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Math Television Entertainment

The Futurama of Physics 150

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-news-everyone dept.
MasaMuneCyrus writes "I was surprised to notice an article about Futurama in my latest American Physical Society news. Titled, 'Profiles in Versatility: The Futurama of Physics with David X. Cohen,' Cohen talks a little bit about his life and his love for physics, and he goes on to describe how he regularly injects graduate-level physics jokes into the script of Futurama. He also talks a little bit about the upcoming season of Futurama: 'In the 10th episode of the upcoming season, tentatively entitled "The Prisoner of Benda," a theorem based on group theory was specifically written (and proven!) by staffer/PhD mathematician Ken Keeler to explain a plot twist.'"
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The Futurama of Physics

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:54PM (#32212994) Journal

    Does the physicist-turned-comedy icon have any regrets? "What I do is ultimately not similar to physics or computer science," Cohen admits. "I would like to have lived two lives, to be a scientist in one... So of course I have regrets. Science is more important than what we do, although I do get a lot of satisfaction out of my work."

    Surely you must take some solace or pride in the fact that the genre of sci-fi entertainment often sparks the scientist in people? And if it doesn't get them to become scientists, it at least drives a curiosity. Were it not for the enjoyment of many sci-fi novels as a kid, I would not be so interested in science and computers. Many older engineers I've worked with have given Star Trek a lot of credit for their early intrigue with physics. Surely Cohen can consider the cult popularity of Futurama and its return as a potential to be an enduring piece of entertainment that serves as a pilot light for young minds. Even though many of the Stanislaw Lem novels I read were humor or political satire, they caused me to wonder ... "what if?" Futurama makes physics entertaining and funny. Some would consider that very valuable as there's very little material out there that does that.

    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:01PM (#32213094) Journal

      >>>the genre of sci-fi entertainment often sparks the scientist in people?

      That is what Isaac Asimov said. Of course he continued to be a Physics professor, but he also wrote more entertainment books than any other SF writer. (Over 300 if I recall correctly.) He said science fiction sparked young people's imaginations, as well as problem-solving abilities, and that curiosity was a key component for any successful science student.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      P.S.

      >>>Star Trek a lot of credit for their early intrigue with physics.

      I wanted to be like Scotty or Geordi, but neither is really an engineer as it turns out. i.e. They don't design. They are more like technicians, trying to keep the existing systems (which some other engineer built) operational. I should have been that, instead of studying engineering. I think it would be more fun.

      Oh well.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PakProtector (115173)

        So, lemme get this straight: You have to design to be an Engineer?

        I better go inform all those Doctorates in my department they're not Engineers...

        • by Surt (22457)

          What do they do that would earn them getting referred to as an engineer rather than a doctor? Imagine calling a doctorate in psychology who does research on lab rats a shrink. Same area, different roles.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by NonSequor (230139)

          So, lemme get this straight: You have to design to be an Engineer?

          I better go inform all those Doctorates in my department they're not Engineers...

          Do they solve practical problems? [teamfortress.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Duradin (1261418)

        Why would Starfleet put their ship designing engineers out in the middle of nowhere on already built and functioning starships? That'd be like putting the engineering (engine-ering) crew behind a desk with some paper and drafting tools.

         

      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        Also, they never, ever got to score with hot chicks, alien or otherwise. Scotty was married to his engines, and La Forge, well, running joke. That's hardly going to entice nerds into the field of engineering/mechanics. Still, at least it didn't raise any false expectations either.
      • by lgw (121541) on Friday May 14, 2010 @06:37PM (#32214196) Journal

        Those guys who drive trains? Yeah.

        There have always been "design engineers" and "line engineers". Not all engineers design - many, perhaps most, keep complicated systems working properly (often manufacturing lines), but even line engineers do ad-hoc design from time to time, especially an engineer for something that gets shot at.

