Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Real Printer (tm): Condensed Matter Edition

The Condensed Matter Group's spiffy new $2000 printer arrived today. (Actually, this printer may only apply to the first-floor condensed matter people. And people like Jim Eisenstein have printers in their own office anyway.) I haven't actually used it yet, but the one it replaced was an increasingly feisty piece of crap that dates back numerous years and (most recently) would become jammed ("Raspberry!") with any document with double-digit pages and very likely was around when I was a Caltech student. (It's close. It might have been bought right after I lefty, but it's really close.) Sadly, the new printer on the block isn't a color printer, but the derivative of the printer quality with respect to time is really bloody positive so I'll take it! (The old printer was crappy when I got here, but it was on its death throes for weeks.)

One of the professors promised me a couple weeks ago that I could have the dying printer to drop off of Millikan Library. I wonder if he'll keep his promise...

Monday, February 27, 2006

What D & D Character are you?

I remember doing one of these that pretty much focused on character class, and I was curious what race and alignment I'd end up with, so I tried the following version of What D & D character are you?.

I actually came up almost exactly what I thought I'd end up with. I am apparently a true neutral dwarf mage thief (and a follower of Dumathoin). I didn't predict thief and I didn't bother picking a Forgotten Realms diety. (I predicted true neutral dwarf mage.)

Here is the longer version (with the requested link from the html code I am copying):

I Am A: True Neutral Dwarf Mage Thief

True Neutral characters are very rare. They believe that balance is the most important thing, and will not side with any other force. They will do whatever is necessary to preserve that balance, even if it means switching allegiances suddenly.

Dwarves are short and stout, and easily recognizable by their well-cared-for beards. They are hard workers, and adept at stonework and engineering. They tend to live apart from other races; generally in deep, underground excavated systems, and as such tend to be distant from other races.

Primary Class:
Mages harness the magical energies for their own use. Spells, spell books, and long hours in the library are their loves. While often not physically strong, their mental talents can make up for this.

Secondary Class:
Thieves are the most roguish of the classes. They are sneaky and nimble-fingered, and have skills with traps and locks. While not all use these skills for burglary, that is a common occupation of this class.

Dumathoin is the True Neutral dwarven god of buried wealth, ores, gems, and mining. He is also known as the Keeper of Secrets under the Mountain. His followers are typically miners and explorers, but also respect the beauty of the earth. They also stand guard over the dwarven dead. Their preferred weapon is the maul. Dumathoin's symbol is a faceted gem set inside a mountain peak.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Some detailed results:

Alignment: True Neutral beat out Lawful Neutral by only one answer. The only chaotic alignment with nonnegative results was CN. Neutral evil had the lowest score of -6.

Race: Dwarf and gnome each got 7 points. (Gnome was actually my second choice for what I thought I'd get.) I got a -5 score on half-orc and a -2 in human. ("I'm a human being!" --- I hope somebody catches this reference.)

Class: +5 on mage, +3 on thief, +2 on bard, +1 on cleric, and negative numbers on everything else (lead by the -6 on fighter, -4 on druid, and -3 on paladin).

Deal or No Deal?

When I was looking something up on IMDB today, I noticed an advertisement for the gameshow Deal or No Deal?. The host is Howie Mandel, who has done some funny stuff before---I really enjoyed his show Good Grief, which lasted all of half a season. (He was also amusing in his occasional appearances on Politically Incorrect.) This show was well-known for being in extremely poor taste, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it. In it, he works at Sincerity Mortuary, at which all sorts of antics occur. In fact, the original commercial for the show pretended it was a commercial for a reasl mortuary---We see an unctiously cheerful Mandel saying "At Sincerity Mortuary, we cry because we care! [pause] And we bury them because they're dead! [sobs into his hand]." All they were missing during their funerals and burials was the playing of "Another One Bites the Dust" (though there is a commercial for sound-proofing windows in which the guy driving a Heasre is blasting that song---I love that commercial!), so I'll make up for that by putting it in my will that that song is to be played at my funeral. (Yes, I really will be doing that. It's going to be the most tasteless funeral ever!)

Anyway, back to the point at hand.

So, the show is basically like the 'what's behind door # N' minigame of Let's Make a Deal except on crack. The actual show isn't all that fun to watch (because they belabor everything, just like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), but there's a nice probability problem here (and some nice PS12ing to do). And I wanted to give it a chance and watch it once. Anyway, there are 26 models holding 26 cases, each of which holds some amount of money---ranging from 1 cent to $1 million. I believe that the median values (among the 26 "increments", as Howie Mandel called an individual value one time; oops) are $500 and $1000. The values below $500 don't really matter as far as the expectation is concerned (they can mid-game, but if you're ever in that case, you're pretty screwed anyway). There's also $5000, $10000, $25000, $50000, $75000, $100000, and then 200, 400, 500, and 750 K, and then $1 million. (Anyway, I think I got the numbers mostly correct, but this is at least enough info to see how many of the larger values are around.)

A contestant starts by picking 1 case. (I would so bring my D & D dice with me if I were a contestant on this show.) He/she must then pick 6 of the other cases to reveal. Those values are crossed off. Given the ones left (one of which is in the case the contestant chose), the contestant is offer a deal with an appropriately chosen amount. He/she can either take the money or not. If not, five more cases are revealed. The contestant gets an offer based on the amounts remaining, and can either take it or not. If not, four more cases are revealed. Then it goes to 3, and then 2, and then sequences of 1's. In terms of PS12ing, the key is how many big values are left on the board versus how many cases have to be revealed the next time. (It was amusing how they would root for the lowest value left to be in the chosen case even when the lowest N values would all have essentially isomorphic effects on the expectation.) The public at large has very fundamental issues inderstanding probability... (Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in economics for his research on that subject, by the way.)

In sum, this show makes a nice probability problem.

New Baseball Hall-of-Famers

The results of a special election to consider Negro League (and pre-Negro League minority) players, managers, and executives were announced today. This yielded 17 new Hall-of-Famers, including the first female to be inducted (former team-owner Effa Manley).

