Monday, July 31, 2006

New Dodgers

The Dodgers just traded for Greg Maddux and Julio Lugo.

For one thing, we do seem to have quite a large collection of former Braves these days...

From a baseball standpoint, my feelings are mixed. While Maddux is nowhere close to what he used to be, getting him only cost us Cesar Izturis, who no longer has a starting position on the team (once Jeff Kent comes back from his injury). We didn't trade any prospects to get Maddux, so this is a good trade simply because we traded entirely from surplus. From a personal standpoint (i.e., one that has nothing to do with whether the trade improves the team), Greg Maddux has been one of my favorite players for a very long time. He is an artist on the mound and is an absolute pleasure to watch (and was especially awesome to watch in his prime). I am thus very happy about this trade.

I'm a little confused about the trade for Julio Lugo, which cost us prospects Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza. I don't know anything about Pedroza, but I'm not worried about the loss of Guzman. He was once highly touted, but his star has seriously fallen and he has fallen way down our prospect depth chart. (My understanding is that the Dodgers came to consider him a stiff and wanted to get rid of him before the rest of the teams also realized he's a stiff.) The thing that confuses me here is that Lugo is now going to take the role that Izturis had: he'll play second while Kent is injured and then will be a sort of super-utility guy. I can't see him remaining with the Dodgers after this year. (I think he becomes a free agent after the year.) It is true that he is better for this role than Izturis, if for no other reason than he's a much better bat off the bench, but while I don't think we lost much with this trade, would we really be better off with Lugo on the roster than one of our younger guys? (For that matter, why are we still clogging up a roster spot with Sandy Alomar, Jr., who has had something like 5 plate appearances ever since we acquirec catcher Toby Hall. Hmmm... this is our third trade with the Devil Rays since the end of the 2005 season.)

A couple days ago, the Dodgers traded Dannys Baez and Willy Aybar to the Braves for Wilson Betemit. Personally, I think Aybar is about as good a prospect as is Betemit (probably because plate disciplines is one of my turn-ons), so hopefully this is one of those situations where their assessment is better than mine. To be sure, Betemit is an excellent prospect, but I just don't see him as a better prospect than the guy we used in the trade.

All of this notwithstanding, we didn't really lose anything from our farm system, which is still extraordinarily deep. I'm not sure how this year will pan out, but our prospects for 2007 and beyond are extremely bright (where are my shades?) and it will certainly be fun watching Greg Maddux pitch on a regular basis.

Update: It fell under my radar, but it's been pointed out to me that we traded Sandy Alomar Jr already. I looked this up, and indeed on 7/23 we sent him to the White Sox for a minor league pitcher. Clearly, I am not paying enough attention to baseball...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

SoaP: the mass market paperback series

I was browsing in Borders and noticed a novelization of Snakes on a Plane. At least one original follow-up work is on the way. (I'm not sure if it's a sequel or set "in the same world.")

Also, the mathematics section was selling a copy of Snakes on a Hyperbolic 3-Manifold.

10 years ago on this date...

Tommy Lasorda retired as Dodger manager.

Friday, July 28, 2006

65th birthday luncheon for my father

This was last Sunday, and I was back home in Beverly Hills for the occasion.

There wasn't really anything noteworthy about the celebration except that there were a lot of old people there. I was at the "kid's table," which consisted of 30-40 year olds (my sister, age 28, was the youngest person at the table) plus one pair of oldsters who crashed the party.

Towards the end, a couple people did whip out their babies ("Let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel."), but we were the youngest ones there for a while.

I was fairly tired after having gotten little sleep the night before, and that had the effect of slightly reducing the number of snarky comments I made during the event (but I still got a few good ones in).

On this date 15 years ago...

I was at the Dodger game on 7/28/91. We were playing the Expos and their pitcher, Dennis Martinez, pitched a perfect game against us. Somewhere in my parents' house, I have the pictures I took that day. (I haven't known where those pictures are since the early 90s, and I would really love to find them...)

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Some places have dot races. Others have (virtual) car races. Milwaukee has sausage races.

In fact, the Milwaukee Brewers have had live sausage races (with people dressed as various types of sausages) at their ballpark since 2000. And starting next year, a new sausage will be in the race. (Well, he'll be in one race this year but then will head back to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning.)

There have been some amusing moments over the years. One time, Dodger pitcher Hideo Nomo wore one of the sausage suits and joined the race. The best one, though, was Sausagegate. (Also, here are some quotes when the particular sausage in question announced her retirement from sausage racing.)

"Kids are like people" (so I hear)

Here is the text of an e-mail I just sent to the editor of Beverly Hills Weekly:

From: Mason A. Porter
Subject: comment on 'Novel Summer Reads' story

One of the people you interviewed for this article said the following words:

"Kids are like people," she said. "They have a really wide variety of personal tastes and favorite subjects and reading skills."

I find this highly amusing, as I always thought that kids actually were people.

I've heard rumors that adults are like people too, but I suspect that is idle speculation.

Mason A. Porter '94

(The article is essentially about some of the popular books people in Beverly Hills are reading this summer. The article isn't anything special per se, but this quote is an absolute gem.)

