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The Mad Professah Lectures

A personal blog by a Black, Gay, Caribbean, Liberal, Progressive, Moderate, Fit, Geeky, Married, College-Educated, NPR-Listening, Tennis-Playing, Feminist, Atheist, Math Professor in Los Angeles, California

Last Build Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2018 05:52:47 +0000


BOOK REVIEW: Waking Gods (Themis Files, #2) by Sylvain Neuvel

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:53:00 +0000

Waking Gods is the second book in the Themis File trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel. The first book was Sleeping Giants and I gave it a ★★★★☆ review. The key feature of the books in this series is that they are not written in prose, but instead the story is told tangentially, via various textual sources, such as transcripts of interviews, news reports, letters and logs. Of course, this sereies is not the first to do that, but it does provide an interesting aspect of the books which distinguish them from most run-of-the-mill SFF books.Another interesting aspect of the books are their plots. In Sleeping Giants a giant (nearly 300-foot tall) robot has been left in pieces around the Earth and in the first book those pieces are found and re-assembled into an object (machine?) that is named Themis. It is operated by 2 people inside, one operating the legs and the other operating the arms. Sleeping Giants is mostly about the aftermath of this verification of the existence of aliens and the effects Themis itself has on the world order.In Waking Gods, the story advances rapidly because multiple robots similar to Themis appear all over the Earth, first in the heart of London, but then in the center of approximately a dozen metropolises (Moscow, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, New York City, etc etc). Soon it becomes clear the robots are not friendly and millions of people die. A central plot thread in Waking Gods is basically about a  slow-moving, human extinction alien invasion by giant killer robots.However, if this main plot thread (will humanity survive an invasion by technologically superior aliens?) is not thrilling enough, Neuvel also extends the story to update us on what happened to the primary characters introduced in Sleeping Giants. The two humans who have the power to run Themis are Kara Resnik (a U.S. Army helicopter pilot) and Victor Couture (a French-Canadian linguist). They are led by Rose Franklin, the scientist who discovered and assembled Themis (and who has a mysterious 4-year gap in her memory). The most intriguing character in the story is never named, but his words are always written in bold and he seems to have nearly limitless powers to make governments abide by his will. Waking Gods is at its best when it focuses on the interactions between these human characters and depicts (always obliquely) the effects of the world-changing, apocalyptic events on them. Impressively, Neuvel is not afraid to provide deadly consequences to his characters for the actions that occur in the book. Not all the characters who were introduced in the first book survive the events of the second book. Overall, Waking Gods is a very fun, scientific thriller about an existential threat to human existence caused by giant killer robots created by aliens! Rating:★★★★★ (for overall authorial ingenuity and surprising plot twists and developments).Title: Waking Gods (Themis Files, #2).Author: Sylvain Neuvel.Paperback: 336 pages.Publisher: Orbit.Date Published: April 4, 2017.Date Read: February 7, 2018.GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★★  (5.0/5.0).OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).PLOT: A.IMAGERY: A-.IMPACT: A.WRITING: A-.[...]

EYE CANDY: Jeff Fenelon

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 10:45:00 +0000

Jeff Fenelon is model, dancer and male nurse living in Florida. He's active on Instagram (@jeff_fenelon). He's also today's Eye Candy model. Enjoy!

Hat/tip to Pop Glitz.

STUDY: U.S. Mathematics Majors Most Likely To Switch To Another Subject

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 20:41:00 +0000

The National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education released a report at the end of last year about students switching majors in college. "Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment" has a number of interesting facts about students who change majors while pursuing associate's and bachelor's degrees in the United States:

  • About half (52 percent) of students whose original declared major was mathematics switched majors within 3 years. Mathematics majors changed majors at a rate higher than that of students in all other fields, both STEM and non-STEM, except the natural sciences.
  • Within 3 years of initial enrollment, about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major had changed their major at least once.
  • About one-third of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs changed majors, compared with 28 percent of those enrolled in associate’s degree programs.
  • About 1 in 10 students changed majors more than once: 10 percent of associate’s degree students and 9 percent of bachelor’s degree students.

2018 OSCARS: Nominations List For Top 8 Categories

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 13:26:00 +0000

Best Picture:“Call Me by Your Name”“Darkest Hour”“Dunkirk”“Get Out”“Lady Bird”“Phantom Thread”“The Post”“The Shape of Water”“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”(The ones in bold are the Best Picture nominees I have seen so far.)Director:“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan“Get Out,” Jordan Peele“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del ToroLead Actor:Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”Lead Actress:Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”Meryl Streep, “The Post”Supporting Actor:Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”Supporting Actress:Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”Adapted Screenplay:“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee ReesOriginal Screenplay:“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani“Get Out,” Jordan Peele“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh[...]