The Never-Ending Quest for Power Laws

Here's the abstract for a paper just posted on the arXiv. Its main conclusion seems to be the presence of a power law distribution. Sigh... there are so many ways for such things to occur by accident. It's ok for theoretical work to start with such an observation, but a start is what it should be---not the main result! Maybe the actual contents of the paper are better, but with this abstract, I'm not going to even bother to look.

By the way, I love the last sentence in the abstract.

\Paper: physics/0602165
Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2006 06:23:27 GMT (40kb)

Title: Power-law distribution in Japanese racetrack betting
Authors: Takashi Ichinomiya
Comments: to be published in Physica A
Subj-class: Physics and Society
\ Gambling is one of the basic economic activities that humans indulge in. An investigation of gambling activities provides deep insights into the economic actions of people and sheds lights on the study of econophysics. In this paper we present an analysis of the distribution of the final odds of the races organized by the Japan Racing Association. The distribution of the final odds $P_o(x)$ indicates a clear power law $P_o(x)\propto 1/x$, where $x$ represents the final odds. This power law can be explained on the basis of the assumption that that every bettor bets his money on the horse that appears to be the strongest in a race.
\\ ( http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0602165 , 40kb)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects

Baseball America just posted their Top 100 Prospects of 2006.

Expect a few particular ones to have standout seasons in the Major Leagues this season. Jeremy Hermida of the Marlins comes to mind immediately, as he's basically already been given a starting spot in the lineup. The same goes for Prince Fielder (son of Cecil) for the Brewers, although Hermida offers many more dimensions than Fielder (pure power).

Overheard in New York

Gazebo has mentioned Overhread in New York a couple times in his blog, so I wanted to pass it along for those of you here who aren't already seeing it there (you gotta' love set-theoretic minuses). It has some high-quality stuff.

D & D scheduling for weekend of 3/3

I'm free all weekend.

Early warning: Next weekend, I will only be free on Friday and Saturday (because I fly to the March Meeting on Sunday).

Today's Threesome

Well, we started with some frisbee (although we didn't have enough people for ultimate frisbee). I hadn't played in 6 months, and before that it had been close to 3 years. I want to get back into playing regularly like I did at Cornell, so now that it's starting to get dark later, hopefully that will happen.

Then we watched three movies at Jorian's place. (What kind of threesome did you think I meant? I have trouble enough getting a date, so I'm just going to go for a walk or something. On base percentage is a more important statistic than slugging percentage anyway...)

First off Bull Durham, which right a very important wrong in my life. That was the clear #1 among movies I should have seen but hadn't yet. I can safely pronounce that this movie is fucking awesome. It goes very high on my list and will be on my 80s list of movies when it comes time to discuss that. There are so many one-liners in there! The movie was hilarious! I had heard many of the movie's lines before, including important parts of certain scenes (like the version of the "lollygagging" scene that ESPN used in a Sportscenter commercial). Manager (loudly) : "You know what you are?" (Pitching coach, calmly: "Lollygaggers.") Manager (loudly): "Lollygaggers!"

I saw a headline in the movie about "Whiten" tearing up the minors and wondered if they meant (then-)prospect Mark Whiten, who had an 11-year major league career. As you can see on IMDB, they did indeed mean him. Also, the Costner line about think Oswald acted alone is in direct contradiction to the opinions of the person he played in JFK. (The lines in question here are also ones I have seen several times.)

The movie gets the whole minor league thing really well, and I had been known to occasionally make references to things in the movie even though I hadn't seen it. That wrong has now been righted. The big question now is which movie is now #1 among ones I should have seen but haven't yet seen. In the case of Bull Durham, it was obvious because we had a movie that was a classic, a comedy, and about baseball (and on the short short list of the classic baseball movies [actually, of the classic sports movies]). I haven't seen Field of Dreams and while that too is a crime, it's not obviously #1 on the list. Any ideas of which movie it might be? Suggestions should come from things you think are part of my paradigm.

The second mvoie we saw was Sneakers, which it turns out I have seen before but wasn't sure before we watched it. It was good but not great. This entry is already long and I'm talking about older movies, so I'll stop here.

The third movie we saw was Clerks, which was often very funny but also pretty disturbing at times (which is what one would expect from Kevin Smith). I see from IMDB that there will be a sequel this year; it has the working subtitle of "Passion of the Clerks", which I find highly amusing... hopefully it will have less unintentional necrophilia (or any other kind of necrophilia). I enjoyed the film quite a bit---it's somewhere between good and very good.

Anyway, frisbee + three solid films is a nice way to spend a Saturday. I did less work than I should have (and I feel guilty about that, although that's my own OCD issue), but I had fun. And one of the films was truly genius---an artistic masterpiece.

No lollygagging tomorrow!

This is my fortune for today


That's all I can conclude.

My fortune reads: "Your senior years will be happy and fulfilling."

Well, I've already had several senior years, so let's go through them one-by-one, shall we:

1. Senior year of nursery school: This was in 1981. In this case, senior year was #2 out of 2. The school in question (Temple Emmanuel Nursery School) was more like day care (before day care was overly prevalent), and was associated with my family synagogues. Was it fulfilling? Well, I already had some practice stalking people by the time it was over (well, it would be more accurate to say I had practice listening in on the conversations of other children when they didn't know I was around...children are so naive; there was no literal stocking involved), and I did a damn fine job lip-synching when they made us sing religious songs. And I was the only one in my class who could read and count. They even had a graduation ceremony with paper diplomas. The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series in 1981, and that year of baseball was a big part of what cemented me as a lifelong fan. So I guess that senior year was pretty good.

2. Senior year of elementary school: This was in 1990. I graduated from Hawthorne School (in the Beverly Hills Unified School District). Our district doesn't have a junior high. I was 14 when I graduated. How good could the year have possibly been. Plus, the 80s ended. Our civilization could only go downhill from there. Given that New Kids on the Block were tearing up the charts at the time, I suspect I knew it, too. On the (very!) bright side, the album Violator came out in 1990, so the my senior year of elementary school was also when I truly discovered Depeche Mode. (I liked a lot of their songs a lot before, but I didn't realize they were all by the same group and that that was the group.) I've been hooked ever since.

