Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"NSA Vanilla"

In the latest installment of 'Here's the straight line; you provide the joke', we have the following situation:

Coffee Bean has a powder with the label "NSA Vanilla". As you can see on this website, there is a secret ingredient that goes by the name of "NSA Powder". I wonder if it's anthrax?

New UK Knighthoods

The new UK knighthoods have been announced in the New Year's Honours lists.

One of the recipients is my zoologist coauthor (and Somerville colleague) Marian Dawkins, who was honored for "services to Animal Welfare". Clearly, it must have been our joint work on cow synchronization that put her over the top. :) Yeah right. (My other two papers with Marian are another one on cow synchrony and a recent one on dominance relationships in animals.)

Another of the recipients is my Mathematical Institute colleague Frances Kirwan, who was named a DBE for "services to Mathematics".

Major congratulations!

Costume of the Year

Newly retired pitcher Roy Halladay went to 1980s-themed costume party... dressed as Jamie Moyer. Now that's a big win!

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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Baseball Battery Anagrams

I am reading Jayson Stark's strange-but-true account of the 2013 baseball season, and I simply love the following baseball battery anagram:

From Diane Firstman: When Jason Castro caught Jarred Cosart in Houston, they made anagram history, if not baseball history -- joining Matt Nokes and Randy Nosek as the only catcher-pitcher anagram duos ever to mess with both the alphabet and the box scores.

Now that is awesome!

Subtitles: A Legal Requirement of Popular Biographies

Or, in longer form, Subtitles: A Legal Requirement of Popular Biographies (even when we're completely out of clever ideas)

Or how About: Author: Because Somebody Actually Wrote The Book You Had To Read In High School

I am thinking of this because Somerville College's Senior Common Room has a copy of this book, because the potential consumers needed to be reminded that William Golding is the dude who wrote Lord of the Flies. (To be fair, I also remembered the book title but not the author.)

What Are We Waiting For?

At Peet's Coffee a day or two ago, I asked an old man if he was in line, as I didn't want to accidentally skip ahead of him.

He answered me that "No, I'm waiting for Godot."

So I responded in deadpan with "You're probably going to be waiting for a very long time."

He didn't answer. I hope he at least appreciated that I got the reference. (In retrospect, I think a Petty-themed "The waiting is the hardest part." would have been better, but timing is everything when it comes to wit.)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Spectacular Abandoned Haunting Grounds

This list (and, especially, the accompanying pictures) of abandoned places --- which might be haunted (who knows?) --- is really awesome. The explorer in me wants to set sail right now!

Of course, there is a glaring omission. My old Caltech apartment ought to have been included. Criminal.

(Tip of the cap to Maria Satterwhite.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Brief Note on Bratty Children and Their Bratty Parents

There ought to be a special place in Hell reserved for people who seem to be perfectly content with their children bothering strangers in a cafe (e.g., ones who are trying to work) just so they can scroll through the messages on their phone.

I don't need to be distracted with a child crashing into my leg with the bicycle that he's riding indoors.

Believe it or not, I actually like children and can be very good with them, but at least tell your brat when this happens that he's not supposed to do this! That's why the kid is a brat.

(OK, I'll stop now.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 Darwin Awards

The 2013 Darwin Awards have now been (proverbially) handed out. There are some big "winners" here, but I think I like #9 the best just because I can emphathize with the criminal's level of frustration.

(Tip of the cap to Bonnie Harland.)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Physics of Ants

Apparently, a collection of fire ants can act either as a fluid or as a solid. Check out the video in the New York Times article to which I just linked. It's way cool.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for APS Physics on Facebook.)

Update (12/21/13): As Jimmy Lin points out, you can also make some really cool sculptures by pouring molten aluminum down anthills. Seeing this makes me want data from Anthill Art to complement our study of a rabbit warren in this paper. Notice that the depicted fire ant colonies have a much more complicated network structure than the carpenter ant colonies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Limit Order Books"

Our review article on limit order books finally has official page numbers and all that, so I am finally going to blog about it. Here are the details of the article.

