Sunday, October 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

I just finished reading an article by Gerald Folland about communication between mathematicians and others, and he mentioned (and hence reminded me of) the following wonderful quote:

Mathematicians are like Frenchmen: whatever you say to them they translate into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

My Power Animal = Angora Rabbit

Apparently, my power animal is the angora rabbit.

Naturally, all this talk about power animals makes me want to quote Keanu Reeves (lines 1 and 3):

"Call your power animal."

"Come here."

"Do it in your head."

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Physics of Shaking Oneself Dry

The videos discussed in this blog entry are awesome. I am guessing (1) that this is one of the videos for the 2010 Gallery of Fluid Motion and (2) that it will also end up being one of the winners.

(Tip of the cap top Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best. Slogan. Ever.

A "sport" called Major League Dreidel has the best slogan ever: "No Gelt, No Glory!"

I approve!

Congratulations to Dr. Dan Fenn!

Dan Fenn, my first Ph.D. student, passed his thesis defense today with flying colors. (He has on the order of 2 hours worth of corrections that he needs to make.) His thesis concentrates mostly on topics in mathematical finance, with a focus on financial networks. He also developed some new theory related to community detection in networks.

You can find some of Dan's work in our coauthored papers that I've posted on my website (and 2 more of them will be posted very soon). Once all of the i's have been dotted and the t's have been crossed, I will post his dissertation per se.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unpopular Science

This particular cartoon guide to physics is fantastic! It appeared a couple of days ago in the New York Times.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

RIP Paul the Octopus (2008-2010)

Paul the Octopus, the cephalopod who took the world by storm with his oracle-like soccer predictions, has died. RIP Paul.

(Tip of the cap to Bonnie Harland.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Citation Errors as Genetic Mutations

As this opinion piece discusses, citation errors are rather analogous to genetic mutations.

Unfortunately, the optimism expressed at the end of the article that referencing software will help matters is misplaced---my experience is that such things induce new errors rather severely.

(Tip of the cap to Julius Su.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Words of Wisdom from Bill James

"To use academic jargon is rude, lazy, elitist, and counter-productive. It diminishes the influence of the academic world; it diminishes the influence of thinking people on the general debate. If you want people to accept your ideas, you have to speak in language that others can understand. This is common sense, and it is common courtesy."


(Of course, one needs to be precise in journal articles, but that doesn't mean that certain things can't be made understandable or that we can't speak and write things in other venues to help facilitate understanding. Anyway, the point is: Know thy audience!)

Moustache of the Day

Now that is a serious 'stache.

Congratulations to Dr. Felicia Gottmann!

On a few occasions, I like to highlight accomplishments from my friends in this spot. (And we all know that I spend too much time talking about myself anyway, so this is a welcome break from the usual deal.)

I just got back from the celebration for a successful D.Phil defense (a "viva") for one of my best friends---for one of the dearest, closest friends I have ever had or will ever have. And I try to do the best I can in return.

So that means it's time to pause and use this spot to express congratulations! Felicia passed with flying colors, which was not a surprise at all. (A foregone conclusion in fact, though it's obviously always better after the fact.)

I know Felicia through Somerville, and she studies French and history. The title of her thesis is "The eighteenth-century luxury debate: the case of Voltaire"---quite far from anything I can even pretend to know, but surely that is because all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds?

There were a lot of mathematicians at the pub, so ironically I was the one who knew other people. This resulted in our table getting recruited for charitable donations (one of the staff members left her job today and was celebrating the end of her job), and one of my students also dropped by to say 'hi'.

Anyway, it was all very excellent and fun, and now I am pretty tired. I should also mention that Felicia's mother (who flew in from Germany for the celebration) called me "an international phenomenon". Maybe I should adopt that as my tagline?

It's not every day that I get to celebrate an important day for one of my best friends, so today has been a good day.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Dance Your PhD" Contest 2010

There is apparently something called a "Dance Your PhD" contest, and here are the entries for 2010.

