Excerpts from My Published Writing

Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly

Star Search—A visit to Geoge Lucas’s ILM and Skywalker Ranch right before the release of Star Wars: Episode 1


“Is that it?”

“No, it can’t be says ‘Parsons Medical Supply.'”

“What the hell? Where is this place?”

“Stop the car. Let’s go in and ask.”

We double-park, get out, and walk through the door.

“Is this Industrial Light and Magic?” I ask. Then we look to the side and see Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper.

“Forget it—stupid question,” I continue. Here’s a better one: Why isn’t there a sign outside? We’ve been looking for this place for 30 minutes.”

The receptionist is used to confused visitors. “Sorry,” she says. “When we took over the building, we never got around to changing the name. Besides, it keeps the tourists away.”

“We’re from the A&F Quarterly. We’re here to take a look at Lucas Digital.”

“Oh, there you are,” brayed our tour guide, Stephen, who also seemed to just appear, like a special effect.

“We have to find you guys a parking spot,” the receptionist said. “Why don’t we give them a client spot?”

“That’s quick thinking, young lady.”

“I always think quick. It prepares me for the future of Lucas Digital,” she said with a chuckle which sounded as if she’d really enjoyed parroting a line that she’d seen one too many times in a training video.

The Nutty Professor—The Best Calculus professor

You said before that mathematicians are inherently beautiful. But
you don’t see very many really well-dressed mathematicians.

That’s very true. In fact, the typical image of a mathematician is someone who
doesn’t pay much attention to what they wear. Part of the reason I think that math is different than other fields is you don’t have to prove that you’re an authority in math. Your math does it for you. You can solve the problems; they can’t. English and the humanities, it’s much more subjective, and SO you need some way of establishing yourself as an authority figure to say, “I’m the one who knows what’s going on, and you should listen to me, because I can solve the problem and the other people can’t.” But this can also be a disadvantage. If you think you’re right and you’re not, it can be really bad. If you publish your big result and it turns out that it’s false and someone finds a counterexample and you’ve already been in print saying this is true, it’s terrible. It’s as embarrassing as it can be, and you can’t defend yourself-you’re just wrong.

I think the funniest parts of the book were the true parts. Do you have
a favorite true math story?

I’ll tell you a story about something that I did when I was teaching a calculus class at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I was just a visitor for the year and they didn’t know me from anybody. So the very first day I dressed down—t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and I went and sat down in the front row. And then I had my friend who teaches in the math department come in.

He goes to the front of the room and says, “Hello, I’m Colin Adams and I’II be teaching this lecture and we’re gonna start right up. Let’s start by looking at some inequalities.” And I’m just sitting there taking notes and he’s up there lecturing. And then he says “So the first thing we’ll do is we’ll multiply through by that denominator.”

At that point, I looked around and I raised my hand.

He looked at me and goes, “Yes?”

“Uh, excuse me, Professor-isn’t it true that when the denominator is negative you have to change the direction on the inequality?”

And he freezes and he looks at me and goes, “If you’re so darn smart, you teach the class!” He throws down the chalk and he storms out of the lecture hall and there were 300 students sitting there with their mouths open just like, “Oh my gosh, what just happened?” They were just stunned.

So I sort of looked around and then I stood up and I said, “Okay, I guess I will.” And I went up to the front of the room and I said, “I guess I’ll finish the inequality.” And I picked up the chalk and I start going through the inequality.

And the class, they’re just stunned. They’re all just stunned. And then slowly you’d see a smile here, a smile there, a student who was figuring out what was going on. But the majority of them are like, “What’s going on? Why are we listening to this guy?” So I finished the inequality and I said, “Well, he left a pile of syllabi on the desk—guess I’ll just hand them out.” I started handing out the syllabi and more people are figuring it out and I finished the whole class that way. By the end of the class, I would say that maybe 90 percent of them understood but there were still 10 percent of them going “Why are we listening to this guy?”