Friday, August 31, 2012

Network Science Workshop for School Students: Part Deux

Following the immense success of last spring's outreach workshops on networks for elementary school students, my lab is going to have another set of 'networks for school students' workshops this fall!

There will be a couple of events in Oxford, and we'll also a bit of a travelling road show. (I know that some of you are teachers, so if you want us to come to your school, go to the web page and fill out the request form.)

There is a good chance that University of Oxford will also have a press release about our outreach work, so my fingers crossed that that will happen as well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Spinal Tap's IMDB Rating Goes to 11!

The maximum possible rating for the IMDB entry for "This is Spinal Tap" is 11. I never noticed that before. That is awesome (and, in retrospect, not surprising at all)!

I am watching that movie for the second time tonight, as a friend is coming over with the video for us to watch it. (I first watched the movie when I was in college.) I believe that we first talked about doing this on Spinal Tap Day (11/11/11). By the way, the reason I am looking up the movie is that I wanted to check how long it lasts. I'm a bit stressed about work, so I am pondering getting a bit of work done when the movie is over.

"There's Room?"

Smiling sheepishly and asking "There's room?" is totally not the right thing to do when you open the bathroom door and I scowl at you from inside.

Thankfully, I was only washing my hands at that point.

(This made me think of a certain Caltech dinner announcement by Steve Van Hooser, though thankfully the present situation involved much less trauma.)

On the bright side, the place where I was (my local ice cream place) played the original version of "Instanbul (Not Constantinople)" earlier, and that made me very happy. I need to go buy the original version if I can find that on iTunes. I've made a note to myself to go and do it.

My First Album: "Pac-Man Fever"

Somehow, in our meeting, we got to discussing our first CD, although I quickly changed it to "first album" because that is much more appropriate.

Well, to show you how little I have changed in the last 30 years, guess what my first album was? That's right. It was Pac-Man Fever by Buckner & Garcia. I got my parents to buy that for me when I was 6 years. Given who I am (and who I basically have always been), this shouldn't surprise anybody who knows me.

So, what was your first album?

Tales from the ArXiv: "Sticky Physics of Joy"

Here is a small piece of advice: Do NOT begin the title of your article with "Sticky physics of joy". Oy vey.

Or maybe all of the extra attention it gets is worth putting just about everybody's mind in a bad place?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Professionalism for the Win :)

Here is the ending of one of my professional e-mails from a few minutes ago: "If you want, I can stay on during MT, but given my impending absence, I think that would make very little sense. I have been a member for 4 full academic years anyway (since Oct 2008), so --- as Dracula might say --- I think fresh blood is needed."

Monday, August 27, 2012

Insane in the Squid Membrane

In case you were wondering, this is what happens when you blast early-90s hip-hop music through the nerves of a squid.

I can think of a few variants of this experiment that I would like to try...

(Tip of the cap to Adam Villani.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Petition: Ethnic and Gender Diversity for the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons

Well, I think the title says it all. Here is a link that describes a petition that aims to increase ethnic and gender diversity in the depiction of humanoids and other creatures in the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

If this actually works, this would constitute a nice step towards addressing some issues in geek culture (e.g. objectification of women) that I wish were not present in it. If the literature is written more appropriately (and the pictures drawn more appropriately), then it could help a lot---and at minimum it would be a good start.

(Tip of the cap to Gemma Wright.)

Vin Scully Will Be Back in 2013

YAY! Vin Scully will continue broadcasting Dodger games in 2013!!!!! Hell yes! That's even better news than the big trade! Huzzah!

(Tip of the cap to whoever does the Vin Scully and MLB posts on Facebook.)

Eponymous Shades of Blue

It turns out that "Dodger Blue" and "Oxford blue" are both eponymous. Well, I bleed Dodger blue, not Oxford blue!

(Tip of cap to Matt Sullivan.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Dodgers' Blockbuster Trade is Official!

BOOM! (OH HELL YES!). The blockbuster trade between the Dodgers and the Red Sox is now official!