Key to my favorite Gamer motivational posters

Given the link situation, Lorian asked me at dinner to give some more details so people could actually make a point at looking at the posters I highlighted (though with Safari I had no problem loading them in a new tab). Here they are:

Alignment (I'm the guy with the gun)
Hope (think outliers at Cons)
Int (not everyone uses charisma as a dump stat)
Low Level Supers ("I shovel well!" OK, it's a different group, but still...)
Owlbear (Once again, go Sawtooth!)
Sneak Attack
True Neutral ("We will see who uses the duct tape.")
Youthful Innocence

Hmmm... I haven't been to a Con for close to two years. I want to go to a fantasy/sci-fi Con...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Meet me in the back alley at the stroke of midnight

Paper: cond-mat/0607659
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 16:27:26 GMT (109kb)

Title: Response to "Response to the Comment on 'Performance of a Spin Based Insulated Gate Field Effect Transistor' "
Authors: S. Bandyopadhyay and M. Cahay
Comments: This is a response to cond-mat/0607432. We had submitted a Comment on the original paper by Hall and Flatte to Applied Physics Letters which is currently still under review. Cond-mat/0607432 is apparently Hall and Flatte's response to our Comment. Here we show that the arguments in the response are flawed
Subj-class: Mesoscopic Systems and Quantum Hall Effect
\ We show that the arguments in the posting cond-mat/0607432 by Flatte and Hall are flawed and untenable. Their spin based transistor cannot work as claimed because of fundamental scientific barriers, which cannot be overcome now, or ever. Their device is not likely to work as a transistor at room temperature, let alone outperform the traditional MOSFET, as claimed.
\\ ( , 109kb)

I don't know about you, but I am eagerly awaiting for Response to 'Response to "Response to the Comment on 'Performance of a Spin Based Insulated Gate Field Effect Transistor' " ' to be posted.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

We suck.

The Dodgers just lost their 7th straight game; it's also their 12th loss in the last 13 games. At least we got rid of Odalis Perez.

Gamer motivational posters

Courtesy Justin, here are some motivational posters for gamers.

Many of them are hilarious.

A couple that particularly resonate with me are this one, this one, this one, this one, this one (one actually does see occasional outliers at cons), this one, this one (though they should have used the Mystery Men), this one (go Sawtooth!), this one (one of my players played an extremely rabid id insinuating thri-kreen when I DMed second edition...), this one, this one, and (last but not least) this one.

The gazebo one is really cool too, of course, but Arcane Gazebo already posted that one.

Quick update: The links are actually correct. For some reason, they're only working for me if I load them into a separate tab and reload. I don't understand this at all.

When verbs don't sound like verbs

A new Cornell study shows that the sound of a word tells us something about how it's used.

The press release (which I find very interesting) begins as follows:

For more than 100 years the standard view among traditional language theorists was that, with the exception of onomatopoeia like "fizz" and "beep," the sound of a word tells us nothing about how it is used. This seemingly arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning in human language is hailed as singular to our species.

A new Cornell study takes that view to task.

For some reason, this report is making me think of a line in Kill Bill, Vol. 1: "My name is Buck. ..."

Monday, July 24, 2006

"Nonlinearity Management in Optics: Experiment, Theory, and Simulation"

My paper, Nonlinearity Management in Optics: Experiment, Theory, and Simulation, just got published in Physical Review Letters.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, this is my first ever PRL. It has been highlighted in Physical Review Focus. A blurb is slated to be published in Laser Focus World and Caltech is considering making a press release about this work.

This was also my first work in which I did stuff really closely with experimentalists. The authors and the abstract are below.

Authors: Centurion, Martin; Porter, Mason A.; Kevrekidis, P. G.; and Psaltis, Demetri

Abstract: We conduct an experimental investigation of nonlinearity management in optics using femtosecond pulses and layered Kerr media consisting of glass and air. By examining the propagation properties over several diffraction lengths, we show that wave collapse can be prevented. We corroborate these experimental results with numerical simulations of the (2+1)-dimensional focusing cubic nonlinear Schrödinger equation with piecewise constant coefficients and a theoretical analysis of this setting using a moment method.

This would be called a multi-layer "Kerr sandwich."

I received this advertisement by e-mail a few minutes ago.

Dear Colleague,

Mice generated by Ozgene have been published in scientific journals such as
PNAS, Nature, Science and Blood. For a complete list of publications visit our
website at

The latest publication involving mice generated by Ozgene was in June 2006:
York IA, Brehm MA, Zendzian S, Towne CF, Rock KL. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006
Jun 13;103(24):9202-7

Why not get Ozgene to help generate the mice for your next publication?

Best regards,

Dr Frank Koentgen
Director & CEO
Ozgene Pty Ltd

So, do you think I can make a good quantum computer with some mice and a blender?

Darkly Scanning

This entry is a bit late...

A Scanner Darkly (based on a novel by Philip K. Dick) was simply awesome! It is on the short list of the best films I've seen this year.

The film's tone was set at the very beginning with the "aphid" attack. The cel-shading was extremely sweet and Robert Downey Jr. gave a simply commanding performance. (In fact, the entire casting was excellent, but Downey Jr. particular shined.)