3. Senior year of high school: The year was 1994. I graduated from Beverly High. Well, graduation meant good things---like going to college and leaving home. (I didn't know at the time that Caltech would tell me to bend over because I still thought I was hot shit. That reminds me: Did I ever tell you about the title of the complex analysis book I want to write: Complex Analysis: How to Compute Contour Integrals Without Bending Over.) I won some academic awards that made me happy at the time (soon, they wouldn't make any difference because everybody else at Caltech got that stuff too). I'm sure there were other things worth mentioning. It was a fairly blah senior year.

4. Senior year at Tech: Now we come to 1998. It was very stressful at times (with all the stuff that was constantly thrown at me and all the work I had to do), but I hung out with great friends, learned a lot of stuff, and had a lot of fun (though also stressful) with my Ditch Day stack, which turned out really well (only one thing didn't work, and that was because we had to rush it). Despite all the stress, I would say I enjoyed my senior year of Tech more than all the others.

5.Senior year of grad school: This was 2002. This isn't typically counted, but what the Hell. I spent the year writing my thesis and then rewriting my thesis. My thesis exam was horrendous, and I was really sick of Ithaca and not all that pleasant to be around that year due to how I was reacting to all the stress. Plus, I didn't really have the friendship network to relieve me of my stress the way I did at Tech. (As a result, my reaction to what may have actually been slightly less stress was far worse.) Anyway, this one definitely sucked.

Now, today's fortune was really about the future rather than the past. While I'm glad it predicts I'll be "busy" (so to speak) when I'm old, I still feel that I've been horribly dissed and mangled.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Recent Progress using Quantum Interrogation

This continues the historical thread of Quantum Cuteness and Quantum Stalking.

Anyway, I just saw on Gazebo's blog a link to an article that discusses a recent paper in Nature paper concerning how to experimentally combine quantum computing and quantum interrogation to find the result of a quantum algorithm without actually running it.

As I just commented on Gazebo's blog, there is an obvious Spaceballs parallel here---the whole thing reminds me of watching a home video of a movie that hasn't even finished yet. It's all just very meta.

Apparently, the new results can potentially be used to reduce errors in quantum computation, which is a very important application of this (currently) "gedanken technology", as David Mermin likes to call it.

Anyway, these experiments are quite exciting, and I expect it will stimulate a lot of cool subsequent work.

Good use of the word 'epitome'

I just got an e-mail from the APS about the March Meeting that included the following line: "All March Meeting registrants will receive a CDRom version of the Bulletin, plus a pocket epitome."

I had forgotten about that meaning of the word. Under normal circumstances, people compare the sizes of their pocket epitomes...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax... "

I borrowed The Big Lebowski from Lemming the other day and watched it on Monday night, finally crossing one movie off the list of the many I should have already seen. (By the way, I recently mentioned Bull Durham in this context. With my baseball fixation, that movie is literally at the top of this list. I'm embarrassed that I've never seen it.) So this review is quite a bit late in coming...

Anyway, the film is obviously very good, although unlike Gazebo (as indicated by a recent comment in his blog), I would not put this on my short short list of 90s films. (I like Fargo, also by the Coen brothers, better, although I would need to think whether that would go on my short list.) It has a lot of memorable quotes (I especially liked the one I used as the title for this entry) and vignettes, but I also found it dragging at several points, which is a big reason why it's not on my short short list. I very much appreciated the Kraftwerk reference (compare a title of one of their most famous songs to that of the German band in the film) as well as the techno music that plays in the background when the band-turned-gang wants to start a street fight. That joke was classy.

A couple covers I know were in this movie. I had forgotten that Shawn Colvin's version of "Viva Las Vegas" was there, and I never knew that the Gypsy King's version of "Hotel California" was in it. (Actually, I am somewhat disturbed by the context of the latter song, and I hope that I will eventually be able to withdraw that from my memory.)

John Goodman did an excellent job, but The Dude got on my nerves sometimes (another reason this stops at very good instead of going on my short short list or even my short list).

Sometimes the half-orc eats the owlbear; sometimes the owlbear eats the half-orc. (Or maybe I should write "owlbar".)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Café Scientifique

Here is an interesting article from today's New York Times about the Café Scientifique "movement" (which seems to be defined similarly to the Alice's Restaurant movement).

The thing that first drew my attention to the article was the following quote: "A lot of people come to see real live scientists ... and see how their brains work." It's kind of like Jane Goodall and her chimps.

Putting the 'joy' back in joystick

Courtesy the current issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, here are instructions for modifying an Atari 2600 joystick to serve other purposes.

The question is: Which game should one play while enjoying oneself?

Perhaps the canonical answer might be "Custer's Revenge", which was supposed to be the equivalent of an X-rated Atari 2600 game. (Don't ask me how they do this on a game system where the shrooms in "Centipede" were constrained to be monochromatic bricks, but screenshots I've seen in past issues of EGM suggest a passing resemblence to the old activision game "Dolphin".)

I think, however, the only truly appropriate answer is "E.T.", which was the worst game ever made. My sister got this game because she loved the movie (which annoyed me even back when it came out in 1982), so I played and beat this game just because it was there (and I was probably waiting for the port of Q*Bert or something else that was actually good---well, Q*Bert was awesome, not just good), and I have been scarred ever since. For example, E.T. repeatedly falls into giant pits and it takes on the order of 30 minutes to get him out (and he's whining the entire time). I was dumb back then. If a game did that to me now, I'd drop it off the top of Millikan. (As a preview, I have been promised the condensed matter group's sucky printer for that very purpose once our new one arrives. We'll see if that actually happens.)

D & D scheduling for weekend of 2/24

Right now, it looks like I'm free at any point.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What does one get as a wedding gift for a former student?

One of my former research students IMed me about 15 minutes ago to invite me to her wedding. The timing is soon and bad, so I know my chance of being able to go is exponentially small. The question is what would be good to get? I am still hoping that she'll get a Ph.D. (she's good enough to do it), so maybe there's an appropriate popular science book to get or something? (I could get her a quantum mechanics book for whenever she has a kid just to ensure that it will cry copiously.) Any ideas here? This is far beyond my areas of expertise.

I'm not expected to get anything, but of course I am going to.

