Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tales from the arXiv: Theories of Nothing and Everything

And here comes a philosophical entry...

Title: A Complete Theory of Everything (will be subjective)

Author: Marcus Hutter

Abstract: The progression of theories suggested for our world, from ego- to geo- to helio-centric models to universe and multiverse theories and beyond, shows one tendency: The size of the described worlds increases, with humans being expelled from their center to ever more remote and random locations. If pushed too far, a potential theory of everything (ToE) is actually more a theory of nothing (ToN). Indeed such theories have already been developed. I show that including observer localization into such theories is necessary and sufficient to avoid this problem. Ockham's razor is used to develop a quantitative recipe to identify ToEs and distinguish them from ToNs and theories in-between. This precisely shows what the problem is with some recently suggested universal ToEs. The suggested principle is extended to more practical (partial, approximate, probabilistic, parametric) world models (rather than ToEs). Finally, I provide a justification of Ockham's razor.

Comment: Subjective, indeed.

Tales from the arXiv: World-Ending Edition

When world-ending physics meets the law, we get this:

Title: The Black Hole Case: The Injunction Against the End of the World

Author: Eric E. Johnson

Abstract: What should a court do with a preliminary-injunction request to halt a multi-billion-dollar particle-physics experiment that plaintiffs claim could create a black hole that will devour the planet? This real-life case seems like a legal classic in the making. Unfortunately, however, no court has braved the extreme factual terrain to reach the merits. This article steps into the void. First, the relevant facts of the scientific debate and its human context are memorialized and made ripe for legal analysis. Next, the article explores the daunting challenges this case presents to equity, evidence, and law-and-economics analysis. Finally, a set of analytical tools are offered that provide a way out of the thicket - a method for providing meaningful judicial review even in cases, such as this one, where the scientific issues are almost unfathomably complex.

Note that this article has been published in a legal journal.

Make it so!

Make it so: Patrick Stewart is now Sir Patrick Stewart. Nice!

A Quick Comment on New Year's Resolutions

Years ago, I used to use "don't be neurotic anymore" as a New Year's resolution, and then I realized that that was hopeless. On the bright side, however, that leaves a lot of wiggle room for "be less neurotic this year", and I even get to use the same resolution year after year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beverly Hills is not my home.

I don't think that Beverly Hills has felt like "home" for several years, and it really doesn't feel that way now. This is what assaults my feelings the most whenever I am in my parents' house. I just don't belong in this city anymore, and I'm not sure that I ever did. Ah well... (Caltech feels like home and so does Oxford, and I think that's about it.)

Maybe I'll write a longer entry about this at some point, but I'm really not sure what else there is to say.

Whenever I think about the early years with my family, I always feel that I have orders of magnitude more bad memories than good ones. (I have many good memories with my friends.) Maybe I'll eventually feel differently, but I have to be honest with myself and for now let me just say that I am so thankful that other aspects of my life (my wonderful friends, my career, etc.) have done a Hell of an excellent job of making up for any deficiencies in my life. This is the holidays and although being in the house of my childhood makes some of the bad stuff from the past come to the front of my thinking a bit more than usual, I will do my best to focus instead on all of the great things in my life---which (a) far outshine the bad things nowadays and (b) make me immeasurably luckier than most people. My deepest thanks go out to the people who have played such important roles in this.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Scientific Peer Review, ca. 1945

Miguel included this link in his comment on a previous post, and I think that this video about scientific peer review (circa 1945) is hilarious, so I wanted to give it the post it deserves. Very nice!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deconstructing Mason?

Once again, somebody seems to be trying to put some sort of philosophical interpretation on one of my articles. To wit, consider the following description:

"Porter, Mason, et al. Communities in Networks. Notices of the AMS. 56/9, 2009. In consideration, Oxford University mathematician Porter, along with Jukka-Pekka Onnela, a Helsinki University physicist lately at Harvard, and from the University of North Carolina, mathematician Peter Mucha, might themselves be imagined as agents interlinked in local and global neural-like webs that they study. By this view, Mindkind’s historic learning process may just be reaching critical robustness in such exemplary works, together with many other articles posted herewith (e.g., Barrat, et al above). As the quote cites, statistical physics and complex systems science are realizing they engage the same phenomena in different ways so a merger is underway, still largely unbeknownst. But viola, a revolutionary new kind of materiality is being revealed. Both an independent, implicate network geometry and dynamics that involves such node/link, modular, weighted clusters becomes evident, which then explicates into universally repetitive, nested occurrence from biosphere to blogosphere, from protein webs to international scientific collaborations. In a natural genesis, such a vista could appear as a parent to child genetic code."

The following text is a quote from my article that is included below the blurb above:

Graphs can represent either man-made or natural constructs, such as the World Wide Web or neuronal synaptic networks in the brain. Agents in such networked systems are like particles in traditional statistical mechanics that we all know and (presumably) love, and the structure of interactions between agents reflects the microscopic rules that govern their behavior.

The text that really confounds me is the following: But viola, a revolutionary new kind of materiality is being revealed. Both an independent, implicate network geometry and dynamics that involves such node/link, modular, weighted clusters becomes evident, which then explicates into universally repetitive, nested occurrence from biosphere to blogosphere, from protein webs to international scientific collaborations. In a natural genesis, such a vista could appear as a parent to child genetic code.

Comment: What the fuck?

In case you're curious, here is link where I found this deconstruction.


Two of the workers at Peet's Coffee on Lake Avenue in Pasadena remember not only my name but also the drink I like to order. I approve!

I remember their faces (and the faces of at least one other worker, though this one I remember from a previous visit after I moved to Oxford... there are only 2 people who work there now who also worked there before I loved away) but either didn't learn their names or forgot them. I also recognize the faces of several of the regular customers who I have seen at Peet's the last couple of days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What happens in the United States stays in the United States

Late morning tomorrow, I will start my trek back to the US for the winter. My flight from Heathrow is at 4pm, though apparently all of the cool people are having their flights delayed. We'll see how things go. (Hopefully there won't be any airport liveblogging this time...) I am slated to arrive at LAX at 7:30 pm pacific time, and the plan is to meet up with Lemming (and perhaps company?) there and then head for dinner and then Lemming's place where I'll go online for a bit and then probably crash. Notice the priorities. :)

I'll spend most of the time on this trip in the Pasadena and LA area, though I haven't yet figured out exactly when I'll be in LA (or, more technically, Beverly Hills). The exception will be for a conference (Dynamics Daze 2010) just outside of Chicago from January 4th-7th. More on that conference later.

Friday, December 18, 2009

RIP Borders UK

Apparently, all UK locations of Borders are closing, and the last day of operation is December 22nd. That's a shame.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dodgers sign utility man Jamey Carroll

The Dodgers have signed free agent utility man Jamey Carroll to a 2-year contract. He's a useful spare part, but that's about all I have to say. I'm glad Juan Pierre's gone, though. :)

"What, American and quiet?" (aka: unintentionally "awesome" exchange of the day)

I went to G & D's somewhat under an hour ago to unwind a bit from some very long and stressful days of interviewing and debriefing. (Actually, I'll be helping with some interviews for prospective Ph.D. students tomorrow, so it's not like I'm entirely out of the woods...)

I ordered raspberry sorbet with hot fudge. The guy behind the counter, who had taken my order before, apparently only just noticed my American accent today and remarked about that and that he hadn't noticed it because of how "quiet" I am. (I suppose the "quiet" pertains to my not striking up conversation with the people who work behind the counter as opposed to any inherent properties that I might have? Although I'm exceptionally shy and often asocial, I don't think that "quiet" is a good description for me.)

Then as he walked off to get my stuff, he remarked: "That's a good combination."

I completely misinterpreted what he meant, and said (in all innocence, and in particular without any attempt at sarcasm or snarkiness whatsoever!): "What, American and quiet?"

Him: "No, raspberry and chocolate."

Me: "Oh."

Then the conversation continued along more normal lines between server and servee. (I know, I know: "servee" isn't a word, but it damn well should be.) He liked the fact that my accent was strong, and I really hope it remains so!

Now that's an exchange that I would call "awesome" (with quotes, of course).

2010 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has some new members. The artists I really like among the inductees are ABBA (the Swedish supergroup, and they were actually called a "supergroup" in the article; I approve!) are Genesis. I also have passing interest in The Stooges, which were founded by Iggy Pop. Of course, what I really want to know is when Depeche Mode will finally get the call...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RIP Paul Samuelson (1915-2009)

Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, one of the 20th century's giants in economics, died on Sunday. As you can read in his wikipedia entry, the Keynesian Samuelson was (among other things) a pioneer in mathematical economics. (For example, as a grandstudent of Gibbs, he used some ideas from thermodynamics.)

In reading the New York Times obituary to which I linked, I was reminded of their annoying style of putting "Mr." in front of the last name of any guy about whom they write---no matter what the correct title actually should be. This is one of multiple stylistic conventions in the New York Times that really annoy me.

I don't have Juan Pierre to kick around anymore.