BOOK REVIEW: The Long Sunset (The Academy, #8) by Jack McDevitt

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 16:02:00 +0000

I was very excited to receive an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of the eighth book in The Academy series by Jack McDevitt called The Long Sunset, which will be released by Saga in April 2018.The main character in the Academy series is Patricia “Hutch” Hutchins. She is a spaceship pilot who has been through various adventures as the  spaceship technology has advanced tremendously  from the beginning of the series when it basically just allowed travel in our solar system (the first book, The Engines of God, has pivotal scenes on Iapetus, a moon of Saturn). In this, the eighth book, set several decades later humanity has real interstellar capabilities, with  ships that can travel faster than light, up to about 200 light-years per day.The Long Sunset  is set in 2256 (an election year!) and civilization’s attention and interest in space exploration is waning. The United States is now part of the North American Union (NAU) and one key issue in the 2256 presidential election is the Centauri Initiative, which would essentially ban any human exploration of the Galaxy further than Alpha Centauri using the latest interstellar space ships. The main reason for this ban is the notion that the Universe is a dangerous place, with aliens who could potentially be thousands of years ahead of humans technologically and unfriendly, with genocidal consequences. This, despite the fact that dozens of star systems have been explored and the vast majority have been completely devoid of life. Also, the Earth is becoming over-populated so there are two worlds open for colonization that are also vastly oversubscribed. One of the interesting features of The Academy series has been the discovery of the remains and relics of ancient alien civilizations on various planets. A few planets have been found with (primarily hominid or mammalian) aliens who are in stages of civilizations hundreds or thousands of years behind humanity. But back on Earth several scientists warn that it is only a matter of time before humans stumble upon aliens that are equally ahead of humanity, and that this could be a species-ending event.This is a fascinating philosophical question and the debate’s importance becomes heightened when an alien video transmission is received on Earth originating from a very distant (but accessible) star system which demonstrates that aliens with comparable human technology exist (or existed a few thousands of years ago when the signal left their star system traveling at the speed of light).Of course, an interstellar expedition is planned to explore the transmission source and Hutch is asked to be the captain. However, the incumbent President (who is running for re-election) becomes involved and she and the segment of the population which feels that the proposed interstellar mission to explore the signal's origins is dangerous take extraordinary measures to try and prevent Hutch and her companions to leave.Happily, they do leave (or else it would be a short book!) and what they discover when they finally reach the transmission star system is surprising and leads to new dilemmas and more philosophical questions.I don’t want to spoil that aspect of the book so I’ll just say it is very compelling and provides commentary on the philosophical question(s) they left roiling on Earth. Namely, what is the future (and point) of civilization? Is the Universe ultimately a dangerous place, full of species who do not (and will not) have good intentions towards others?Overall, I wouldn’t say that The Long Sunset is one of the best entries in The Academy series (the earlier books, The Engines of God, Deepsix and Chindi are all excellent) but it does raise some compelling philosophical questions. And the good news is that it may be the beginning of a new arc of The Academy books featuring Hutch that will probably extend the series into double digits. Some of these question[...]

Today is 2/7/18, or "e Day!"

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 21:40:00 +0000

Today is February 7, 2018, or 2/7/18 in common date notation, so it  is also known as "e Day." The first 4 digits of the mathematical constant,e, are 2.718, so just like Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) today is the day we recognize another very important number, which is the base of the natural logarithms and is often called "Euler's number." It appears in one of the most beautiful equations in all of mathematics:

This amazing equation has the Euler's number, the base of the complex numbers, i, the number π and the numbers 1, 0 as well as the symbols = and +!

Happy e day!

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: WATCH How Neil DeGrasse Tyson Explains His Godlessness

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 13:31:00 +0000

Today's Godless Wednesday post is just a short video of Astronomer and Science evangelist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explaining why a lack of evidence explains why he is godless.

#AlteredCarbon is Now Streaming on Netflix!

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 15:18:00 +0000

The screen adaptation of the Richard K. Morgan novel Altered Carbon is now available on Netflix!
The ten episodes of the first season are titled:

  1. "Out of the Past" (pilot directed by Miguel Sapochnik)
  2. "Fallen Angel"
  3. "In a Lonely Place"
  4. "Force of Evil"
  5. "The Wrong Man"
  6. "Man with My Face"
  7. "Nora Inu"
  8. "Clash by Night"
  9. "Rage in Heaven"
  10. "The Killers"
I have been waiting a long time for this! Happily, it is getting very good reviews and it is apparently a high-budget, high-quality entry into the televised science fiction and fantasy canon which includes such award-winning shows like Game of Thrones (HBO), The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu) and The Expanse (SyFy).

The book is one of my favorites (see review) and is the first in a trilogy, so perhaps we have two more seasons to go?

