Archive for November 4th, 2019

Harvard man gets tenure! “I want to thank all of the enemies that I had to destroy to achieve this great honor.”

Monday, November 4th, 2019
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Congratulations! Now head for your bunker.

Some men are graceful in success. James Mickens is not one of them. He just received tenure at Harvard, and is now Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He is also an “Authority on All Things” (according to his own webpage).

Harvard made some sort of announcement, but here’s his: “Excellence. Quality. Science. These are just a few of the words that have been applied to the illustrious research career of James Mickens. In the span of a few years, James Mickens has made deep, fundamental, and amazing contributions to various areas of computer science and life. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest scholars of his generation, James Mickens ran out of storage space for his awards in 1992, and he subsequently purchased a large cave to act as a warehouse/fortress from which he can defend himself during the inevitable robot war that was prophesied by the documentary movie The Matrix.”

On the landmark occasions of life, people are often magnanimous towards enemies and grateful to those they have met on their road to success. Mickens is not of that ilk, either. He crowed on the occasion: “I want to thank all of the enemies that I had to destroy to achieve this great honor.” 

Then he enumerates them: “Roger Davis at Princeton’s department of nutrition—you questioned my research on the efficacy of an all-Pop-Tart diet, but I am living proof that the diet works. Yes, I have nose bleeds every day and my pancreas has the dysfunction of a failing Soviet client state, but I believe that having constant double vision makes me twice as optimistic about life.”

Smarter than they look. (Creative Commons)

He continues: “And Bruce Jøhansen of the Oslo School of Economics—my sweet, sweet prince! I still remember your scathing book review of my grand opus Not Even Once: A History of Birds Using Money to Pay for Things. You claimed that my findings were “obvious” and “belabored,” and that Chapter 17 (“Red-tailed Finches and the Stock Market Crash of 1819”) was “so insane that I briefly convinced myself that birds have deep opinions about macroeconomic theory but have failed to act on them for millions of years.” Such little thanks I receive for midwifing your brief moment of lucidity! When I learned that I would be Reviewer #3 for your journal article, I covered my naked body in war paint and waited for Saturn to ascend so that the ancient ones could gaze upon my wickedness. I printed your manuscript on paper deemed unfit for office use, replacing my printer’s standard ink with a foul, vengeful tar that I made from discarded Waffle House cooking oil and a shredded copy of your sixth-grade report card. Triumphant, I dragged your manuscript through brackish ponds, allowing ghastly amphibious creatures to gnaw on your preposterous arguments until just a single tattered page was left.”

It’s nice to know that some stories have happy endings: “Martha and the boys are doing well; we built a cabin by the hills. We pluck the blueberries beneath the torch of moonlight and watch the stars dance in the ocean of the sky. When little John sits on my knee, I see my father in him, and my father’s father too. He points to the field that lies just before the curve of the river, and he says, ‘Papa, why have you attached a plow to Bruce Jøhansen and forced him to plant ragweed despite his crippling seasonal allergies?’ One day, son, you’ll understand—when you have tenure.”

Read the whole thing here. And there’s more from him on Boing Boing’s “Here’s the funniest, most scathing, most informative and most useful talk on AI and security” here And thanks to Abbas Raza of 3QuarksDaily for the heads up.