We interrupt our regular program with the following exciting news: Juan Pierre is no longer a Dodger!. We have traded him to the White Sox for cash and two minor leaguer pitchers to be determined. He actually did have a good year as a back-up in 2009, but I'm still quite pleased to finally be rid of him. Simply, the money that we used to pay his salary is better spent elsewhere.

And so the era of Juan Pierre-bashing has come to an end. (I have to admit, however, that I am going to miss making fun of him.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Big Baseball News

There is some big news on the baseball pitching front today.

The Red Sox have signed free agent John Lackey to a 5-year contract. Additionally, Roy Halladay is apparently going to the Phillies as part of a 3-team deal that will send Cliff Lee to the Mariners. That's pretty major! Meanwhile, the Dodgers seem to be handcuffed by the McCourts' divorce. Thus far, we've only managed to lose significant pieces this winter, and signing hurler Josh Towers to a minor league contract doesn't exactly count as a significant acquisition.

Update (11:03 pm, UK time): The article about the Halladay trade apparently jumped the gun, but the trade is evidently "close" to happening. Stay tuned. And in related news, Dewey beat Truman.

Update (12/15/09): The trade is all but official now. Essentially, it's a done deal, but the press releases from the teams that put the official wrapping on things aren't quite out yet.

Update (12/16/09): The trade now is official, and as reported earlier (though after the original link I used) it includes four teams rather than three. It's really nice to see a huge trade like this now and again.

"Mutually-Antagonistic Interactions in Baseball Networks"

We interrupt this fixation on student interviews (as well as the 2000 extra special taxes that the UK government wants to charge me---hopefully incorrectly) for the following news bulletin:

My baseball networks article has now officially appeared in print. Because of the journal's printed backlog, it's actually in issue number 5 of a 2010 volume, but anyway it has official page numbers now, so it's time to link to my paper in this spot.

Title: Mutually-Antagonistic Interactions in Baseball Networks

Authors: Serguei Saavedra, Scott Powers, Trent McCotter, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha

Abstract: We formulate the head-to-head matchups between Major League Baseball pitchers and batters from 1954 to 2008 as a bipartite network of mutually-antagonistic interactions. We consider both the full network and single-season networks, which exhibit structural changes over time. We find interesting structure in the networks and examine their sensitivity to baseball's rule changes. We then study a biased random walk on the matchup networks as a simple and transparent way to (1) compare the performance of players who competed under different conditions and (2) include information about which particular players a given player has faced. We find that a player's position in the network does not correlate with his placement in the random walker ranking. However, network position does have a substantial effect on the robustness of ranking placement to changes in head-to-head matchups.

And, of course, it's always good to be able to discuss Bert Blyleven in one of my research papers. He better get elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010, damnit!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

LOLCat Bible

There is something seriously wrong with this.

It's not as wrong as The Brick Testament, but the LOLCat bible to which I link above is wrong nonetheless.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Best. Compound Adjective. Ever.

This whopper of a sentence comes from a letter that Richard Feynman wrote to his piano tuner (which has been published as part of an article in the December 2009 issue of Physics Today): "Why are the ear-created (or bad-amplifiers-etc-in-radio-and-phonograph-created) harmonics exact multiples?"

It makes one wonder how physicists could possibly have earned a group reputation of not being able to write well. The compound adjective has 7 dashes in it! Sheesh.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Adversarial Reviewing

If you are (or were) an academic, you know you've experienced adversarial reviews. (The link points to a paper that shows how to prosperously referee papers adversarially.)

I'd like to dedicate this entry to the adversarial referees that have been a part of my life. (Among others, I'm looking at you, PLoS Computational Biology referee who (incorrectly!) complained about the fact that we used a method that didn't work on weighted networks on a paper in which we only study unweighted networks. (Sadly, the Editors actually considered this report to be legitimate even when presented with a published mathematical proof to the contrary and a pointer to a very prominent line in which we state rather clearly that all of the networks under study are unweighted. Se la vie.)

(Tip of the cap to Aaron Clauset.)

Peter Gammons retires from ESPN

It was announced on Tuesday that Peter Gammons, one of my favorite sports writers, is leaving ESPN to pursue other things. I am under the impression that this won't include much baseball writing, and I'm really going to miss reading his words. One particular aspect of what I occasionally do in expository articles was actually influence a bit by his writing, though I don't know if anybody has particularly noticed that. Here is Buster Olney's tribute to Peter Gammons, and here are some other words of appreciation.

Here is what Peter Gammons writes.

Neil Diamond covering "The Hannukah Song"

Here is Neil Diamond's cover of Adam Sandler's "Hannukah Song", with some lyrics slightly changed---though I think the idea of Diamond covering Sandler is just plain wrong. Granted, Diamond has been known to do funky stuff before, such as apparently doing a UB40ish version of his song "Red Red Wine" in honor of their cover. (I really need to listen to that at some point.)

Oh, and Happy Hannukah to the tribe.

(Tip of the cap to Alan Hiller.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back "Angus"

I have been digging Very Demotivational (see the blog roll) ever since Justin told me about it. I need to point out this particular post. While most of the other posts are much funnier, I feel like I have to highlight this link for person reasons having to do with "colon cancer". If you haven't yet browsed through the Very Demotivational blog, I highly recommend it. It's often hilarious.

The Brits are confusing me.

I learned a few days ago that Brits use the word "quite" quite inconsistently (or, if you prefer, in a manner that is quite dependent on context), and frankly I find that quite confusing. (Though I admittedly love the multiple meanings my previous sentence has depending on how one mixes the American and British usage of the word.)

As a service to my faithful readers, here is an explanation of the differences.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Download Achievements

My paper on visualization of communities in networks was the 4th most downloaded paper in the journal Chaos in November. Then again, the most downloaded paper was "The Mayonnaise Droplet". Go figure.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Whitey Herzog and Doug Harvey elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee has elected manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey to the Hall of Fame. Former Manager Herzog's given name is "Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog", but he was always known as Whitey and occasionally called "The White Rat"; he doesn't really belong in the Hall. On the other hand, Harvey, nicknamed "God" (one of the best nicknames ever, by the way), is vastly overqualified for the Hall. Harvey should have been elected years ago!

New Caltech Prank at MIT

There was recently a new Caltech prank at MIT, which wasn't particularly successful, according to an MIT student publication. Words from Caltech people suggest a somewhat higher level of success. We shall see.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Extremely necessary quotation marks

I love this entry from the Blog of Unnecessary Quotations. Awesome!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I clearly haven't been domesticated.

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at the latest entry in my photoblog. I'm "awesome".

Thursday, December 03, 2009

New to the Blogroll: Very Demotivational

Tip of the cap to Justin Howell for pointing me to Very Demotivational, a new blog dedicated to demotivational "posters" (well, art made to look like posters). There is a version of the awesome girl scout poster on it, although it uses "damn cookies" and I greatly prefer the one that uses "fucking cookies". There are some other masterpieces as well, such as the one with Cookie Monster and the gun!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Localized Breathing Modes in Granular Crystals with Defects"

My latest paper has just come out in Physical Review E. Here are the specs:

Title: Localized Breathing Modes in Granular Crystals with Defects

Authors:: G. Theocharis, M. Kavousanakis, P. G. Kevrekidis, Chiara Daraio, Mason A. Porter, and I. G. Kevrekidis

Abstract: We study localized modes in uniform one-dimensional chains of tightly packed and uniaxially compressed elastic beads in the presence of one or two light-mass impurities. For chains composed of beads of the same type, the intrinsic nonlinearity, which is caused by the Hertzian interaction of the beads, appears not to support localized, breathing modes. Consequently, the inclusion of light-mass impurities is crucial for their appearance. By analyzing the problem’s linear limit, we identify the system’s eigenfrequencies and the linear defect modes. Using continuation techniques, we find the solutions that bifurcate from their linear counterparts and study their linear stability in detail. We observe that the nonlinearity leads to a frequency dependence in the amplitude of the oscillations, a static mutual displacement of the parts of the chain separated by a defect, and for chains with two defects that are not in contact, it induces symmetry-breaking bifurcations.

By the way, this is the paper that gave me a bi-Kevrekidis number of 1.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Whitehouse Gatecrashers

Part of me thinks that this is awesome, and another part of me thinks that it's really fucking scary.

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Diaz.)

Pirates pitcher interning for the Department of Agriculture

Now here's a really neat story. Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf is an intern this winter at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Back in the day, Major League Baseball players used to work in the winter because they needed the money, but obviously that hasn't been true for a long time. Ohlendorf is doing this out of interest. I approve!

Quote of the Day

This quote actually comes from a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to post it, so I'll mention it now. This was the reaction of one of my colleagues in the Mathematical Institute upon seeing a picture of me as a young child: "It would almost be easier to believe that you were hatched from an egg."

I think that that about says it all. (I took this as a compliment, by the way.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Muppets do "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Here is a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the Muppets. Awesome! Simply awesome!

(Tip of the cap to Dave Relyea.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Sister's Visit

My sister Tammy visited me from Thursday afternoon until early this morning. (She left on the 6:30 am bus. I am still reeling from the pain of getting up at 6am today.)