Anyway, the other reason I'm posting this is to provide proof that some of my students like me (although maybe I'll have to scan the invitation to do that).

Fantasy Baseball: 2006 Edition

I have started picking up players for my fantasy baseball team, called the Chaotic Wavefunctions. (Our logo is a \Psi with a nervous tick.) The league in which I play has a salary cap (and moving salaries during the year based on how much a player is bought and sold). I have been using my baseball knowledge to find sleepers. One example is Brad Wilkerson, who is a great player coming off a subpar year who has been traded to a team with a much better lineup and a much more offensive-minded ballpark. He's cheaper than many rookies who have only had a few at-bats in the majors!

I haven't done so well the last couple years, although I have finished in the 50s once (out of about 225000) and # 20 (out of about 25000) once. (I also one my individual league, but with a poor year overall, one time. I got $50 for that. It had cost me $18 to enter.) The 225000 and 25000 are really about the same level of difficulty because each of them contained roughly the same number of players (around 20000 or so) who actually played the game seriously (using all their trades and keeping track of things the whole year). When I finished in the 50s, I got a PC video game of baseball that I never played. When I finished #20, I got an autographed Nolan Ryan baseball that I've been proudly displaying every since. (Nolan Ryan is one of my favorite players of all time, so I was very pleased with that prize.)

One of my friends from grad school keeps kicking as at this game. He didn't play in 04, but he's done well every year he played. We always coordinate to be in the same league and in 2005, he managed to finish 1st overall! (He knows less about baseball and the players than I do, but he's far, far better at coming up with an optimum strategy for this game.) He got $5000 for that. His teams have finished close to the top 10 in both baseball and basketball before (I want to say he actually broke the top 10 another time in baseball), so his strategies have been consistently successful. (There are a couple years in which things blew up in his face, but I have had that as well and his top performances clearly outshine mine.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006


I just got back from seeing Diva at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was good and had some very funny moments, but it wasn't great. (The line about knowing about lesbianism as a result of spending time fucking David Bowie was especially appreciated. I also liked the comment and surrounding context about the fact that Spaceballs is now taught in film school. I approve! There were quite a few references to other people, but I definitely appreciated some far more than others.)

The play is about a diva, but in the old sense of the word (meaning a haughty and spoiled woman) rather than in the sense of a glamerous or distinguished female (especially a singer/actress/etc.). The play follows the travails associated with her sit com (after she had been out of action for a while) and all the broken promises from her, the network, the lead writer, an agent, and just about everybody else associated with the show. (Basically, the show is about Hollywood making fun of itself. The Spaceballs reference came with the idea of people going into and out of style, alternating between being overrated and underrated but never in between. In this case, Mel Brooks was used as the example.)

The thing that really worked about the play is that it progresses backwards in time, so that the broken promises (and several amusing comments) are conveyed very clearly to the audience. This was the play's strongest point. I think this aspect of things was very well done.

I believe that tonight's performance was the last one, so I'll leave this entry with that comment. (Not to end abruptly or anything...)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Tristram Shandy

I just got back from seeing Trsitram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. It was good but not great, although I am told it is very much in the spirit of the original nine-volume tome, with long digressions and an extremely heavy dose of meta. (At some point, it's a film within a film within a film.) As was pointed out in the film, the novel was postmodern before there was even any modern. (I'm curious to read it, but nine volumes seems like quite a chore. I should first go read (and watch) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as discussed in an earlier thread.

The main star played Jackie Chan's buddy in Around the World in 80 Days.

Write for The Tech!

("Or we'll strangle this cat.")

("Or we'll give you a boot to the head.")

We did actually use both of those when I was a Tech Editor. (The former cascaded out of control a bit with a series of events that ultimately led to a very nasty letter from the Pasadena Humane Society or the Pasadena branch of a Humane Society or something like that, but that's a story for another day.)

Anyway, I showed up to my first Tech meeting in many years today. The former advisor Hall Daily just moved on just recently, so there is now a new advisor. (The transition just happened.) The new Tech Editors just got elected, and I am helping out as a sort of unofficial assistant advisor. Basically, I just plan to show up to some of the meetings and give ideas and let them know about certain things that were done before that are similar to some of the ideas being discussed. My work with The Tech actually helped my expository ability tremendously (and has accordingly helped me a lot scientifically), so I am very happy to do this. (With the book and science writing experience and all that, there is also a lot I can contribute in an advisory role.) Plus, it's a very small time commitment. (On Hall's advice, I waited for the editorial switch before I showed up for a meeting.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ultrasounds with dry commentary

I got an e-mail from Judy (Green) Burch '98 on Tuesday with the news that she is pregnant. She passed along a website with some ultrasounds, which I normally wouldn't mention here except for the amusing commentary provided by Damian Burch '00.

Prediction: We'll know when their child comes of age when it starts solving differential equations.

Thanks for the memories, Slammin' Sammy

Sammy Sosa has unofficially called it quits, declining a $500,000 deal from the Nationals. Though Sosa is not on the retired list, his agent said that he's done.

Sosa had an awful year last year, but I thought he had some good baseball left in him. The Nationals were basically the only team willing to give him any sort of chance (at least from what I heard), and they weren't guaranteeing a chance to be a starting player or anything like that.

Sammy had a great career and is going to the Hall of Fame. He was maligned in recent years, because his attitude supposedly wasn't the same as when he was smiling all the time and calling Mark McGwire 'The Man' during his homerun binge in 1998. I followed Sosa's career ever since he first came up with the Rangers, and he was one of the first players whose eventual career path I predicted correctly from the very beginning. (Once I got to age 12 or so, I was starting to analyze statistics quite a bit and try to figure out who would do what. I might eventually try to parlay this via some sort of consulting for a baseball team, but I am focusing on other things at the moment. I'm definitely qualified in terms of ability, though obviously I don't have the official baseball track record I can put in a resume.) More recently, there was the bat corking incident, but I liked Sammy as a player and am sorry to see him ride off into the sunset.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Quantum Stalking

Continuing with today's theme...

The following text comes from John Preskill's typed lecture notes for Ph/CS 219 (Quantum Information Theory):

"But now suppose that you know someone's phone number, and you want to look up her name. Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to a reverse directory, this is a tedious procedure. Chances are you will need to check quite a few entries in the phone book before you come across her number.

