Part IV. The People Close To The Center of the Universe
People Close To The Center of the Universe: People with Erdos, Bacon, and Sabbath numbers
Before we get to the One Who Holds The Crown (the person with the lowest-known Erdos, Bacon and Sabbath number), let me introduce you to the junior varsity, the folks who have an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number. All of them have starred in movies, recorded on albums, and have published in respectable research journals. And all of them are disgustingly talented, the kinds of people who project your life’s drawbacks into clear relief. If you can’t tell, I’m insanely jealous. But I will swallow my pride, as they truly do deserve the accolades they get, including an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number. Here are a few of the most interesting ones:
He’s the man. If you’ve heard of him at all, you won’t be in the least surprised to hear about this additional accolade. Feynman is a world-famous scientist, Nobel laureate, and probably the best American-born-and-raised physicist of all time, and so it’s no surprise that many members of the Cult of Feynman figured out his Erdos-Bacon number long ago. He was an oversize colorful character in a world of unflaggingly dull people (physicists, that is) — you only have to see how much shelf space is devoted to him in your typical bookstore’s science section to understand the collective crush all of us in the physics community have on him. Besides discovering Quantum Electrodynamics, he was an accomplished drummer, world explorer, synesthete, artist, ladies man, and prescient visionary on nanotechnology and quantum computing. Oh, and he was the one who figured out why the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost. And appropriately enough, he was the very first person to be shown to have an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number.
Feynman has an Erdos number of 3, through coauthorships with Metropolis (a mathematician who lived in an ice fortress at the North Pole) and then Stan Ulam, a close friend of Erdos. Not surprising, considering even other physicists were astounded by his math skills.
Feynman appeared in the movie Anti-Clock in 1980, also starring Tony Tang, who was in Snatch (2000) with Brad Pitt, who was in Sleepers (1996) with Kevin BLT-minus-lettuce-and-tomato, for a grand total Bacon number of 3. You remember Tony Tang, of course, as “Spanky Wu” from the hit One Way Love from 2005. Anti-Clock is apparently some experimental art film that tries to be “deep”, in other words the exact antithesis of what Feynman stood for. An odd way to get yourself a Bacon number, but fair’s fair.
I earned my TimeBlimp salary (hint: $0), by being the first to track down a link between Feynman and Black Sabbath. Feynman took up drumming as a lark but became quite accomplished, to the point where he performed professionally here and there — he was particularly proud in these instances to be hired solely on the basis of his drumming skill, rather than just as a novelty professor-on-the-drums act. He also became fascinated with the obscure central-Asian country Tanu Tuva, a tiny country just north of Mongolia that was absorbed by the Soviet Union decades ago. The Tuvans are famous for their throat singing, an absolutely bizarre and haunting indigenous musical style, and the Neil Diamond of Tuvan throat singing is a man named http://www.ondar.com/. Feynman’s drumming and chanting appears on Kongar-ol Ondar’s album “Back Tuva Future, the Adventure Continues”, which has to be the coolest album of all time, sight unseen. (Or, sound unheard, I guess).
From here, I originally proved a series of links from Ondar to Black Sabbath that gave Feynman a Sabbath number of eight. Since then, other EBS researchers have cut this number in half, and let me know in no uncertain terms how pathetically long my original path of links was. (From one anonymous reviewer: “FAIL”). Thanks to Paul Pena (who collaborated with Ondar on the movie “Ghengis Blues”) and Bonnie Raitt (who has worked with both Pena and Ozzy Ozbourne), Feynman has a Sabbath number of four, and therefore a grand total Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number of ten. Not bad, but as we shall see, there are other folks even lower.
He’s an experimental physicist who works at the Large Hadron Collider (a ginormous particle accelerator), and yet you’d probably still throw your panties at him (I know I’d throw mine). He started his career playing keyboards in a band called “Dare”, which (and I quote from Wired magazine) “made two albums and toured with Jimmy Page before they got into a fight in a Berlin bar and broke up.” I think I speak for physicists everywhere when I say… THAT IS AWESOME! I know a hundred physics nerds who would LOVE to be cool enough to get into a barfight in Berlin. He then went on to join the band D:Ream, who garnered three top-ten hits in the UK, a major accomplishment in light of the extraneous punctuation in their name.