Here is my picture album from her visit.

Our itinerary for Tammy's visit was as follows:

Thursday: Chilling, a bit of crashing for Tammy (and a brief foray to a seminar for me), and dinner and dessert with two of my best friends. Anyway, Tammy got to celebrate her birthday with my friends this year, but I'm sure she'll be having something with her buds back in LA.

Friday: Blenheim Palace, as recommended by one of my friends. Then we got back, had dinner, and went to see "A Serious Man" (which had its moments but was kind of disappointing... the IMDB ratings are shockingly high).

Saturday: London, including an awesome performance of "We Will Rock You" (the musical based on the music of Queen) and some cluster fucks in multiple tube stations. [I suppose that there are a couple of different ways to interpret my phrasing here.] We then had dinner back in Oxford.

Sunday: We took a day trip to Wales. The Brits seem to think that this was crazy. (Going between Oxford and Wales is comparable to going between LA and San Diego, so this seems perfectly reasonable to me.) Cardiff Castle was awesome! And I picked up a stuffed griffon along the way.

Monday: Today we toured Oxford. (I also had a brief foray to give my lecture.)

Albert Pujols wins National League Most Valuable Player Award

Albert Pujols won the 2009 National League Most Valuable Player Award in unanimous fashion, as he was named 1st on all 32 ballots. This is Pujols' third MVP trophy, and this was the first unanimous selection since 2002. The baseball scribes and I agreed on all 8 major award selections this year. I think it's been quite a while since that happened, and I'm not sure that it's ever happened before.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Joe Mauer wins American League Most Valuable Player Award

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins has won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in a landslide victory, as he garnered 27 of 28 first-place votes. (Some idiot voted for Miguel Cabrera.) Mauer's victory was a foregone conclusion, and the writers and I now agree on 7/7 major award recipients for the 2009 baseball season. (Given that Albert Pujols will almost certainly win the NL MVP tomorrow, I suspect we'll go 8/8 this year.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Picture of the Day

This particular demotivational poster is probably the best one I have ever seen. Awesome! I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Jing Xu.)

Friday, November 20, 2009


Some comic strips tell you just about everything you need to know about science---such as this one from Ph.D. Comics about buzzwords.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tim Lincecum wins National League Cy Young Award

In what I view as a surprising outcome, Tim Lincecum has won the National League Cy Young Award, becoming the first repeat winner since Randy Johnson won from 1999-2002. The reason I call this a "shock" is that the scribes actually got this award right as well. That's now 6/6! Lincecum was the best pitcher in the National League this year, but I thought it was close to certain that the sportswriters would go with Adam Wainwright because of the shiny object known as wins. The Cy Young race this year was actually one of the closest in the history of the award:

Lincecum received 11 first-place votes, 12 seconds and nine thirds for 100 points in balloting released Thursday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter was next with 94 points and teammate Adam Wainwright finished third with 90 despite getting the most first-place votes with 12.

What seems to have happened is that Wainwright and Carpenter split a bunch of votes, allowing the most deserving player (Lincecum) to win. (Lincecum's 15 wins gave him the fewest number of wins ever for a Cy Young Award winner in a season that wasn't shortened by a work stoppage, so it's great that the scribes were looking at how he actually pitched instead of blindly focusing on things that are tied so closely to the run support of his teammates.) I approve!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Awesome Sponsorship Comments on

Here is a blog post on Baseball Junk Drawer that details one person's top 10 sponsorship comments on For those of you who don't know, is an awesome website full of statistics that is maintained by (former) mathematics professor Sean Forman. (I met Sean and spoke in one of his sessions on math and sports at one of the Joint Mathematics Meetings.) One can sponsor a page and leave a comment, and as you can see from the link above, some of them are pretty damn funny. My favorite one is the one about Len Koenecke even though it's in extremely poor taste. I can't help it---it just appeals to my sense of humor so much despite that.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Mike Scioscia and Jim Tracy win Manager of the Year Awards

Jim Tracy of the Colorado Rockies and Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (aka, The The Angels Angels of Anaheim) have, respectively, won the National League and American League Manager of the Year awards. I agree with both of these decisions as well---especially the one for Tracy, which was a no-brainer---so thus far I agree 5/5 with the scribes. I suspect that the National League Cy Young Award, which is announced tomorrow, will break this streak.

Power Laws in Chess Openings

I haven't looked closely enough at the paper to judge whether or not these are actual power laws, but the blurb on the American Physical Society website caught my eye, so I browsed through the paper at lightning speed and want to mention it here. (Note that I don't think that Physical Review Letters is necessarily the appropriate journal for such research, but anyway the situation it what it is.) The paper is called Zipf’s Law in the Popularity Distribution of Chess Openings.

Authors: Bernd Blasius and Ralf T\"{o}njes

Abstract: We perform a quantitative analysis of extensive chess databases and show that the frequencies of opening moves are distributed according to a power law with an exponent that increases linearly with the game depth, whereas the pooled distribution of all opening weights follows Zipf’s law with universal exponent. We propose a simple stochastic process that is able to capture the observed playing statistics and show that the Zipf law arises from the self-similar nature of the game tree of chess. Thus, in the case of hierarchical fragmentation the scaling is truly universal and independent of a particular generating mechanism. Our findings are of relevance in general processes with composite decisions.

Naturally, I have taken the obvious step and nominated this paper for an Ig Nobel Prize.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Zack Greinke wins American League Cy Young Award

Holy shit, the scribes have gotten it right again, as Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals has been named the American League Cy Young Award winner. He was clearly the most dominant pitcher in the American League this year, but sportswriters tend to worship at the alter of wins and Grienke's 16-8 record was worse than that of other pitchers in the league. (Basically, it's not his fault that the Royals can't hit.) Let's see if they can keep this up...

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Caltech Girl"

In case you never heard "Caltech Girl" (lyrics by Ben Williamson and Bret Victor; parody of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl") performed, here is a video of it on YouTube. Some of you might even recognize the lead singer, who once told me that they had to stop performing that alumni events because some people evidently found it offensive.

The site also includes a link to another video performance of "Caltech Girl", but I didn't watch that one.

AIP/APS Publication Social Network

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has a new social networking service (called "uniPHY", which is a really stupid name) that includes some nice visualizations of one's collaboration network (and related objects) in AIP and American Physical Society journals. One can also do other social networking type stuff, but I was basically curious just about the visualizations and some simple statistics. (Granted, this ignores all of the publications I have in other venues, but I still wanted to check it out.)

Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey win Rookie of the Year awards

I am absolutely shocked: the sportswriters actually picked the correct people for both of baseball's Rookie of the Year awards. (Of course, "right" = the people I felt should win.)

The writing seemed to be on the wall for yet another flub, but the scribes thankfully voted for Florida outfielder Chris Coghlan in the National League and Oakland reliever Andrew Bailey in the American League. The writers certainly made Sparky Anderson proud today.

Answer Fail

Students can sometimes write the best answers to questions. For example, this one (reported by the Fail Blog) isn't as awesome as the mathematical ones I've seen ("There's an elephant in the way!"), but it's pretty damn funny nonetheless. I wonder if the student wrote the answer with a Uni-ball pen?

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Diaz.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another Piece of my Childhood is Gone

OK, so this apparently happened in November 2007, but I only just found out. Namely, Tony Silver (Beverly High class of 1979), the owner of the Beverly Hills Baseball Card Shop died in November 2007. (I read about this in the obituaries in the 2009 Beverly Hills High Alumni Highlights.) As a child, I went to that store regularly, and even after I left home, I would still go there on occasion during breaks from school when I was back home. I didn't know the guy well or anything, but I feel bummed out after reading this because of the fact that feels like a significant piece of my childhood just left. (OK, admittedly my feelings are rather selfish in nature in this case.) Although I moved quite far away, this is a 'people in your neighborhood' sort of thing.

I have actually been in the mood to open some packs of baseball cards for quite a while. I do have a number of unopened packs in my parents' house, but one of the things I'd like really like to do when I am home this winter is to head over to the Beverly Hills Baseball Card Shop and buy some baseball cards---this includes some new ones, but I think I'd like to splurge a bit and buy some packs from the 70s or earlier.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hug a Jew Day

Apparently, today is Hug a Jew Day.

I think that I count even though that is my background without being my belief. :) [This is like the whole superfrosh thing. It's just a matter of when it's convenient and when it isn't.]

I'll let you know how many hugs I get today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Sammy Sosa going the Michael Jackson route?

Take a look at the pictures in this article. Despite what Sammy Sosa claims, the 'before' and 'after' shots immediately make me (and, I would think, lots of people) think of Michael Jackson. Well, part of me also thinks of Nai Chang Yeh, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Google, Sesame Street, and the Count

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street (which wikipedia claims is tomorrow), Google is doing its usual bit of front page customization. The character they are using for this customization is Count von Count. I approve! (In certain D & D games, allusions to The Count sometimes became somewhat common, and I was definitely guilty of some of them.) Moreover, the number being used for 'e' is \epsilon. I doubly approve! Way to go, Google!