BOOK REVIEW: Eon by Greg Bear

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0000

Probably in the 3.5 Stars range but rounded down for not living up to its reputation as a SF classic. Eon has an amazing premise: a strange object shows up that appears to be a hollowed out asteroid in early 21st century. Humans visit the asteroid and discover that it was actually created by humans 2 centuries in the future. But even though it has room to carry millions of people the object is devoid of inhabitants. And it carries a mind-bending secret that will change how we view the Universe and our understanding of space-time.I knew all this going in, but what I did not know is that the story is told in the context of the Cold War with American, Russian and Chinese characters occupying the main parts of the action. So, The Stone (as the artifact becomes known) is a focal point for the national rivals as each (rightly) assumes that the technological advances that will result from whoever controls The Stone will be dispositive in determining who controls The Earth. I actually like political intrigue and may have enjoyed the book more if the story focused more on that aspect.However, about one-third of the way in we are introduced to the aliens who created (or just utilize?) the secret technological marvel details of which I am trying not to discuss in order to avoid spoilers. And from my perspective that's where the book goes off the rails. We eventually end up learning way more about the social and political dynamics of the alien culture than I cared to or was interested in. I suppose for some readers this may have been the highlight of the book but for me it was simply uninteresting.What I did like was the main character of Patricia Luisa Vasquez, a 24-year-old mathematician (Fields medal winner!) who gets tapped by the White House Chief of Staff to join the team exploring The Stone and who becomes increasingly important to many other aspects of the story. I have to applaud Greg Bear for centering this book around a Latina scientist, especially since it was written at a time when issues of diversity and representation were not as prominent as they are now. That being said, there are still some problematic ways in which gender stereotypes infuse the story (particularly in the depiction of sexual relationships between the characters) that also lowered my appreciation for the book.Overall, I would say Eon is a mildly interesting science fiction novel with an awesome premise that doesn't live up to its reputation as a SF classic, primarily due to somewhat dated characterizations and unfortunate plot choices.Title: Eon.Author: Greg Bear.Paperback: 512 pages.Publisher: Tor.Date Published: October 15, 1991.Date Read: January 3, 2018.GOODREADS RATING: ★★★☆☆  (3.0/5.0).OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).PLOT: B-.IMAGERY: B.IMPACT: B+.WRITING: B.[...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Federer Wins 20th(!) Major Title, Record 6th #AusOpen

Sun, 28 Jan 2018 16:20:00 +0000

As I predicted, Roger Federer won his record 20th major singles title, defeating Marin Cilic 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-1 in the Australian Open final. Federer becomes the first man to reach 20 major singles title, following Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22). His win also means he is in a tie with Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson for the most Australian Open titles (6). He has won 20 major titles while playing in 30 major finals (both are records). 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Open Era tennis and 200 major tournaments have been played, so Federer has appeared in 15% of those finals and won 10% of them. That's an insane number. The last 5 major championships have now been won by either Federer or Rafael Nadal and it is better than even money that Nadal will win his 11th French Open title this year to make it 6 in a row.Federer is still at #2 on the list of singles titles won with 96, just 13 behind the top position of 109 held by Jimmy Connors. Can he win 13 more titles before he retires? I wouldn't put it past him!MEN'S FINAL REVIEWDespite the fact that the men's final started at 3:30am I set my alarm and woke up to watch the match live. The match began as well as it possible could have for Roger Federer as he went up a double-break hold (4-0) and eventually won the first set in 24 minutes. However, the second set was much closer as Cilic started making fewer errors and more winners. Federer's serve was a key factor to him staying in the match to weather the periods in which he was being outplayed by Cilic, and he ended up hitting more aces than his 6-foot-6" opponent. In the tiebreak Federer earned a minibreak first but immediately lost it when Cilic hit a service return winner to even the breaker at 3-all. Then Cicil earned a minibreak and closed out the set with an easy overhead smash. In the third set Federer got an early break and maintained his serve to nurse the lead to 6-3 and a 2-1 set lead. Then he got another early break in the 4th set and at 3-1 it seemed the match would be over soon. For some reason he completely lost the rhythm on his serve (his first serve percentage in the 4th set ended up being 36%!) and ended up losing 5 consecutive games to lose the 4th set 3-6. The fifth set started well, as Federer went up 40-15 in his first service game but then had to save another 3 breakpoints to hold serve. As often happens, Cilic found himself in trouble on his serve after failing to win breakpoints the game before and went do 3-0 in the final set. They both held and then while serving down 1-4 Cilic made multiple backhand errors and got broken to go down 5-1. Federer easily held serve, hitting a kick second serve on championship that just kissed the sideline leading to a return error by Cilic. Aftr a challenge confirmed the serve was n, the match was over![...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 22:31:00 +0000

Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs. Marin Cilic (CRO) [6]Here are my predictions for the 2018 Australian Open men's final. Last year I correctly predicted Roger Federer would beat Rafael Nadal in the men's final and also correctly predicted  1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. This year I predicted correctly 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men''s semifinals, 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I incorrectly predicted the results of the women's final this year.MEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEWMarin Cilic (CRO) [6] d. Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-2 7-6(4) 6-2.  This match continued to showcase Cilic's improved movement and the deadly weapons he possesses when his confidence is high and he goes for his shots. His first serve is extremely dangerous regularly getting into the 130 mph range and his backhand and forehand are hit deep and hard. Edmund can probably outmatch him for power on the forehand side (but not accuracy) and something was ailing the young Brit which made him unable to move his feet fast enough to be able to hit more forehands to make this a competitive match. Without his best weapon, the result was never really in doubt.Roger Federer (SUI) [2] d. Hyeon Chung (KOR) 6-1 5-2 RET.  This match was even more impacted by injury than the first semifinal. Sadly, Chung, who had been battling blisters for the last week or so, could not even complete the second set as the pain became too great and he retired before he could fall down 2-0 down in sets to Roger Federer. Clearly his movement was becoming more hampered by his injury and I don't fault his decision to stop, but I do think he could have waited one more game "just for appearances."MEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEWAlthough this is technically a reprise of the 2017 Wimbledon final, no one expects a repeat of the quality of that match, which was hampered by Cilic's lack of movement (again, due to blisters--good socks are very important in tennis, people!!). After all, on his way to winning the 2014 US Open Cilic basically destroyed Federer in straight sets in the semifinals so he most definitely can win this match. However, in 9 meetings that is the only match he has won, and there's no question both players are playing better tennis now than they were then. Most commentators expect a 5-set match but I think Federer will be able to get it done in four sets. Happily, I don't think physical stamina will play a big role in the outcome of the match, but even if it does I would still give the edge to Federer.The two have both won majors before, so Cilic is hoping to become the 5th multiple slam winner (and youngest member of that group, at age 29) in the era of the Great Trivalry in Men's Tennis (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) who have won an astonishing 47 major titles among them. Regardless of the result, the Croat will become the World #3, his highest ranking to date and is showing his all-court game by reaching the final of 3 of the four majors. Because Federer winning here would just repeat last year's result Nadal will still be #1 but the lead has been reduced, but Federer has a fair amount of points to defend in the Spring North American hard court season, having won both Indian Wells and Miami last year as well. But really the key point of this match is whether Federer can win his 20th major title in his 30th major final appearance at age 36. I believe he can, and amazingly, may even go further this year. If he does win his 20th, will that make him more likely to retire earlier than he planned? Mad Professah's pick: Federer.[...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Wozniacki (Finally) Wins 1st Major, Returns To #1

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 13:43:00 +0000

Despite my prediction to the contrary, Caroline Wozniacki won her first major singles title by defeating Simona Halep. The score was 7-6(2) 3-6 6-4 and some observers are calling it the greatest Australian Open women's final ever. I would strongly disagree with that assessment, but it was 2 hours and 49-minutes of long rallies and incredible gets, and probably did exceed the great Halep-Kerber match of the women's semifinals.Wozniaciki's major win in Melbourne puts her entire career in perspective; Now, along with her 67 weeks at #1 (sure to be extended as she resumes the top spot in women's tennis on Monday), 2017 year-end championship win and three major final appearances means that  at age 27 she is certain Tennis Hall Of Fame material. Halep falls to 0-3 in major finals, but it is clear she is getting closer and she should have many more opportunities if she continues to play at this level. She can look to Wozniacki for inspiration that long waits are worth it![...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 01:55:00 +0000

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2]Here are my predictions for the 2018 Australian Open women's final. Last year I correctly predicted Serena Williams would beat Venus Williams in the women's final and also coreectly predicted  1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. This year I predicted correctly 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men''s semifinals, 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. WOMEN'S SEMIFINALS REVIEWSimona Halep (ROU) [1] d. Angelique Kerber [21] (GER) 6-3 4-6 9-7.  As expected this was an absolute corker of a match and met the heightened expectations after both Kerber and Halep defeated hard-hitting opponents in their respective quarterfinals against Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, respectively. Halep started off quite strong, racing to a 5-0 lead but then faltered when serving for the set and let Kerber get back to 5-3 but then won the set 6-3. Again in the second set Halep was up a break at 3-1 but then Kerber got it back to 3-all and eventually won the set 6-4. The deciding set Halep had match points at 4-5, 15-40  with Kerber serving but then had to save match points herself when Kerber served at 6-5, 40-15. Eventually, Halep broke in the sixteenth game to win the decider 9-7. The match featured extremely high-quality play on both sides of the net and included several incredible, gut-busting rallies of length in the 20-shot range.Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] d. Elise Mertens (BEL) [16] 6-3 7-6(2).  This was a closer match than anyone expected but as expected Wozniacki was able to beat the unheralded Belgian player in a pretty routine fashion. There were none of the lapses or streaks which Wozniacki has had in other matches here in Melbourne, like in her quarterfinal which she won 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-2 with Carla Suarez Navarro saving match points in the second set but then going away in the third. Mertens put up a more consistent defense but it was not enough to deny Wozniacki the win.WOMEN'S FINAL PREVIEWAs with most major finals, this will be a historic match. But this will make a bit more history than most. It is a rare showdown between the World #1 and World #2 in a major final and the winner of the match will be #1 after the tournament.  (The last time that happened was when #1 Serena Williams beat #2 Maria Sharapova in 2015.) This is also the first time that both players have saved match points en route to a major final, and Halep has done it in two matches (against Kerber in the semifinals and against Davis in the 3rd round while Wozniacki did it against Fett in the 2nd round.) This is also the 3rd time in the last four slams to be contested between first-time Slam winners (2017 French Open final where Jelena Ostapenko d. Halep and 2017 U.S. Open final Sloane Stephens d. Keys). This is Wozniacki's 43rd major championship appearance (only Jana Novotna, Marion Bartoli and Flavia Pennetta had more appearances before winning their first major). It is Halep's 31st appearance. Interestingly, they are both playing in their 3rd major final.If Wozniacki wins the championship and thus gets to #1, that will be the largest gap in times at #1 in the history of the WTA tour (almost exactly 6 years, surpassing Serena's record of 5-plus years).  Head to head some may be surprised to discover that Wozniacki holds a 4-2 lead, and has won their last 3 matches, including a 6-0 6-2 drubbing at the 2017 WTA Tour finals. However, Halep leads 2-1 in their outdoor hard-courts. and the two have never contested a final.I think this will probably be an even better match than the Halep-Kerber match,[...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview and Predictions