        Of course, you're not a "real" engineer unless you roll explosives up to the castle gate under a hail of arrows - all those guys calling themselves engineers for the past 400 years are just posers, not to be taken seriously. ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by selven (1556643)

        I disagree. Quite a few episodes have Scotty or Geordi finding a novel solution to a problem, and Scotty did invent the equations of teleporting onto a ship at warp. Sure, their day to day jobs are about fixing and maintaining, but they do show themselves as creative engineers when the time comes for it.

      • by Protoslo (752870) on Friday May 14, 2010 @06:53PM (#32214416)
        I would agree that you have to design to be an engineer, but if you think that the Star Trek engineers don't design...you obviously haven't watched much Star Trek. Their skills are frequently called upon to design MacGuffins virtually from scratch that violate the laws of physics in innumerable ways. Not only are they engineers, they are cutting-edge theoretical (imaginary?) physicists.

        And you want to call LaForge a technician? Ouch.
        • by IrquiM (471313)

          The guy that fixes the toilet at work is refereed to as an engineer. Same with the guy that fixes the photocopy, etc. Being an engineer is nothing special anymore.

      • They're engineers in the Naval sense, ala Starfleet.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        neither is really an engineer as it turns out. i.e. They don't design.

        An engineer designs or operates engines. That is all. The push by the American engineering professional organizations to commandeer the word to mean something else seems to have worked. As they are operators of engines, they are more engineers than people that design electrical systems, bridges, or HVAC systems.

        And, based on comments in the show, Starfleet engineers "retire" to design work, so they work their way up to it over years
    • by jDeepbeep (913892)
      I know it's late on a Friday when an eldavojohn post only has a score of 2 on it. :p
    • by Goldsmith (561202)

      Who else would think to make a team of superhero basketball player/physicists modeled on the Harlem Globetrotters? That's genius and a very different representation of scientists than we're used to seeing.

      People drop out of grad school all the time. It's almost never that they can't do the material or don't "have what it takes." It's simply that for every student who gets a great project and avoids outside emergencies, there's another student who ends up at a dead end (I think the statistics are ~40% gra

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday May 14, 2010 @04:55PM (#32213014)
    I was a huge fan of the series, but those movies were pretty atrocious. I'm not sure if they went with different writers, or maybe they were just off their game, but I sure hope the new season gets the old groove back. The math and physics jokes are funny, though, but even those seemed to be missing from the movies.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      I found the movie to be hilarious.

    • by sconeu (64226)

      The problem with the movies was that they were all "message" movies. And often, the message was delivered with a sledgehammer.

      "Bender's Game" probably had the least message of them all... and was probably funniest (but that's because I misspent my college years with polyhedral dice...)

    • by dangitman (862676)

      I was a huge fan of the series, but those movies were pretty atrocious. I'm not sure if they went with different writers, or maybe they were just off their game, but I sure hope the new season gets the old groove back.

      They weren't as good because they were feature-length movies. The 20-something minutes of a TV comedy series often doesn't translate well into a movie-length narrative. 20-something minutes is a good amount of time to explore a particular scenario, you end up just stretching it too thin over a couple of hours.

  • I thought FOX (bastards!) canceled that show over 5 years ago (along with Family Guy,Dilbert,Firefly,Lonegunmen,Brisco County,Sliders,Space Above and Beyond, .....). I guess there are drawbacks to not having cable tv. Oh well. Maybe Hulu has the new episodes.

    Favorite episode - Why Frye saves the planet by playing Space Invaders. Classic.

    • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:02PM (#32213116) Journal

      I thought FOX (bastards!) canceled that show over 5 years ago [...]

      The bastards at Fox did cancel the show. The new episodes are going to run on Comedy Central.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      They did cancel it. The demand has been s high, it's coming back

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's Friday night. I have no date, a bottle of Shasta, and an all Rush mix tape.

    • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:07PM (#32213180)

      I thought FOX (bastards!) canceled that show over 5 years ago

      They cancelled it. Internet community cried out it never had a chance with its programming and how it was the next evolution of the simpsons (they were getting old, and futurama connected with the upcoming technological revolutions), so after a few years (7 or so) they brought out movies of Futurama on DVD only to test the success and keep it alive resulting in 4 Futurama movies.

      The DVD success has given them enough momentum to restart the series; first new episode will be aired the 24th this month if I recall this alright.

      So, to me it's not that strange to see Futurama more in the media again and get it more weight at relaunch by showing the intelligence in it in science magazines and other media to draw in attention of people who would enjoy the humor alike.

      I for one, am rejoicing! 10 years ago I enjoyed this series and devoured it, but maybe the world wasn't ready for it yet.

      • by OakDragon (885217)
        They had to make room for such quality programming as "The War at Home" and "The Cleveland Show."
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Dogtanian (588974)

        They cancelled it. Internet community cried out it never had a chance with its programming and how it was the next evolution of the simpsons (they were getting old, and futurama connected with the upcoming technological revolutions)

        Eh... I think you're overstating it. Futurama isn't- and I doubt was ever meant to be- "serious" sci-fi. It's basically a parody of mid-to-late twentieth century science fiction and its cliches.

        It also relies heavily on the "take an aspect of present-day society and parody it by doing an absurdly high-tech/futuristic version of it" humour.

        I don't think it was ever intended to be a remotely serious idea of what the future was like, which is why saying "futurama connected with the upcoming technological r

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
    • Given that Hulu and others will only stream to IPs based in the good ol' USA, you can watch the entire series here [futuramaepisode.org]

      No subscription, no fees, only Futurama!

      Enjoy!

    • And yet they promote it as if it's still theirs?

      http://fox8.tv/shows/futurama [fox8.tv]

      I am very confused.

  • Whether a doomsday scenario is possible in the Universe of Futurama is of great interest to David X. Cohen, the show's Executive Producer and head writer, and a former writer and producer for The Simpsons. Cohen has a bachelor's degree in physics from Harvard and a master's degree in computer science from UC Berkeley, and is not afraid to use them.

    The bolded part is the proof!

    • by dangitman (862676)

      The bolded part is the proof!

      Yeah, because we all know that Computer Science majors are the funniest guys on earth. Cohen's the exception, not the rule.

  • by sbjornda (199447) <sbjornda@nOspAM.hotmail.com> on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:14PM (#32213254)
    From the article:

    Because Futurama is a comedy and not a drama like Star Trek

    Star Trek not a comedy? Why didn't someone tell me I wasn't supposed to laugh?

    --
    .nosig

    • How dare you. The wrath of ./ shall descend upon your blasphemous head. Unless you were talking about the original. That WAS funny except for the OK Corral episode - that one was epic.
      • by lgw (121541)

        Hare dare you mock the original - Kick could totally kick Picard's ass. And he slept with more races of aliens than Worf got beaten by, which is saying something!

        Actually, about half of the original series were pretty epic, and still stand up as top-drawer television SF writing today, while the bad ones were pretty amazingly bad. Funny how people don;t quite agree which were which, though.

        • by Zordak (123132)
          Can we all agree that the hippies on acid episode was bad?
    • Star Trek not a comedy? Why didn't someone tell me I wasn't supposed to laugh?

      -- .nosig

      Because the Captain forgot to say "Make it so"

  • Haven't watched Futurama, now I guess I have to. Given it's a week before finals, I'll send slashdot an invoice for the credit hours I end up re-taking because I was busy watching cartoons instead of studying.
    • by dangitman (862676)

      Haven't watched Futurama

      Inconceivable!

      I'll send slashdot an invoice for the credit hours I end up re-taking because I was busy watching cartoons instead of studying.

      You should be sending slashdot a bill for all that time you've been reading slashdot, when you could have been watching Futurama.