Bacon Number: This is the easiest to find, thanks to the Oracle of Bacon website (all the good website names are taken.) He can’t be linked through Kevin Bacon through feature films, but can be through TV shows. I realize this may strike purists as unfair, but I cheerfully ignore them. Via the British TV show “Stargazing Live”, Dr. Cox can be linked to Bacon in three steps.
Sabbath Number: Dr. Cox also has a Sabbath number of three, thanks to links through Darren Wharton and Tommy Aldrige to Ozzy Ozbourne. Ross Churchley worked this out, significantly reducing my original derivation of 7 for his Sabbath number. (Yes, I earn another “FAIL”)
Erdos Number: Amazingly enough, Dr. Cox’s Erdos number was the hardest to find – we can once again thank Ross for working this out. He’s shown that Dr. Cox has an Erdos number of 7, which seems pretty high for a physicist. However, Ross put in quite a lot of tedious work just to get us this far, so be prepared for a coauthorship slog if you want to chop this number down further. This gives Dr. Cox a total EBS number of thirteen!
I’ve mentioned that Ross put in a ton of work to get Brian Cox definitively on the list. But hard work is its own reward, right? Not this time! Brian Cox himself was notified of the good news, and then retweeted a link to Ross’ page to all of his thousands of followers! Pretty damn cool, if you ask me! (You did ask me, right?)
Despite my man-crush on Richard Feynman, I’m quite happy that he’s not alone in the center of the universe. There with him is Brian May, who is none other than the lead guitarist for the legendary rock band Queen. Yes, the man who brought the world the brilliant guitar solo in “We Will Rock You”, also happens to be a PhD in astrophysics. His fame is such that the Bacon and Sabbath numbers are absolutely trivial, and Ross Churchley has tracked down his Erdos number.
Sabbath Number: Come on, do you doubt that a member of Queen doesn’t have a Sabbath Number? As befitting his Rock-God status, Brian May has a Sabbath number of Uno – he played on Black Sabbath’s “Headless Cross” album, and also has collaborated with drummer Cozy Powell in his own Brian May Band. Cozy, as you should know, was once a Black Sabbath drummer.
Bacon Number: Dr. May shows up as “Brian May (II)” on the Oracle of Bacon, and as a member of Queen, his guitar playing has appeared in countless movies (such as Highlander). Not good enough, you say? Needs to actually be an actor in a movie, you say? Alright, then how about his voice work as “Massed peasant chorus & Chamberlain” in the 1996 movie “The Adventures of Pinocchio”? His tour de force as a massed peasant chorus is now the de facto standard by which all massed-chorus voice-over work is judged, and also gives him a Bacon number of three (via Kevin Dorsey and Laura Ceron).
Erdos Number: Ah, yes… my original research into Dr. May’s Erdos number (consisting of googling his coauthors for a couple hours while watching SportsCenter) turned up nothing. Lucky for me, and for the world of science, Ross has tracked down a path of coauthors from Dr. May’s astrophysics publications back to Erdos, yielding an Erdos number of seven. This gives him a combined Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number of eleven! A huge thanks to Ross, who can also be found on twitter at @rchurchley. Give him a follow, won’t you?
If by chance you’ve already heard of any of this crap, you’ve probably heard of Natalie Portman, probably the most famous person with an Erdos number.
Bacon Number: Is there any doubt? She was soooo close to a Bacon number of uno, thanks to the movie “New York, I Love You” but apparently Bacon’s scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Unless you’re willing to count DVD extras, Natalie sits at a Bacon number of 2.
Erdos Number: Apparently, Ms. Portman is uhhh, smart and stuff — she passed on attending the red carpet for the premiere of Star Wars Episode 1 to study for her high school exams. She also got herself a coauthorship on a psychology paper while an undergrad at Harvard that nets her an Erdos number of five.