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 02:50:00 +0000

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinals but correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. This year I predicted correctly 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I have also predicted the women's semifinals.Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] Marin Cilic (CRO) [6] vs. Kyle Edmund (GBR) Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [3].  This was a very unlikely semifinal matchup (perhaps even more unlikely than the bizarre Tennys Sandgren-Hyeon Chung quarterfinal in the round before. Nadal had only lost one meeting in the six he had played against the 6-foot-5 Croatian. However, this time when he fell behind 2 sets to one, Cilic continued to play hard-hitting, confident tennis, and eventually forced a fifth deciding set against the World #1. It was clear Nadal was not at his best throughout the 4th set and early in the 5th (down 0-2) he pulled the ripcord and retired from the match, giving up his quest for a 2nd Australian Open title. But in some sense this was the lesser surprise result. Who would have thought that the first British player to reach a major semifinal this year would be Kyle Edmund? And he did so by defeating (primarily by outhitting) the World #3 (and last year's semifinalist) Grigor Dimitrov. Edmund and Cilic have only played once before, fairly recently at last year's Shanghai Masters and Cilic won in two relatively tight sets. Edmund has been playing some of his best tennis early in 2018 and is clearly better than his official World #49 ranking, but is he really ready for his first major final? Cilic is playing for his 3rd major final and I suspect he will get there, just so he can get another chance at denying Federer another major title. Mad Professah's pick: Cilic.Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs Hyeon Chung (KOR) Novak Djokovic (SRB) [14].  These two have never played each other. Although one would think this would make this result a slam dunk for the 19-time major champion, I seriously doubt it will be. Chung has already out-Djokovic'ed Djokovic and that game is something that has given Federer fits for years. However, I doubt that Chung has yet mastered the intangibles which make Djokovic so dangerous to Federer (winner takes all forehand service return winner down double-match point, anyone?) It's also true that Federer is not playing his best tennis either, but as a 19-time major champion he has figured out many ways to win matches when he is not playing his best and I suspect this will be another exapmle of this.Mad Professah's pick: Federer.[...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview and Predictions

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 17:52:00 +0000

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinals but correctly predicted 1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. This year I predicted correctly 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I have also predicted the men's semifinals.Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Angelique Kerber [21] (GER). Halep has already played the match of the tournament by surviving a 3 hours 44 minute tussle with American Lauren Davis in the third round, while Kerber is looking like she has been able to capture the form that allowed her to beat Serena Williams in the final here two years ago. They both got here by dispatching two tall, hard-hitting opponents. Halep went down 0-3 (and breakpoint) against Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinal but then won 12 of the next 14 games to sweep the Czech player 6-3 6-2. Halep was even more dominant against 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys with a 6-1 6-2 win. These two have a head-to-head tied at 4-all but they did not meet at all in 2017 where Halep had her #1 ranking performance. They met 5 times in 2016 when Kerber was winning 2 majors and ended the year #1 and Kerber won 4 of those matches. This will almost certainly not be a straight sets sweep by one player; if it is not a 3-set, 3-hour war of attrition of shotmaking and indefatigable ball retrieving many will be quite disappointed. I think this is basically a tossup but I think I will go with Halep because I think the fact that she is ranked World #1 now and has already saved match point(s) in this tournament will give her the confidence to persevere even when things get tight and grim. PREDICTION: Halep.Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] vs. Elise Mertens (BEL) [16] Elina Svitolina (UKR) [4].   Elina Svitolina again showed she has some steps to go before her success on the WTA tour translates to meaningful success in the biggest stages of the game, in the majors. She has previously easily beaten Elise Mertens in a clay court final last year, but in a major quarterfinal in Melbourne she managed to win only 4 games and suffered a 2nd set bagel. Bizarrely, her opponent in the semifinal, Caroline Wozniacki started by giving her quarterfinal opponent, Carla Suarez Navarro a bagel in the first set and blew a matchpoint in the second set which she lost in a tiebreak. Most other players that might signal a meltdown in the third set but the Wozniacki just got back to work and easily won the deciding set 6-2. Wozniacki has only ever reached major finals in New York City but I believe that is about to change as she rides the confidence of surviving matchpoint down in the 2nd round and the absence of Serena Williams from the women's game to (perhaps) win her first major title. PREDICTION: Wozniacki. [...]

GRAPHIC: The racial/ethnic demographics of U.S. Top 10 metro areas

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 14:28:00 +0000

Information on race in America, especially in metropolitan areas in the United States. This is from a recent deep dive into race, politics and demographics by the Boston Globe's award-winning Spotlight team as the paper tried to examine why Boston is perceived as "more racist" than other big cities.