Title: Limit Order Books

Authors: Martin D. Gould, Mason A. Porter, Stacy Williams, Mark McDonald, Daniel J. Fenn, and Sam D. Howison

Abstract: Limit order books (LOBs) match buyers and sellers in more than half of the world's financial markets. This survey highlights the insights that have emerged from the wealth of empirical and theoretical studies of LOBs. We examine the findings reported by statistical analyses of historical LOB data and discuss how several LOB models provide insight into certain aspects of the mechanism. We also illustrate that many such models poorly resemble real LOBs and that several well-established empirical facts have yet to be reproduced satisfactorily. Finally, we identify several key unresolved questions about LOBs.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"No, Mr. Bond. I Expect You to Die."

Here is a new article in British Medical Journal (which, in a KFC-like move, appears to now use the branding of simply BMJ) that estimates James Bond's level of alcohol consumption and discusses the possible effects on his health and sexual prowess/proclivity.

(Tip of the cap to Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers.)

New Members of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced which artists and others will be inducted in 2014. It includes luminaries like Peter Gabriel, Nirvana, Cat Stevens, Kiss, Hall & Oates, and others.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Predictions for the Future (Circa 1900)

Here are some predictions for the future that were published in Ladies' Home Journal in 1900. Some of the predictions were spot on (or even not ambitious enough), but we haven't yet thrown out a certain three letters from the English alphabet, and that's a good thing for those of us who like to play Scrabble...

(Tip of the cap to Ellie [Park] Pattie.)

Some "Awesome" Exam Answers

Here are several exam answers that are both awesome and "awesome". Well, many of them have both qualities. I have seen a few of these before, but some of them are new. Enjoy!

(Tip of the cap to Aubri Hendrick.)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gangs of Crabs

When you go to the beach, be careful about gangs of crabs. (One of our referees for this paper seems to be a crabby dude and suggested that we should bring up empirical evidence from animals like crabs. If for no other reason, we should add such comments to the paper just because of the jokes that it will enable.)

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Hokey Pokey Clinic

It is "A place to turn yourself around". I love it!

Creepy Logos

Some organizations really just don't get it.

Let's consider London Transport, who in 2002 gave the 'Secure beneath watchful eyes' advertising campaign. You know: in the land of infinite CCTV cameras (which one never looks at the same way again after reading The Atrocity Archives)? And then you've got these Big-Brotherish mascots from the 2012 summer Olympics. Really, England?

Not to be outdone (though I think this is slightly less creepy than the above examples), the National Reconnaissance Office now brings us their 'Nothing is Beyond Our Reach' campaign --- complete with Cthulhu (I mean octopus). Really, America?

I get that countries do bloody annoying and invasive things. But they could at least be more self-aware about it...

(Tip of the cap to Justin Howell.)

Pancake Art

Here is some very cool pancake art. This includes some very scientific pancakes (e.g. a Lorenz attractor), which isn't a surprise given that the creator is a math teacher. (I have an odd feeling of deja vu that I might have posted a link to this pancake art a while ago, but I am doing it now anyway.)

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

Roy Halladay Announces his Retirement

This took me by surprise: Roy Halladay is signing a 1-day contract with the Blue Jays and retiring today. This took me by surprise.

New Hall of Fame Managers

Today, this year's version of the committee formerly known as the Veterans Committee elected Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. All three former managers were elected unanimously, and all three of them richly deserve this honor.

There are others who were considered this time around that also deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame, but they will have to wait a few years (during the next time that candidates from the "Expansion Era" are considered).

Update (sort of; 12/10/13): Roger Angell has finally won the Hall of Fame's J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing. About damn time.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Research Assessment Exercises and Frameworks are Stupid

Well, that is not exactly a controversial statement among the crowds that I usually walk --- but anybody from the UK government reading this ought to take heed! --- but you'll be interested to read about this in the context of newly minted Nobel laureate Peter Higgs. He is an extreme case, but it still illustrates an important point: we should be allowed to do our bloody work instead of wasting our damn time with this nonsense!

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

Saturday, December 07, 2013

You Know What Comes Next: Civilization Edition

I braced myself when I saw this, because I knew what was coming...

Friday, December 06, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013

"Mathematical Formulation of Multilayer Networks"

The final version of the our (i.e., the PLEXMATH team's) article on a mathematical formalism for multilayer networks is now available from Physical Review X. You can find a popular summary of this work on their website. Here are some of the main details of the paper.