It is often not entirely clear what is true and what is delusion, and my understanding is that that is one of Philip K. Dick's specialities. (I haven't read any of his stuff yet, but I have a book of his short stories on my shelf, and it's waiting for me to start reading it.)

The movie was depressing in many respects, but it also had some extremely amusing moments, and I just loved Keanu's 'druggie posing as a narc' comment. That was priceless.

Lemming commented on this movie here. He mentions that this movie really got the Dick feel right. (OK, that was not intentionally phrased that way, but I'm going to suppress the urge to rephrase it.)

In sum, go see this movie. It's awesome.

A new use for bananas

Courtesy Ben Williamson (who IMed me the link), I see that bananas are now being used to support Creatism. What the fuck?

Now, I think that most of you reading this know how vile I think bananas are. Even the thought of eating one of those things makes me nauseous. (I'm probably going to have to delay my lunch a few minutes because of this.) Hence, not only does this video give the typical Creationist bullshit but it (perhaps even more offensively) actually promotes bananas as some sort of evidence of perfection.

First of all, there is no god. (And Christianity is just a red herring...) Second of all, if there were one, if he/she/it proposed bananas as any sort of perfection, I would immediately cease worshipping such a being. Simply, fruits that make me barf are not evidence of divinity!


Adventures in journal publishing

My collaborators and I submitted a paper to Physica D a couple weeks ago.

The request to review this paper was sent this morning to one of the co-authors of the paper. Um, the editors ought to be checking this...

Anyway, this gives a novel reason to decline to referee a paper: "I'm sorry. I can't referee this paper because I'm one of its bloody authors. That said, you should publish it as is."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Crosseyed and Painless

Earlier today, one of my pupils had something like half the radius of the other. It looked really weird. (The wikipedia link gives the name for this condition and discusses possible causes.)

My eyes look normal right now, so that's a good sign---especially given that my eyes are one of my few aspects that are consistently complimented. (It's basically my eyes, my t-shirts, and my wit---and the latter two are correlated.) I need to hold on to what few boons I have.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Is anyone else surprised by this result?

Fresh from the arxiv...

\Paper: physics/0607183
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2006 18:19:17 GMT (23kb)

Title: Football: A Naive Approximation to the Effect of Increasing Goal Size on the Number of Goals
Authors: J. Mira
Comments: 4 pages
Subj-class: Physics and Society; Popular Physics
\ The effect of increasing goal mouth size on the number of goals scored in a football match is discussed in a very preliminary and simple way, considering elastic collisions of the ball with the posts. The result is obtained on the basis of data taken from the Spanish Professional League, that show a high number of shots-to-post. Surprisingly, there is a direct correlation of the increase in goal mouth area with the increase of goals.
\\ ( , 23kb)

Signs of the apocalypse

Gazebo already used the standard REM reference with his title, so I decided to be a bit more prosaic.

As he points out, some people are taking the war in the Middle East to be a sign of impending doom. (Some people have also apparently indicated that this may be the beginning of World War III, but I like to think of it more as Super World War II Turbo. Because, really, how much different will this be than the prequel?)

To lend credence to the impending apocalypse, I'd like to point out a few other signs that point in the same direction:

1. Sloan Annex (the building in which I have my office) is sinking into the Pacific Ocean. (There was some really funky bright blue-green goop leaking from the ceiling. Maybe it's not always so good to be in the condensed matter building...)

2. The Pirates have been winning games lately.

3. George Bush is stirring in his slumber. (This increases the toughness of all Rednecks by +1.)

I'd like to encourage other people to contribute their favorite apocaplytic signs. What else has happened recently that might signal the end of the world?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A cookie in the Mail folder on ITS

I was reconfiguring pine on my its account to use ssl (as this will be required starting in the fall, and I wanted to get it out of the way), and I found the following statement in the Mail folder: "vlovian relationship with The Ride can have side benefits as well." Well, the beginning is cut off (although it's obvious that it's "Pavlovian").

I wonder who put it there? This might have been inserted many moons ago.

I assume others can find this statement as well and it isn't just me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Academic stuff from the SIAM Meeting

I'll delay my review of A Scanner Darkly for a day or so and finish off my conference blog entries.

I co-organized a pair of sessions on Bose-Einstein condensates. We had talks about theory, numerics, and experiments, and hopefully some collaborative efforts will eventually result from some of the discussions we had. I gave a talk on my stuff as part of this pair of sessions, but I had been awake for 24 hours and I wasn't as coherent as I wanted to be.

I gave a second talk at the meeting---on Friday in a data mining and signal processing session. I spoke about Congress, and I had the advantage that the person right before me was awful. The talks in that session were 15 minutes (+ 5 for questions). He had 33 slides that were absolutely loaded with theorems and equations. There was far more stuff in there than one could put in a full hour's talk, so it was really a perfect example of what not to do. I wish my students were there to see it.

Because this meeting was joint with the PDE one, there are tons of people who I knew. I didn't have a chance to talk to all of them, but I was constantly seeing people I knew (some of them important, others peons like me).

