Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dodgers Acquire Shane Victorino

It looks like the deal for Shane Victorino is now official. This improves the Dodgers outfield, though this deal is obviously far less exciting than the deal for Hanley Ramirez. (Also, Victorino doesn't seem to be the player that he used to be, though this does improve our lineup a bit more.) He actually started out in the Dodger organization.

The article to which I linked above summarizes the other Dodger moves. For example, yesterday we acquired reliever Brandon League from the Mariners. Apparently, Ryan Dempster might well join us soon as well (though Dempster's recent shenanigans regarding purported trades to the Dodgers and then to the Braves were pretty obnoxious).

"Theoretical Mathematics" > "Pure Mathematics"

I am going to rant briefly. :)

The term "pure mathematics" is incredibly obnoxious. It is highly charged, as it suggests a superiority over applied mathematics with which I (and many others) beg to differ. Of course, it is better than the term "unadulterated mathematics" that I once saw on a blog, but that isn't exactly a difficult lower bound to surpass.

A far better---not only less charged but also considerably more accurate---substitute for the term "pure" mathematics is theoretical mathematics. This would also be consistent with other fields: Nobody in their right mind would use the terms "pure chemistry", "pure physics", "pure biology", "pure computer science", etc. This terminological denigration of other areas of a discipline seems to be the exclusive domain of mathematics. (Please let me know of any other examples if you're aware of them.)

There are relevant differences to note. For example, physics that is not "applied physics" is still done in the laboratory. But from the perspective of what research is done and the goals thereof, the term "theoretical mathematics" is rather consistent with similar terminology in other fields. The term "pure" mathematics needs to go.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Old Ping Pong Coach

There is a small chance that I'll be able to get tickets for Olympic ping pong, which is the only sport that I care about in the Olympics. I decided to e-mail my old ping pong coach (Olympian Wei Wang) to see if she has any opinion about which countries have the most exciting players to watch. It would be really cool to go see some Olympic ping pong in person.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Epiphany on the Use of Time Machines

You know, it occurs to me that if I had a time machine, the main thing for which I would want to use it would be so that I wouldn't have to wait for anybody to respond to my messages.

Because I'm such a patient person. :) [In fact, my patience is legendary.]

If you think about it, this should not surprise anybody who knows me.

Why Not?

Go to the Matlab command line and type 'why'. Then do it several more times. (For bonus points, find a clever way to use this command as part of a loop or some other series of commands.) I wonder how long this Easter Egg has existed? I only just found out about it today. Maybe I'm easily amused, but (a) I think this is awesome and (b) there must be some clever thing that one can do with this. :)

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts things for Matlab on Facebook.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 Summer Olympics: Epic Mascot Fail

I hadn't been paying attention to the Olympics --- because, really, who the fuck cares about that nonsense (except for ping pong, of course) --- but this article (posted by Alexander Morisse on Facebook) shows a picture of one of the twin Olympic mascots. And I'll be damned: it looks like a cartoony CCTV camera. That's actually rather apt for this country, especially since I can't even fathom what a large cartoony queue would look like. But really, England? You actually want to brag about the fact that you invade people's privacy beyond belief? Sheesh...

(That said, it would be nigh impossible to sink beneath the official mascot low point that Atlanta gave the world for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. But London certainly has done it's best to try, hasn't it?)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Statistics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Statistics!

The paper described in this blog entry is "awesome". Indeed, it has the best 'Results' section ever.

The 'Results' section in the original published version of the paper started out with the following sentence: In this study, we have used (insert statistical method here) to compile unique DNA methylation signatures from normal human heart, lung, and kidney using the Illumina Infinium 27 K methylations arraysand [sic] compared those to gene expression by RNA sequencing.


(Tip of the cap to Krešo Josić.)

Dodgers Trade for Hanley Ramirez!