Title: Mathematical Formulation of Multilayer Networks

Authors: Manlio De Domenico, Albert Solé-Ribalta, Emanuele Cozzo, Mikko Kivelä, Yamir Moreno, Mason A. Porter, Sergio Gómez, and Alex Arenas

Abstract: A network representation is useful for describing the structure of a large variety of complex systems. However, most real and engineered systems have multiple subsystems and layers of connectivity, and the data produced by such systems are very rich. Achieving a deep understanding of such systems necessitates generalizing "traditional" network theory, and the newfound deluge of data now makes it possible to test increasingly general frameworks for the study of networks. In particular, although adjacency matrices are useful to describe traditional single-layer networks, such a representation is insufficient for the analysis and description of multiplex and time-dependent networks. One must therefore develop a more general mathematical framework to cope with the challenges posed by multilayer complex systems. In this paper, we introduce a tensorial framework to study multilayer networks, and we discuss the generalization of several important network descriptors and dynamical processes—including degree centrality, clustering coefficients, eigenvector centrality, modularity, von Neumann entropy, and diffusion—for this framework. We examine the impact of different choices in constructing these generalizations, and we illustrate how to obtain known results for the special cases of single-layer and multiplex networks. Our tensorial approach will be helpful for tackling pressing problems in multilayer complex systems, such as inferring who is influencing whom (and by which media) in multichannel social networks and developing routing techniques for multimodal transportation systems.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

USB Cable Theory of Sexual Education

SMBC Comics presents the USB cable theory of sex ed. Yes, really.

P.S. This turns out to not be today's panels, so perhaps I posted this before? (I'm getting a feeling of deja vu on this one.)

Maybe I have posted this before? I'm getting a feeling of deja vu on this one. :) [Yes, that was a cheap joke.]

What The Reviewers Say

Reviewer #2 concludes in his/her final sentence: "The results here represented a substantial step backward in terms of value and sophistication from the many published analyses that have already been published in ..."

Ouch. Yes, not only does this referee not like our paper, but we have devalued the work that already exists. (To give some context, let me point out that reviews of Tom Lehrer's work have included comments such as "Mr. Lehrer's muse is not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.", "More desperate than amusing", "He seldom has any point to make except obvious ones", and "Plays the piano acceptably".) We will survive to improve the paper and submit it to another journal.

Well, at least there are also comments that we can use to make our paper better when we submit it somewhere else.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Dodger Broadcasting Changes

I didn't catch this news when it came out, but the Dodgers have dumped Steve ("Psycho") Lyons and Eric Collins from their broadcasting team. Lyons is an atrocious broadcaster, and we employed him for way too long. Nomaaaaaah Garciaparra is joining our broadcasting crew, and we're trying to recruit Orel Hershiser. I would love for Hershiser to return to the Dodgers as a broadcaster.

In other baseball news, the Nationals fleeced the Tigers in acquiring Doug Fister. Really, what were the Tigers thinking? Meanwhile, the Nationals' starting rotation is rock solid.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mason Porter: International Man of Mystery

Apparently, the French bureaucracy uses the word "mission" for things like my trip to Paris to give a seminar on my research.

"I'm sending you in attachment 2 documents that you should fill in to open your mission for the visit..." (...) "The policy here requires to ask you to please purchase your travel ticket(s), for which you will be refunded at the end of the mission..."

That's me, alright: Mason Porter, International Man of Mystery (formerly "International Phenomenon").

(I am accepting this mission, of course! Indeed, I am very much looking forward to it.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels

Today I am flying to Brussels, where tomorrow we have our first-year grant review for our three-year PLEXMATH grant. I will return to Oxford tomorrow night, and then I (thankfully) don't have any flights until I return to the US on 20 December.

Some Unusual Areas of Research

This interesting article has some interesting mini-profiles on some people who are pursuing areas of study that are a bit off of the beaten track.

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Rough Day at the Office

The dude in this animated GIF must have had a rough day at the office.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Rude!

