Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roy Halladay pitches a Perfect Game

Coming off of a bad start (and a couple of games of having thrown lots of pitches, so I avoided having him on my fantasy baseball team yesterday), Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched the 20th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Dallas Braden of the Athletics pitched a perfect game earlier this month. Most baseball fans know that Halladay is a great pitcher, but I think that he's still underrated when it comes to all-time rankings (formal or informal).

Friday, May 28, 2010

RIP Gary Coleman (1968-2010)

Gary Coleman, who become a famous child star because of his role as Arnold in the television show 'Diff'rent Strokes', has died.

I remember watching that show back in the day, and it had some amusing moments (and of course Arnold's famous catch phrase), though my memory is sketchy at the moment. (There was a pretty amusing episode in which Arnold considers converting to Judaism.)

More recently, Coleman has made the news in other ways (e.g., he ran for Governor of California as part of the ridiculous 2003 election). And his name is one of the ones that gets brought up when one discusses former child stars and where they ended up.

Congratulations to Brian and Victoria!

Brian Limketkai officially got hitched a couple of weeks ago. And apparently a celebratory meal at IHOP was involved. Classy. :)

I look forward to the eventual larger celebration that is being planned.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

RIP Walter Rudin (1921-2010)

I didn't notice this earlier amidst Martin Gardner's death, but mathematician Walter Rudin also died a few days ago.

I know him best for his three text books. The easiest one, which gives an introduction to analysis, is affectionately known as "Baby Rudin". The middle one, which is often used in Math 110 at Caltech for much of the material, is called "Big Rudin" or sometimes "Green Rudin". I own this second book as well as Rudin's functional analysis book, which sadly doesn't have an official nickname. I started calling it "Bigger Rudin" as a result. I never met the guy and don't know much about his research, the story of his wife's job situation at University of Wisconsin at Madison gets told reasonably often.

It sure beats minding the gap...

The British railway system sure makes a lot of promises...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thatcher Effect

Wow, the so-called "Thatcher effect" is pretty bizarre.

Happy Towel Day!

Today is Towel Day. (RIP Douglas Adams.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

RIP José Lima (1972-2010)

Former pitcher José Lima, who spent some time with the Dodgers, died of a heart attack this morning. Holy shit.

RIP Martin Gardner (1914-2010)

Renowned mathematics and science writer (and mathematics puzzler and purveyor of recreational mathematics) Martin Gardner has died.

Update (5/24/10): Here is some more reading material about Martin Gardner (courtesy Scientific American).

(Tip of the cap to Jesús Cuevas Maraver.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Every mathematics talk should have at least a little bit of fruit fly sex."

The 20th and 21st of May in the year 2010 saw a conglomeration of network scientists and statisticians in Oxford's Mathematical Institute for the "Oxford/Harvard Workshop on Networks and Statistics" (for which I was the primary organizer). We had three distinguished visitors from Harvard's statistics department: Edo Airoldi discussed dynamic network tomography, Joe Blitzstein discussed estimation in exponential random graph models, and Patrick Wolfe discussed point process models. Speakers from Oxford came from a wide variety of departments and research groups, including the Department of Statistics, the Nuffield Network of Network Researchers, the Oxford Internet Institute, the Neuroscience group, the Department of Physics, the Department of Engineering Science, and (of course) OCIAM. In addition to members of these research groups, participants also included faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from plant sciences, the Systems Biology Doctoral Training Centre, political science, the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance, and even one statistician from Cambridge.

The format was perhaps a bit unusual, with plenty of time left open for discussions that allowed for much more discourse among participants than what typically occurs at workshops. To facilitate this, all speakers were encouraged to discuss open problems and to make a point of stressing not only what they did understand but more importantly what they did not understand and what problems they wanted to see solved. The discussion periods including extensive brainstorming on which problems were most desirable to solve and for which problems the situation was perhaps ripe to try to do it now. For example, sociologist Bernie Hogan stressed the need for mathematicians, statisticians, and physicists to develop good methods to study overlapping communities (so-called "soft partitioning") in networks, and several participants had interesting ideas regarding how one might try to do this.

