Entries Tagged 'Trivia' ↓

UCI on the silver screen

Some years ago, my graduate school advisor at the University of California, Irvine, told the story of one of the oddest buildings on campus: the Social Science Laboratory. Like many of the structures at UCI, it features long horizontal lines and striking contrasts emblematic of 1960s Futurist architecture. But it’s perhaps most notable for what it lacks.

Social Science Laboratory

That’s right. No windows. The Social Science Lab was designed to host experiments in human behavior, and blocking the outside world provides a controlled, soundproof environment, perfect for all kinds of disturbing Milgram experiments.

The missing windows and a bold, high-tech style—at least for the 1960s—had the side-effect of attracting the attention of Hollywood movie producers. Twentieth Century Fox chose the building, together with the courtyard it shares with the Social Science Tower next door, for 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

(Yes, the same building where UCI scheduled many of my classes also resembles a slave training facility of the future. That’s grad school for you.)

Curious about the history of this sinister structure, I searched online and discovered that Conquest is just one of several movies featuring scenes from UCI. Russell Dalton, professor of political science, has compiled a rather comprehensive list of movies filmed on or near the campus. Although his page shows promotional posters and a few still frames, it lacks any actual video.

To fill this unfortunate gap, I’ve collected clips from the five Hollywood movies in which UCI makes an appearance. Watch them below in chronological order.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The first starring role for UCI came in the fourth film of the Planet of the Apes series. The School of Social Science was transformed into a violent training center for simian slaves, and its courtyard became an ape auction block.

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Besides the pure entertainment value in seeing a massive shrewdness of apes invade my alma mater, these clips are notable because they provide a rare historical snapshot of the campus when it was almost brand new. Except for the eucalyptus trees, the passing of nearly four decades has hardly changed its appearance. Even the humble lampposts have remained the same, as shown in the photographs below.

UCI in 1972

UCI in 1972

UCI today

UCI today (photograph by Shruti Gorappa)

Silent Movie (1976)

A parody of the silent film genre, this Mel Brooks film is loaded with slapstick gags and celebrity cameos. Paul Newman makes an appearance during a hospital scene and is pursued—via powered wheelchair—through UCI’s Aldrich Park, the Langson Library, and into the Administration Building. Who knew it doubled as a geriatric lounge?

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Poltergeist (1982)

Today, scientific research at UCI focuses on nanotechnology, fuel cells, and mass spectrometry, but in 1982, the spotlight was on recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. Or at least, that’s the story in the movie Poltergeist, in which a father seeks the help of parapsychologists from UC Irvine to explain the disembodied voices and floating toys that are haunting his house. In one scene, the researchers hold a meeting at their lab, but an exterior shot reveals it is actually the Langson Library.

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Creator (1985)

Rival biology professors take out their frustrations in a friendly game of tackle football, right in the middle of Aldrich Park. Familiar paths and buildings are clearly visible in the background.

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Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

The architecture at UCI continues to attract movie producers even in the 21st century. In 2001, Warner Bros. selected the Gillespie Neuroscience Research Facility for a scene in Ocean’s Eleven. It may have been chosen because, like many of the newer buildings on campus, it shuns the Futurist style in favor of a cleaner, postmodern look. At least, it was clean until Matt Damon smashed one of its windows.

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Dissertation trivia

Inspired by Morgan Deters’ Dissertation Countdown, I thought it would be fun to find out how my own dissertation grew over time. Although I never had the foresight to run a nightly script like Morgan’s, I did record all of my changes in a Subversion repository. It’s like having a virtual time machine that can backtrack through the complete history of my work. With a tool such as StatSVN, I can create a nifty graph that shows my research activity over the last couple of years. This one shows the increase in dissertation size over time:

Dissertation growth over time

It’s a bit misleading because my dissertation work actually started well before December 2007. I’d been writing code and publishing some initial results in early 2006, but I didn’t start merging it all into a single coherent document until late 2007. Much of the effort from then on was largely a matter of polishing code and evolving the overall narrative, which explains the remarkable growth in the summer of 2008. (It makes me look uncharacteristically productive.) My effort subsided as my defense date drew near, finally ending in March 2009 when I graduated.

StatSVN can also reveal a finer grain of activity. This one shows the number of commits by day of the week:

Dissertation activity by day of week

There’s a distinct pattern here. My productivity seems to increase closer to the weekend, peaking mysteriously on Friday. One explanation is that I started working full-time before my dissertation was complete. Another explanation is that this is a sad testament to my social life. I prefer to think it’s the former.