2018 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 02:49:00 +0000

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinals. This year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.Simona Halep (ROU) [1] vs. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [6]. The current World #1 appears to have recovered from her epic (15-13 in the 3rd!) win over American Lauren Davis from the 3rd round when she dispatched hard-hitting Naomi Osaka with dispatch in the 4th round.  Pliskova is a former #1 and has reached a hard court final in New York  in 2016. However she has never advanced past the quarterfinal in Melbourne, and she lost in this round against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni at this stage last year. Although Pliskova can pummel the ball, she is very limited in her movement, which is Halep's great strength. This has been the case in their first 6 matches, 5 of which have been handily won by Halep. I don't think this match will deviate very much from this trend. PREDICTION: Halep.Angelique Kerber [21] (GER) Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [3] vs. Madison Keys (USA) [17] Caroline Garcia (FRA) [8]. Although technically the expected match-up in this quarter was a showdown between the #3 and #8 seeds, no one is that surprised to see the 2016 Australian Open champion and the 2017 US Open finalist fighting each other for this semifinal slot. Muguruza was dispatched by the amazing Su-Wei Hsieh who also eliminated Aggie Radwanska and came within a handful of points at eliminating Kerber in the last round. Keys has been bludgeoning her way through the draw, and has not even come very close to losing a set (after being down 3-5 in her first round match Keys closed out that match by winning the final 4 games). The head-to-head between Keys and Kerber is not good for the young American, with the German former World #1 leading 6-1. Kerber is an expert at blunting power and Keys has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to switch to another game plan when her power hitting game fails to blast through her opponent. Will 2018 be the year Keys figures out how to win matches against the world's best counterpunchers? I don't think she's there yet.  PREDICTION: Kerber.Elin Mertens (BEL) [16] Venus Williams (USA) [5] vs. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [4].  Svitolina is one of the most winningest players on the women's tour but she is yet to match her ranking at a major. (You could call her the Sascha Zverev of the women's tour!) Despite being World #4, Svitolina has only reached the quarterfinals twice in her career, both times at Roland Garros on clay. This is very strange, because she is a hard-hitting player who moves well and is very consistent. That being said, I believe she will finally reach her first major semifinal by winning this match against her talented (but overmatched) opponent. PREDICTION: Svitolina. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] vs. Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) [7]. Wozniacki is living on borrowed time after she came back from an astonishing 1-5 down in the 2nd round, saving multiple match points along the way. Since that freeing escape Caroline has not even come close to losing a set in the tournament and after winning her biggest title of her career by beating Venus in the WTA Year-End Championship in Singapore I believe she has the confidence to go all the way and finally end her reputation as "the best player to be ranked #1 and never win a slam." Suarez Navarro is a tricky player, but she is exactly the kind of player that Wozniacki has to be able to get past in order to re[...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview and Predictions

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:50:00 +0000

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the 2018 Australian Open. Last year  I did not predict the quarterfinal rounds. This year I will also predict the women's quarterfinals.Rafael Nadal (ESP) [1] vs Marin Cilic (CRO) [6].  This is the only quarterfinal match-up that was predicted to occur at the beginning of the tournament if results followed the seedings. In a tournament with lots of upsets it is significant that this match-up persisted. Nadal is playing excellent tennis and has only lost one set in four matches while Cilic has lost 2, one against Pablo Carreno Busta and another against Vasek Pospisil. The main problem for the hard-serving Croat is that he has played Nadal 6 times before and only won 1 match (and 3 sets out of 14 played) and half these matches occurred after he became a major champion himself. In fact, he has lost their 5 meetings in a row, including their one grand slam meeting, which was in Melbourne in 2011. That being said, Cilic does believe that he can beat Nadal and he has the game that could do it as well. I suspect he will win at least a set, and possibly even two but I don't see how he wins three. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) [3] vs Kyle Edmund (GBR) Jack Sock (USA) [8]. Dimitrov has not been playing his best tennis for most of this tournament, but Melbourne often does bring out his best stuff, as he proved in last year's epic 5-set semifinal against Nadal. This year he had to survive a surprisingly tough early test against young American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round by coming back to win 8-6 in the 5th after losing the 4th set 6-0! I wonder if anyone has ever won a major tournament after suffering a bagel set loss in an earlier round? Fortunately for Grigor, after coming through a much-hyped showdown with Australian "It" boy Nick Kyrgios in 4 tight sets, his game seems to be peaking. He faces Briton Kyle Edmund who is playing in his very first major quarterfinal, which should give the now experienced Top 5 stalwart a key edge in this important match. Can we hope that lightning will strike 2 years in a row and we will have another amazing Dimitrov-Nadal semifinal match? I think we will, and this time I hope for a different result. Mad Professah's pick: Dimitrov.Tennys Sandgren (USA) Dominic Thiem (AUT) [5] vs Hyeon Chung (KOR) Sascha Zverev (GER) [4].  This is the most unlikely men's major quarterfinal in years. 21-year-old Chung was ranked #58 coming into the tournament and is the first player from South Korea, male or female, to reach a major quarterfinal. His opponent, World #97 Tennys Sandgren is the American male player to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals in over 20 years. They both had very impressive wins to reach this round. Sandgren eliminated Dominic Thiem in 5-sets while Chung was even more impressive by defeating 12-time major champion (6-time Australian Open champ) Novak Djokovic without losing a set. The las time these two played there were 20 ATP ranking points, this time there will be 720 points, which is more than the final of all regular ATP tournaments except at the Masters Series or Majors. One key factor here will be which player will fare better in their first high-stakes showdown. Here I give the edge to Chung because he won the 2017 NextGen championships last year. Mad Professah's pick: Chung.Roger Federer (SUI) [2] vs Tomas Berdych (CZE) [19] David Goffin (BEL) [7].  This a rematch of l[...]