The Dodgers have acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins! That is awesome!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

RIP Sherman Hemsley (1938-2012)

Sherman Hemsley, best known for playing the memorable George Jefferson, has died. I watched Hemsley on the show Amen as well.

New to the Blogroll: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

I just added Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal to the blogroll. I know, I know: I should have done this a long time ago.

Monday, July 23, 2012

1982 Study by Institute for the Future

Wow, this 1982 study by Institute for the Future is almost dead-on correct. Just wow.

They did get the bit about the N-party system wrong, however.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Art Class: 2012 Edition

I am taking an art class, just like I did last fall. I have posted pictures from today's class, which was the first of 5 classes. You can find these pictures and also those from last year in this album.

The teacher for this class is Josie Lyons, who also taught the course I took last fall. This year, we are doing portraiture. More importantly, we are using a different medium each week, and a major part of the point is to learn how to use different media. Today was pencil.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I See That My Work is Done Here.

I just got a nice e-mail from one of my (British) former undergrads. (I really like hearing from my former students!) Part of his e-mail reads as follows: My current housemate is a massive baseball fan from California. He's a Giants fan and he's really got me into baseball. Though the Giants are having such an awesome season, I can't help but side with the Dodgers, and that's your fault.

I see that my work is done here. :)

Why Science? (Revisiting My Essay From a Decade Ago)

When I was in graduate school (over a decade ago), I wrote an essay about becoming a scientist that was published in Beverly Hills Weekly. (I also posted a slightly modified version on my website.)

I just reread both of these documents. And, damn, I still agree with almost everything I wrote over a decade ago! I surprise myself sometimes. :) It also goes to show that---for all of my supposed cynicism---I still am an extremely idealistic person. I will do my best to stay that way!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Sounds of Science

If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear the sound of me producing new knowledge.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a car trying to start (but with a bit more swearing).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vintage Mason

I was standing outside of Jericho Cafe (and not moving) when someone rammed into me. It was an old woman, and she was glaring at me as if it was my fault. It was her fault, so I glared back at her. This kept up for a bit before I and those with me started walking south. And then I explained (with utter indignation) to the others what had happened:

She bumped into me! It was her fault, and I am not going to apologize just because she's old!

To which Sandra González-Bailón responded using her best deadpan: Mason, you're making friends again.

(This is vintage Mason, by the way.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Take That, Physicists!

This edition of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is simply beautiful.

(Tip of the cap to Greg Fricke.)

A Toast to Poincaré!

Henri Poincaré died 100 years ago today. (Poincaré is the founding father of my field.)

(Tip of the cap to Physics Today.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

One of My Contributions to Physics

The quote "Cycles. Is there anything they can’t do?" certainly sounds like something that I would say or write sarcastically, though I no longer remember when I said (or wrote) this. Anyway, you can find it at the top of Chapter 13 of Chaos: Classical and Quantum.

New Rule

New rule: You are not allowed to sing along to "Roxanne" at the local ice cream place unless you also act out the relevant scene from "Moulin Rouge".

(I think I am now deaf from the decibel level I needed from my iPod.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SETI Rickroll

I wholeheartedly approve of this Abstruse Goose comic!

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

Caltech NCAA Demotivational Poster

Here is my first attempt at a demotivational poster in "recognition" of Caltech's NCAA rules violation.

(Thanks to Greg Fricke, Janet Sheung, and Michael Woods for inspiration.)

Update: Here is a slightly revised version that I like better.

Update (7/15/12): Predrag Cvitanovic has alerted me to a New York Times article on Caltech's sanctions. That article notes that no ineligible players were used in the streak-breaking basketball game. Hence, this demotivational poster is misleading. I might have to come up with a different take on this whole thing. :)

Update (7/17/12): Nimish Telang has alerted me to this opinion piece in the New York Times (which, by the way, gets it exactly right).

Friday, July 13, 2012

How to Win An Argument

Between starting my line of argument with "So it has come to this." and ending by claiming victory with "Wheeeeeee!", I think that am just about guaranteed victory in my verbal fights from now on!

