Show, Memory

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September 1991. Bright sunny day, with a mild breeze. Standing in line comprised of PhD students, incoming and returning, and faculty, new and old, for an Indian buffet, in the cozy garden next the old GSIA building. Pointing to a dish, the person in front of me turned around and asked:

What is that?

You mean the green one?

I am color blind. I suppose it is green.

Palak Paneer. It is spinach with cubes of paneer, a form of Indian ricotta cheese. It is actually one of my favorites.

Thanks. Are you a new PhD student at GSIA?

No, I am a new faculty member. Sridhar Tayur.

I am Herb Simon.

I heard you have an autobiography out.

Yes, Models of my Life. You should buy it.

I will wait until it is in paperback, and has dropped sufficiently in price. 

Good decision.

Clearly a play on Nobokov’s Speak, Memory, the title is what popped in my head as I watched (on HBO Max, although it is playing at Cinemark Robinson as well, where I went to see The Protégé, with Maggie Q, who I absolutely loved in Nikita, the 2010 version, a serialized version of Luc Besson’s highly enjoyable and explosive original, La Femme Nikita, from 1990):

Reminiscence is a neo-noir science fiction thriller film written and directed by Lisa Joy. The film stars Hugh JackmanRebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton. Joy also produces alongside her husband and creative partner Jonathan Nolan.

Jonathan is the brother of Christopher Nolan, co-wrote The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Interstellar with him, and won the Academy Award for Memento. Thandiwe Newton previously starred in Mission: Impossible 2 (which grossed over $546 million worldwide, on a budget of $125 million, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2000). More than anything, Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and Mission Impossible: Fallout), playing the femme fatale here, reminded me of Rita Hayworth, in:

Gilda is a film noir starring Rita Hayworth in her signature role. The film is known for lush photography, wardrobe for Hayworth (particularly for the dance numbers), and staging of “Put the Blame on Mame” sung by Anita Ellis.

Back to CMU. Some (maybe five?) years later, indeed, Herb’s autobiography appeared in paperback, and its price dropped to $3, and I purchased it. I re-read parts of it every August/September – stimulating, provocative, occasionally funny – it is a small treasure. His conversation with Borges (from Chapter 11, Mazes without Minotaurs) is fascinating:

Simon

In “The Library of Babel” you start from an abstraction.

Borges

Not true! I can tell you how the whole story spewed out. One day I said to myself that my entire life was buried in this library. Why not invent a universe represented by an interminable library? A library where one can find all the books that have been written. At the same time, I read something about permutations and combinations…

Simon

As to your ideas on combinatorial analysis, what are your sources?

Borges

I read a very interesting book. It was Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy.

A few years later – in the interest of privacy, I will refrain from specifying when this took place, or what the outcome was – Herb and I found ourselves, on opposite sides of a Tenure case, he supportive and I against (I think it was in Room 227, old GSIA building). I could not resist quoting him, almost verbatim, from his book 🤷🏽‍♂️:

When making tenure decisions, members of a faculty are inclined to sacrifice quality for humaneness, particularly when close associates and friends are being judged. Acting humanely is an admirable human trait, but it is easy to misconstrue what is at stake…Faculty members who are denied tenure don’t go to the bread line. They move to other universities or other occupations. Universities achieve high quality when they keep these facts in view.

Speaking about tenure (I received mine in 1996, 25 years ago 😳), and academic life in general, I binge-watched The Chair, a six-part Netflix series that opened on Friday (with Sandra Oh). It was pretty good, not the best Netflix drama series in years, as that would be The Queen’s Gambit. In any case, here is The Atlantic review:

The Chair Is Netflix’s Best Drama in Years

What triggered this post? This email to the Tepper faculty and PhD students (from August 17th, 2021):

Good afternoon!

I’m so happy to invite you to the 2021 PhD Student/Faculty picnic!

Of course, this year’s picnic will be different from those of years past.  One big change this year is the location:  as you’ll see at the e-vite link, we will be holding the picnic on the green space in front of the Tepper Quad on Friday, September 3.   We’ll have some lawn games and beverages starting at 3:00 pm, with dinner available starting at 5:00.

We will follow all COVID-19 protocols that are in place at the time of the event.

We look forward to seeing you all there!

The “change in location” is just “returning to the original location, topologically speaking, next to our new GSIA building“.😏

PS. Thanks to Tinglong for sending this link that provides details about some of the actors (including a CMU undergrad student, and a Pitt professor) and filming locations (Shadyside, Sewickley, Pittsburgh Airport, Chatham College) in The Chair.

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