EYE CANDY: Adrian Conrad (reprise)

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 20:26:00 +0000

Adrian Conrad has appeared as Eye Candy once before (December 11, 2017). He has well over 135,000 followers on Instagram (@adrianconrad_) for reasons I think are apparent. Hat/tip to Pop Glitz for initially introducing me to Adrian's looks.


2018 AUS OPEN: First Week Complete

Sun, 21 Jan 2018 03:20:00 +0000

Well! The first week of the 2018 Australian Open is complete which means there are 16 players left in the men's and women's draws.

Women's Draw
The first big upset f the tournament happened on Day 1 when 2017 finalist Venus Williams lost to Belinda Bencic in straight sets. Bencic is a former Top 10 player and this was expected to be a bad matchup for Venus. Other upsets were #3 seed Garbine Muguruza losing to Su-Wei Hsieh (who then followed that up by ousting Agnieska Radwanska in the most entertaining match of the tournament).

The remaining Top 10 players in the Round of 16 are Simona Halep [1] (who played the match of the tournament by outlasting American Lauren Davis 6-4 4-6 15-13 in 3 hours 45 minutes), Caroline Wozniacki [2] (who survived a 5-1 deficit in the 3rd set of her 2nd round match against Jana Fett by winning the final six games), Elina Svitolina [4], Karolina Pliskova [6] and Caroline Garcia [8]. However, the most dangerous player in the draw is probably 2016 Australian Open champion Angie Kerber (who demolished 5-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-3 to reach the 4th round).

Men's Draw
The top seeds are still in the draw after 3 rounds of play: Rafael Nadal [1], Roger Federer [2], Grigor Dimitrov [3], Dominc Thiem [5], Marin Cilic [6] and Pablo Carreno Busta [10]. The #4 seed Sascha Zverev lost to Korean Hyeon Chung in a battle of #NextGen stars. The only big upset (of sorts) in the men's draw was the defeat of 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the second round, coming back after knee surgery and 6-months absence from the ATP tour.

R16 Highlights
The upcoming matches which look interesting are Nick Kyrgios versus Dimitrov, Halep versus Naomi Osaka and Madison Keys versus Garcia.

BOOK REVIEW: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 05:48:00 +0000

A very solid 4 star read.I really did not know very much about this book before I started Sleeping Giants except for what one learns in the blurb.It turns out Sleeping Giants is about the discovery of a giant metallic hand (which unsurprisingly leads to the discovery of a giant robot).The key conceit of the book is that the story is told exclusively in third person documents: transcripts of interviews between the main characters, news reports and other non-prose texts.It's actually quite surprising how well this works. I have seen this done in smaller ways in other books (the famous epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters in Frank Herbert's Dune series immediately come to mind) but never really thought about how it would work as the entire text of a book.That being said although the writing device is successful, the plot is less so. Honestly, it is somewhat simplistic, since in some ways not much actually happens, although in other views once can consider that quite a lot happens, since one of the main characters gets killed about halfway through the book. Interestingly, even though we never get any internal dialogue of any character we still get to know them well enough that one definitely cares about what happens to them in the story.Another fun aspect of Sleeping Giants is that it features a seemingly omniscient narrator (he conducts the vast majority of the interviews for which there are transcripts) who has several conversations with many increasingly important people at the White House. It's a very unusual book when we really never get actual dialogue between characters, instead we get characters talking about conversations that they have had with other characters during interviews with the narrator.Overall, Sleeping Giants is a fun, quick read that one can enjoy for its intriguing premise and clever execution; I am definitely looking forward to reading what happens next in the sequel(s).Title: Sleeping Giants.Author: Sylvain Neuvel.Paperback: 320 pages.Publisher: Del Rey.Date Published: April 26, 2016.Date Read: January 6, 2018.GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★☆  (4.0/5.0).OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.5/4.0).PLOT: A-.IMAGERY: A-.IMPACT: B+.WRITING: B+.[...]

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Dawkins Responds To "What If You're Wrong?"

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 03:58:00 +0000

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For today's Godless Wednesday we have a treat for you. At the top of this post is a fun video of Richard Dawkins responding to a supposed "gotcha" question from a religious student at Liberty University and gives a near perfect reply.