"In fact, if the N numbers are listed in a random order, you will need to look up (1/2)N numbers before the probability is P = 1/2 that you have found her number (and hence her name). What Grover discovered is that, if you have a quantum phone book, you can learn her name with high probability by consulting the phone book only about \sqrt{N} times."

There you have it---the real reason Lov Grover's factoring algorithm is such an important scientific achievement! People want to implement it for stalking.

Let's have a black celebration.

In writing this post, I am reminiscing fondly of 2/14/1998, in which Lemming and I hosted the All Cynical and Depressing Song Special: Valentine's Day Edition on Lloyd Radio.

We started with the song "Black Celebration", played cynical and depression songs (all with themes appropriate for Valentine's Day) for a little over two hours, and finished up with "Blow Your Brains Out" (what is the correct title for this song?). During practically the entire show, there were two couples slurping each other in Upper Crotch, which is right next to where we were broadcasting. Our RA was not particularly pleased about the show and its proximity to the couples, but she knew she couldn't stop us. Anyway, I was amused, and that's what counts. :)

So, with that in mind, "Let's have a black celebration." (Then maybe go to Hollywood & Vine and "Whip it good!")

Monday, February 13, 2006

Tales from the arXiv: an article with a cool title

The following was just posted on cond-mat:

\Paper: cond-mat/0602280
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 22:18:29 GMT (190kb)

Title: Much Ado about Zeros: The Luttinger Surface and Mottness
Authors: Tudor D. Stanescu, Philip W. Phillips, and Ting-Pong Choy
Comments: 4 pages 1 .eps file
Subj-class: Strongly Correlated Electrons
\ We prove that the Mott insulating state is characterized by a divergence of the electron self energy at well-defined values of momenta in the first Brillouin zone. When particle-hole symmetry is present, the divergence obtains at the momenta of the Fermi surface for the corresponding non-interacting system. Such a divergence gives rise to a surface of zeros (the Luttinger surface) of the single-particle Green function and offers a single unifying principle of Mottness from which pseudogap phenomena, spectral weight transfer, and broad spectral features emerge in doped Mott insulators.
\\ ( http://arXiv.org/abs/cond-mat/0602280 , 190kb)

While puns are the lowest form of humor, I really like the one used in the title. I approve!

D & D scheduling for weekend of 2/17

There is one evening this weekend I will be unavailable, but I don't know which one it is yet. (I am going with the CPA theatre folks to a play. I voted for Friday because I believe that others can't play that day anyway, but I won't know for a few days what night we're actually going to the play.)

Let us know when you're available to play this weekend.

The Birth of The Pink Panther

That was the working title of The Pink Panther (circa 2006), which I just got back from seeing. As such a huge part of my paradigm, it is very appropriate that the movie came out on my birthday. Some of you, of course, know very well that The Pink Panther has played this role in my life, given that I used it as the theme in my Ditch Day stack and the fact that I hosted several viewings of Pink Panther movies in Lloyd back in the day.

This film was billed as a prequel, although it takes place in the modern era (Clouseau isn't lonely because of the internet, for example). What makes it so is that we see how Clouseau is promoted to Inspector, which is where we get the working title.

Steve Martin did a good job as Clouseau, although I wish Dreyfuss were more neurotic (though Dreyfuss was given roughly the correct amount of abuse). The opening cartoon was awesome. The Clouseau in it was (sensibly) made to look like Steve Martin rather than Peter Sellers. Martin's pre-Inspector outfit reminds me a bit of my version of Clouseau. (There are also some familiar people in the picture with me.) I also wish Cato were around.

Anyway, the movie was very good, although it doesn't match the genius of the original series of films. (The key, of course, is not to hold it up to such standards.) Blake Edwards kind of got shafted in the making of this film, which is really too bad. Nevertheless, I recommend the film highly---don't let the low IMDB rating scare you.

Here are some other not-so-random thoughts: The identity of the murderer was pretty obvious to the audience very early in the film (from meta-knowledge). The James Bond reference was gratuitous (though somewhat amusing). The thing about finding everybody with the name 'You' was highly amusing (and was brought back in the end in a cool manner). At the end, Clouseau solved the murder by figuring things out rather than by stumbling into the perpetrator. True, there was plenty of stumbling, but (IMO) Clouseau simply shouldn't be actually solving any crimes by correct deduction!

Anyway, stop reading this and go see the film!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy 197th Birthday to Charles Darwin!

Continuing the recent birthday theme, Charles Darwin would be 197 if he were alive today. Arcane Gazebo has also posted on this topic.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I have started my research into "Intelligent Congress"---you know, the fact that the Rules and Homeland Security committees have close ties they're not supposed to (during the 107th and 108th Congresses) because of Jesus. So there! :)

I can be so nice in what I say/write sometimes...

Saturday, February 11, 2006


The cover story of the March issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society (the AMS's analog of Physics Today) comes from my work. The actual cover is a portion of a phase portrait of a particular mushroom billiard (to be explained shortly). This is my third cover story overall, but my first in about 4.5 years. One of the others was also for an expository paper and the other was for a pair of research articles that appeared back-to-back.

The first important thing here is to define and discuss mathematical billiards, which come in both classical and quantum varieties. In the classical version, a particle (usually but not always a point particle) collides elastically inside (or sometimes outside) a boundary of some shape, and the properties one gets (whether it's chaotic or not, for example) depend fundamentally on the shape. In the language of classical mechanics, this system has two degrees of freedom, so whether or not a region is chaotic depends on whether anything besides energy is a constant of motion there. The quantum version is essentially a particle-in-a-box, but with funky properties coming from the weird box shapes. (Quantum billiards are fundamental to the subject of quantum chaos, on which I did my Ph.D. thesis.)

Anyway, billiards can either be fully "integrable" (non-chaotic, loosely speaking---though this is not entirely accurate and is certainly not a definition), fully chaotic---either via a direct dispersing mechanism, as in the Sinai billiard (which consists of an exterior square boundary and interior circular one), or a net defocusing mechanism after initial focusing, as in the Bunimovich stadium (which consists of two parallel line segments with circular caps), or mixed (with some integrable regions and some chaotic regions). (The previous sentence is stylistically poor, but I hope you can parse it.) Bunimovich was my postdoc advisor at Georgia Tech, by the way.