Zooming in even closer on my daily activities, StatSVN can show Subversion commits by hour of day:

Dissertation activity by time of day

I suppose the insight here is that I become super-productive late in the evening, but I’m pretty much dead in the morning hours. If you need me to do something, don’t expect it done before lunchtime.

While these charts show progress over time, I was also curious about what exactly I ended up with. Here are some quick stats I collected about the dissertation itself:

Pages 308
Citations 286
Sentences 1468
Words 26757
Average words per sentence 18.23
Percentage of words with three or more syllables 23.31%
Average syllables per word 1.79
Gunning fog index 16.61
Flesch reading ease 36.76
Flesch-Kincaid grade 12.00

The readability statistics were collected by Juicy Studio’s Readability Test. The fogginess is at 16—pretty high but still in the expected range for an academic paper. The reading ease of 36 (on a 100-point scale) is also depressingly low, considering how much time I spent rewriting my words to make them flow and digest well. The grade level indicates that a person would need at least twelve years of schooling to understand the paper, which sounds about right.

Finally, here’s a tag cloud derived from the text of the dissertation. The bigger the word, the more frequently it occurs in the text.

algorithm analysis bytecode cache canteen cascade case code collection compiler control data design element example execution figure flow graph hard include instruction interactive java known language library loop memory method performance pool problem processor program real-time requires result safety-critical software source static structure systems techniques timing tools tree wcet worst-case

The Kansas City standard

During episode #66 of This Week in Tech, host Leo Laporte reminded his fellow pundits that August 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of the IBM PC. It cost $1565—a fairly inexpensive computer in those days—but Leo noted that’s because it didn’t come with a hard drive, only a cassette port. John C. Dvorak immediately asked, “Does anyone remember if that used the Kansas City standard?”

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My reaction was the same as Leo’s: Kansas City standard? Is that a joke? I grew up in K.C. and have lived there most of my life, and yet I’d never heard of such a thing.

This thirty year-old standard was actually fairly revolutionary. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the first standards to allow consumer-quality audio cassettes to store computer data. It was thus a catalyst in the rise of the personal computer, offering home users inexpensive data storage at a time when floppy disk drives cost around $1000.

An example comes from personal experience. I recall my dad’s old TI-99/4A having a cassette port to which he had hooked up an even older portable tape recorder. I’d use it to save my little BASIC programs and whatnot. I could turn off the computer then come back the next day, playback the tape, and pick up where I left off…hopefully. (As Leo says, those cheap tapes weren’t particularly reliable.)

Despite reliability issues, the Kansas City standard remained influential. It even spawned a completely new type of computer data storage: vinyl records! That’s right; old-fashioned 33â…“ RPM records were once used for recording high-tech digital data—formatted according to the Kansas City standard, of course.

Kansas City floppy

And all this time I thought my home town was known only for its barbecue and jazz

The earliest pop-culture Peace Corps reference?

The Peace Corps is a household name. You can ask almost anyone in America if they’ve heard of it, and they’ll probably answer in the affirmative. I’ve always wondered how this small federal agency could have such a huge impact on American culture, but I think it comes down to three basic factors:

  1. It’s exotic. Although many have heard of the Peace Corps, most don’t know exactly what it’s all about. There seems to be a romantic stereotype that Peace Corps volunteers are sent to some tropical village to live in a mud hut and teach the natives animal husbandry or some such skill. (The reality these days is that volunteers are more likely to end up in a city teaching computer literacy, but the stereotype lives on.)
  2. It’s old. Established in 1961, America has had plenty of time to learn about the Peace Corps, and nearly 200,000 returned volunteers have had ample opportunity to spread the word around. In fact, the Peace Corps has been around long enough that it’s even had its own postage stamp.

    Peace Corps stamp

  3. Hollywood loves it. I suspect this factor has had the single greatest impact on making the Peace Corps a household name. I’ve lost count of how many references to it I’ve seen on TV and in movies, each one helping to cement a place for the Peace Corps in American culture. My favorite is this segment from the movie Airplane!.

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Filmed in 1978, I had thought that Airplane! was perhaps the earliest pop-culture reference to the Peace Corps. Last week, when I happened to rent The Pink Panther from GreenCine, I discovered I was wrong.

Playing a supporting role in the film was Robert Wagner, better known to today’s audiences as Number Two from the Austin Powers series.

Number Two

In the scene below, note how Wagner casually mentions the Peace Corps. Moments later, David Niven enters and also drops the Peace Corps name as if it were common knowledge.