My NSF program manager (for my grant proposal) made it a point to come up to me and tell me exactly what I needed to fix to cross from epsilon below the award threshhold (which is where I was this year) to above it. Obviously, there are no guarantees, but he went out of his way to give me explicit information beyond what was in the written reports, and I appreciated this a great deal. It was above and beyond the call of duty, and he increased the (already significant) amount of respect I had for him.

I had some discussions with a quantum chaos person I had met a few years ago. (I knew he'd be at the conference.) I had been communicating with him because of some projects a couple of my students are doing this summer, so we had a nice long chat.

I was told that I apparently came extremely close to being offered the UC Davis job during the 04-05 season. (I was also told they were going to advertise, that I should apply, and e-mail the person in question when I did.) I wasn't planning to broach the subject, but I was very glad to receive the info. In terms of just missing, the difference is small when viewed microscopically but extremely large macroscopically. (This phrasing is correct when using the physics/applied math meaning of those terms. Think of two things that score 1.21111 versus 1.21110, which leads to "macroscopic" rankings of 1 and 2.) I also found out that I likely would have gotten the SMU job had I not needed to defer for one year to be a postdoc at Tech. (Then I could have seen them construct W's presidential library firsthand...)

Anyway, there were other academic things. I kept in touch with a prominent popular math freelance writer (who was a Scurve from back in the day). This is who I would contact if I ended up going in that direction. He'll be visiting Pasadena in mid September, so I'm going to try to get him to talk to the California Tech people who are in town at that time.

I think there's some more I could mention, but I'll stop here.

Display-only croissants

I had a brief stop at the Dallas airport on my flight home from Boston.

It was late enough that most things were closed, but I tried to get some food from a couple places near my gates (I should have explored farther afield). A pizza place was sadly out of spaghetti, so I figured I'd just get a chocolate croissant from Au Bon Pan. They said they didn't have any, despite the several (I think six of them) that were clearly on display. I asked them about those and was told that those were "for display only." While the concept of a display-only croissant isn't wholly unreasonable (and I'm sure I've seen it before), this was ridiculous. (My internal reaction was "What?!?") In principal, I could have asked about some other flavor, but I figured I shouldn't bother and went hungry instead.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Offices coupled by a thermostat

An explanation for why my office gets bloody hot has finally been found. (I had been wondering why my office was always so much hotter than the hallways, but I had never though to ask...) The thermostat that controls it is in a different office, which is currently occupied by experimentalists with less computer equipment than we have. In fact, my office is pretty much 10 or so degrees hotter than theirs. They had the thermostat set at 72 (and none of us knew that they were controlling my temperature too), so my office was very uncomfortable. The good news is that they are moving upstairs this week and that office will not be occupied for a couple months. The thermostat has already been lowered to something reasonable, and as soon as they move, I am lowering it to its minimum setting. The new residents won't arrive until after the weather is cooler and they will be theorists, so presumably they will have comparable computer equipment in their room and accordingly have a desire to put their thermostat down to a lower temperature.

In the long term, a sort of splitter can be installed, but there has to be a work order to do it, and somebody in the physics department needs to agree to foot the bill for that to happen.

Damn experimentalists.

Has Putin been reading the Necronomicon?

I'm stealing this entry from Gazebo.

Vladimir Putin was sent roughly 150000 questions and the 4th most popular of these was concerned with the possible awakening of Cthulhu. I approve!

It was asserted in the thread of the blog entry to which Gazebo linked that some concerted effort was likely involved, and I'm inclined to agree with this. I approve! (But I'd approve even more if the rank of #4 was achieved without any special effort...)

Here's a short quote from the article (the entirety of which I sadly won't get to read because I don't subscribe): Putin said he viewed mysterious forces with suspicion and advised those who took them seriously to read the Bible, Koran or other religious books.

Summer Fun Cthulhu, with whom I share an office on campus, is vigorously nodding his agreement. (Hey, how come he gets to stir in his slumber while I have to do work? There's no way he'll ever get his Ph.D. that way...)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I want this motherfucking snake out of my motherfucking garden!

Samuel L. Jackson is going to provide the voice of God in a new audio version of the bible.

(Props go out to Ben Williamson for the link and the inspiration for the title of this entry.)

"Does the velocity of your hand cool the food down in your mouth?"

This line was part of Steve Lyons's brilliant analysis at the bottom of the 4th inning in today's Dodgers-Cardinals game. Ugh.

Techers at SIAM Annual Meeting (and Cornell people too)

I always see several Techers from my era at the APS March Meeting, which is absolutely huge. I occasionally see one or maybe two (typically one) at other meetings, such as the SIAM Annual Meeting, which are still big (around 1000 people for this one), but nowhere near the size of the March Meeting.

Besides me, attending this meeting were Lloydies Melvin Leok '00, Damian Burch '00, and Emily (Jennings) Evans (who was a Lloydie in my class, but transferred). Scurve Richard Yeh '98 (but originally part of '97) was also at the meeting. He overlapped with me at Cornell as well---he was in the physics department there---and I have seen him at a couple different March Meetings as well. I see Melvin at 1-2 conferences every year because we have some reasonably overlapping research interests. (We've even spoken in the same session once before.)