On second thought, it's probably supposed to be a '3' turned backwards, but I insist on thinking of it as an \epsilon!

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Male Urinal Protocol

Here is some male urinal protocol from the xkcd "blag" (why is it a "blag" and not a blog?). This hits way too close to home, by the way.

(Tip of the cap to Aaron Clauset.)

Maybe the Higgs just doesn't want to be found?

Apparently, there's a theory out there that maybe the Higgs just doesn't want to be found, so that it's going back in time and doing a bit of self-sabotage of the CERN experiment. At least it makes for a nice story...

(Tip of the cap to Peter Mucha.)

Friday, November 06, 2009

For the Birds

Here is the straight line (you provide the punchline): Apparently, scientists at the £3.6bn Large Hadron Collider (LHC) found their plans to emulate the big bang postponed this week when a passing bird dropped a "bit of baguette" into the machine, causing it to overheat. Awesome!

(Tip of the cap to Heidi Eldenburg Bramlet, although I took the liberty to use a news source other than Fox News for personal reasons.)

Useful E-mail of the Day

I just received an e-mail at 2:22 pm called "FW: Seminar right now" about a seminar today that started at 2:15 pm. That's useful. Talk about an epic fail.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I hate the Yankees. (Oh, and A-Ha is awesome!)

I know I am writing quite a few blog entries today, but here's at least one more that I want to do tonight.

Did I mention that I hate the Yankees? They won the World Series this year. Bastards.

Also, now that the baseball season is officially over, I also wanted to mention that 2009 is the first season is something like 25 years in which I did not see even a single baseball game in person. Lame. I will make up for that in 2010.

On a separate note, I went to London to see A-Ha in concert last night. It required a total of 2.5 hours of train rides and 1.25 hours on the tube, and I only made the last train back to Oxford (which had me entering my apartment at about 1:40 am), but it was totally worth it. I'll eventually do a mega-media roundup (with something like a year's worth of stuff!), so maybe I'll say more later, but let's just say that I was seriously geeking out---there were certain songs that I had been waiting to hear live for more than 20 years! Hell yes!

Finding a Lost Camera using the Small World Phenomenon

I wasn't following this story about the Facebook-mediated search for somebody's lost camera, but this is really cool for those of us who study network science. It's the small-world effect at work, with Facebook lending a helping hand. In fact, it's an absolutely beautiful example of cascading dynamics on small-world networks, and it might even be worth a mention in a paper on which I'm currently working on cascading dynamics on such networks (where my Facebook data is one of the many data sets we're employing).

It's also quite a nice story, as it's excellent that somebody would start such an effort for a total stranger. I hope that I'm eventually that nice a person. I'm rather good (I think) about caring about friends, but I do much less well about caring about people more generally.

(Tip of the cap to Martin Gould.)

Guy Fawkes Night: 2009

Here are some pictures from the 2009 edition of Somerville's fireworks night. Alas, we I didn't have enough time to find any effigies to burn.

Unintentional Pun of the Day

I was sending a somewhat critical letter to the GSNP (Group on Statistical and Nonlinear Physics) leadership, and I accidently wrote an absolutely awesome pun in my message. Namely, they seem to have special sessions on "jamming" year after year, and I complained about the overabundance of "jamming sessions". Sweet!

(By the way, GSNP is one of the groups within the American Physical Society. I consider this my home area, but as with all other organizations, there are some things I think that they can do better, so my letter---while critical---was intended to provide comments that I hope will ultimately be helpful.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tales from the arXiv: Romance edition

Date: Fri, 30 Oct 2009 20:32:25 GMT (2544kb,D)

Title: Stochastic Nonlinear Dynamics of Interpersonal and Romantic
Authors: Alhaji Cherif, Kamal Barley
Categories: physics.soc-ph nlin.AO physics.pop-ph
Current theories from biosocial (e.g.: the role of neurotransmitters in behavioral features), ecological (e.g.: cultural, political, and institutional conditions), and interpersonal (e.g.: attachment) perspectives have grounded interpersonal and romantic relationships in normative social experiences. However, these theories have not been developed to the point of providing a solid theoretical understanding of the dynamics present in interpersonal and romantic relationships, and integrative theories are still lacking. In this paper, mathematical models are use to investigate the dynamics of interpersonal and romantic relationships, which are examined via ordinary and stochastic differential equations, in order to provide insight into the behaviors of love. The analysis starts with a deterministic model and progresses to nonlinear stochastic models capturing the stochastic rates and factors (e.g.: ecological factors, such as historical, cultural and community conditions) that affect proximal experiences and shape the patterns of relationship. Numerical examples are given to illustrate various dynamics of interpersonal and romantic behaviors (with emphasis placed on sustained oscillations, and transitions between locally stable equilibria) that are observable in stochastic models (closely related to real interpersonal dynamics), but absent in deterministic

\\ ( , 2544kb)

Comment: All I have to say is that the 3-body problem is known to be chaotic.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Clay Zavada wins 'Mustached American of the Year' award

I've got important breaking news: Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada has won the 'Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year' award. Awesome!

One of the parts of the picture I really like is the people in the background. (Zavada admittedly looks pretty cool too.) Starting from the left, one sees two people with impressive mustaches and then some guy who seemingly doesn't have any facial hair. What's up with that?

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My First Night in Belgium

As usual, with my travels comes adventures.

Once my lecture was over, I went to my apartment, packed up my computer and picked up my stuff, and walked over to Oxford's train station. I left on the 2:01 pm train to Paddington and then I hopped over via the Tube to King's Cross/St. Pancras. I got there rather early and actually made it just in time for the train 1.5 hours before the one I was on. (I wasn't sure if I could quite get there fast enough for that one, so I bought tickets for the 5:30 pm train.) I had a pretty decent spicy apple crepe while at St. Pancras and I also had a sandwich in case I wouldn't have a chance to eat tonight, which indeed turns out to be the case.

I took Eurostar to Brussel-Midi (this was my first Eurostar trip) and then switched to a local train to Louvain, which I made by one minute. I arrived in Louvain a bit after 10pm local time, got off the train, and tried to find signs to find taxis... except that it turned out that there were no taxis. Fuck. Why was I not warned about this by my hosts? It never even occurred to me that this might not be the case... Now I was going to have to navigate myself there. I asked for directions from the workers at a nearby video store (their English wasn't good) and they said they knew the hotel but it was really hard to actually give directions for it because of all of the twists and turns. I was able to get them to point out where I was on the map and roughly where the hotel was, and I also asked them to point out north to me because I always get disoriented and lose that after I travel. (Who says that direction sense is a skill that every D & D character should automatically have? Hogwash!) They recommended that I take a couple of specific turns and then ask people there.

So I walked a bit in the generally right direction, which even included a couple of street names that I found on the map, and there were lots of young people walking around (I was in the university area). The thing is that most of them were in various stages of drunkenness and were being loud/boisterous, which is one of the things that I very specifically don't like (in spades!) in people when it comes to going up to a stranger. Hence, I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of asking any of these people for directions. I went past a bunch of bars with blaring loud music, and I was also uncomfortable going into those for directions for similar reasons.

I kept going in what I thought was the general direction (and it turns out that I was actually doing decently well), but then I felt lost and decided to find another place to ask for directions. I doubled back a bit in a direction I thought was wrong but would get me to another part of the university area, and I found a drug and liquor store. The person behind the desk was not helpful at all---he claimed to have never heard of the hotel---and completely brushed me off. (Thanks a lot, dickhead!) A young woman named Elizabeth who was there was very eager to help, though her English was very bad. However, she said she knew where it was and walked me very close to it so that I could go the rest of the way on my own. (I technically know where she works and I vaguely remember seeing the place during my walk. Tomorrow is her last day there, so I am tempted to drop by and say 'thanks'. I'm not sure if I will do that.) Anyway, mad props definitely go out to Elizabeth! She apparently expected a kiss on the cheek when it was time to depart---is that the culture in Belgium? (I have no idea), so I did that and we went our separate ways. OK, so strictly speaking, I kissed a girl on my first night in this country, but it didn't actually mean anything other than thanks + goodbye. Also, I did it quite awkwardly because I don't know how to do it (it was more like bumping of face against cheek), but anyway it seemed expected of me and because of her I actually got to the hotel within an hour of the start of my walk instead of wandering for who know how long. So I wasn't about to be rude. (And, by the way, she didn't steal anything from me, and I did purposely carry my own luggage despite Elizabeth's offer.)

Then I saw the hotel sign (and it opened up my mind). I walked an apparently alternative route on the hotel grounds, as I descended a hill and got some of my luggage, my shoes, and the bottom of my pants slightly wet in the process. A hotel worker compelled me to walk around instead of letting me enter via a side door, and I definitely understand his wanting to do that in case I was not actually a new guest as I claimed. So I did that, checked in, followed some hallways with some eerily familiar and yet very cool art (that I liked a lot, which is quite rare for me when it comes to famous artwork!) until I reached my room. Then it occurred to me that the art was by Rene Magritte---well, duh, given where I am!---and I have always loved his stuff! A very cool, unexpected bonus! This should have occurred to me beforehand!