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What shocked me about this scene was the date: The Pink Panther was filmed in 1963, just two years after the Peace Corps was established! It could very well be the first reference to the Peace Corps—ever—in mainstream popular culture. Perhaps even more surprising is how nonchalantly the Peace Corps is mentioned, as if everyone knows what it is.

So, contrary to what I had assumed, the longevity of the Peace Corps may have had little to do with its status as a household name. Judging by this clip, it became well-known almost as soon as it was created.

A tourist trap in Ghana

It’s not every day one hears about Ghana. Most Americans don’t know where it is, and many don’t even know it exists. The only mainstream media that gives Ghana any attention is the BBC News, but their stories are almost always soccer-related: a Ghanaian player transfers to a European club, a coach for the Black Stars gets fired, that sort of thing. As a returned Peace Corps Ghana volunteer, I’m a little disappointed the country doesn’t get more press.

That’s why, when watching ABC World News Tonight last December, my mouth dropped open. Charles Gibson suddenly started talking about Ghana! The story, from London-based correspondent Mike Lee, was all about Paga, a small town far in the northeast that is famous for one thing: crocodiles.

Note that Mike mispronounces the town’s name: It’s pägä, not pāgä. (Surprising, given that he actually visited the place.) Otherwise, it’s a nice segment that provides a fun glimpse into Ghanaian-style tourism. If you’re interested in even more scenes from Paga, check out the videos Straddling a Crocodile and sight n sound from the jungle.

These videos are especially fascinating for me because I’ve never actually been to Paga, even though I lived for twenty-six months in Tumu, a town less than 100 kilometers away. And I would often pass through Navrongo, a town just 10 kilometers from Paga, for my trips south. (If you use Google Earth, see just how close I was.)

So why did I never end up in Paga? At the time, I was much more interested in using my vacation days to head down to Accra, the only place in the whole country where a guy can get a burger, a shake, and a movie! But the next time I visit Ghana, I’ll definitely be swinging by Paga.

UC Irvine professor is “sexy geek”

UCI often makes headlines in local media like The Orange County Register, but it rarely shows up on international news outlets. That’s why I’m always surprised when I see articles mentioning UCI, such as a recent BBC News piece on the water cycle in Africa that included quotes from UCI’s Jay Famiglietti.

Even more surprising was the news that UCI placed ninth in Wired’s geek beauty contest. 124 people voted Hans Keirstead, anatomy and neurobiology professor at UCI, the “Sexiest Geek for 2006.”

Hans Keirstead

So does this mean our rankings will go up next year?


Apparently the developers at 1 Infinite Loop like to keep their code cheerful. An example posted to the Apple Developer Connection uses bunnies—yes, cute little bunnies—to demonstrate the power of frame buffer objects in OpenGL.

If you have a Mac, go ahead and download the example. Run it, then hit the Spacebar. You’ll see some very trippy effects that remind me of Dumbo’s pink elephant hallucination.


The frame buffer object, in case you were wondering, is a relatively new feature in OpenGL. It provides hardware-accelerated offscreen rendering of a texture. FBOs improve upon the older pixel buffer (PBuffer) technique, which was basically the same but required an evil context switch that hindered performance.

Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign goes international

Inspired by a recent MacRumors article about a Japanese version of the “Get a Mac” campaign, I wondered how many foreign-language ads Apple had made. I found five:

Unfortunately, the Japanese version is the only one with actors other than John Hodgman and Justin Long. The rest are simply dubbed.Still, if I had to choose anyone to replace John and Justin, it would be these guys.

Japanese Get a Mac ad

Name games

Hello. My name is Trevor Harmon.

Tervor Time

“Trevor” comes from a Welsh surname that originally meant “big village” or “great settlement.” It’s derived from the Welsh words tref (“village” or “homestead”) and mawr (“large”). “Trevor” is also a name of Irish descent, an Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Treabhair, meaning “wise” or “prudent.” Alternate forms include “Trefor,” “Trevar,” and “Trever,” and it is closely related to the names “Trevis” and “Trevin”. Here it is in Chinese:

Trevor in Chinese

Famous Trevors include baseball player Trevor Hoffman, actor Trevor Howard, television presenter Sir Trevor McDonald, and pro wrestler Trevor Murdoch. “Trevor” is also the star of a cartoon and is saving young lives. As a baby name, “Trevor” was virtually unheard of in the United States until the 1950s. Its popularity grew rapidly in the 70s and 80s, hitting a peak in the early 90s.

Trevor baby name

“Harmon” is an Anglo-Saxon name, originally derived from the Old French hermant and Old German Herreman, both meaning “warrior.” A common spelling variation is “Harman.” Famous Harmons include model Angie Harmon, cyberneticist Leon Harmon, and actor Mark Harmon. The Harmon Trophy is a prestigious aviation award. The Irish coat of arms for the Harmon family looks like this:

Harmon family crest

My pirate name is Black Tom Flint.