      Oh well, maybe you've at least absorbed some subliminally. For a long time, slashdot had Futurama quotes in its HTML headers. [terminally...herent.com]

  • Degrees (Score:2, Funny)

    by MrTripps (1306469)
    "Cohen has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard and a master’s degree in computer science from UC Berkeley" He obviously has too many degrees that he isn't using and is a detriment to the American economy. (snark)
    • by Surt (22457)

      I'd be hard pressed to name anyone who was a greater detriment to the american economy, though I suppose there are the creators of slashdot to consider.

  • “I believe this ‘paradoxicality’ equation to be unsolvable,” he says, pointing to the equation, E=9.87sin(2B)-7.53cos(B)-1.5sin(B), written on a blackboard. “Ergo, time travel is impossible. But I can’t quite prove it.”

    So the humor here is that it's paradoxical to want to solve a single equation with two variables? Or am I being too geeky here? After all, the solution is *trivial*...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pclminion (145572)

      So the humor here is that it's paradoxical to want to solve a single equation with two variables? Or am I being too geeky here? After all, the solution is *trivial*...

      Is it? It's quite possible that that equation has no solutions in the reals, though I can't be assed to work it out right now. Given Cohen's penchant for deep mathematical jokes, I wouldn't be surprised if the value of B is complex.

      An equation with only complex solutions, where the solutions are supposed to be physical quantities, can in som

      • by hkz (1266066)
        Take B = Pi. Then E = 9.87*sin(2Pi) - 7.73*cos(Pi) - 1.5*sin(Pi) = 9.87*0 - 7.73*-1 - 1.5*0 = 7.73. (Assuming multiplication binds stronger than addition.) Not so complex, right? Am I overanalyzing this?
        • by pclminion (145572)

          We don't know all the constraints. What if E must be greater than 100, for instance? It has no solutions.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zordak (123132)

        An equation with only complex solutions, where the solutions are supposed to be physical quantities, can in some sense be said to be "unsolvable," or rather, it has no true physical meaning because its solutions are not physical.

        Any time you put a capacitor or an inductor in a circuit, you have just created an equation with only complex solutions, with true physical meaning. The real portion is magnitude and the imaginary portion is a phase shift. If I remember my mechanical stuff correctly, the same thing happens when you put a spring or a dashpot in a mechanical system.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:26PM (#32213388)

    From episode 2-16, The Deep South, as the crew of the Planet Express ship are plunging to the bottom of the ocean...

    Leela: "Depth at 45 hundred feet... 48 hundred, 50 hundred. 5,000 feet."
    Professor: "Dear lord! That's over 150 atmospheres of pressure!"
    Fry: "How many atmospheres can the ship withstand?"

    wait for it...

    Professor: "Well, it's a spaceship... so I'd say anywhere between zero and one."

    • by RasputinAXP (12807) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:59PM (#32213758) Homepage Journal

      My favorite was from Luck of the Fryrish:

        * Horse race announcer: It's a quantum finish! And the winner is-(Man holds up a board with the winning horse on it)

              Horse race announcer: Harry Trotter!
              Professor Farnsworth: No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!

      • " I understand how the engines work now. It came to me in a dream. The engines don't move the ship at all. The ship stays where it is and the engines move the universe around it."
        Cubert Farnsworth

    • by rkanodia (211354)

      I love that line too, but the pedant in me is compelled to ruin it. Certainly a ship that was intended for deliveries to other planets would have been designed with the atmospheres of other planets in mind, which are potentially much more pressurized than that of Earth (consider for instance the high-gravity planet where Zapp broke the hover dolly with a load of pillows). Of course, Farnsworth is old and senile...

      • by dcollins (135727)

        Who knows what unit of measure the Futurama "atmosphere" is? Maybe it's based on the highest-pressure known planet!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dangitman (862676)

          Who knows what unit of measure the Futurama "atmosphere" is? Maybe it's based on the highest-pressure known planet!