I went to the hotel bar to hopefully see about food. Sadly, the bar was no longer serving food (only drinks), so I took a handful of peanuts and headed back to my room to go online. And here I am.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What happens in Louvain stays in Louvain

Tomorrow I am going to take my first trip to Belgium. I'll be visiting the networks group in Louvain. The plan is to give a talk and ideally to also formulate a new project with the locals.

Belgium will be my third and likely last new country of 2009. The other two were Spain and Poland. I have invitations to visit Singapore (from a scientist) and Germany (one from a friend and one from a scientist), but I have not made official arrangements to visit either yet. I'm sure that some currently unknown opportunities will also open up for 2010.

By the way: Damn! I like waffles!

Blast from the Past

I was doing some googling while the math department's e-mail server is down, and I found this old edition of "The California Tech". I need to get to a meeting with a student, so I haven't been able to check thoroughly if I can find a more interesting issue from the archives. I'll try later.

Update: Here is the directory of scanned issues in the archive for The California Tech. Awesome! (By the way, on page 7 of this issue is the 'strangle this cat' advertisement that tried to attract attention and get people to work for The Tech. The latter wasn't very successful, but we did attract some attention, and this led to a chain of events---including some stuff in future issues of The Tech that pissed off the Pasadena Humane Society and ultimately culminated in the special issue of The Rivet with an animal-oriented theme. Then the school year ended and everything blew over. Ah, memories.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Visualization of Communities in Networks

The paper version of our winning entry in the 2009 Gallery of Nonlinear Images was published today. You can also check out the poster version.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lecturing Pitfalls

Sometimes, one should use this term more literally than at other times.

You can also check out the rest of my photoblog.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Repeal Power Laws!

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this sign from the G20 summit in Pittsburgh that Aaron Clauset shows in a blog entry.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trouble Brewing in Chavez Ravine

A pretty good sign that a marriage isn't healthy is when the husband fires his wife from her job. (Dodger owner Frank McCourt recently separated from his wife and has now fired her. Her attorney has issued a statement that this battle will be fought in the courtroom. This might be an interesting offseason for the Dodgers...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Congratulations to Dolores Pendell on her Retirement

In this spot today, I'd like to highlight Dolores Pendell, who has just retired after 32 years of being the main support staff in Cornell's Center for Applied Mathematics (CAM). Dolores held the place together (and even had to put up with me for 4 years in my grad student days) and is now moving on to richly-deserved free time and other adventures. Because of Dolores, CAM was always a well-oiled machine. I have been in places with excellent support staff as well as ones with poor support staff, and the difference between the two (as felt by the academics) is absolutely huge. I think a lot of scientists don't realize this, but we're not exactly the ones who keep this stuff running and we really depend on other people behind the scenes making our lives easier so that we can do research, teach, etc. Having good people there makes all the difference in the world.

So, congratulations and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

iPhone App: The 2nd Guesser

The 2nd Guesser iPhone app allows one to play along with the situation in a baseball game. Simple but cool.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

88 Lines About 44 Mathematicians

The song below, called "88 Lines About 44 Mathematicians", is a parody of "88 Lines About 44 Women" by The Nails. I have been meaning to write this parody for several years. I surprisingly have had a bit of a lag in my work today, so I have spent a few hours finally writing this up. I am sure it can be improved in places (perhaps substantially in some cases), so I would appreciate any suggestions regarding individuals lines. I will eventually submit it for publication as a short lighthearted piece, though I haven't yet decided where I should send it. Right now, I am thinking of an MAA venue so that teachers can students can see it, though I think I will need to censor one of the lines if I send it there.

Note: Obviously, I have selected a small subset of mathematicians from the ones I could have chosen. These selections reflect a combination of importance, personal taste and favoritism, and convenience. These 44 mathematicians are in no way meant to reflect the "top" 44 possibilities or anything of the sort, so please don't interpret it that way. I only picked mathematicians listed among the biographies in this catalog. My choices also tended to have a modern twist, and some of the biases in those choices certainly reflect my own mathematical interests.

Anyway, here are the lyrics:

88 Lines About 44 Mathematicians

by Mason A. Porter, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford

(inspired by "88 Lines About 44 Women" by The Nails)

Carl Gauss the child prodigy
gained fame for counting and results aplenty.
Bourbaki was a different type,
he was one who represented many.
Zeeman likes singularities,
he put on a catastrophic show.
Smale proved nontrivial theorems
on the sands of Rio.

Dodgson had a different name,
he designed a wonderland.
Fermat liked to play with numbers,
a bigger margin or smaller hand?
Knuth had this special way
of turning math into a paper.
Mark Kac was into spectral theory,
hearing drum shapes were his caper.

Einstein was an archetype,
1905 was his miracle year.
Landau's books are very famous,
Most "new" results are already in here. :)
Isaac Newton invented calculus,
Future work has been derivative.
Gottfried Liebniz was also around,
he too had calculus to give.

Coxeter insisted he was not a ship,
he preferred geometry.
Chern also liked that stuff,
he even brought us MSRI.
Edward Lorenz gave us butterflies
and helped to dawn the age of chaos.
Poincare also saw that path,
sans computers he started that craze!

Fourier transformed periodic functions,
oscillations gave him his kicks.
Gibbs was a phenomenon,
a father of statistical mechanics.
Bessel functioned as an astronomer,
though he was a mathematician too.
Fredholm gave an alternative,
how many solutions are there for you?

Emmy Noether was a pioneer,
she did a lot with symmetry.
George Birkhoff studied many topics,
e.g., he liked ergodicity.
Mary Cartwright spanned pure and applied,
she helped pioneer systems dynamical.
Serge Lang was quite prolific,
he wouldn't suffer shit at all.

Uh-uh. Not Serge Lang.

Hilbert tried to make things simple,
by enumerating 23 problems.
Cauchy however was quite complex,
studying elasticity and integrals.
von Neumann fathered computation,
though that isn't close to all he did.
Turing was into algorithms,
into culture his machine has slid.

Stokes liked math and physics,
he produced fluid equations bona fide.
Godel wasn't quite complete,
a major feat, I must confide.
Moebius wrought a geometric strip,
we no longer need orientation.
Ito's interesting obsession
was stochastic differential equations.

The Bernoulli family was ubiquitous
in myriad parts of mathematics.
Bromwich was much less famous,
but his contour surely did the trick.
Ramanujan was a legend,
his math notebook is rather full.
Riemann started several trends
with his hypothesis and integral.
Martin Kruskal was solitary,
waves and asymptotics were his thing.
G. H. Hardy was much more pure,
'useless' math made his heart sing.
Richard Courant went the other way,
with an Institute and mathematical physics.
John Nash studied games and fixed points,
his story and Nobel pleased the critics.
Hawking has become a rock star,
he has really gone quite far.
Archimedes spiraled in
but despite orders was done in.
Erdos loved only mathematics,
graphs and numbers make for enticing trysts.
Euler hardly ever missed,
I chose him to end this list.

Eighty-eight lines about forty-four mathematicians.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Oxford's History of Science Museum has a temporary steampunk exhibit that just started on Monday and is running until sometime in February.

Friday, October 16, 2009

First Beverly Hills High School graduate to win Nobel Prize

I didn't realize this until I just saw this in the new issue of Beverly Hills Weekly, but Elinor Ostrom, one of the two new Nobel Laureates in economics (and the first woman ever to win this particular Nobel) was graduated from my High School in 1951. She thus becomes the first person from Beverly High ever to win a Nobel, and presumably my high school will place her in its hall of fame soon. (This seems like it's a pretty severe oversight that this hasn't happened already.)

I have to admit a very small bit of mixed feelings because I was kind of hoping (though obviously without thinking it would actually happen) that I might eventually become the first Beverly alum to do that. Ah well. Not that I'm ambitious or anything...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A-Ha Breaks Up

A-Ha, one of my favorite bands, is breaking up after 25 years together. Their new album, Foot of the Mountain is really awesome. I was debating whether to go to their concert in London on November 4th and I was strongly leaning against it because I have to teach the next day, but now I think I might try to find a way to make it work. We'll see if this is feasible.

Let me also mention that contrary to considerable popular belief, A-Ha is not a one-hit wonder.

(Tip of the cap to Tim Elling.)

Headline: Andrew Wiles is moving to Oxford

According to a new press release on the Mathematical Institute's website, we have poached Andrew Wiles from Princeton. (Wiles is the mathematician who proved Fermat's Last Theorem.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

RIP Captain Lou Albano (1933-2009)

Wrestling legend Captain Lou Albano has died. He also had a bunch of acting credits, including the role of Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! It turns out that he was also in a few Cyndi Lauper videos, which I did not previously know. Here is his wikipedia entry.

(Tip of the cap to Sharam Shokrian.)

Some Snippets of Snarkiness from my Doctoral Dissertation

I was telling some people on Saturday about one of the many snarky things I did in my doctoral dissertation. I was just looking at my copy of my dissertation and reminiscing about the many snarky things I did with that document.