My rap star name is General Killa.

My scammer name is Sithole Tungay, a high-placed officer of a Prime Bank in Africa, Lome Branch.

My bunny name is Humphrey Bogart Stretch-Hop-A-Long.

My cyborg name is Transforming Robotic Exploration and Vigilant Observation Replicant (T.R.E.V.O.R.).

My monkey name is Fingers Knuckle-dragger.

My Japanese name is 猿渡駿. (“Saruwatari shun”, monkey on a crossing bridge, fast person.)

My Mormon name is Trevier Caramon.

Trevor cheer

My poet name is Oberon Dingleberry.

My spammer name is Gratis F. Griddle.

My spy name is Trevor “Intrigue” Harmon.

My squirrel name is Nibbles Smallnuts.

My Star Wars name is Treha Taola, Nommaxima of Halls.

My vampire name is Count of The Great Oceans.

My fluffy kitten name is Sprinkles Merryweather.

My Santa’s little helper name is Lovable Dancing-Tummy.

Bullet with my name on it

Top ten longest titles of research papers

One of the things you learn as a Ph.D. student is how to do research. Though I’m still far from mastering that particular lesson, there’s something I’ve discovered along the way: Academic researchers love coming up with long titles for their papers. In fact, a colleague’s recent 27-word Ph.D. thesis had me wondering, “Just how long do these titles get?” I decided to find out. I wrote a little script that scans the DBLP database and spits out the longest titles it finds (based on number of characters, not words). Excluding non-English titles, here’s the top-ten list:

  1. In silico exploration of the fructose-6-phosphate phosphorylation step in glycolysis: genomic evidence of the coexistence of an atypical ATP-dependent along with a PPi-dependent phosphofructokinase in Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. shermanii
  2. A Comparative Study of Artificial Neural Networks Using Reinforcement Learning and Multidimensional Bayesian Classification Using Parzen Density Estimation for Identification of GC-EIMS Spectra of Partially Methylated Alditol Acetates on the World Wide Web
  3. Performance of empirical potentials (AMBER, CFF95, CVFF, CHARMM, OPLS, POLTEV), semiempirical quantum chemical methods (AM1, MNDO/M, PM3), and ab initio Hartree-Fock method for interaction of DNA bases: Comparison with nonempirical beyond Hartree-Fock results
  4. Joint quantum chemical and polarizable molecular mechanics investigation of formate complexes with penta- and hexahydrated Zn2+: Comparison between energetics of model bidentate, monodentate, and through-water Zn2+ binding modes and evaluation of nonadditivity effects
  5. A Simple Flexible Program for the Computational Analysis of Amyl Acyl Residue Distribution in Proteins: Application to the Distribution of Aromatic versus Aliphatic Hydrophobic Amino Acids in Transmembrane alpha-Helical Spanners of Integral Membrane Transport Proteins
  6. Three-Dimensional Quantitative Structure-Property Relationship (3D-QSPR) Models for Prediction of Thermodynamic Properties of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): Enthalpies of Fusion and Their Application to Estimates of Enthalpies of Sublimation and Aqueous Solubilities
  7. WEB OBJECTS TIME: When Microsoft Started Speaking Like a Good Open-Standards Citizen, The Netscape Extensions Tail Tried to Wag The Dog and Object-Oriented Software Turned Static Web Pages Into Dynamically-Linked Access Boulevards to Significant Online Collection Databases
  8. Hydrogen bonding in diols and binary diol-water systems investigated using DFT methods. II. Calculated infrared OH-stretch frequencies, force constants, and NMR chemical shifts correlate with hydrogen bond geometry and electron density topology. A reevaluation of geometrical criteria for hydrogen bonding
  9. Molecular mechanical models for organic and biological systems going beyond the atom centered two body additive approximation: aqueous solution free energies of methanol and N-methyl acetamide, nucleic acid base, and amide hydrogen bonding and chloroform/water partition coefficients of the nucleic acid bases
  10. The nucleotide sequence of a 3.2 kb segment of mitochondrial maxicircle DNA from Crithidia fasciculata containing the gene for cytochrome oxidase subunit III, the N-terminal part of the apocytochrome b gene and a possible frameshift gene; further evidence for the use of unusual initiator triplets in trypanosome mitochondria

Of course, a trivia researcher’s work is never done. For future analysis, I’ll focus on papers with the highest number of authors. (I’ve already discovered a potential candidate.)