Tales from the ArXiv: Synchronization of Douchebags

Well, technically the paper is called Geometry of Deadbeat Synchronization.

The abstract is as follows: Deadbeat synchronization of identical discrete-time nonlinear systems is studied from a geometric point of view. An array of deadbeat observers coupled via a deadbeat interconnection is shown to achieve synchronization in finite number of steps provided that a compatibility condition is satisfied between the observer and the interconnection. As an illustration to the theory, an example is provided where an array of third order observers achieves deadbeat synchronization.

My favorite phrase in this paper is that a sentence starts with "An array of deadbeat observers". How awesome is that! (The term doesn't mean what the author thinks it means...)

Note: I will resist the large temptation to make fun of certain parts of the United States. :)

Caltech Sanctioned for Athletic Violation!

Yes, really. Caltech has been sanctioned by the NCAA for athletic violations.

This is like the start of a comic routine.

(Tip of the cap to Michael Woods and Yan Zhang.)

Update: This article from The Washington Post starts off the article rather snarkily, and rightfully so. We are so going to be the butt of jokes for this. (Thanks to Rachel Gray for posting this article.)

Update (7/15/12): Deb Eason has posted a link to an LA Times opinion piece by Bill Plaschke. In fact, this whole slew of stories has actually been really good for Caltech's publicity. Caltech turned itself in, which was absolutely the right thing to do. In so doing, Caltech is showing other schools how things should be done.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Two-Minute Thesis Contest

PhD Comics is holding a contest that invites people to describe their PhD thesis work in 2 minutes. Jorge Cham of PhD Comics might even select to broadcast your audio file on the PhD Comics site.

Come on! You know you want to!

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Creativity, Not Raw Intelligence!

Over the years, I have seen a lot of conversations about how smart certain people are. These conversations have been frequent throughout my education and career, and there seems to somehow be a conflating between raw intelligence (whatever that is) and success.

To be sure, some of my colleagues at the various universities where I have spent time are absolutely brilliant people. One can often tell which of them just tower above everybody else in terms of raw intelligence. Good for them. This helps a lot when taking timed exams, but as long as one is able to achieve some minimum threshold of technical skills (which one needs to get through ordeals like graduate school), then one's success as a scientist then has much more to do with other things---like luck and creativity.

The most successful scientists tend to be the most creative ones (and there has to be some luck as well). They may or may not be the ones with the most raw intelligence. That is a myth---and a very damaging one at that. I know which faculty members I have met are geniuses or something along those lines, but my rankings of colleagues by raw intelligence versus by success are completely different. Raw intelligence does not (by any stretch of the imagination) make one's scholarship better than anyone else's. So let's do away with the myth that technical prowess is the key ingredient to success, ok? It is creativity, which is much harder to still but can (I believe) be developed.

On a similar note, hard is not the same thing as good. The problem one is studying doesn't have to be "hard". If you find an easy --- and, FSM forbid, understandable --- approach that turns out to be insightful, then (as one of my mentors taught me) that is in fact even better than doing something technically hard and achieving exactly the same insights!

Science is not about who does something that is technically the hardest. It is about insight, and that makes creativity both king and queen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Damn! They Found My Super Secret Spy Name!

I just received a spam e-mail that starts in a very amusing way:

‎"Dear Dr. Not Found,

We would like to have an opportunity to work with you and develop monoclonal antibody libraries for your next target protein."

[The message is considerably longer, but I hope I have gotten the point across. :) ]

My Kind of Sign

This is my kind of sign. I approve! :)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Catalog Graphics

For the next couple of years, the front and back covers of the book catalog from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics will be featuring graphics from my research (created using visualization tools that we developed in-house).

Only look at the front and back pages of the linked file. I doubt many of you will want to go through the whole file. :)

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Applied Mathematics and Statistics are Not the Same!