I was at the The Mines shopping center next to the Mines Wellness Hotel in Malaysia. This shopping center is huge and is ridiculously insane. I don't remember ever being in an indoor shopping center this large. I walked around quite a bit, got a really nice blended hazelnut coffee drink (and parked a bit to read), played some pool but using a giant snooker table (the long shots were loooooooong, so it was an interesting challenge) because I didn't want to use one of the undersized pool tables, walked through a small arcade that had some Neo Geo (!) machines, and walked around some more. I then wanted to eat before returning to my hotel, and there was a Chinese restaurant on the 5th floor that I wanted to try.

I was (politely) refused from the nearly-empty Chinese restaurant because of a wedding party that supposedly was going to fill the whole place (probably true, but I'm not 100% certain) when I tried another restaurant (a Korean bar-b-que) two two floors from nearby escalators.

This second restaurant was also nearly empty. The host came up to me when I entered, so I asked for a 'table for 1'. He emphatically said "No!" and immediately turned around and walked away. I asked "Why not?", so he briefly and incompletely turned his head around and said "Sorry!" (yeah right) and continued walking away. The name of the place is "Seoul Garden" and it seems like a chain. Don't ever go there.

I'm not one for manners, but this was seriously rude.

(I then decided 'Fuck it!' and just ate at KFC. I then got a 'bubble' tea drink --- but with gelatin instead of tapioca balls --- at a place I had been eyeing, and the woman who served me there was particularly friendly. That helped ease the sting a bit, but I feel a bit irked. I guess it was a combination of my American accent and scruffiness that did me in? Or maybe I somehow rolled a 1 on my diplomacy check?)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Diet Coke + Mentos = Fun!

A few hours ago, I saw a talk by Richard Sears on nucleation in which he used this wonderful video on a home-brew demonstration of the fun that one can have by mixing Diet Coke and Mentos. I definitely recommend that you try this at home! Seriously.

(How could I have never seen this video before? Thankfully, that gap in my life has now been closed.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Happens in Selangor Stays in Selangor

I am off to Selangor, Malaysia (the hometown of one of my best friends from my undergraduate days) to give three lectures in the Expository Quantum Lecture Series (EQuALS) 2013, whose theme this year is on complex systems. I've got a long flight there, and in a few days I'll have a long flight back. I still have some work to do on my slides. The trip should be tiring but fun.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quote of the Day: I Am What I Am And That's What I Am (and Have Always Been)

Gregg ("3 G's") Schneider wrote the following comment: Mason was always very precise and dryly funny. When he was 9 years old, he would leave a message on our answering machine..and say it was "Mason A. Porter". This was so I could distinguish him from Mason B. Porter, I presumed.

As you can see, I haven't changed a bit. (Just ask anybody who has ever written a paper with me.)

I googled "Mason B. Porter" (with quotes) but couldn't find a person by that name. I did, however, locate a Mason C. Porter (at findagrave.com, no less!).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Letters (and Numbers) and Butterfly Wings

Well, it turns out that one can find every letter in the English alphabet, as well as the numbers 0--9, imprinted in butterfly wings. Awesome!

P.S. I hope somebody appreciates the allusion in the title of this entry.

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

Friday, November 15, 2013


The Batkid story is really cool! It's nice to see something like this. (Seriously. Take a look at the link.)

(Tip of the cap to Zach Rosenfield for suggesting a googling of "Batkid" on Facebook.)

Update: OK, this story has gotten even cooler! In fact, it is now particularly awesome, as the US Justice Department is now playing along in a very cool way. As you can see, "The Riddler" and "The Penguin" have surely done some hideous crimes, though I think that their attempt to convert Lou Seal into a Los Angeles Dodgers fan is not only forgivable but even laudable, and I would therefore encourage the Justice Department to give them leniency because of that redeeming bit of behavior amidst what were otherwise heinous crimes. (Another hat tip to Zach for the link to the Justice Department website above.)

2013 Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Awards

As with Major League Baseball's other major awards this year, the 2013 voting for the Most Valuable Play awards held no surprises: Miguel Cabrera won his 2nd consecutive American League MVP award (even though Mike Trout should have won his 2nd consecutive MVP) and Andrew McCutchen (deservedly) garnered the National League MVP award.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

2013 Major League Baseball Cy Young Awards

Well, the 2013 Major League Baseball Cy Young awards for the best pitchers have now been announced, and the results are completely unsurprising: Max Scherzer won by a landslide in the American League (as he should have) and Clayton Kershaw won by a landslide in the National League (obviously). Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, by the way.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013 Major League Baseball Manager of the Year Awards

The 2013 Major League Baseball Manager of the Year awards were announced yesterday. Unsurprisingly, Clint Hurdle won in the National League. Terry Franconca was the American League winner. I think that was the right call, though (interestingly) John Farrell outpolled him among ESPN's pundits (who collectively picked Francona to come in second).

