Math Boy

I haven't watched the latest episode of Stargate: Universe, but I have a pretty good idea what it's about. A stranded group of humans on the far side of the universe, the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time, run dangerously low on something, be it food or air or water or power or what have you. In a dark and depressing setting, personalities clash, and moral ambiguity is explored. Do you trust this guy or that guy? Do you trust anyone? Still, one or two characters stand out and I'm sticking with all the character development and establishment of premise, because I feel like it's going somewhere. It's Battlestar Galactica without Cylons, or LOST without a monster or Others. Actually, while the setting is BSG, the flavor is a bit more LOST, even though the latter has a better cast of characters with interesting flashbacks, and didn't need to bring outside antagonists in to the dynamic of these people learning to work together for survival, or clash with one another. So I see the potential in SGU, even if it feels so different from previous series in its franchise.

Dr. Rush is definitely an interesting character, as a scientist we're never sure whether or not to trust. Either he has his own agenda or his ego keeps him from explaining the larger picture to all the morons he's marooned with. Colonel Young is also quickly becoming a memorable character, as he struggles to lead the people while dealing with political pressure from back home on Earth and the “lot of work” he faces whenever he clashes with Rush. So there's definitely an interesting dynamic and power struggle between those two. And in between there's Eli, the self-proclaimed “Math Boy” who was just an ordinary fat kid playing video games until his gifts brought him to Rush's attention, a la The Last Starfighter. He's quite clearly a stand-in for us, the overweight dateless wonders who spend all our time engrossed in video games or serialized dramas targeting geek culture. Sometimes his geek references feel particularly forced, especially a few shoehorned Planet of the Apes references that he almost immediately explains for the very slow or very young members of the audience.

Eli serves as a bridge not only between Rush and Young, as both a regular guy and a genius, but also between the civilians on the ship and the governing military body, since they see him as one of their own with an “in” with the bigwigs. He also has a relationship with the beautiful daughter of a senator, one who seemed considerably less appealing in an episode that showed her jumping in to bed with the prettyboy soldier. In keeping with the LOST parallels, it'd be like Kate hooking up with Sawyer as opposed to Hurley. Mind you, LOST has never to my knowledge suggested anything romantic between Kate and Hurley, but Eli clearly has feelings for Chloe. In the same episode in which she sleeps with the soldier, she seeks comfort from Eli who, being the good friend and nice guy that he is, sucks it up and holds her hand while their ship is plunging in to a sun. So the show kind of sends this mixed message that, yes the slacker geek can have his dreams come true and end up on a real spaceship, but he's still going to be just a friend to the pretty girl. Thanks a lot, show.

I was always a bit of a “math boy” myself growing up. I was a year ahead of everyone else, and it was my easiest class. Homework never felt like homework, but solving puzzles, and of the three hours each night I agonized over my assignments, those first 20 minutes knocking off math problems were my favorite. Then I had to read thick boring history books, where the numbers attached to dates were infinitely less interesting than the ones in my math problems. I managed a near perfect average, and my four year high school math score was precisely 98.6%. And then I majored in art, to the chagrin of my driver's ed instructor who, between the Summer of my Senior year in high school and Freshman year in college, told me I was crazy for not becoming an accountant or something. As a designer, I still deal with numbers every day, and I'm probably obsessively precise. It drives me crazy when I open a document and find someone has made some shape on a page an odd size, like a “square” that's 1.417” x 1.439” inches; how hard is it to make it 1.5” x 1.5”? It doesn't matter that people receiving the final printed advertisements won't know if something is evenly proportioned or positioned at rounded X/Y coordinates; I need to make everything mathematically clean; it's a sickness.

Numbers stay with me, too. I saw earlier that a 3 number lotto drawing was 1-4-4, and immediately thought, “Gross”, which is 12 dozen, or 12 x 12, or 12 squared. The messed up thing is that the only reason this fact has cemented in my brain is because of the cover to Madballs #8 in which that month's variation of the “gross” pun that appeared on the front of every issue took an extremely geeky and mathematical turn, not to mention an educational one. I've already written about the frequency with which I notice the number 333, and 2% is another important figure in my life. Those were the chances of me having a rare intestinal birth defect, and one that made my inverse improbability suddenly measurable: what was 2% for others was 98% certain for me.

And what were the odds of things going wrong for me on a Friday the 13th? I got an e-mail to review some printed samples in someone's cubicle whom I'd never met before, and when I arrived she said, “Garbage pail?”, thinking I was a maintenance guy. At lunch, I walked through wind and mist without an umbrella, testing fate to see if I could walk a mile in either direction before the heavens opened up. While I was waiting to cross the street, a dump truck full of asphalt parked right in my path. In Dunkin' Donuts, I opened what was supposed to be a turkey, cheddar, and bacon wrap to find something spongy and white with moldy green spots. As of last weekend, I've stopped accepting such mistakes as fate, and I brought it immediately back to the counter and asked for what I wanted. I made it back to the office before it rained, and got done with my work in time to catch an early showing of 2012, Roland Emmerich's latest epic disaster movie in which the only thing more unlikely than the disasters are the huge coincidences that allow a diverse cast of characters not only to survive, but to cross each other's paths. On a global scale, this brought a lot of laughs, at least from my seat, but I can't say it wasn't entertaining or that the destruction wasn't well rendered.

Outside, the wind was no strong enough to physically push me, and the mist tickled my face. It's strange that, of all the bad luck I could have had this week, most of it fell on other days, whether it was finding a flat tire on my car or watching the ceiling outside my office burst into flames. I guess, in the end, the only probability I can truly calculate is the improbable, that the least likely thing is most likely to occur, unless I expect the least likely to be likely in which case probability will shift and reinvert. Math Boy or not, there's no simple equation to figure out my odds, at least not one that wouldn't give a physicist a nose bleed.



Blogger MCF said...

Okay, just watched this week's, and I think this thing is finally getting its legs. About "Time". Good episode.

11/14/2009 2:59 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

This show gets better each episode. I thought "Time" was a great episode. I've been intentionally remaining spoiler-free for this show and it makes it much more enjoyable not knowing what's going to happen. This episode really hit the right beats, had some great effects, and the ending was spot-on!

11/14/2009 11:39 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

It was definitely a step in the right direction. They got in some hard sf in there in an innovative way, has some nods to SG1, and actually had people using the gate and exploring an alien world. And there were outside antagonists finally, beyond a swarm of sand or a frozen virus. I imagine those burrowing creatures might have been ancestors to the Goa'uld. Hopefully, the further they get from the lifeless edge of the galaxy, the more weird lifeforms they'll encounter...

11/15/2009 11:47 AM  

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