WEXAS vs. Intersection form (4-manifold)


I love travelling, but I’ve never really understood the point of travel agents. Maybe that’s because the internet has existed for my entire adult life, so I’ve always made my own travel arrangements online. WEXAS, despite sounding like some dumb amalgamation of “West Texas” or something, is a British travel agency that prefers to refer to itself as a travel club. From their website, the idea seems to be that you join and you get discounted travel and access to special airport lounges. The lounge access sounds particularly good – who wants to sit in those cramped chairs surrounded by screaming children when you can sit in a special lounge with free WiFi and coffee? They’ve also published a few traveler’s handbooks, which I’m sure have helped out at least one lost journeyman.

Plus, WEXAS is endorsed by Britain’s favourite travellers, Sir Ranulph Fiennes (he’s Ralph’s cousin!) and Michael Palin. And the story behind WEXAS is pretty cute (it used to have an even worse acronym). Clearly, founder Ian Wilson started out with the best of intentions, to escape his corporate fate. Now, however, the company seems to be going for a monopoly of travel companies in Britain, and Wilson may be becoming exactly what he feared.

Irony and travel deals: can a mathematical formula offer you that?


Intersection form (4-manifold)

I don't understand it either. But I wish I did.

I was always pretty good at math. On a high-school level. The intersection form is new to me. And Wikipedia isn’t really helping me out so much with this. In fact, links to 4-manifold lead to topological manifold, which leads to topological space, which is still giving me a headache. I’m afraid I gotta go right to the source with topology. Luckily, Wolfram’s Math World is here to help out. Topology is “the mathematical study of the properties that are preserved through deformations, twistings, and stretchings of objects.” It should be noted that tearing is not allowed. “Topology can be used to abstract the inherent connectivity of objects while ignoring their detailed form.” … Alright, what can I say? I’m fucking lost here. Even Robert Bruner’s “short and idiosyncratic answer” loses me by the second paragraph.

But to someone, this shit makes sense. And while you were probably making fun of the people back in high school who did understand this stuff, how envious are you now? Those geniuses are probably making tons more money than any of us, helping solve real-life problems through this baffling analysis, have shacked themselves up with a very attractive partner and generally lead awesome lives. While our significant contribution is to say something smug, like “the intersection form is fucking stupid, man.” So laugh all you want at these nerds who are flying first class while you’re standing in line at discount travel agencies. They just might be cooler than you think, check out this self-deprecating joke topologists came up with:

Q: What is a topologist?
A: Someone who cannot distinguish between a doughnut and a coffee cup.

Ha! Good one! … I think.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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