There were also Techers from other eras at the meeting. It turns out that one of the speakers I invited for my session was an undergrad at Tech (maybe I knew before but forgot?) and also a Lloydie. This was Chandra Raman '90, who I know because he's a physics professor at Georgia Tech. I knew before the conference that Darb Jared Bronski '89 would be there. (He works on problems in nonlinear waves as well, and I pick his brain from time to time.) There was also a current Caltech undergrad, who I assume Tim knows because she did a SURF under Oscar Bruno. (Let it be known that once in a life, a girl walked up to me to start a conversation because I had Caltech on my name tag. While this has no actual significance, I'm making this remark now because it will probably be a long time before this happens again.)

One recently-graduated grad turkey (Laurent Demanent, Ph.D. 2006) was also there. I believe there were only three of us at the meeting who currently hail from Caltech.

If I am allowed to go back in time further, I'm sure there were plenty of older Techers there. Two of them are Cleve Moler (the inventor of Matlab) and Alejandro Aceves (who is a professor at University of New Mexico and got his Masters in applied math at Tech back in the day). Aceves is a nonlinear optics person, so I had a chance to keep him updated on my current work. (I have recently started doing some stuff in nonlinear optics, so he was very interested to hear about that.)

I also saw a couple Techers who weren't attending the meeting. I had dinner with Jit Kee Chin '01 on Tuesday night and Melvin, Damian, Joe Blitztein '99, and me went to lunch on Thursday. (Joe, who I hadn't seen since 1999, was there searching for an apartment. He has been hired as a tenure-track professor in statistics at Harvard, which is pretty damn impressive. I hadn't previously realized this, but people in statistics don't need to do postdocs. That's quite a bit different from my fields...) On Thursday, I had a meeting with alum Kelly Beatty (some year a long time ago), an editor (the editor in chief?) of Sky & Telescope. He is helping out with some stuff for the Legends III book, which is currently slated to appear in May 2007. (Yes, we have gotten several extensions on this project.)

Unsurprisingly, there were also two Cornell applied math people from my era at the conference. I met up with a third (not attending the meeting) Wednesday at lunch.

In a future entry, I'll discuss some of the academic stuff and mention the "display only" croissants I saw in the Dallas airport.

No saves

Saturday 7/15 marked the first fully scheduled day in Major League Baseball in 28 years in which not even a single save was recorded. That's pretty cool.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I'm amused.

In H. P. Lovecraftt's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," the residents of Innsmouth are described as "white trash." The way Lovecraft is using the word isn't quite the way we use white trash today (where it is strongly correlated with Redneck). He refers to it as meaning "lawless and sly, and full of secret doings." The origin of the term comes from Southern black slaves, who used this term for some of the white people working the fields with them (for people who were viewed as even lower than them).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Reds are dumb.

The Cincinatti Reds just made an absolutely awful trade with the Nationals. They have worsened their team for both the short term and the long term. I'm "impressed."

Lounge Piano

I'm only blogging about this now because it's occurring to me at the moment.

The person currently at the piano is playing Tiny Dancer, which is a song I absolutely adore. He just got through playing Billy Joel's "Always a Woman." In fact, many of the songs I've heard from people and from the auto-play have been familiar, but this is the first time I've managed to actually identify them.

On Tuesday night, Melvin and I noticed that there seemed to be a disk determining what was being played and that this part of the piano was locked. (I was briefly wondering if there would be a way to get the piano to play The Ride... there have been enough Techers around --- I'll blog on this later --- that I could have gotten a very nice result.)

Interesting article in women scientist discussion

Last year, former Harvard president Lawrence Summers caused quite a stir with his comment that innate differences between the genders might explain the number disparity we see.

Here is an interesting article in the Washington Post that follows up a commentary in Nature by scientist Ben Barres (who used to be Barbara Barres).

Aside from the article being interesting, there is the following highly amusing anecdote:

After he underwent a sex change nine years ago at the age of 42, Barres recalled, another scientist who was unaware of it was heard to say, "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Congrats to Louis Wang!

Louis's wife gave birth on July 1st. (I knew it was imminent. The official e-mail announcement was just sent out right now.)

Official stats:

So the deets:
Ella Elizabeth Ming Wang
Born 4:02 pm July 1st
6 pounds 2 ounces, 19.5 inches

Quoting Louis's e-mail:

"After a fourteen hour labor, Ella was born and she and I had a crying contest, which she promptly won. It's been a little over a week now, and we have seen the most amazing faces from her. She has yet to formally acknowledge us as parents, but she will gladly take a burp and milk from us. So far all she does is sleep, eat, poop, pee, cry, and make funny faces and noises. We expect this will go on for another fourteen years."

Fpr anybody interested, Louis has posted pictures here:

Killer Kangaroos and Demon Ducks OF DOOM

I still don't have time to do an entry describing stuff from the conference, but here is an interesting article concerning the discovery of at least 20 previously unknown species, including the two mentioned in the title.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Physical Review Focus

Here is a link to the Physical Review Focus article about my work.