Sabbath Number: The weakest link here is her shameful lack of a professional music career — I mean, what the hell? How lazy can you get? Get going on that pop music career, Portman! If that is your real name! (hint: it isn’t.) She has starred in several music videos, but that’s not good enough — you can’t sneak your way to the Center of the Universe. More promising, she was a preteen member of the World Patrol Kids, an ersatz Menudo for the save-the-earth crowd. (“Ersatz Menudo” would be a fantastic band name, someone get to work on that.) If you’re feeling inferior to Ms. Portman, pick yourself up a bit by checking out the World Patrol Kids’ video on youtube, where you’ll discover it wasn’t only your adolescence that was awkward. But we can do even better — she recently guested on The Lonely Island’s brilliant comedy album “Incredibad” on the song “Natalie’s Rap”, her debut in Gangsta Rap.
I originally worked out a Sabbath Number of 7 from Incredibad, but humongous nerdy thanks to Andy Campbell Smith (follow him, @yon_fool on twitter) who has gotten this number down to FOUR. Andy sent me his derivation by email:
Tony Iommi (0) recorded Goodbye Lament on his 2000 album Iommi with …
Dave Grohl (1), who played drums on Tenacious D’s self-titled album with …
Jack Black (2), who did guest vocals on the track Sax Man with …
the Lonely Island (3) on their album Incredibad, which also featured …
Natalie Portman (4).
Damn, well done! Puts my seven to shame! (Not that the bar was very high for my shame — I note that I had mistakenly called Lonely Island “Lonely Planet”. Apparently now I’m a doddering old grandfather. Would you like a Werthers?) Ms. Portman therefore has a combined Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number of Eleven!
Of all the work I’ve put into EBS numbers (mainly, coming up with the idea and letting others do the hard work of figuring out the links), I’m most thrilled with tracking down the final link to complete an Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath Number for none other than Kool Moe Dee! If you’re not familiar with Kool Moe Dee, he’s a legendary old-school rapper from the 80′s. If you *are* familiar with him, you now probably have a pretty good idea how old I am. Let’s just say Hammerpants were pretty popular at my high school.
Sabbath Number: This one is easy peasy lemon-squeezy. Thanks to Chuck D’s guest spot on Kool Moe’s album Funke Funke Wisdom (on the song “Rise n’ Shine”), Kool Moe has a Sabbath number of four.
Bacon Number: For some reason, Kool Moe appeared in the Britney Spears’ movie Crossroads, lending some much-needed old-school flava to that Spears vehicle. This gives Moe Dee a Bacon number of 2, via Justin Long.
Erdos Number: This was the hardest, and not coincidentally, most tenuous link. We have to stretch the definition of “research publication” to near meaninglessness to get this to work. But it’s Kool Moe Dee, man! Sara pointed out that Kool Moe is the author of a book called There’s a God On The Mic: The 50 Greatest True MCs, which is an exhaustive list of his top 50 hip hop artists of all time, judged by more than a dozen metrics of rap style and technique. This book happens to be on my shelf — I told you, I’m a big fan. Chuck D provided the foreword, and is also listed as coauthor on the book Air America: The Playbook (from the now-defunct left-wing radio network) with Rachel Maddow. For those in the know, Rachel Maddow is Dr. Rachel Maddow — she has a PhD, from her time at Oxford, and her thesis advisor was Dr. Lucia Zedner in the law department at Oxford. According to Microsoft Academic Search, Dr. Zedner has an Erdos number of 5, via the following links: Lucia Zedner -> Jane B. Morgan -> Peter B. Williams -> David Clark -> Andrew Odlyzko -> Paul Erdos! This gives Kool Moe Dee a bowel-shakingly tenuous Erdos number of EIGHT. This gives him a total Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number of 14. When he told you that Knowledge is King, you didn’t think he was kidding, did you?
There are now a handful of other folks with provable Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath numbers ranging from 17 (for Thomas Edison) all the way down below 10 — I invite you to check out The Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath Project, at Ross’ blog, to see the most up-to-date list! In the meantime, keep reading to find out who has the lowest-known Erdos-Bacon-Sabbath number, and is therefore at the exact center of the universe…
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