In his plenary talk, which was held jointly with OCIAM's "Differential Equations and Applications" seminar (this was a talk on applications), Gero Miesenböck introduced us to the emerging field of "optogenetics", which seeks to develop genetic strategies for observing and controlling the function of brain circuits with light. He talk was fascinating, and it even contained fruit fly sex in it. (I think that all mathematics talks should contain at least a little bit of fruit fly sex in it.) It also included some fascinating time series and nonlinear oscillations. Gero stressed his desire for mathematical modelling to accompany his work---his field is currently entirely bereft of it, and it is crucially needed---and we hope to follow up his talk with a Friday morning workshop in the fall.

The Oxford/Harvard Workshop on Networks and Statistics seemed to be a great success, though there is a higher bar for success that I hope that this conference will achieve---namely, I want published papers that ultimately result from interactions and discussions that began at this workshop. Ask me again in 2 years to see if this more genuine measure of success has been achieved.

Ditch Day 2010

Tomorrow was yesterday.

Here is Caltech's coverage of Ditch Day 2010. Enjoy!

Fun Fact

Fun Fact: If you swallow the wrong way, it is possible to end up blowing bacon out of your nose.

In related news, I don't feel very well right now...

Community Detection and Dating?

The Oxford press release about my new community-detection article in Science has now been picked up by a dating advice website. WTF?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pac-Man turns the big 3-0 (technically, that happens tomorrow)

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man (it was first released in Japan on May 22, 2010), and Google celebrated it in proper fashion by putting a mini Pac-Man game on its home page. I approve! (This, by the way, is Google's first interactive 'doodle'.)

And while Pac-Man might not turn 30 until tomorrow, be advised (especially if you're a frosh) that Tomorrow is TODAY! (I'll blog about this a bit later. In the meantime, you can celebrate by watching this.)

(Tip of the cap to Lemming for the Pac-Man stuff and GFreak for the video. I first heard about Ditch Day from Andy Sudol's Facebook post.)

Update (5/22/10): That it truly is Pac-Man's 30th birthday, here is the story behind Google's Pac-Man doodle. (Tip of the hat to Jimmy Lin.)

Author Name of the Day

This demotivational poster compelled me to find a famous psychologist by the name of Edwin Boring.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Irony of Mensa

I think I might have realized this before, but I only got reminded of it today. There is an adjective in Spanish called "mensa" (the feminine form of menso) that means stupid. (If you say things correctly, it can actually be used in an affectionate manner.)

The reason that this is so bloody awesome is that Mensa is the "International High IQ Society". Nice!

Are tensors more romantic than cows?

I link, you decide.

(Hey, I almost went a full week without a blog entry! I haven't checked, but I think it's been a pretty long time since I had a gap that long.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cows are apparently sexier than tensors.

As you know, I am the coauthor on a new paper on community structure in multislice networks, which has just appeared in Science and which I genuinely believe makes a very big advance.

I am also the coauthor of a recently submitted paper entitled A Mathematical Model for the Dynamics and Synchronization of Cows that has been posted on the arXiv, as is normal procedure in mathematics and physics (and, increasingly, other fields). Nevertheless, this paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, and I can't stress this enough.

Guess which paper is getting more attention?

I will readily admit that I have some fun when I get media attention, and that it's pretty damned cool to be see articles in places like Technology Review, Boing Boing, and Marginal Revolution about my work. I'm flattered, and some of what is written is entertaining (and some of the accompanying pictures are entertaining). This has been a fun project with some interesting scientific results (on which I believe we can build with a lot of additional hard work), and we included a couple of jokes in the paper because frankly it makes it nicer to read. Also, I am happy to see a lighthearted tone in some of the places that have discussed our work, but I am a bit disturbed by a couple of things:

(1) Some of the venues that have discussed our work used figures without asking for our permission. That's just not cool. I would gladly give permission, but you really ought to ask.

(2) I'm not surprised by the media attention on something that hasn't been peer-reviewed and indeed have experienced this before, but can we please make a distinction between something that is published and something that is on a preprint server and has not yet undergone peer review? Some (but not all) of the articles that I have seen are ignoring this crucial distinction, and it's a bit annoying to see increasingly inaccurate statements from people who are playing a sort of "whispering game" and making incorrect approximations of what other people wrote (and writing unsubstantiated things as if they were facts). I know that's the nature of things, but it's frustrating, and when I see a post that is not lighthearted but instead tries to use our work to advocate some cause that has absolutely nothing to do with what we studied (which is a biologically-inspired mathematical model, and I feel a very interesting one), I feel just a little bit worse about the world than I did before.