A mushroom billiard is a generalization of the stadium billiard. Behavior is regular for trajectories that stay in the cap (because circular billiards are integrable) and chaotic for all trajectories (except for a set of measure zero) that enter the stem. The expository article in question discusses both mushroom billiards and generalized mushroom billiards. Billiards of very precise geometries can---and have been---built in laboratories, by the way. Cold atoms probably give the best control in terms of geometry, but several other systems have been used to do this as well. Also, the infamous question of "Can you hear the shape of a drum?" is a quantum billiard problem (because one again has the Helmholtz equation with homogeneous Dirichlet boundary conditions).

You can find more details in the expository article and an about-to-appear research article of mine (I'll post an entry on this once the published version gets posted online, which might actually be any day now), as well as the references in the expository article, of course.

The plots in the article (and on the cover) were created using a GUI billiard simulator for Matlab that I had one of my students designed. (I subsequently supervised this student's work on scientific problems with the GUI and on some multiple-particle billiards that didn't use the GUI but had some similarities in its code.) Technically, figure 1 was based on a pair of those plots rather than being produced from the GUI per se.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Incrementing the 10s digit

Today I turned 30, or---in the preferred hexadecimal system---1D.

Now that I have achieved one full dimension, I'll try for existence and uniqueness of solutions. (Then I'll try for a non-constructive solution.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Headline: "World's Scientists Admit They Just Don't Like Mice"

This was passed along to me from Maria King, a friend from high school. The article is here. OK, so the press conference actually occurred in 2004, but this was news to me, so I'm passing it along now.

Now, I wonder what those mice in Hitchhiker's Guide would think about this?

Happy Birthday to Jing!

It's Jing's birthday today. She is now 31. As she is a die-hard Scurve, I encourage people to send her pentagrams in celebration.

We need to do a joint birthday party. You should come to Pasadena on Wednesday. :)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fresh from the crackpot files

Here's an abstract of a paper that just got posted on the arXiv:

\Paper: physics/0602051
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2006 15:02:44 GMT (15kb)

Title: A Tempt To Measure Reality
Authors: Bhag C. Chauhan
Comments: 17 pages, Submitted for Foundation of Physics
Subj-class: Popular Physics; Physics and Society
\ Despite the extraordinary successes the two great bastions of $20^{th}$ century science (Quantum Theory and General Relativity) are troubled with serious conceptual and mathematical difficulties. As a result, further growth of fundamental science is at stake. Is this the end of science? Optimistic answer is ``NOT''! In this work, it is argued that science must continue its cruise, but with anew strategy -- a thorough recourse into the grass-root level working of science is inevitable. In fact, our conventional scientific methods are based upon ordinary sense perception, which keeps the outer physical
universe as a separate entity, that is something quite independent of the observer. Basically, it is the observer -- the knower (human mind) -- which makes perception possible. It makes a person or scientist to recognize or refute the existence of an object or a phenomenon. It is also tempted to evince that working of human mind is epistemically scientific and can, in principle, be completely deciphered. It's inclusion in scientific theories, although tedious, can certainly spark a revolution in our understanding of nature and reality.
\\ ( http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0602051 , 15kb)

And even if it isn't the end of science as we know it, it may well be the end of spell-checking as we know it...

How to design a bathroom in the least ergonomic way possible

This room is kind of funny, although it's got a big bed and wireless, so all the necessities of life are basically here.

The bathroom is placed where I thought there would be a closet (I briefly thought there might not be a bathroom). The toilet is flushed via a button rather than a nob, and the button is on top of the thing rather than to the side (it's right under the platform that extends from where the sink is). The towel racks are all about as far away from the sink as possible and the toilet paper rack is on the opposite side of the room as the toilet. Seriously, who designed this?

Anyway, if I don't wrench my arm out of its socket while I get ready for bed and then when I get ready for the big day tomorrow, I am very much looking forward to the discussions and lab tour during the next couple days. I know a bunch of the people here from before, so I'll get a chance to see what research they're up to nowadays + I'll meet some new people (some of whom have posted arXiv articles I didn't have time to read, so this is my chance to learn about them), so this should be fun. The seminar part is kind of stressful, but the one-on-one conversations (and lab tours!) are the part of a scientific interview where I get to enjoy myself even while the stakes are high.

I'm trying for one of my dream jobs and how many people get that chance.

This is a new one

I flew via Alaska Airlines for the first time. (It was the most convenient/cheapest flight I saw on Expedia.) When they gave us our food, I noticed that the meal came with a card that said 'Alaska Airlines' and a psalm on it (I mention their logo to highlight that the airline is sponsoring this). I've never seen this before, and it annoyed me. (I made a point to tear up that card and leave it on top of my leftovers.) Have any of you seen this before on an airplane? I'm assuming the owner of the airline is a devote Christian or something and is proselytizing, because I otherwise don't see the purpose of this. Presumably, there's no reason they wouldn't be allowed to do it, but this makes me uncomfortable, so I'm going to be voting with my wallet on this one and choosing other airlines if the price is comparable. (If Alaska Airlines is cheaper, I'll suck up their annoying cards, because of sense of cheapness is pretty acute as well.)

By the way, it occurred to me during the flight that churches should have 'Beware of God' signs in front of them. Maybe the bark is worse than the bite?

I'm tired and hungry. Damn flight delays. I considered ordering food, but I need to get up early tomorrow, so I'm better of being hungry now and eating breakfast (which is unusual for me) tomorrow.

What global warming?