The Dodgers didn't give up too much in the way of players, though we're obviously committing huge gobs of money into this endeavor (that's why the Sox wanted to make this deal). We get Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto. First base is suddenly a strength rather than a weakness, Crawford will help starting next year, Beckett will be at least useful and could (if he gets his mojo back) be awesome, and Punto is a useful spare part.

I can't think of a bigger trade than this ever---either involving my team or even involving any other team---but maybe I'm forgetting something. It's a new era in LA, baby! The new ownership has really put their signature on the team now!

Also, we seem to be collecting former Marlins. :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Morphogenesis for the Win!

If you like pattern formation, then you'll love the pattern on the shell of this snail that recently visited me in my apartment.

Tales from the ArXiv: It's Slinky

As a matter of principle, I approve of articles on the topic of the physics of toys. Here is a new one on the Slinky. (I believe that Mark Levi wrote a paper or two on the Slinky many years ago.) Here are some details:

Title: Modeling a Falling Slinky

Authors: R. C. Cross, M. S. Wheatland

Abstract: A slinky is an example of a tension spring: in an unstretched state a slinky is collapsed, with turns touching, and a finite tension is required to separate the turns from this state. If a slinky is suspended from its top and stretched under gravity and then released, the bottom of the slinky does not begin to fall until the top section of the slinky, which collapses turn by turn from the top, collides with the bottom. The total collapse time t_c (typically ~0.3 s for real slinkies) corresponds to the time required for a wave front to propagate down the slinky to communicate the release of the top end. We present a modification to an existing model for a falling tension spring (Calkin 1993) and apply it to data from filmed drops of two real slinkies. The modification of the model is the inclusion of a finite time for collapse of the turns of the slinky behind the collapse front propagating down the slinky during the fall. The new finite-collapse time model achieves a good qualitative fit to the observed positions of the top of the real slinkies during the measured drops. The spring constant k for each slinky is taken to be a free parameter in the model. The best-fit model values for k for each slinky are approximately consistent with values obtained from measured periods of oscillation of the slinkies.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quote of the Day: Singing E-Mail Edition

I just received the following instructions by e-mail: "Please open the attached form and complete the changes that apply. Sing, date and email back to me so I may update your information."

But how will this person verify by e-mail whether or not I sung anything?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Instabul (Not Constantinople)

Fun Fact: I am playing as the Byzantines in Civ V, so the default city is Constantinople (which I of course renamed "Instabul" because it had to be done). I just got my second city, which now has the default name of "Constantinople" because I wasn't using that name. :)

When I conquer the Ottomans' "Instanbul" (or if I play as them), I do the analogous renaming, of course. It simply must be done.

New Minor League Baseball Stolen Base Record

Billy Hamilton has set a new professional baseball record for most stolen bases in a season. He now has 147 steals this year. The old record was Vince Coleman's 145 steals from 1983, and the Major League record is Rickey Henderson's 130 steals from 1982. Professional baseball players don't steal as many bases as they used to---the game is much more power-oriented than it was in the early 1980s---so this is even more impressive in the context of how the game is currently played.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blog About Women Scientists from History

Here is a new blog about contributions of women scientists from history.

This is a really excellent idea, and I hope it leads to the contributions of these women becoming better known! I'm not a huge fan of the blog's title ("Science Chicks from History"), but I can appreciate the author making her own choice for her blog's tone. She writes the following about her new blog:

I’m just a nerdy science chick who decided to make a blog dedicated to women scientists from history. I wanted to learn more about these women and show that despite being excluded from science throughout much of history, many women still made important contributions to science.

Well done!

(Tip of the cap to Jaideep Singh.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eye Orientation of Ghosts in Pac-Man Games

Another of those things that perhaps says a lot about me: I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with the ghost Shadow/Blinky from the Pac-Man series. And besides thinking that the shirt is awesome, do you know what else I noticed? That the ghost's eyes were oriented in the way that allows you to go through it without dying (which, by the way, is a skill ones needs to get really good at these games).

