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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: May 7-May 26, 2005

Tuesday, May 17, 2005:

For the past couple months, I've had the privilege of periodically working on the Mathematical Reviews office's internal underground parody rag, Math Refuse. It's been a tradition at MR for years, apparently, and the issue I worked on was unveiled today. There's a lot of really funny stuff in there. So naturally it launched an interoffice shitstorm that may spell the end of Math Refuse. However, I don't really want to talk about that, because it's infuriating, so instead I'll focus on the actual content of the publication. Specifically, the stuff that I wrote.

I contributed two items to the issue. The first is a cartoon, and like most cartoons, there's no point in attempting to describe it while retaining any of the "entertainment" value. Easier to share is the second item: I made up an interview with Danut Marcu, who is the mathematician and "infamous plagiarist" I mentioned becoming obsessed with some months back, because I can't understand how he continues to be published by respectable mathematical journals when he has such a horrid, all-blemish-all-the-time record of copyright infringement. I don't know whether this will be amusing to anyone outside my workplace (or, indeed, whether it was to anyone within my workplace), and it loses something without Mary and Lisa's graphics work, but I thought I'd post it anyway because I like it. John McFerrin likes math stuff, right? Maybe he'd laugh at some of it, if he stumbled across it... Anyway. Marcu is a plagiarist and that's all the background you need.

A NOTE ON BURNING DOWN MY MASTERS’ HOUSE
The Refuse interview with the notable Danut Marcu.

As our regular readers know, Math Refuse has a longstanding policy of not publishing interview features, ever since our notorious article “Up All Night With Erdös” resulted in a landmark local obscenity ruling and a lengthy DEA investigation. However, we recently received a proposition that was simply too delicious to resist: Dr. Danut Marcu contacted our offices through his agent, Marc Danutu, asking whether we would be interested in publishing a brief, exclusive conversation with the mathematician on the eve of publication of his autobiography, A View from Above.

How could we resist? After all, according to the press release we received, Marcu is not only the author of over 1,600 papers and a pioneer in the fields of graph theory, partial differential equations, long division, parabola usage, and "stuff about space," but also the inventor of the protractor, the man who decided which numbers should go with which topics in the MSC, and the inspiration for both the films Good Will Hunting and Pi. Unfortunately, due to what we can only assume to be a printing error, the advance copy of A View from Above which arrived at the Math Refuse offices was actually a dog-eared copy of Wilt Chamberlain’s autobiography whose dust jacket featured Marcu's face poorly Photoshopped onto the body of the NBA legend. Thus, we were sadly unable to tailor our interview to the actual contents of the book, relying instead solely on information gleaned from Marcu's press kit. As it states, the book is a sprawling account of the mathematician’s many triumphs and innovations, his uncredited "punch-up" work on Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and his proper mathematical career, "culminating in his innovative discovery of the number nine in his seminil [sic] paper 'A Note on That Funny Gap Between Eight and Ten.'"

The advance buzz has been polarizing to say the least. Marcu's pitch letter claims (though we have been unable to confirm) that Oprah has pledged to endorse the tome as one of her official Book Club selections, while in The New York Times Book Review, Jerrold Grossman savaged the audio version of the book as “a poorly dubbed copy of Edward Herrmann’s celebrated reading of A Beautiful Mind, interrupted every three or four sentences by the clicking of a tape recorder and a different voice muttering ‘Danut Marcu’ whenever John Nash’s name should appear. Furthermore, while I’m no food critic, Marcu’s simultaneously released line of ‘Danut Yum-Yum’ fruit snacks appears to consist of handfuls of gummi bears crammed into old Spaghetti-O’s cans which have been emptied and relabeled (but not, by all appearances, rinsed).”

For obvious reasons, we had a lot to discuss with Dr. Marcu, and in this nice interview, the winner of the Pulitzer, Nobel, Templeton, and Campbell's "Soup-er Student!" Prizes spoke with Math Refuse about a few topics.

Danut Marcu: Hello?

Math Refuse: Hi, Dr. Marcu, this is Chris Williams from Math Refuse. Is this a good time?

DM: Certainly! Just minutes ago, in fact, I finished solving Fermat’s Last Theorem, so I was planning on taking a breather anyway. You know, before I get back to proving that P=NP. I tell you, there’s no time to rest when you’re singlehandedly unraveling the mysteries of the mathematical world! Let me just turn off, uh, my computer here… [Background noise that resembles the theme song to The Hogan Family abruptly stops.] There we go. Now then, you may begin asking me things about my many original ideas and works!