Here is an article concerning the resignation of George Deutsch, who was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on George II's re-election campaign and inaugural committee. This guy was helping to try to prevent people from bringing global warming issues to the public. It turns out that his resume was padded in the sense that he attended Texas A & M but didn't actually graduate from it (despite the claim on his resume). This was first reported in a blog on Monday, so I'm waiting for the Gazebo to take his shot at ending the career of someone in Washington. :)

Also, I wanted to make a brief comment on the issue of resume padding. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, but I remember a discussion I had with a couple people at Georgia Tech (a Masters student who then got hired at GTRI and a couple undergrads) who apparently are not flagrantly against crap like this the way I am. Their attitude (which seems to correspond far more closely to the prevalent one than mine does) is it's ok if one can get away with it. They didn't take too kindly when I informed them how disgusting that attitude was. Their counter was to invoke a situation in which I found out that somebody who worked for me (and who I felt was doing very good work) had padded their resume that had been part of the decision-making process when I hired them. They felt I should be happy because of the quality of the work and that the other stuff didn't matter. Basically, that's utter shit because once I find out that they've done that, I can't trust them to be honest with me about their science. There's no way, for example, that I'd be able to vouch for their work again because in my head I'd always have this feeling that they might be dishonest about that too (after having seen precedent for it). This seems so obvious to me, but apparently it's not for many people.

700 Sundays + a couple other notes

I spent today at my parents' place. (Well, my brother picked me up a little after 11am, we dealt with a doctor's appointment, and another errand, and then we headed home.) I went with my brother and mother to see Billy Crystal's "700 Sundays" at the Wilshire Theatre. It was decent and definitely had some very funny moments (especially in the second half), but it wasn't anything special in my opinion and he dwelled on many points far longer than they deserved. My brother was actually seeing it for the second time, so I guess he really likes it. Most of the audience seemed to love it, but to me it was no more than decent.

My mother was having lots of trouble walking, and I noticed one of those 4-legged things people can use to help stabilize themselves when they walk (although she didn't use it). I hadn't seen that before (including when I was here a month ago), nor had I noticed this degree of difficulty in her walking before. Getting down the stairs after the show was quite a chore, and the theatre was not designed in a way that facilitates things for people having such trouble. Anyway, my grandparents were already old when I came into the world, so this is obviously a bit different mentally (as far as the way I see these things).

There's stuff I found out today I could rant about a great deal (like apparently having to suddenly write a check for a HUGE sum within two weeks when the person [my brother] who informed me of this today already knew about this several months ago and never bothered to tell me---actually, I still don't have a complete explanation of where this is coming from, so I'll be getting that and seeing the "bill" before I am willing to pay a cent---and the simple apology I got for this was on the order of an I'm sorry I ate your hamburger apology that just doesn't come close to cutting it), but I'll stick with this for now. If I go completely all out on this, it will help to remove the calm state I am attempting to attain for my interview. I have managed to calm myself down today, and maybe it's just the existence of other problems removing the "immediate" stress I've been experiencing lately.

Oh, and a nice microcosm of what it's like dealing with my family (and why I don't consider myself to really be a part of it---it's like I'm their et mathematician or something---he's refuting what we say; oh how cute!) comes from the following snippet of an exchange with my father about 30 minutes ago:

My father: [[states an opinion]]

Me: "That's against all empirical evidence."

My father: "It doesn't matter."

Note that there was no attempt to refute my statement about where the evidence lies (which is fair; maybe there's some reason to believe that's not what the evidence shows)---just a statement that empirical evidence makes no difference to when it comes to his making his claim. My comment was simply dismissed.

Now the matter being discussed happened to be inconsequential, but I've seen him do the same thing on political stuff, world events, etc.

My response was to give a firm rebuke, finish the conversation, and return to the comfort of my computer and solitude. If attempts to bring evidence into play are just going to be dismissed as being irrelevant, there's really not much point to having any sort of conversation.

Oh, so how many separate 666 point cards are getting played from this one?

At least I ranted while remaining calm. Hell, I ranted more about the microcosm than about the fucking over I got, and the latter is kind of more important (at least financially)---probably because I couldn't have remained calm if I went on too long about the latter.

Now it's time to do the best I can with my interview. The place is a really good fit for me, and I think this is the best opportunity I've ever had.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Preferential attachment model for wikipedia

A paper discussing a preferential attachment model for wikipedia was just posted on the arXiv:

\Paper: physics/0602026
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 2006 00:07:39 GMT (50kb)

Title: Preferential attachment in the growth of social networks: the case of
Authors: A. Capocci, V.D.P. Servedio, F. Colaiori, L.S. Buriol, D. Donato, S.
Leonardi and G. Caldarelli
Comments: 4 pages, 4 figures, revtex
Subj-class: Physics and Society
\ We present an analysis of the statistical properties and growth of the free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia. By describing topics by vertices and hyperlinks between them as edges, we can represent this encyclopedia as a directed graph. The topological properties of this graph are in close analogy with that of the World Wide Web, despite the very different growth mechanism. In particular we measure a scale--invariant distribution of the in-- and out-- degree and we are able to reproduce these features by means of a simple statistical model. As a major consequence, Wikipedia growth can be described by local rules such as the preferential attachment mechanism, though users can act globally on the network.
\\ ( http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0602026 , 50kb)

Also just appearing on the arXiv was the archival sequel of my paper on Congress. I'll discuss this more later after we go through the refereeing process, but maybe you'll be interested in taking a look at what I like to call the "Zell Miller plot". Here is the arxiv entry:

\Paper: physics/0602033
Date: Sat, 4 Feb 2006 22:41:34 GMT (376kb)

Title: Community Structure in the United States House of Representatives
Authors: Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, M. E. J. Newman, and A. J. Friend
Comments: 46 pages (double spaced, 10 pt), 11 figures (some with multiple parts
and most in color), submitted to Social Networks
Subj-class: Physics and Society; Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability
\ We investigate the networks of committee and subcommittee assignments in the United States House of Representatives from the 101st--108th Congresses, with committees connected according to ``interlocks'' or common membership. We
examine the House's community structure using several methods, which reveal strong links between different committees as well as the intrinsic hierarchical structure within the House as a whole. We identify structural changes, including additional hierarchical levels and higher modularity, resulting from the 1994 elections, in which the Republican party earned majority status in the House for the first time in more than forty years. We also combine our network approach with analysis of roll call votes using singular value decomposition to uncover correlations between the political and organizational structure of
House committees.
\\ ( http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/0602033 , 376kb)

You can also find the paper here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Superbowl commercials

Thanks to this link posted by the Gazebo, I was able to take a look at the new Superbowl commercials (or at least some reasonable fraction thereof) without actually watching the Superbowl. (Today was a tremendously "fun" day of preparing seminar slides...)