Also, if you go to the APS homepage and click on publications, you'll get to a page with a link to the Focus article. Hooray for free publicity. :)

I will blog about the conference when I have more time (like when I am bored during a talk and am not dealing with work-related e-mails).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

What happens in Boston stays in Boston

At about 6:30, I'm going to be picked up by Supershuttle and be taken to LAX in preparation for my flight to Boston, where I will be attending the SIAM Annual Meeting, which is being held jointly with its biennial conference on applications of partial differential equations and its conference on financial mathematics. I will be participating in both the Annual Meeting and the PDE conference, and, in fact, the two-session minisymposium I organized is listed jointly between these two conferences. In the first of these sessions (which starts a few hours after my red-eye flight arrives) I will be speaking about BECs in optical lattices and superlattices. (In this talk, I will include a couple slides about BECs in "nonlinear lattices," which my collaborators and I studied in a paper that we submitted for publication two days ago.) I will also give a short talk on Congress in a data mining session.

As usual, a bunch of people I know will be attending the conference---this includes people I only know professionally, as well as people from Caltech and Cornell. I also am planning to meet up with Caltech and Cornell people who are not attending the conference, including one person I haven't seen since 2001. Naturally, there will plenty of people with whom I hope to talk science, so the networking opportunities are quite promising. Because the Annual Meeting is being held jointly with the PDE conference, it includes a lot more interesting people and talks than usual. My return flight is on Friday evening, so it's going to be a pretty hectic few days. The welcoming reception is tonight, so I'm going to have to miss that.

The All-Star Futures game, featuring top prospects from the minors, was today. I occasionally tuned into it between half innings of the Dodger game. The homerun hitting contest is tomorrow, the All-Star game is on Tuesday, and the AAA All-Star game is on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll be able to watch some of this stuff. The fact that the conference is on the east coast will definitely help in this respect. (The SIAM Annual Meeting almost always conflicts with the All-Star game, which really chaps my hide.)

In other baseball news, Eric Gagné just had surgery for his hernias and will not pitch again this year. In fact, it is very likely that he has pitched his last game as a Dodger, because given that he's hardly pitched the last couple years, picking up a $10 million option would not exactly be a smart move.

Also, today's Red Sox-White Sox game is now in the bottom of the 19th inning. It is officially the longest game of the year.

I should write stuff about my Rotisserie League Baseball team soon. I'll do that in an upcoming blog entry. I started the year very slowly but am now in a pennant race. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Midseason baseball awards

I would normally wait until after the final games before the All-Star break (which will be tomorrow) but because I have a red-eye flight to Boston and will be busy with my conference when I get there, I'll do this now even though some of today's games aren't done and there is another set tomorrow.

Note that these are the people who I think should awards based on their first-half performance. I am not necessarily saying that I think any of these people will win the respective awards at the end of the year. In some cases I do, but in others I don't. (You can read Jayson Stark's midseason awards here.)

American League:

MVP: This is a really tough one. One issue is that most of the best offensive players are designated hitters, and one needs to lose some credit for not playing a position. The person having the best offensive season is Travis Hafner of the Indians (who is still not on the All-Star team!), though the gap between him and several people just behind him is rather small. (Just take a look the OPS rankings.) If you look at the positions the offensive leaders play and how they contribute at those positions and take that into account, then my current MVP is Joe Mauer of the Twins. Again, this race is wide open. I believe most people are picking either David Ortiz or Jim Thome and those are fine choices (although it's not clear that either is the MVP of their own team!), but Mauer is ahead of them. Honorable mentions (not in any order): Hafner, Ortiz, Thome, Manny Ramirez, Jermaine Dye, Jason Giambi, Vernon Wells, and Justin Morneau.

Cy Young: This is an easy one. The best pitcher in the league has been Johan Santana, and it isn't even close. His lack of run support has obscured just how superb he has been once again. Honorable mentions (not in any order): Jonathan Papelbon, BJ Ryan, Francisco Liriano, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, John Lackey, Mike Mussina, and Scott ("Rock the") Kazmir.

Rookie of the Year: I discussed the great class of AL Rookie pitchers earlier, and you may have also noticed several of them in the Cy Young discussion. Well, I'm giving this award to a Minnesota Twin as well, as the ROY should clearly be Francisco Liriano. Honorable mention: Justin Verlander, Jonathan Papelbon, Joel Zumaya, Bobby Jenks, Kenji Johjima, and Mike Napoli.

Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland. Duh.

Comeback Player of the Year: Jim Thome. (Actually, he's just the obvious choice that's coming to mind. I didn't go and check to see who else I should be considering. Let me know who else is in this discussion.)

National League:

MVP: This is also an easy one. Despite missing 2.5 weeks, Albert Pujols wins this one hands down. Honorable mention (again, in no particular order): David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Nomar Garciaparra, Lance Berkman, Miguel Cabrera, Scott Rolen, Matt Holliday, and Brad Hawpe.

Cy Young: This one is a bit tough. My winner is Brandon Webb, although his lead in this race is hardly a commanding one. Honorable mention: Bronson Arroyo, Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny, Chris Capuano, Carlos Zambrano, and Trevor Hoffman.