If you are reading this and are a journalist, please note that my coauthors and I wish to wait until after the peer review process runs its course (and the paper is accepted to a scientific journal---ideally the one to which we have already submitted it) before we grant any interviews. We are very excited about our work, but please let's not be premature about things! Now if you want to talk to me about multislice networks, then I would be extremely pleased to talk to you now.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Community Structure in Time-Dependent, Multiscale, and Multiplex Networks

Guess what? I now have a paper in Science. And it's a mathematics article. And it even has tensors in it. You can find the abstract here. Science's editorial policy prevents me from putting the published .pdf file on my website, but I can put the version that was accepted there. Here are some more details about the paper:

Title: Community Structure in Time-Dependent, Multiscale, and Multiplex Networks

Authors: Peter J. Mucha, Thomas Richardson, Kevin Macon, Mason A. Porter, Jukka-Pekka Onnela

Abstract: Network science is an interdisciplinary endeavor, with methods and applications drawn from across the natural, social, and information sciences. A prominent problem in network science is the algorithmic detection of tightly connected groups of nodes known as communities. We developed a generalized framework of network quality functions that allowed us to study the community structure of arbitrary multislice networks, which are combinations of individual networks coupled through links that connect each node in one network slice to itself in other slices. This framework allows studies of community structure in a general setting encompassing networks that evolve over time, have multiple types of links (multiplexity), and have multiple scales.


(1) One of my coauthors is named Kevin Macon. How cool is that for a networks paper?

(2) The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill press release can be found here.

(3) I'll post the Oxford press release later (after it's available). Some venues are planning to pick up the story, and I'll pass relevant links along once I have them.

(4) On an entirely separate note, my cow sync paper---which I just posted on the arXiv---has been invading the blogosphere (especially the nerdy corners of it), so I'll write something about that later.

(5) I really need to grade papers right now. Sigh...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Game: "Frigate Bird"

I haven't tried this game yet, but Aaron Clauset has blogged about a game called Frigate Bird that uses Scrabble tiles.

It sounds pretty cool, so maybe I'll try it at my next games night (which is in 10 days).

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dallas is Perfect

Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays today. His perfect game was the 19th one in Major League history.


In the final installment of his series of articles in the New York Times, mathematician Steve Strogatz discusses infinity. Unsurprisingly, these articles (as well as many additional ones) will be collected into a book, which is scheduled to be published in 2012.

Slip of the Tongue

On Mother's Day, Major League Baseball has for several years arranged it so that many players use pink bats as part of the whole "Breast Cancer Awareness Day" part of the deal. Unfortunately, one of the Giants' announcers accidently called it "Breast Awareness Day". Oops.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Coming To America

Female Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida has signed a contract with an independent minor league team in the United States. The name of the team is the Chico Outlaws.

This is Yoshida's first stop in the US, and I hope she gets very far in her career, and I hope to somebody get a chance to see her pitch in a game. We'll see how things go, but this is an important foundational step.

Somerville-Jesus Ball

Somerville College is having a ball jointly with Jesus College tonight. (They do this every 2 or 3 years. I guess it's supposed to be every 2 years, but last year's ball got punted to this year.) Apparently, something like 2000 people will show up, and Somerville is the only one of the two colleges that can possibly accommodate something of this size. The College is going into lock-down at 5pm, and my choices are basically to go to the party (which is so not happening!), being stuck in my apartment starting at 5pm and having to deal with the shit going on around me, or being stuck outside from 5pm until something like 4am. Thankfully, my friend Felicia has offered me a couch futon to sleep on tonight, so I have somewhere else to be---and a place where I will actually be able to get work done and sleep, which certainly won't be the case tonight in my apartment in Somerville. And I'll have the spare key, so I'll actually have the freedom to go out and do stuff if I want. (Maybe I'll go see "Hot Tub Time Machine" or something?) Yeah! The couch futon isn't necessarily the most comfortable one in the world, but I don't care, because this is infinitely better than the alternatives of being stuck either in my apartment or in my Dartington House office!

