Category Archives: nostalgia

i, you sneaky bastard

Childhood memory:  I learned that i is formally defined to be the square root of -1.  Well, I thought, that worked well, what about the square root of i?  Surely that must be yet a new kind of number.  I just had to check that (a+bi)^2 can never be i.  But whoa, you can solve that!  (sqrt(2)/2) + (sqrt(2)/2)i does the trick.  I was kind of bowled over by this.  i, you sneaky bastard — you anticipated my next move and got ahead of me!  I had no idea what “algebraically closed” meant, or anything like that.  But it was one of my first experience of the incredible power of the right definition.  Once the definition is right, you can just do everything.


David English

Got the Sunday Times, which I don’t usually do, and in the Book Review letters section I saw a familiar name:  David English, of Somerville, MA.  I started noticing this guy when I was in grad school.  He writes letters to the editor.  A lot of letters to the editor.  Google finds about 10 pages of hits for his letters to the Times, starting in 1993 and continuing at a steady clip through the present.  He wrote to the New Yorker and New York Magazine, too. And I thought I remembered him showing up in the Globe letter column, too, but Google can’t find that.

Who is David English of Somerville, MA?  And has he actually had more letters to the New York Times published than anyone else alive?

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R.E.M. live at the Rockpalast, 2 Oct 1985

Complete show on YouTube.  In case you were wondering what the fuss was about.


For some reason I was thinking about pieces of culture that have departed from the world but which somehow didn’t “stick” well enough to persist even in the sphere of nostalgia.  Like when people think about the early 1990s, the years when I was in college, they might well say “oh yeah, grunge” or “oh yeah, wearing used gas station T-shirts with a name stitched on” or “oh yeah, Twin Peaks” or “oh yeah, OK Soda” or whatever.

But no one says “oh yeah, Fido Dido.”  So here I am doing it.

It is inherently hard to try to list things you’ve forgotten about.  My list right now consists of

  • Fido Dido
  • Saying “bite me”
  • Smartfood
  • Devil sticks (from Jason Starr)

That’s it.  What have you got?

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Meeting myself at 17

For something I’m writing I looked up a newspaper article I was interviewed in in, from June 7, 1989.  Here’s what I had to say:

Ellenberg on mathematics: “I always think of it — this is kind of crazy — as a zoo. There are a million different mathematical objects. They are like animals. Some are like each other and some are unalike, and they are all objects . . . . There are things in different guises. The amazing thing is, it all connects. Anything you prove with trig[onometry] is just as true if you do it with algebra . . . . I think it is kind of amazing actually, if you think of it from an emotional point of view.”
On learning math: “My feeling is that a lot of people expect not to be good at math. If you see calculus and trig, to a seventh-grader, they see it as something very difficult and very arcane, when maybe the trick is to relax a little bit . . . . Many things you can understand on two levels. If you look at a novel, a novel can be very hard to interpret, but you can still read it and see what happened. With math, there is no real surface level. It is already written in a sort of obscure language. You don’t have the comforting template. You only have the deep structure, and that can be very off-putting.”
On the practicality of math: “Why is it important to have read any Shakespeare for your everyday life? To tell the truth, I can get through the day without ever using a Shakespeare quote, but I think Shakespeare is useful, and I think math is useful.”

What a strange experience, looking at this.  In a way I seem very mentally disorganized.  But at the same time this is recognizably me.  Unsettling.

Life, friends, was boring. xkcd says so.

From a recent xkcd:

But kids, it’s not true! I was here before there was Internet, and I can tell you, people were not bored more often than they are now, and the boredom was not of a finer and more concentrated quality. The mouse-over text says, in an incredulous tone, “We watched DAYTIME TV. Do you realize how soul-crushing it was? But people still watch daytime TV! Even though there’s the internet! People like daytime TV.

xkcd used to take a slightly different stance on this:

Actually, it’s not clear what stance is being taken here — maybe xkcd really does think nature is of interest only insofar as as it generates ideas for status updates.

The right answer is that xkcd doesn’t think anything at all, because xkcd is a comic strip, whose job is to be funny, not to have consistent principled stances concerning how we have lived and what we should do.  There’s a post I never get around to making about how much I disagree with something in one of Louis CK’s famous bits, and one reason I never make this post is that it’s kind of dumb to argue with a comedy routine, because comedy routines are not arguments.

In conclusion, boredom is a land of contrasts.  John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14”:


Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


God I love this.


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Seether is neither big nor small

Eyes starting to glaze over from staring at book as I plow through almost-final revisions.  It reminds me of being in college and having a paper due, a paper that would benefit from having more time to devote to it than the three hours that are left before I have to go to class.  And in that spirit of the early 1990s and inarticulate anxiety, I am listening to Veruca Salt.  Why do I never listen to Veruca Salt?


Sans comment

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What I looked like when I was 17 and talking about math

My mom just sent me this, from the 1989 Westinghouse (now Intel) science fair. I don’t usually think CJ looks very much like me, but in this picture I can kind of see it.


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The Lonely Passion of Joey Heatherton

Hey, somebody has posted an acoustic cover of “The Lonely Passion of Joey Heatherton,” the greatest song (against much competition) by 90s Boston indie-rock heroes Prickly:



You can hear Prickly’s original (in cassette quality, sorry) at my earlier Prickly post.


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