Rookie of the Year: My winner is Dan Uggla, although I doubt he's going to keep his performance up for the entire season. (I suspect that either Ryan Zimmerman or Prince Fielder will ultimately have the best stats at the end of the year.) Honorable mention: Zimmerman, Fielder, Josh Johnson, Takashi Saito, Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, Hanley Ramirez, Russell Martin, and Andre Ethier. (Notice how many Marlins I mentioned?)

Manager of the Year: I'm not sure, but as the Mets are running away with the league, let me just mention Willie Randolph as a default choice.

Comeback Player of the Year: Nomaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Friday, July 07, 2006

6 Degrees of Pirates

A bunch of us went to the premier showing of Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest at the Paseo "yesterday" at 12:01 am. (When I was buying these tickets online, one of the sites listed the show time as "24:01" on Thursday. Dude!)

This was one of those situations where it was necessary (1) to buy the tickets beforehand and (2) to arrive really early. We got there 1.5 hours before the start and finding seats was already starting to become problematic. In preparation, we brought 3 DSes and one PSP, but sadly some of them weren't as recharged as much as we had hoped. We played some Meteos (and Joe played some baseball and some Meteos), and I finally started to get the hang of the game a bit---it really helped that I was actually able to concentrate on playing instead of guarding seats! During desperate moments, I relied on "the wiggling strategy," and it seemed to work quite well (or at least much better than expected). As I explained at the theatre, this strategy is based, in part, on probability theory.

After more and more video game systems needed recharging (or were put down to be able to preserve a saved game before recharging was needed---mine was the only one left at the end), we gradually added more non-video game stuff to our repertoire. (Gazebo: You're about to get your text message fully explained.) For example, Joe and I started playing "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Unfortunately, none of us had any idea which movies he was in (between all four of us, we could name approximately 0 such movies), and this made playing the game rather hard. After barely escaping becoming stuck in a cycle of kung-fu movies, we decided that maybe we should call Gazebo as a lifeline. (The infamous text message was a result of our not being able to reach him.)

We saw a brief Transformers trailer (more of a teaser, really) that I didn't realize was The Transformers until the very end. I suspect that it premiered with the release of Pirates (the third of which is slated for 2007).

Now let me make some comments about the movie. It was definitely very good and I recommend it very highly, but it falls into the category of "more of the same" in that I enjoyed the first movie much more simply because the whole thing was newer. Had I never seen the first movie, I bet I would rank this one comparably to the first rather than a notch below it because of the feelings of deja vu.

By the way, one of the things from the trailer got changed slightly in a way that made the sequence of lines a bit worse. (It was really cool in the trailer but only ok in the film.)

We can get into some more details about the movie in further discussion, but for those of you who haven't seen it yet, you should definitely stay until the end of the credits. (During a somewhat related part in the movie, I was thinking briefly of a particular scene in Ice Age 2.)

Now, stop reading this and go see the bloody movie, you bugger!

The Devil wears what?

I saw The Devil Wears Prada on Sunday because I was more in the mood for that than Superman (which I want to see, but not close to as much as A Scanner Darkly).

This was surprisingly playing at the Paseo in addition to the expected Laemmle theatre and I went to the late showing. The flick was somewhere between good and very good, and I definitely recommend it as something worth seeing. (Lemming: You'll like it.)

The movie pokes fun at the fashion industry and is based on a book that does the same. (Actually, my understanding is that the book's tone is really harsh, whereas the movie was mild about such things.) It's also very much a coming-of-age story, and that aspect of things was a well-done rendition of things we've all seen before many times.

Meryl Streep is absolutely awesome as the ice-cold boss (aka, "The Dragon Lady") of a fashion magazine, and this character also provided a very interesting contrast to her role in A Praire Home Companion. Streep gave a good performance in Prairie, but she really shined in her supporting role here. Simply, she is perfectly cast as an icy bitch. (If they ever make a movie about Hillary Clinton, I think that Meryl Streep absolutely has to play her.)

Stanly Tucci also gave a memorable performance.

All in all, I definitely recommend this film. Don't let the subject matter drive you away---there is definitely no need to like fashion to enjoy this movie (as I have demonstrated!).

Brief update: I'm updating this post because I forgot to mention that one of the film's producers, Wendy Finerman, went to my high school.

Two more all-stars

The fans voted for the final* AL and NL all-star players, sensibly choosing Dodger Nomaaaaaaaah Garciaparra in the NL but stupidly choosing A.J. Pierzynski (over, for example, Francisco Liriano and Travis Hafner!) in the AL. At least one wrong has now been righted, but the choice in the AL was simply assinine. Pierzynski is having a fine year, but he was the worst of the 5 AL candidates, and he is having nowhere near the year that Hafner and Liriano are. (I will readily admit that the White Sox PR department did a great job in promoting Pierzynski. This is discussed in ESPN's article.

Despite the above, the main reason for this post is the following "awesome" quote by Pierzynski:

"Obviously the Sox fans get out and vote, they have computers and they know how to use the Internet," Pierzynski said. "Some people were questioning that, but I think they did a great job of showing what their support is all about."