MR: Okay. To start, perhaps you could tell us a bit about your work in graph theory. It says here that you were the first to prove that the “Seven Bridges of Königsberg” problem is insolvable. Tell us about that.

DM: Ah, one of my proudest moments, being the first to solve—or definitively not solve—that ages-old problem. I mean, obviously Euler [pronouncing the name “yoo-luhrr”] sort of sketched some tentative and, to be frank, insignificant findings with regard to the problem, but my 1997 publication “A Note on Russian Bridge Thing” is widely regarded as the true “case closed” moment. I can provide references and other documentation testifying to this claim upon request.

MR: I’m sure that’s unnecessary. Now, with regard to your book, it—

DM: Oh, and I was also the head writer for Square One. You should mention that. Maybe put it in bold.

MR: I'd rather not, as I lost my daughter's entire college fund while betting on Mathman. Let's move on. Mathematical and scientific books seem to have a fairly limited audience, with even relatively accessible publications by, say, Richard Feynman reaching only a small cult of dedicated readers. Do you see your book as being a crossover success, or are you aiming somewhat lower?

DM: Well, while I realize that there are no guarantees in this business of writing, I am an expert on probability theory—specifically, "Marcuvian stochastic processes," as they're commonly known—and that applies to bestseller lists as much as it does... um, the other areas to which it probably applies. Therefore, given the books I saw on the bestseller table at Barnes & Noble last week and the way that affects which bestsellers will follow, I can say with total certainty that Danut Marcu will be the next Stephen Ambrose.

MR: It's funny you should mention that, because—and I apologize if this is a touchy subject, but I'm sure our readers would like it to be addressed—as with Ambrose, despite your myriad accomplishments, you seem to have a reputation as something of a plagiarist. Not only does your name appear as the culprit in nearly as many editorial retractions as articles you're credited with writing, but your name is mentioned derisively in mathematical circles, and your album 30 Odd Foot of Danut was immediately pulled from shelves as a result of lawsuits alleging that you somehow managed to plagiarize both George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and The Chiffons' "He So Fine," so I'm just wondering—

[At this point, we regretfully report that the phone connection was apparently lost, as the MR phone began making a noise that sounded oddly like someone making a "Kkhhhhhhhhh" sound into the receiver for nearly a minute, interrupted occasionally by sounds that resembled deep inhalations. Subsequent calls to Marcu's number were either unanswered or answered by a falsetto voice stammering, "There is no Marcu here. This is... Mar... Margot! This is Margot Kidder of Superman fame! Wrong number entirely, you have! I am ever so sorry gottagobye!"]

Marcu can be reached at presmarcu@whitehouse.gov.

CURRENT MUSIC: Presenting Lothar and the Hand People by Lothar and the Hand People.
CURRENT MOOD:
A great feeling of schadenfreude directed at INXS fans.
CURRENT BEST VIDEO EVER: "Boom Goes the Dynamite." (Probably old news to you, but if you haven't yet seen it, it's a clip of a poor kid who got roped into subbing for the usual Ball State University sports anchor, and... it's seriously the most painful thing you will ever see in your entire life. You can all thank T-Bone for that link.)
TIME:
8:51 PM.

Doot? | |

Saturday, May 7, 2005:

Bev is back in Maine and I am once again alone in a cruel and uncaring world. Luckily, bullet points cheer me up like no other punctuation symbols can (except for un-necessary hyphens), so here goes:

That's about it, I think. I want to go do something else now.

CURRENT MUSIC: Life is Full of Possibilities by Dntel.
CURRENT MOOD:
I miss Bev.
CURRENT SIGNATURE LINE ON MY WORK E-MAIL ACCOUNT:
"I got the 'Bloomin' onion [at Out Back Steak House], it's so greasy that i couldn't finish it. Then I took it home to the Dogs and they just sniffed it and walked away. Better bring a bottle of TUMS with you if you go there, which you should'nt anyway. I much prefer to just order 5 bags of Onion rings from Burger King, and squeeze those into a big ball. That's a better blooi'n onion. If you want my opion." -Boni Jergen
TIME:
3:20 PM.

Doot? | |

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