2018 AUS OPEN: Draw Preview and Predictions

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 08:40:00 +0000

The draw for the 2018 Australian Open is out. The defending champions are Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Serena has withdrawn because she is not quite ready after giving birth to her first child about 4 months ago. Women's Draw PreviewThe women's draw features only two former Australian Open champions: Angelique Kerber (2016) and Maria Sharapova (2008). If the draw goes according to seedings, this would be the women's quarterfinals:[1] Simona Halep (ROU)          vs [6] Karolina Pliskova (CZE)[3] Garbine Muguruza (ESP)  vs [8] Caroline Garcia (FRA)[4] Elina Svitolina (UKR)         vs [5] Venus Williams (USA)[2] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) vs [7] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)I doubt anyone thinks this will actually happen. Kerber is (again) playing excellent tennis and is on a 9-match winning streak, which allowed her to win the Sydney warm-up tournament. However, I think that other "K" layers will have even bigger breakthroughs this year, including Konta, Kvitova amd Keys. So, I am predicting the following:Semifinals: Kvitova versus Keys and Wozniacki versus Svitolina.Final: Keys versus Wozniacki.Champion: Keys.Men's Draw PreviewThe men's draw features the return of 6-time Aussie Open champion Novak Djokovic, and of course last year's finalists Federer and Nadal resume their rivalry. Of course, Djokovic ends up in Federer's half, along with Dominc Thiem, Sascha Zverev, David Goffin and Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal has an amazingly gentle draw, and even though he has not played a professional match all year and has fueled speculation about his fitness, the current World #1 has a very good shot at winning his second consecutive hard-court major. However, it is long past time for a member of the "new" generation to step up and win a major. Surely this will happen in 2018, but can it happen in Melbourne?If the draw goes according to seedings, this would be the men's quarterfinals:[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP)            vs [6] Marin Cilic (CRO)[3] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)     vs [8] Jack Sock (USA)[4] Sascha Zverev (GER)        vs [5] Dominic Thiem (AUT) [2] Roger Federer (SUI)          vs [7] David Goffin (BEL)This is more likely to happen than on the women's side  but still it is relatively unlikely. Instead, I am predicting:Semifinals: Nadal vs Dimitrov, Federer vs ZverevFinal: Dimitrov versus Federer.Champion: Federer.We shall see![...]

2018 AUS OPEN: Murray and Serena Withdraw, Novak Returns

Sun, 07 Jan 2018 19:55:00 +0000

The first major tournament of the 2018 tennis season begins next week when the Australian Open kicks off on January 15 in Melbourne. Sadly, 5-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and 7-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams announced recently that neither will be competing in the 2018 edition of the tournament.Murray has a hip injury which has kept him sidelined since Wimbledon and although he went to Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala Exhibition tournament to test his fitness, the answers were not positive.“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete. I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”Serena also made the trek to Abu Dhabi where she lost an exhibition match to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. This was her first public appearance on a tennis court  in over 11 months and apparently the result convinced her that trying to defend her 2017 Australian Open title a mere 4 months after giving birth to her daughter Alexix Ohanian Junior was not in the cards.“My coach and team always said ‘only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way’. I can compete -- but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time. With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.”Serena and Andy will be missed. Happily, it looks like World #2 Roger Federer and World #2 Rafael Nadal will both be competing this year, and the return of 6-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic looms large over the tournament.[...]

BOOK REVIEW: Artemis by Andy Weir

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:23:00 +0000

If you were expecting Artemis to be some follow-on of  the story in Andy Weir's breakthrough debut novel, The Martian except that it is set on the Moon I can disabuse you of that notion right away. The Martian was a pretty good book which was made into a fantastic movie, with an amazing cast (Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and talented director (Ridley Scott).Artemis is a very different book, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. And I could see that it is very possible that it could be made into a fantastic movie (or television series). The main character of Artemis is Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara, an emigre from Saudi Arabia who lives in Artemis, the first "city" on the moon (consisting of five pressurized domes with several subterranean levels where roughly 2,000 people work and live). Jazz moved to Artemis with her father at age 6 and is now something of a petty criminal and ne'er-do well who ostensibly is a porter transporting items around Artemis but is actually one of the premier smugglers of contraband items in the city.Jazz has a friend back on Earth whom she has never met named Kelvin who acts as her supplier. Kelvin happens to work at KSC (Kenyan Space Center) which is the entity that is responsible for the fact there is a budding civilization on the moon. One of the highlights of the book for me was the unspooling of the details of the relationship between Kelvin and Jazz (as told via email correspondence). Another highlight was the diversity of the cast of characters that we come into contact with as the story unfolds. They are all shapes and sizes and colors.Jazz has a number of curious relationships with other people on Artemis, such as her Dad, who she stopped living with around age 16 (and who obviously disapproves of her near-criminal lifestyle), her ex-boyfriend Dale and Artemis' sole police officer, Rudy. Since the city is essentially a very small town, Jazz is even familiar with the "town mayor," Administrator Fidelis Ngugi, a Black woman who happens to be the most important person on the moon.The plot of Artemis revolves around a technological advancement which could upend Artemis' economic equilibrium and provides Jazz with an opportunity to make a LOT of money. But, as usual, if something looks too good to be true, it often is and Jazz finds this out when her erstwhile business partner shows up dead. At this point the story jumps into overdrive and gets very exciting as Jazz is on the run for her life while she tries to figure out the mystery of who will kill to make a killing on the future development of the Moon.Overall, this book is another example of Weir's breezy, very readable writing style set in a near-future setting based around future space exploration which is chock full of science and engineering details that will appeal to most hard science fiction aficionados.Title: Artemis.Author: Andy Weir.Paperback: 322 pages.Publisher: Crown/Archetype.Date Published: November 14, 2017.Date Read: December 31, 2017.GOODREADS RATING: ★★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.41/4.0).PLOT: A-.IMAGERY: B+.IMPACT: B.WRITING: A-.[...]