I didn't know until just now that this exists, and I have to say that I am afraid to watch some of these videos. My dissertation was called "Quantum Chaos in Vibrating Billiard Systems", and I think that the presence of the word "vibrating" would have made this a clear winner in 2002.

(Tip of the hat to Alex Cayco Gajic.)

A Techer's New Adventure

Tomorrow, fellow Lloydie Rachel Gray '00 goes to Italy to start her new life as a nun. Pretty soon it looks like none of us will hear from her for a long time (she won't have internet access, and apparently she can't write or read snail mail except from close family). You can read about her life decision on her blog (which I suppose won't be updated for quite a while...), so for those of you who know her, now is definitely the time to send her well wishes. Hopefully our paths will eventually cross again.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Best. Law Firm. Name+Slogan. Ever.

I have only two words to say: I approve!.

(Tip of the cap to Lemming.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New to the Blogroll: "Principal's Blog", "Somerville Historian", and "Complex Matters"

I have added links to new blogs maintained by three of my Somerville colleagues: our new Principal, one of our history Fellows, and one of our physics Fellows.

Isn't it just like me to show my support?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does Judaism Get Wile E. Coyote?

Here is the straight line (you provide the joke): The Vatican has apparently declared that Homer Simpson is Catholic.

Meanwhile, back on Earth...

Tales from the ArXiv: Tibetan Singing Bowl

A new paper on the arXiv discusses the Tibetan singing bowl. We have one of these in OCIAM, though note that this one isn't like those depicted in the wikipedia article.

Here is more information on the new article on the arXiv:

Title: The Tibetan Singing Bowl

Authors: Denis Terwagne, John W. M. Bush (the fact that John Bush is involved is not a surprise at all!)

Abstract: The Tibetan singing bowl is a type of standing bell. Originating from Himalayan fire cults as early as the 5th century BC, they have since been used in religious ceremonies, for shamanic journeying, exorcism, meditation and shakra adjustment. A singing bowl is played by striking or rubbing its rim with a wooden or leather-wrapped mallet. The sides and rim of the bowl then vibrate to produce a rich sound. When the bowl is filled with water, this excitation can cause crispation of the water surface that can be followed by more complicated surface wave patterns and ultimately the creation of droplets. We here demonstrate the means by which the Tibetan singing bowl can levitate droplets. This is a sample arXiv article illustrating the use of fluid dynamics videos.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What happens in Limerick stays in Limerick

I am taking my second trip to Ireland. I will once again be flying into Shannon and heading down to Limerick to give a seminar and collaborate (and occasionally to stop and listen). However, I probably won't present my conclusions in Limerick form on this occasion---because it went over so well last time...

I have a bit of a backlog of established invites in various countries that I will eventually do: Spain (again), Portugal, Singapore, China (again), France, and Germany (the last for social purposes, though I technically also have an academic invitation that may or may not have expired) come to mind. At this point, I doubt that any of them will happen in 2010, but hopefully I'll do some of these in 2011. There is also a conference in Hungary (in Budapest) in June 2011 that I would like to attend. Lots to look forward to!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


This demotivational poster is a big win. Actually, it's not truly the poster that's a win but rather the TA for the class in question. Nice job!

RIP Benoît Mandelbrot (1924-2010)

I can't yet find an article to confirm this (though it's mentioned on a couple of blogs and private websites), but it appears that the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (as in the Mandelbrot set, among other things) died on Thursday.

2010 has been a really bad year for dynamical systems (and allied subjects---fractals and related phenomena, in this case). We've lost so many big names this year.

(Tip of the cap to Jeremy Corbett.)

Update: The New York Times has now posted a proper obituary. Also see the blurb in Wired.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flawed Design

Um, who designed this? That's a bit of a fail...

The subtitle, however, is excellent.

Customer Support

Today's xkcd hits close to home.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Monkey Rankings are Back!

Now you can start seeing how the monkeys (aka, random walkers) are doing in their attempt to rank college football teams.

10/10/10 = 42 Day

I was well aware that today is 10/10/10---especially given the birthday party that reminded me of it!---but I hadn't caught that 101010 is the binary representation of 42.