For example, the version I kept and the version I left in the Center for Applied Mathematics has the title "Quantum Chaos in Vibrating Billiard Systems: Version 2". (The 'Version 2' part isn't in the title in the official copies, but I placed it there after I was asked for Version 2.0 instead of 1.1 after I showed 1.0 to my thesis committee. I had to rewrite the whole thing from scratch in about 5 weeks---I made it by one day---and I was feeling extremely bitter.)

My Biographical Sketch in the thesis started off with the following quote from Scott Adams: "Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion." Of course, I wrote that thinking that science and perhaps even trying to get a Ph.D. also belonged there. I write this blog entry now with the knowledge that things have paid off for me quite well scientifically. I had forgotten that I used that quote, and I certainly didn't think I'd be where I am now when I wrote it. I had some other quotes at the top of that section as well, but I'll ignore them. Then I had a bunch of other stuff in the biographical sketch (some series, some not so serious), which I ended with the following words: "Mason has promised to continue his misadventures and remain someone who is distinctive and easily-remembered (even if not always fondly so). Meanwhile, he plans to go outside and frolic." I think I have mostly kept this promise, at least when it comes to the first sentence.

Then came my Dedication: "To my friends, who have always been able to figure out when to boot me in the head. Honorable mention goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers." This too remains rather accurate, though I think my precise phrasing would be slightly different now.

I have a couple of other quotes at the beginning of the Acknowledgements section (one serious and one snarky). I wrote a rather long section because that's the main thing that people looking at my dissertation will actually read. :) I was occasionally quite snarky, but I was sometimes serious as well and I mentioned many of my best friends by name. I separately mentioned friends and other people who helped me with various thesis-related things along the way.

Perhaps my favorite line comes from the one-sentence paragraph with which I ended my Acknowledgements. (This is the one I was conveying on Saturday.) I had looked at several dissertations while I was writing mine up and many of them thanked god. One of them had particularly irked me because it spent 1 sentence thanking wife and kids and then two pages thanking god. I was thus inspired (also with more than a little inspiration from the fact that Michael Berry would often write at the end of his papers that no money from military organizations contributed to the research) to end my Acknowledgements as follows: This dissertation was completed without assistance or inspiration from any deities, as no such beings exist.

Then of course we got to less interesting stuff like my table of contents, list of figures, and scientific chapters.

In the copy I left for Cornell's Center for Applied Mathematics, I left an additional easter egg that I wrote in handwriting. It basically said that I didn't mind how the thesis was used as long as it wasn't used for toilet paper. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact phrasing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from broadcaster Joe Simpson: "Jim Tracy is close to arguing for the cycle."

Simpson made this comment as Rockies manager Jim Tracy was jogging out to argue with the third base umpire. Earlier in the game, he had jogged out to both first base and second base to argue.

Anticipating the National League Championship Series

Given that Charlie Manuel is seemingly going to actually use Brad Lidge to try to close games, I think I now have to root for the Phillies to beat the Rockies.  (My other reason is that it would be really cool to see Pedro pitch against the Dodgers.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Angels Sweep Red Sox in American League Division Series

The Angels just completed a come-from-behind 7-6 victory over the Red Sox to seal their sweep of their American League Division Series. They will face either the Yankees or the Twins (unfortunately, it will probably be the Yankees) in the American League Championship Series.

You know what would be really awesome? A Dodgers-Angels Freeway World Series!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dodgers Sweep Cardinals in National League Division Series

The Dodgers just beat the Cardinals 5-1 today to complete a sweep of the Cardinals in their National League Division Series! Hell yes!

The National League Championship Series in next. Bring on Team X, where X \in {Rockies,Phillies}! Go Dodgers!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Things not to do when stealing something expensive

1. Leave your contact information with a job application that you submitted to the people from whom you stole stuff. D'oh!

Barrack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

By now, Gentle Reader, you've obviously already seen the news that Barrack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. In the speculative article that I read before the announcement, his name was never even mentioned as a viable possibility.

My main reaction is that I think that it way too early to properly judge his accomplishments. Don't we need to let things percolate to see what actually transpires in practice? I am much more used to prizes in other topics where it is typical that many decades pass before the awarding of such a prize. I can understand the argument and arguably even the need for a much faster percolation time for the Peace Prize---perhaps it will provide appropriate encouragement for the intended good things to transpire---but this still seems really early to me. I'm not suggesting his work thus far won't eventually merit the Peace Prize (and most of you probably know that I am pro-Obama), but it seems to me that we're getting way ahead of ourselves here. It makes it feel to me like the choice was made in part as a result of getting a lot of press time, and the Peace Prize (as well as other prizes, of course) should be more than a popularity contest. Admittedly, I have my cynical hat on for this comment.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Connected: A new book about social networks

Given the media play it's received, I should mention my collaborator James Fowler's new popular book about social networks. The book, which James coauthored with Nicholas Christakis, is called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. The book should be an interesting read (I previously glanced through small parts of it in draft form), but I really think they should lose the term "network man". It's too corny.

(Tip of the cap to James for passing along this particular article.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009 Fail

Last night I watched the one-game playoff between the Twins and Tigers to determine the American League Central champion. I'm pleased to report that the Twins won 6-5 in 12 innings. (I went to bed during the 9th inning and fell asleep immediately, though I was planning on listeniing while lying in bed.) The Yankees intelligently chose to start the series today rather than tomorrow, so they have even more of an advantage in the AL Division Series than they already did from being the better team.

Unfortunately, had an epic fail. Their playoff coverage has a nice feature where one can change the camera angle. I don't remember seeing this feature during the regular season. The problem is that I was unable to figure out how to just get the telecast (though I was able to get the audio from it without a problem), which last night was on TBS, so I was forced to change camera angles manually during the game. I used the 4-panel feature, which successfully gave me smooth streaming video of 4 different things (I hadn't actually tried that before... it's quite sweet!) to get 4 camera angles at once. But I felt like I was in command central where somebody would then choose which angle to give TV viewers at a given point. I also didn't get the nice markers on the screen indicating statistics, number of outs, etc. I hope I can just get a complete broadcast today, as I'd rather use just one screen and not have to watch 4 different angles that are somewhat phase-shifted. Not that I'll be awake for the Dodger game anyway... It is slated to start at 2:37 am.

By the way, please excuse the typos in this entry. I tried to catch them, but I am running a long, slow process on Matlab on this computer and everything else seems to have slowed to a crawl. (This is my office computer, so I can't comment on the limits of my laptop at this juncture.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

RIP I.M. Gelfand (1913-2009)

I.M. Gelfand died yesterday. He was one of the preeminent mathematicians of the 20th century. He made contributions in numerous subjects, including representation theory, generalized functions, partial differential equations, and theoretical biology.

Bolzano-Weierstrass Rap

I was looking at the website of mathematician Dave Richeson (after browsing through one of his papers), and I decided to take a look on his blog. In a recent entry, he links to an "awesome" rap performance of the entire proof of the Bolzano-Weierstrass theorem by mathematician Steve Sawin. This is wrong on so many levels. (Tomorrow we have our dinner with the new Somerville frosh, so we could use this to scare away the new math majors...)

Headline: University of Florida has a "Zombie Attack" Plan

As this article in the Miami Herald reports, the University of Florida has formulated a "Zombie Attack" Plan (which you can read here). The article is pretty boring, but the preparedness plan itself is pretty damn funny.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Count's Song: Censored Version

Here is a funny YouTube video of The Count from Sesame Street with bleeps added in appropriate spots. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

2009 Ig Nobel Prizes

Here are the 2009 Ig Nobel Prizes.

(Tip of the cap to Justin.)

Open-Source Mathematics

Today I saw the 2009 Charles Simonyi Annual Lecture in the communication of science in the Oxford Playhouse. It was given by Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers (apparently the first mathematician to ever give this lecture in its short history). The title of his talk was "Open Source Mathematics", and we were greeted by a friendly Beamer presentation. (I don't actually use Beamer for my talks, but I was pretty amused to see that format in the Oxford Playhouse as opposed to the types of venues where one would more typically see that format used.)

Gowers was discussing his Polymath1 open-source mathematics project, which was an attempt to bring theorem-proving outside of the realm of the single mathematician and into a more public domain. Although most of the active participants in this project (they were quite successful, though how widespread such success can be remains to be seen) ended up being professional mathematicians with highly-developed expertise in relevant areas, the whole thing was done in a public arena---namely, Gowers' blog---there were lots of people who were not mathematicians who were following the whole thing and making comments (and occasionally giving suggestions, though apparently not ones that actually helped solve the problem). Interestingly, this project also provides a public record of this type of problem-solving process, which could prove to be a great teaching resource.

In closing, I have two basic comments:

(1) I am very interested in seeing how such efforts develop in the future. (For example, take a look at the polymath blog that has now developed.)

(2) I enthusiastically applaud Gowers and company for this very successful effort!