The Emerlad Nuts one was cool, and the Jackie Chan "stunt double" one also stands out.

D & D scheduling for weekend of 2/10

I am out of town until about 12:30 on Saturday, so I am available all day on Sunday and starting in the late afternoon on Saturday.

That said, I have a strong preference for Sunday if it's possible because I'm going to be very tired on Saturday. I would, however, like to go out to dinner on Saturday (Black Angus?) to help me unwind from my interview.

Let me know what your availabilities are next weekend.

My birthday celebration will be on Wednesday 2/15. I'll send a separate e-mail about this. I still need to figure out precise timing.


I saw Transamerica today. It's kind of like Brokeback Mountain (which I haven't seen), except with Transformers instead of cowboys. If you want to find out about the real relationship between Megatron and Soundwave, then this is the movie to see! (Well, what did you think all those cassettes were for? They're props, of course!)

OK, so the movie is really about a transgendered person getting a grip with past life to be able to move ahead. It's not great as a whole (it's decent), although the Oscar-nominated song from the film actually is pretty reasonable and Felicity Huffman gave an extremely good performance in the starring role. The movie has some good lines and does a good job sending it's message, but it wasn't entirely my cup of tea. (Basically, it's clear to me why the movie is getting rave reviews, but I was hoping it would have more of the comedic moments that I was under the impression were included.)

I've been wanting to see Munich and Capote, but I just haven't been in the mood for movies that serious (that are also on touchy subjects). I want more vampires.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Will a Tit-for-Tat strategy win this contest too?

James Fowler, a UC Davis political scientist (with whom I may be collaborating on some future Congressional networks research---we've been discussing some of this stuff on and off since May) is co-running a contest with Michael Laver of NYU a tournament for party strategies in a dynamic agent-based spatial model of party competition. This contest is directly motivated by Robert Axelrod's famous tournament for strategies in the repeat-play prisoner’s dilemma game, in which some variant of the Tit-for-Tat strategy keeps winning every time. (The simplest version of this strategy is to do in turn N [namely, defect or cooperate] exactly what your opponent did in turn N - 1 with a 50/50 initial condition.)

The link I gave has a lot more details for this contest, which is ideal for applied mathematics/CS/algorithm people. The deadline is 4/15 (probably no coincidence there). I only remembered to pass along this info recently---James asked me to pass this along recently when he was giving me some comments on a paper draft I'm about to submit for publication. I saw the announcement on his website earlier, but I hadn't remembered to spread the news. Stuff like this would make a superb project for Caltech undergrads (ignoring their time constraints, for a second) and former ones, for that matter.

(Note: This is a republishing of an entry from yesterday that accidently got erased. Blogspot's been a bit flaky during the last day or so.)

"Honk if you're in an excited state."

This is a bumper sticker that I would like to see.

One that I saw (on a stop sign in Atlanta's gay epicenter) was "Too many gerbils, too little time." One of which I have heard but have never seen is "Sorry I didn't go to church on Sunday. I was too busy practicing witchcraft and becoming a lesbian."

Any favorites you want to share?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Phoning home in San Francisco's ballpark

The San Fransisco Giant's ballpark is again changing its name from that of one communications company to another. It has been known as SBC Park but will now be called AT & T Park. Actually, it's not really fair for me to use the term "different company" because SBC purchased AT & T and will be changing its name to the latter one. Before it was called SBC Park, the stadium was called Pacific Bell Park. Where is The Stick when we need it? (Candlestick Park ended its life under the name of 3Com Park.)

Notice the trend...?

Coming February 14th: The Red Hand of Doom

No really... A Dungeons & Dragons accessory called The Red Hand of Doom is scheduled to be released on Valentine's Day. I love it!

Here is a blurb about the product, which faces the players against Tiamat worshippers. While looking at this, I noticed that a 3rd edition version of the Tome of Magic is coming out in March. The link is here. It looks like it may not share much more than the name with the second edition version of that book, but we'll see. I'm intrigued, at the very least.

In deference to Ben Williamson, at least we're talking about the Red Hand of doom instead of The Black Hand of doom. (Do any of you know to whom that refers? There is a specific Caltech alum who some of us known as The Black Hand (out of respect for Ben).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Disciples of Millikan Man

I was getting a haircut after work today and NBC news was on. They were discussing some murders (including an apparently record-setting spree by a postal worker or former postal worker who, as the saying goes, went postal) when they gave a teaser for after their commercial break for a rescue of Caltech students dressed in tutus after an incident that the police were investigating in the context of hazing. Right before the next commercial break, they gave another teaser (essentially repeating the statements from before) but also showed a very brief video clip of campus. Basically, all they showed was the a pan of the words "Page House" (what a shock).

The initiation ritual in question was the annual Mount Wilson trip for Page frosh, where they are paraded around parts of Pasadena in funny outfits (in this case, capes and tutus were mentioned in the article), driven up to Mt. Wilson at night, from which they had to walk 10 miles back to Page. Now, I can't say anything about this year's event, but I know from my era that Page frosh were not forced to participate (at least not in Winter 97, to be technically accurate about my statement). I wouldn't put it past some of the people from Page (Sux) to do this, but I'm guessing there was no hazing involved here.

What happened was some unforseen road blockage, so the Techers had to call for a rescue, and they got picked up at around 3am. According to the AP Wire report (shown here in the San Jose Mercury News), they didn't have appropriate equipment (like flashlights and clothing for cold weather) with them. As one of the rescuers said, "You've got to remember that common sense is not factored into the intelligence quotient." I know we've all seen that at Tech...

I just checked Travis's blog to see if he already wrote something about this. He did, so here is his entry.

Update (2/2/06): I was misremembering something yesterday. As Lemming mentioned in the comments on Travis's entry, the upperclassmen are waiting in cars two or three miles away (although I wonder if the frosh have had to walk all the way back some years?). However, I do have vague memories of Greg Fricke '00 missing the pick-up and actually walking all the way back to Page.