Yeah, I was questioning that White Sox fans know how to use the Internet---because everybody knows that the residents of Chicago are all neanderthals. Right.

* This does not include replacements for injuries. We already know that Pedro Martinez won't be there (he just got put on the DL), which should allow Chris Capuano to go. Hopefully, Liriano and Hafner will be at the game.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Death pebbles: a theoretical analysis

Well, not really, but PRL is going to be publishing a study of pebble shape. You can download the arXiv version of the paper here.

Here is the abstract:

\Paper: cond-mat/0607061
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006 21:14:30 GMT (1109kb)

Title: What is in a pebble shape?
Authors: D.J. Durian, H. Bideaud, P. Duringer, A. Schroder, F. Thalmann, C.M. Marques
Comments: Phys. Rev. Lett. (to appear)
Subj-class: Soft Condensed Matter
\ We propose to characterize the shapes of flat pebbles in terms of the statistical distribution of curvatures measured along the pebble contour. This is demonstrated for the erosion of clay pebbles in a controlled laboratory apparatus. Photographs at various stages of erosion are analyzed, and compared with two models. We find that the curvature distribution complements the usual measurement of aspect ratio, and connects naturally to erosion processes that are typically faster at protruding regions of high curvature.
\\ ( , 1109kb)

I eagerly await a paper that analyzes the dynamics of a ping pong ball when it falls on death pebbles. Now that's some seriously chaotic dynamics!

"Independence" Day

Gazebo posted an essay (or a reasonably long excerpt thereof) by Frederick Douglas on his blog, and much of what is written therein remains extremely apt today.

How am I celebrating? Simple: I am in the office dealing with page proof corrections and meeting with students. I'd be dealing with infinite-dimensional Hill determinants too, but that is so yesterday.

I think it would be a shame if I didn't use this post as an opportunity to piss somebody off, so here's my assertion for the day: Independence Day is so September 10th.

Granted, my choice of what to do today has nothing whatsoever to do with my political opinions and really is just my usual OCD when it comes to my work.

Please enjoy yourself.

Monday, July 03, 2006

New Transformers movie!

I was at the Paseo tonight to see The Devil Wears Prada (which I'll review here in the near future) when I noticed a poster for a new Transformers movie. Dude! It's slated to come out on July 4th, 2007, so it's time to start counting down...

(Granted, I have only a few days to wait until A Scanner Darkly and the sequel to Pirates of the Carribean, so the July 2006 movies can certainly make me happy as well---at least if they hold up to their promise. Today's movie was between good and very good, but it technically came out in June. :) )

Sunday, July 02, 2006

All-Star Teams

Here are the current rosters of the AL and NL All-Star teams.

As usual, there are several people who were snubbed from each team, although some of them can still be put on the team via the vote for one of five people for the final reserve spot.

In the AL, these five are Fransisco Liriano (who is a god and should already be on the team!), Travis Hafner (ditto, but this was marginally less of a crime than not including Liriano), Ramon Hernandez, AJ Pierzynski, and Justin Verlander.

In the NL, they are Bobby Abreu, Chris Capuano, Nomar Garciaparra, Billy Wagner, and Chris Young. Young should have been chosen ahead of, for example, Pedro Martinez (who I thought was a lock on the team but he had an awful June), and it's an absolute crime that Nomaaaaaaaaaaah isn't already on the team. If nothing else, one less pitcher should have been on the roster in order to put Nomar on the team.

These guys, as well as other people who should have been on the team (such as Nick Johnson), are discussed by Keith Law.

My feeling is that Nomar will get be voted in among the five in the NL crowd, and that injuries will allow most but not all of the other deserving guys to get in. However, certain rules always conspire to keep deserving people out. There has to be somebody from every team, so we get people like Mark Redman of the Royals. (In recent years, the canonical Royals representative has been Mike Sweeney, who typically deserved his spot on the team, but he's been injured for practically the entire season.) I do agree that every team should have at least one representative, but please expand the rosters a bit so some of these other guys can make it, even if they don't end up playing much or at all. They deserve to be there.

Now it's time for me to read the entirety of Law's article, vote for Nomar and Fransisco, and then get back to Block theory. (I think I have figured out part of what I need to do to finish some of the analysis in my article that's been in the about-to-be-submitted stage for a little while.)

Update: I am almost done with Law's article. He seems to be in the camp of career value over current-year value as concerns all-star selections, while I tend to be mostly in the other camp. I prefer to see the people having the best years this year, even if that means that a major star or two is staying home and somebody we think we'll never see again gets his time in the limelight. If the current year's performance merits a spot on the roster, then I am all for it.

Other baseball news (still updating): Yesterday, Garret Anderson and Manny Ramirez both got their 2000th career hit. Also yesterday, Gary Matthews Jr. (aka, Sarge Jr.) made a spectacular leaping catch in the outfield. Today, Craig Biggio caught and passed Babe Ruth in career hits. Also today, Orlando Cabrera stole home against the Dodgers when our pitcher fell asleep. (It was a straight steal of home, and it was accomplished without a throw.)