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

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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.)