          Leela and the Professor gives us the answer when she says they're at 5,000 feet, and the Professor says that's over 150 atmospheres of pressure. Under salt water, approximately 33 feet of additional depth increases pressure by one atmosphere. (5000/33)-1=150.5 atmospheres. So it seems pretty clear they are using they same units we do.

  • by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:39PM (#32213538)
    I've invented a device that sneaks nerdy physics jokes into primetime programming!

    ...I've also invented a machine that makes you read this aloud in your head, in my voice!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Physics jokes are fun for physicists, but there seems to be a lack of technology/computers-related jokes in the movies.

    Who can forget the easy "10 home, 20 sweet, 30 goto 10" joke from the first (was it the first?) episode, the "two reels of tape look like boobs" painting/poster, the nightmare of Bender "and I think I saw a TWO in there!", etc. It's fine to make obscure jokes that only 5% of the viewers will get (old hardware or stuff like that perhaps), just like not everyone gets all the physics jokes.

    One

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by EvanED (569694)

      Oh, I can't store 144, that's where my speech processor is at.". The reference (of course) is the 220h default address of the Sound Blaster (220 hexadecimal = 144 decimal).

      You might want to check your math on that.

    • by hkz (1266066) on Friday May 14, 2010 @05:54PM (#32213712)
      Slashdot makes up for it by posting an X-Fry, X-Leela, X-bender or other header with every HTTP response. If you know it or not, you've received thousands of these witticisms (unless you're New Here.) X-Fry: Leela, Bender, we're going grave-robbing. X-Fry: Hooray, we don't have to do anything! X-Fry: I haven't had time off since I was twenty-one through twenty-four. X-Fry: How can I live my life if I can't tell good from evil?
      • by Thiez (1281866)

        I never knew! That is so awesome :D

        • by Thiez (1281866)

          For those who want to try this at home:

          echo -e 'GET / HTTP/1.1\nHost: slashdot.org\n\n' | nc slashdot.org 80 | grep -E 'X\-(Fry|Leena|Bender)'

      • by kimvette (919543)

        How often do you read http response headers though?

      • by Blakey Rat (99501)

        It's good to know that, while so many hundreds of thing in Slashdot don't even fucking work, or work the exact same way they did in 1997 (when it's, lemme check my calendar, oh yeah, 2010) that they've wasted so much time making those stupid headers.

        Although I have to admit it's slightly clever as far as easter eggs go. I'd never have thought to look at the headers for the page itself in a million years.

    • >>>220h default address of the Sound Blaster

      My "sound blaster" was called Paula. She was a sexy sound chip, located inside my beautiful amiga, and produced near-CD quality sound in 1985 (when Macs and PCs just went beep).

      • by lgw (121541)

        Paula? Fah. You had a burning romance with SID and you know it - not that there's anything wrong with that.

      • by dangitman (862676)

        My "sound blaster" was called Paula. She was a sexy sound chip, located inside my beautiful amiga, and produced near-CD quality sound in 1985 (when Macs and PCs just went beep).

        Uhhh, no. The original Mac was frickin' launched with a demo of it introducing itself via speech synthesis. If I recall correctly, it was 4-voice, mono, 8-bit sound.

        I loved my Amiga too, but don't go making stuff up, especially when your comment is disproved in one of the most famous moments in personal computer history.

        • Speech synthesis and musical ability are not the same thing. The original Mac that I used to use in college sounded worse than my C64's SID and nowhere near as good as the Amiga's Paula chip.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        In their defense, the Tandy 1000 and PCjr went "beep-beep-beep-sshhhhhhh!" simultaneously.

  • "Good news, everyone -- it's a suppository!"

    Sorry, I had to, please forgive me mods!
  • So y = r cubed over 3. And if you determine the rate of change in this curve correctly, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised...

    Oh hey, I didn't see you guys all the way over there.

  • Futurama has, and always will be, a love story. One nerdy guy's awkward pursuit of the the girl he fell in love with at first sight. All the 'science-y' stuff is just there to fill in the plot.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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