One of these years, I hope that I will get to the kill screen in Ms. Pac-Man...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Thought of the Day

You know what would be awesome? When a plenary speaker at a conference is going up to the podium to give his/her talk, there really needs to be loud, blaring music playing in the background to help introduce the speaker and pump up the audience! It works in wrestling and, damnit, it would also work in science! This totally needs to happen! Who's with me?

(And each person could have his/her own theme song, of course!)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Unfortunate Town Names

Great Britain seems to have several unfortunate town names. This includes the hamlet of Shitterton, which is located near Dorset in the Piddle Valley (which is, of course, near the River Piddle). No, I am not making this up. Crazy Brits! (Maybe I should go visit Golden Balls, which is near Oxford.)

On another note: Hmmm... That appears to be 10 blog entries in the past two days. Sometimes that is what happens when I spent too much time in front of my computer. I suppose I can try to be silent for a while, but a lot of interesting things have come my way lately. What can I do?

(Tip of the cap to Bernie Hogan.)

Putting The Simpsons Into LaTeX

Yup, that's right: You can actually put characters from The Simpsons into a LaTeX document. I am so going to do this in one of my publications!

Hell, if you look at Table 305 of this document, a skull-and-crossbones is available too. (Maybe I'll use that for the exponent the next time I report a power law?) The magical staves are pretty cool, too.

I hadn't known about this stuff before. It was a very dangerous thing to let me know this information...

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Software Package 'R' Makes the New York Times

The statistical software package called 'R' has made the New York Times. Some of my students have used R before, but mostly I just think it's cool that a venue like the New York Times would have an article on this topic. (Note that the article is from 2009, which I managed not to realize at first.)

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

The "Nostalgia Travel" Bus

Maybe this says more about me than about anything else, but I was highly amused to see a "Nostalgia Travel" double-decker bus with a driver but no passengers.

I love metaphors (even sad ones). That scene could have been the opening scene of a movie.

Alas, I didn't have my camera with me.

"We're NASA And We Know It"

If you haven't yet watched this parody of this song, you really should because it's pretty funny. On a more serious note, this kind of thing is really good for conveying the excitement of science to the public, and I would very much like to see more stuff like this.

(Tip of the cap to several people.)

Bulwer-Lyton "Winners": 2012 Edition

Here are the winners of the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Some of the entries are brilliant, and some of them are just plain bad. I actually liked a few of the dishonorable mentions.

(Tip of the cap to Puck Rombach.)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

New to the Blogroll: Quantum Frontiers

I have just added Quantum Frontiers to my blogroll. This blog is maintained by Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, which includes many of my peeps from Caltech's condensed matter physics group (where I spent a couple of years as a CPI postdoc housed in in the theoretical subgroup right before coming to Oxford).

Graduate School Versus Kindergarten

Yup, PhD Comics has got it right on the money: graduate school is just like kindergarten. Scary, isn't it?

(Tip of the cap to 'I Fucking Love Science'.)

Scientists Train Chimps to Conduct Studies on Primates and to Apply for Grants

Yes, really. It's true. It was just reported in The Onion, so it must be true.

Comment: Wow. Just wow. (When The Onion gets something right, they really get it right! They completely nailed this one. This captures scientific life right on the money.)

"Bloody Fire Alarm Interrupted Me Mid-Sentence!"

The bloody fire alarm in my building just interrupted me mid-sentence!

(Does anybody else have a knee-jerk reaction of indignation to such things or do most people start by wondering what's going on? I'm just wondering...)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Félix Hernández Has Pitched a Perfect Game!

Félix Hernández (aka, "King Felix") of the Seattle Mariners has pitched the 23rd perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Very nice!

Movie Networks

Yes, really. Here are visualizations of social networks from movies.

(Tip of the cap to Brian Keegan.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Water Bear

The "water bear" depicted on this page looks epically awesome, doesn't it? (It looks like an alien out of a science fiction novel or possibly a creature out of a Monster Manual.) Apparently, they are virtually indestructible.

(Tip of the cap to whoever does the Facebook posts for "I Fucking Love Science".)