Emergency Exit Fail

10/02/09: Emergency Exit Fail

This is one of the emergency exits on the second floor of Dartington House. It has been in this state at least since the first day that I started living in Oxford. (Actually, it used to be in much worse shape than this. Until recently, there was a bunch of 'do not pass' tape over the door.)

I wonder if I should submit this picture to the Fail Blog? Thoughts?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baseball Call of the Year

Wow. Just wow. I'm not even going to describe this, so you're just going to have to follow that link and listen.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Awesome School Answering Machine

Unfortunately, this is a video that was directly uploaded to Facebook, so that is the only link to this video that I can put here. (I don't have time to look right now, but if somebody finds a link on YouTube, please send me the url.)

The important part of the video is the audio, which apparently has an actual answering machine message at a school in Australia. It's a lovingly sarcastic message that has things like, 'If you want to lie about why your child is absent from school, please press '1'.) I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Jeffrey Porter.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mechanics of Fingernail Cracking

I have managed to further savage a couple of my fingernails and toenails lately, so that made me wonder about their mechanical and growth properties (and, more particularly, if I have done additional permanent damage to them). I hadn't gotten around to googling this yet, but todat's issue of mini-AIR has helped answer one of my questions. (I'm actually pretty amused that an issue of mini-AIR, meant to make us laugh and then to make us think, has managed to do that. It doesn't usually have blurbs about things in which I already knew I was interested. Now I can just cross my fingers and hope that time does a bit of desavaging...)

Tales from the arXiv: Intruder dragging edition

I was struck this morning by the abstract for this new arXiv paper:

Title: Journey of an intruder through the fluidisation and jamming transitions of a dense granular media

Abstract: We study experimentally the motion of an intruder dragged into an amorphous monolayer of horizontally vibrated grains at high packing fractions. This motion exhibits two transitions. The first transition separates a continuous motion regime at comparatively low packing fractions and large dragging force from an intermittent motion one at high packing fraction and low dragging force. Associated to these different motions, we observe a transition from a linear rheology to a stiffer response. We thereby call ``fluidisation'' this first transition. A second transition is observed within the intermittent regime, when the intruder's motion is made of intermittent bursts separated by long waiting times. We observe a peak in the relative fluctuations of the intruder's displacements and a critical scaling of the burst amplitudes distributions. This transition occurs at the jamming point characterized in a previous study and defined as the point where the static pressure (i.e. the pressure measured in the absence of vibration) vanishes. Investigating the motion of the surrounding grains, we show that below the fluidisation transition, there is a permanent wake of free volume behind the intruder. This transition is marked by the evolution of the reorganization patterns around the intruder, which evolve from compact aggregates in the flowing regime to long-range branched shapes in the intermittent regime, suggesting an increasing role of the stress fluctuations. Remarkably, the distributions of the kinetic energy of these reorganization patterns also exhibits a critical scaling at the jamming transition.

Comment: "Intruder dragging" sounds like a kind of torture. ("I know how we can get the secret code out of him! Let's drag him into an amorphous monolayer of horizontally vibrated grains at high packing fractions!") Maybe it's just me...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Return of the Random Walkers (2009 edition)

There have now been enough games in the 2009 college football season for the 'monkey rankings' (i.e., random walker rankings) to be calculated. (AKA: The relevant adjacency matrix now satisfies the Perron-Frobenius theorem, but never mind...) Our rankings are never good this early in the season, but you can still go to my collaborator's blog (i.e., the link above) and yell at him about the rankings. :) The basic way that the rankings work is explained on that page.


It looks like I was oinking.

I started having severe muscle aches on Thursday night while I was playing Okami, and I went to bed not long after that. (I stayed up just long enough to turn on the Dodger game so I could listen to it while I tried to go to sleep.) I woke up Friday morning and felt like total crap---easily the worst I've felt in over 3 years, but actually nowhere near as bad as that day that Lemming might remember. That was the one in which I slept 18 hours and bowed out of going to a play with him. That day, I somehow had walked to campus and had to be driven home by the condensed matter physics secretary after she saw me lying prostrate on the floor of my office. Then I slept for most of the next 3/4 of a day, went to campus the next day feeling not too horrible, and had the guy at the Red Door Cafe tell me that I looked horrible. (My response: "You should have seen me yesterday.")

Anyway, having learned my lesson, I cancelled all my meetings on Friday and I stayed home except for a brief walk to get fresh air and coffee + pastry. On the way, I also dropped off a form I absolutely had to submit on Friday, and I tried to avoid everybody as much as I could and just slide the form under the right door. (I probably shouldn't have stepped out of the apartment at all, but being cooped up was driving me nuts, even though I was lying down most of the time and occasionally drifting in and out of sleep.) At first, I couldn't even sit up for 5 minutes without feeling extremely nauseous, but things were already getting better by mid to late afternoon. Then I looked up the symptoms of both flu and swine flu, and it looks like I had just about every one of them. I went to bed at 9pm on Friday (and I was exhausted by that point) and except for getting up briefly a couple of times in the middle of the night, I slept until 9am. I dealt with e-mails on Friday, but that was the only work I could handle. So much for the page proof corrections I was supposed to finish by then. By the way, just to give you an idea of how cushy my job is, one of my colleagues brought me fruit and tea to my flat.

I already felt much better yesterday. In particular, I felt well enough to type up my page proof corrections (that I had finished scribbling on paper on Thursday), but that and some e-mails are about all of the work I did. I again got coffee and otherwise stayed in my flat (aside from a brief venture to the SCR to return the stuff from Friday and take a couple of apples). For the second day in a row, I ate only fruit, nuts, coffee, and pastry (finishing the one I started the day before). I also started a new game of Civ IV, because I think that getting swine flu is the FSM's way of saying that I should be playing Civ IV.

I'm pretty much recovered now, except that I am pretty heavily weakened from this and have eaten very little during the past couple of days. I am going to have to continue taking it easy for several days---I just don't think I'll have the strength to go back to my normal work schedule (which I suppose most people would consider an insane schedule) for a few days. Naturally, I haven't done the work this weekend that I initially intended to do, though perhaps I'll do a small bit of it today. Everything else will be delayed in turn, but my collaborators and I will just have to deal with it. It's better to get this over with and have this happen after classes start when it would be much harder for me to slow my pace this drastically. (It still annoys me to need to do this, but I don't have the strength to go at my normal pace right now. I guess there are a few things that are capable of slowing me down. :) )

I guess I get all of the hip diseases.

Dodgers clinch playoff berth

The Dodgers clinched a playoff berth with their victory last night. We now have a magic number of 2 to win the National League West. (That is, any combination of Dodger wins and Rockies losses summing to 2 or more will result in our winning the NL West.)

Go Dodgers!

(Hopefully, however, we can get farther in the postseason this year...)

Update (9/27/09, 1st inning): According to the broadcasters on today's Dodger telecast (who are idiots rather than Vin Scully), our magic number is 1. However, by my counting that would only clinch a tie. So perhaps that means we have won that tie-breaker? Unfortunately, the announcers didn't bother giving any explanation whatsoever. Maybe they will later. (Of course, this won't actually come into play.)

Update (9/27/09, 4th inning): The announcers finally bothered to explain that the fact that the magic number is 1 is indeed a tie-breaker situation. That rule is so lame (even when it favors my team). Also, the Dodgers had 2 runners nailed on the bases this inning---Bloody Hell!

Update (9/27/09, top of the 9th inning): Maybe the announcers mentioned this earlier, but I didn't notice it. The reason we won the tie-breaker is that we won the season series against the Rockies. I guess that's a reasonable choice of tie-breaking mechanism, but I'd still prefer not to have one. By the way, unless something goes horribly wrong in the bottom of the 9th, we're about to win! (I'll write a separate post on that.)

Update (9/27/09, after the game): Then again, things might go horribly wrong in the bottom of the 9th... Damn.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

That is an ex-dove.

This Peace Day video is awesome, "awesome", and priceless. Wow.

(Tip of the cap to Dave Relyea.)

UK versus US academic culture

Well, I could make quite a few comments here, but let me instead just link to an observation that one other person has made on the blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Note that I have not noticed anything similar during my time here, so I have no idea how widespread this is. It's an interest blog entry, and I'll leave it at that except for one thing: The article to which that blog entry links is both disturbing and outrageous. What century are we living in? How can people think that way?

Update (9/27/09): It occurs to me that it's worth commenting that friendships between faculty and students are definitely much more common in Oxford than in any of the institutions where I have been before simply because (due to the College system) there are many more opportunities for social interactions between students and faculty. I suppose it then makes sense that there might similarly be more opportunities for relationships (especially of the 'conflict of interest' variety) to arise. Though that wouldn't explain anything about UK schools that don't have a Collegiate system. My own best friend in Oxford happens to be a graduate student, but I don't see myself being able to similarly become friends with, e.g., somebody in mathematics because of my own reservations based on how I was brought up academically. (And even if I were able to overcome that---and I don't believe that this is something that I should even try to overcome---I would obviously be recusing myself from being an Examiner, etc. just as if I had advised that student.)