I get by with a little help from my friends...

Update: An awesome moment related to this occurred today. I was in Somerville's SCR having some coffee and a pastry, and more people were around than usual for a Saturday. The wife of a Governing Body member asked several of us collectively if were going to go to the ball, and I immediately answered "Fuck no!" before I could stop myself. I am just a picture of propriety.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Parliament well hung?

Not that I was paying much attention to the UK elections (because I wasn't), but of course that was a big deal to lots of the people I know around here. A colleague of mine just walked by the door and said the result was interesting, so I decided to look it up---the BBC is apparently predicting a hung parliament.

Last night, I was talking about this a bit with a friend and a colleague (I'm referring to 2 separate people), although I headed off to do my own thing when dinner was winding down and the discussion got a bit more "technical" [not necessarily the best term, but it seems good enough]. They were mentioning about watching it no matter how painful the results were. Naturally, this made me compare it to watching the Dodgers year after year no matter how much they keep breaking my heart, though they didn't see it as the same thing. :) I do understand that, but when one lives in a bubble the way I do, it sure seems that way.

There were two main things I followed with respect to the election: (1) I was pretty glad that my article in a fancy journal got delayed a week to the 14th because otherwise there'd basically be no chance of getting any UK publicity. It's not quite like when the PS 3 was announced right when my PNAS paper came out (I think it was the PS 3 and not some other system...), but it still conflicted with my self-interest; (2) I saw a survey, with results divided primarily by self-identified party affiliation, regarding statistics for people not wanting people like me immigrating into the UK.

Interesting times, I suppose. Now when will they give me the data so that I can write a paper on it... ;)

Oh, and the article includes the awesome sentence beginning "Education secretary Ed Balls hung on in Morley and Outwood..."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Unwritten Rules in Baseball

I just read a fascinating article by Jerry Crasnick about unwritten rules in baseball. In each case, Crasnick gives a scenario, and Goose Gossage (Hall-of-Fame relief pitcher), Jim Palmer (HOF starting pitcher), and Bert Blyleven (will soon be, and should already be, an HOF starting pitcher) gave their opinions and possibly some anecdotes in each case. It was interesting to contrast the reaction of Palmer with those of the other two. Anybody want to guess where I would like along this spectrum? ;)

RIP Ernie Harwell (1918-2010)

Once again, the baseball mike has fallen silent, as legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell has died. You can read about him on wikipedia.

I had a chance to listen to Harwell a bit later in his career, and his poem "Baseball, A Game For All America" to me is very meaningful (and, of course, I am listening to it now on iTunes). Here is a YouTube clip of that poem.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Origin of the Term "Phase Space"

I just read a fascinating article in the April issue of Physics Today on the origin of the term "phase space". Highly recommended.

Advice for Giving Talks

In a blog post, Aaron Clauset enumerates some excellent advice for giving talks. If you are a student of mine---or, in fact, a scientist or academic of any kind---please read this blog post.

And while I essentially agree with every point on this list, of course it's not like I actually follow all of the points of advice, but I do follow many---or at least several---of them.

Anyway, I am far from a perfect speaker (though I don't think that I am horrible at it), but in my position as advisor, co-advisor, and mentor of various kinds, I think the most important thing is to pass along good advice no matter the extent to which I actually follow it. :)


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Group Theory in the Bedroom

But it's not what you think (and anyway I blatantly stole that title from Brian Hayes)...

Instead, it's just that group theory is the subject of Steve Strogatz's latest article in the New York Times. And group theory in the bedroom plays an important role in that article. (However, group actions were not mentioned.)

Multislicing the War

I'll be telling you more about "multislice networks" soon enough, but in the meantime, in this New York Times article, you can see an example of a multislice network. There is also a priceless of hopelessly naive quote from General Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of the American effort in Afghanistan: When we understand this slide, we’ll have won the war.

Comment: Um, no. But this is excellent fodder for the seminar that I am giving on multislice networks tomorrow!

If you are curious and want to see how my collaborators and I use the term "multislice network", you can look at the paper that we posted on the arXiv. I postpone further details until the published version comes out.

(Tip of the cap to Philip Maini.)