He Got it From Whom?

"I Got It From Agnes" is an awesome Tom Lehrer song --- really, is there any other kind? --- complete with a growing network to illustrate what is going on.

This is a different recording of the song than the one I own, but the copy I have on iTunes doesn't have a network diagram to go with it (and that does add to the humor substantially).

(Tip of the cap to Edmund Chattoe-Brown and Stan Wasserman.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Political Cartoons from Union of Concerned Scientists

Several of these cartoons regarding science and its interaction with policy, media, and other things are funny, but they also paint a very depressing picture of the state of things.

Sign of the Day

I just walked out of Dartington House and some random student walked up to me holding a sign that read "Will Work for Mathematica Advice".

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me (and it wouldn't be very inconspicuous for me to come back with a camera in hand). I just wrote a post about this on Facebook and hope that somebody still in Dartington House takes a picture of this before it's too late.

Where is Stephen Wolfram when you need him?

(By the way, I told him: "Sorry. I don't use Mathematica.")

How Research Projects End

Research projects only ever end for one or both of two reasons: (1) you run out of time, and/or (2) you get bored and move on.

They're never truly finished in their entirety, and anybody who tells you otherwise is full of crap.

Update: Jaideep Singh points out that "run out of funding" is a third distinct possibility. (However, as I am a mathematician and thus have very little funding anyway, I am generally able to avoid the third option entirely.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I just found out about the website, which allows one to replace baby pictures in Facebook feeds with pictures of awesome stuff. This is tempting. Very, very tempting.

(Tip of the cap to the New York Times.)

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is right on the money in this set of panels of how discoveries occur.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

New Networks Journal!

The Journal of Complex Networks has now officially been approved by Oxford University Press. I am one of the Associate Editors (and I think I am the only person actually from University of Oxford who is on the editorial board). I just got the word that I should spread the word... So I am spreading it. :)

More details coming soon...

Could You Clarify That a Bit?

The Annals of Improbable Research blog has a brief discussion of an upcoming journal article about the virtues of vagueness in vision statements. Choice line from the journal article: "We also explore the paradox that, occasionally, the path out of ambiguity involves the initial injection of even more ambiguity into an already ambiguous situation."


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

One of the All-Time Classics: "His Theory is Retarded."

One of the all-time classic seminar audience-member comments when talking about the speaker: "His theory is retarded."

This works, best, by the way when the speaker is a job candidate. :)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Two Tricks Are Better Than One

John Preskill has written a blog entry about how being a two-trick pony versus being just a one-trick pony can make all the difference in the world when it comes to scientific contributions.

I keep wanting to learn more and more tricks primarily to prevent my own boredom, but John is absolutely right about how important it is to know at least two scientific tricks.

Friday, August 03, 2012

"Bloody Minded"

Yesterday, Somerville's Principal told me that I am "bloody minded". I've decided to take this as a compliment.

(As far as I can tell, this is the British term for "pain in the ass".)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Olympic Gymnast Uses Music From Zelda

OK, this is awesome! Olympic gymnast Elsa Garcia Rodriguez Blancas of Mexico used a medley of Zelda during her Olympic performance. Now that rocks! [And, as the article discusses, this isn't the first time she's done that. That's my kind of woman. :) ] This is just awesome beyond belief!

(Tip of the cap to Louis Wang.)

The Science of Sandcastles

An article was published in Scientific Reports today about constructing 'perfect' sandcastles. That's a pretty cool topic on which to write an article! I think that the authors might have Ig Nobel Prizes in their future...

(Tip of the cap to Sang Hoon Lee.)

New Postdoc Position in my Lab

Hot off the presses is an advertisement to become a postdoc in my lab to study multiplex networks. This is a 34-month (aka, almost 3-year) position.

Lots of information is available on the website above.

Note (8/03/12): I have temporarily taken down the advertisement because of some confusion. I will put this back up as soon as the confusion gets resolved. The deadline for when to apply might get pushed back a bit, but I don't know yet about that. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012