(Tip of the cap to Justin.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Facebook + Konami Code

For all of you old-school Konami/Gradius fans out there who have Facebook accounts: Log into Facebook and type the usual Konami code (up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a-[enter]) and then scroll up to the top of the page. While the effect isn't that interesting, Easter Eggs like this just warm my gaming heart...

(Tip of the cap to Samuel Lee.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Project 'Gaydar'": Oy Vey

You'll notice that I have quotes in part of the title for this blog entry, and that's because this study about using network information to infer unknown demographics has been given a rather unfortunate and irresponsible name.

The link I have provided is a Boston Globe article about some research coming (mostly) out of MIT about using Facebook data to infer demographic information that people have not openly acknowledged---in this case, sexual orientation. Now, of course it is true that such data can be used for that, and indeed many of the tools to do so come from network science. And it is essential for people to be far more aware than they seem to be that that is the case. Of course the media is going to butcher the actual research, so as a scientist it is crucial when talking them to make sure approximations are reasonable and---when it comes to sensitive studies like this one---non-damaging. ("First, do no harm.") I'll come back to some of this in a minute, but first I want to tell a story (and then beyond my research interests, it will really become clear why I am blogging about this incident).

I saw a link to this study this morning when I was going through the daily digest from SOCnet listserv. Among the included e-mails was one from sociologist Barry Wellman that included a link to this newspaper article and some of his commentary. More commentary from others came in subsequent e-mails. Obviously, I have a great deal of interest in this topic based on my research, and instead of saving the article for later (as I often might, but in this case I was especially interested in the article), I opened it up immediately. Scanning through the text, I noticed a very familiar name: Fuck! One of the students on this project is one of my former research students from Georgia Tech!. He worked with me on an abstract problem in dynamical systems---nothing to do with networks---but I am one of his educators, and my memories of him are of his being just a fundamentally nice kid (not a generic nice kid, but somehow nicer in some deeper sense). Also, educators have nightmares about seeing their students' names in situations like this. When he applies for jobs in a few years, people will google him, and this thing is what they're going to see, and he's probably going to have to explain himself.

For this kind of research, there are obviously very serious issues---especially when such personal information is involved---and any study of this nature necessarily has a lot of hurdles to pass to even be allowed to happen, and that includes ensuring that the data is anonymized. The article in the Boston Globe indicates one of the ethical hurdle but not one that would be sufficient. (Based on an e-mail exchange with my former student, there were several beyond this, though I can't say if they are sufficient.) Also, the "validation" that was mentioned in the article is just frightening. My former student assures me that there is more in there, but things are exacerbated by the fact that the paper is not available publicly in any form. It is currently under review and isn't even around as a preprint. So the experts reading the Boston Globe article can't even look it up to see what the researchers really did. Also, it seems like huge mistakes were made in the discussions with the media---I wonder if the people on the project actually used the term 'gaydar' in those discussions, and that is just stupid. How could one think that something like that wouldn't blow up in one's face? (And not that it's a particularly nice term in the first place.)

Anyway, conveying science to the media is a very difficult endeavor, but it needs to be done in way that doesn't result in articles like this. Obviously, the researchers didn't want this kind of article, and something like this could have been prevented---even with a sensitive subject (which is when you want to be especially careful). Work with your interviewers, prepare for your interviews by establishing both talking points and things not to say, try not to say asinine things, and insist very stubbornly to look at drafts of what might get published. Some of the science will necessarily get approximated; grin and bear it if the approximation is reasonable and kindly offer corrections if it isn't. And, especially, as it is with doctors: "First, do no harm."

If you want to see an excellent capsule of the scientist-journalist relationship, take a look at the short sequence of PHD Comics that starts with this one. "Robots", indeed.

"Derek Jeter Honored For Having Fewer Hits Than Harold Baines"

This article by The Onion is yet another awesome Onion article that pokes fun at jeterating. To be fair, though, Harold Baines was a good player for many years.

(Tip of the hat to Justin.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from Jack Cowan, today's seminar speaker, who said: "The nonlinearity isn't linear."

(The follow-up comment to that from one of my esteemed colleagues was: "Can we quote you on that?")

Blogging about Community Structure

My coauthor JP Onnela has blogged about our community structure survey article on David Lazer's "Complexity and Social Networks" blog. JP will be contributing to Lazer's blog on occasion, so that will give some more opportunities to read about things like community detection (and other things from the methodological corners of network science).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rickrolling Hack at MIT

A recent hack at MIT entailed putting the first 7 notes of Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' on a part of a building that looks like empty sheet music. The hack itself is pretty neat, but I especially love the nod to Rickrolling.

(Tip of the cap to Craig Montuori.)

Shana Tova, Maties!

This year, we are experiencing a confluence of International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Rosh Hashanah. I care more about the former, whereas my family cares far more about the latter (and many of them are not only heathens but likely haven't even heard of International Talk Like a Pirate Day). I do, however, like the idea of a holiday mashup. I want to hear a pirate blowing a shofar, damnit! Ahoy!

This year, we be experiencin' a confluence o' International Talk Like a Pirate Day and Rosh Hashanah. I care more about t' former, whereas me family cares far more about t' latter (and many o' them be not only heathens but likely haven't even heard o' International Talk Like a Pirate Day). I do, however, like t' idea o' a holiday mashup. I want t' hear a pirate blowin' a shofar, damnit! Ahoy!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Congratulations to the 08-09 mathematical modelling MSc students!

Today we finished the vivas (thesis defenses) and awarded the diplomas for the mathematical modelling and scientific computation MSc (Masters) students for 2008-2009. We also awarded 5 "distinctions" (out of 18 students). I was the advisor or co-advisor of 4 of the 18 students. Two of my students received distinction, and one of my students (Ben Franz) won the Nuclear Electric prize for best overall student in the cohort. It just goes to show how far one can get by working on a project on cow synchronization. (Naturally, my other 2 students also performed well.) When giving out the results, we didn't have any stories amusing incidents like we did last year. I couldn't find a blog entry about last year, so let me briefly recount the story here:

The students line up alphabetically to come into a room and formally be given their results one by one. There was one student (I don't remember whom) to whom we forgot to tell some germane piece of information so we had to call him back in. Then we realized we had forgotten to tell him something else, so we called him back in again. Between one or both of his appearances in the room, other students had gotten their results. Then after we had called him back in twice, we decided we should call him back in a third time a little bit later just to screw with him. That incident remains perhaps the funniest moment I've experienced at Oxford, and it's certainly one of my best memories here outside of things of the form 'quality time with good friends'.

Anyway, congratulations to all of the students who graduated today! (And that would be all 18 of the students, by the way. We didn't fail anybody this year.)

I think the best quote that might have come from this is one I heard about second-hand---namely, a rather distraught statement of "I just had to read 100 pages about hypergeometric functions!"

By the way, John Ockendon ("Ock") says I should give a shout out to our esteemed External Examiner from Limerick, who came to Oxford armed with the knowledge that I have strong opinions and tend to be very passionate about things. I'm glad I have established my reputation. Also, I was once again the strictest Examiner by far this year. So end my duties as an MSc Examiner. (Two more years as a Part C Examiner, and then all of my Examiner duties will be over for a very long time.)

On a somewhat unfortunate note, I am feeling extremely depressed at the moment, though there isn't any good reason for it. The chemicals in my body simply aren't cooperating, and I have managed to get into a depressive episode. I even saw it coming, but my efforts to avert it weren't successful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Spectral Tripartitioning of Networks"

The published version of another one of my papers just came out. This paper is a methods paper:

Title: Spectral Tripartitioning of Networks

Authors: Thomas Richardson, Peter J. Mucha, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We formulate a spectral graph-partitioning algorithm that uses the two leading eigenvectors of the matrix corresponding to a selected quality function to split a network into three communities in a single step. In so doing, we extend the recursive bipartitioning methods developed by Newman [M. E. J. Newman, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 8577 (2006); Phys. Rev. E 74, 036104 (2006)] to allow one to consider the best available two-way and three-way divisions at each recursive step. We illustrate the method using simple “bucket brigade” examples and then apply the algorithm to examine the community structures of the coauthorship graph of network scientists and of U. S. Congressional networks inferred from roll call voting similarities.

There are a couple of vignettes worth mentioning:

1. One of the referee reports for the original version of the paper complained that we cited Mark Newman too much. (This is, to date, the only time a referee has ever complained to me about citing someone else too much.)

2. This is the first time I have ever gotten a networks paper into a Physical Review journal. (I have gotten such papers in other good journals, but upon submitting networks papers, PR has usually tended to just tell me that they don't consider the paper to be physics. It's a crapshoot, though I have since gotten one of the Physical Review E editors to indicate conditions (or at least his opinion of what they should be) for whether or not something is "physics" that are much more precise than what APS, the publisher of these journals, has posted on the Web. (I can pass this along if you ask me privately. It's public information, but I just don't want to get into it in this blog entry.)

Very Important Pixels

The blog Very Important Pixels, filled with pixelated versions of famous people, is pretty amusing. For example, the Michael Jackson one is hilarious.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)