Applied mathematics is not statistics. And vice versa.

Personally, I think this is an obvious statement, but at least one prominent sexy journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) does not get it, and in my opinion this leads to a rather unfair bias against applied mathematics in this journal. Take a look at PNAS's editorial board, and in particular take a look at the three scholars listed under the category "Applied Mathematical Sciences". All three of them --- Peter Bickel, David Donoho, and Stephen Fienberg --- are card-carrying statisticians.

This is a major inequity. (I think it's also a major problem, but instead of arguing that per se, let me instead argue the lesser claim that it's a major inequity.) For example, applied mathematicians and statisticians have completely different notions of the word "model". To a typical applied mathematician, modelling constitutes the development of dynamical and/or generative models. A model might be a set of coupled differential equations that is derived using momentum balances and constitutive laws, it might be a phenomenological set of differential or difference equations that attempts to describe some qualitative features in a biological system, it might be a set of rules for generating an ensemble of random graphs, etc. Wikipedia has a long discussion of what constitutes a mathematical model, and many of these are the "dynamical models" that have long been favored by applied mathematicians. A statistical model, however, is something completely different. The phrasing in Wikipedia states that a statistical model "describes how one or more random variables are related to one or more random variables." Clearly, the Navier Stokes equations do not constitute a statistical model; but they are a mathematical model.

So why am I ranting about the inequity at PNAS? Well, if I try to get a paper in their applied mathematics section, I am going to have to get my paper through a statistician. And I have had a paper desk-rejected because the formulation contained in my paper did not constitute a statistical model. And that's true---it didn't. But I submitted an applied mathematics paper---not a statistics paper---and therefore I want to have it judged by card-carrying applied mathematicians. PNAS purports to represent applied mathematics, but it doesn't. There needs to be truth in advertising. They need to either claim that applied mathematics isn't part of their purview (which, by the way, I do not think is the right solution), or their list of editors in "Applied Mathematical Sciences" must include at least one actual applied mathematician!

Note: There is some overlap between models in applied mathematics and statistics when it comes to ensembles of random graphs, but even then applied mathematicians and statisticians tend to look at these beasts in different ways.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Fun Fact about OCD

Fun Fact: I chose the name for my research group because it allows me to use the acronym "OCD" for my group. Yes, that is the actual reason.

Precedent (and partial inspiration): The University of Maryland's "Chaos Group" includes a lot of research on nonlinear systems, complex systems, and networks. Just like me.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Congratulations to Dr. Tim Elling!

I am delighted to report that Dr. Tim Elling has just successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Caltech. His thesis is called GPU accelerated Fourier-continuation solvers and physically exact computational boundary conditions for wave scattering problems, and it was supervised by Oscar Bruno.

I actually looked through the thesis for a bit and saw Tim give a practice talk. There is some pretty cool stuff in there. But one gap does remain: What about random cracks? :)


You know how a lot of people have .signatures when sending e-mail from certain devices along the lines of 'Forgive the short message. Sent from my [item].'?

I need to start including a message, 'Forgive my grumpiness. I am in a foul mood.' to my e-mails, and I also need to be able to call this up at a moment's notice.

[Actually, what really need to do is to not respond until tomorrow before I write something I regret. :) I also need to make sure I am awake for 2am, though.]

I had a red-eye flight last night and the bloody customs officer this morning gave me all sorts of shit when I tried to enter the UK this morning. I was asked the same question multiple times by multiple people --- I think some questions were asked as many as 4 times --- and I then had an extra-special security check (which was thankfully short). Man does this endear me to this country... (I felt so fed up that thoughts of buying a plane ticket back to the US and boarding such a flight asap flitted briefly through my head.)

Update: Or to paraphrase my comment from lunch today, I am the "public relations" specialist at Somerville. (And if you don't understand this quote, then I need to educate you about a certain tv program! My colleagues were amused by my comment, though I don't think they appreciated the full power of the reference.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012