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Competition for Popularity in Bipartite Networks

One of my papers was published in Chaos yesterday. You can find a link to it here. It uses data from the Netflix competition, and it concerns the human dynamics of video rentals.

Title: Competition for Popularity in Bipartite Networks

Authors: Mariano Beguerisse Díaz, Mason A. Porter, and Jukka-Pekka Onnela

Abstract: We present a dynamical model for rewiring and attachment in bipartite networks. Edges are placed between nodes that belong to catalogs that can either be fixed in size or growing in size. The model is motivated by an empirical study of data from the video rental service Netflix, which invites its users to give ratings to the videos available in its catalog. We find that the distribution of the number of ratings given by users and that of the number of ratings received by videos both follow a power law with an exponential cutoff. We also examine the activity patterns of Netflix users and find bursts of intense video-rating activity followed by long periods of inactivity. We derive ordinary differential equations to model the acquisition of edges by the nodes over time and obtain the corresponding time-dependent degree distributions. We then compare our results with the Netflix data and find good agreement. We conclude with a discussion of how catalog models can be used to study systems in which agents are forced to choose, rate, or prioritize their interactions from a large set of options.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Japanese cover of "The Elements"

The Annals of Improbable Research just posted on Facebook a Japanese cover of Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"---now with more elements and a Japanese pop style. Yup, I think I've seen everything now.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Roy Halladay pitches postseason no-hitter

In his first ever postseason game, Roy Halladay has just finished pitching the first no-hitter in the postseason since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Yup, he's pretty good.

This is Halladay's second no-hitter of the season (he pitched a perfect game earlier... today, he walked one batter), and he became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to pitch more than one no-hitter in the same season. Unless I am mistaken, Larsen's perfect game is the only other postseason no-hitter.

Zelda at Caltech

This "real life" version of the Legend of Zelda was filmed at Caltech a few years ago. I'm not sure if it was done for anything along the lines of a Lloyd Movie or if it was done only for the Hell of it.

(Tip of the cap to Gary Wu.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

First an Ig Nobel and Now a Nobel

Andre Geim, one of the new Nobel Laureates in Physics (for the discovery of graphene), has become the first Ig Nobel Laureate to also be a Nobel Laureate. That's pretty cool! Ironically, Geim shared his Ig Nobel with Michael Berry, who deserves a Nobel Prize for his work on geometric phase. So I was hoping that Michael Berry would be the first person to get this particular distinction...

Monday, October 04, 2010


I think I'll just link to the picture.

"Father" of the Test Tube Baby and other "Awesome" Quotations

I want to distinguish my "Quote of the Day" series from what I will called a "Quotation of the Day".

The article in which this occurs is from, and it concerns the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to the "Father of the Test Tube Bay". This isn't my main point, but using the term Father of the test tube baby is pretty ambiguous, don't you think? (It's pretty "awesome", too.)

But that's not the only gem in this paper. If you look at the sidebar, you find out that the 2009 prize went to Americans who 'solved "a major problem in biology"'. Yes, a major problem in biology is actually in quotes. Well, tomorrow somebody (hopefully Michael Berry!) will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for solving a major problem in physics, and on Monday somebody will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for solving a major problem in economics. (Strictly speaking, one can get an awarded for contributions that help lead to a solution, rather than a solution itself, but that still means that one is solving something major in the field relevant to the prize in question---even if that solution is only a piece of a solution to a larger problem.) In the article itself, this quote is followed with a more specific statement about what the 2009 Laureates in Physiology or Medicine actually did. But the ambiguous phrase was still in quotes. What the Hell? Talk about unnecessary quotations...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

2010 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2010 Ig Nobel Laureates include my coauthor Mark Fricker! (The best one this year was the prize in Management, which was for a paper in Physica A that won "for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.") Now I know why he was travelling to Boston right about now...

Maybe I'll eventually win an Ig Nobel for cow synchronization...

But can they cast entangle?

Britain has, for the first time, recognized Druidry as an official religion, giving it various tax benefits and other benefits.

For more information, dial 1-800-DRUIDIA.

Saturday, October 02, 2010