have to ask, as if to request permission to get an available seat? There should be a non-verbal sign like a cock to one side of the head that stands for move over, bacon. Instead I have to mumble, "Excuse me" or "Can I sit there?", etc. Oh and once somebody didn't move over, but motioned for me to cross over them to get into the seat. That's weird too. As I squeeze in this way, I'm sure to graze or touch them in some way. Hmmm..maybe that's a part of the ploy. Anyway, what's more polite, to face this rude person from the front or back? Or yell, "please us get up from that seat to save us from some uncomfortable social touching" or "do you really want me to bump into you? i have a communicable disease". It's really not fair and extremely rude for anyone blocking an empty seat next to them to have a power trip. Also hate the people who spread all of their belongings on empty seats.

Another shitty thing is being a petite woman. The chances are slim that I will be sitting next to an empty seat. An empty seat next to a small woman who doesn't smell is like sitting in first class but without the extra charges. If there's an empty seat next to me, I can almost feel the glee of any guy who ends up snagging it. Oh well. It can help for securing a seat for me...sometimes I'm really desperate and have to squeeze in between two fat people that only make 3/4 of a seat available.

Once when I was wearing a leg brace, I couldn't get someone to give up one of the handicapped seats on the bus. I felt so humiliated, I almost burst out into big sobbing tears right then and there.