Syllable Counting

I disagree with this xkcd. I think that both the number of prior syllables and the number of subsequent ones matter...

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Happens in Zaragoza Stays in Zaragoza

In a few hours, I will be flying to Spain for our workshop in Zaragoza to discuss current work and upcoming research steps in the PLEXMATH grant and to make our plans for the review meeting in a couple of weeks.

My flight is sufficiently early that I needed to get up early for it. I'm tired.

2013 Baseball Rookies of the Year

As described in this story, Wil Myers won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award, and Jose Fernandez won the National League Rookie of the Year award. I wasn't sure how the former would go (although the ESPN pundits voted for Myers overwhelmingly, and he is the correct winner), but the latter was pretty damn obvious. Fernandez was fantastic and is going to finish very high in the NL Cy Young award voting as well. (It is already known that he is in the top 3.) Yasiel Puig finished 2nd in the NL voting, which also is not a surprise.

Update (11/12/13): The full rank ordering (and weighted number of votes) is available on this website.

How to Interact With the Introverted: A Short Pictorial Guide

Here is a short picture 'book' and field guide for how to interact with the introverted. This includes moody ones, by the way.

Also, it typically takes me a looooooooong time to become comfortable with a person or a place, and in certain circumstances it can be relatively easy for a place to lose such comfort (especially if not fully achieved in the first place).

(Tip of the cap to David Blau.)

Papers Versus Grants

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has gotten it exactly correct regarding how scientists discuss papers versus how we discuss grant proposals. This is the truth (though choice of rituals varies across fields).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Santa Barbara Physics, Entrepreneurship, Paranormal Activity, and Music in "The Long 1970s"

The September 2013 issue of Physics Today has a very cool article on a few Santa Barbara physicists in "the long 1970s", with a surprise guest appearance by the band Toad The Wet Sprocket.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Fluid Dynamics of Minimizing "Splashback"

Wow, fluid dynamicists sometimes study some really fun problems, like the fluid dynamics of urinating and trying to minimize "splashback". As some physicists have discovered using their patented "Water Angle Navigation Guide" (note the acronym), one of the keys to reducing splashback is to use a narrow angle of attack. (Note: Do not confuse this with "backside attack" from organic chemistry.)

The physics of urination seems to have become a popular research topic lately. It looks like competition for an Ig Nobel prize is going to be pretty stiff.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for Physics Today on Facebook, and thanks to Martin Gould for pointing out the acronym above. I actually missed that when I first read the article.)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tales from the ArXiv: Universal Law of Urination

I'll look at this paper in more detail tomorrow after I get some sleep, but this arXiv paper is a doozy. Here are the details.

Title: Law of Urination: all mammals empty their bladders over the same duration

Authors: Patricia J. Yang, Jonathan C. Pham, Jerome Choo, David L. Hu

Abstract: The urinary system evolved to eject fluids from the body quickly and efficiently. Despite a long history of successful urology treatments in humans and animals, the physics of urination has received comparatively little attention. In this combined experimental and theoretical investigation, we elucidate the hydrodynamics of urination across five orders of magnitude in animal mass, from mice to elephants. Using high-speed fluid dynamics videos and flow-rate measurement at Zoo Atlanta, we discover the "Law of Urination", which states animals empty their bladders over nearly constant duration of average 21 seconds (standard deviation 13 seconds), despite a difference in bladder volume from 100 mL to 100 L. This feat is made possible by the increasing urethra length of large animals which amplifies gravitational force and flow rate. We also demonstrate the challenges faced by the urinary system for rodents and other small mammals for which urine flow is limited to single drops. Our findings reveal the urethra evolved as a flow-enhancing device, enabling the urinary system to be scaled up without compromising its function. This study may help in the diagnosis of urinary problems in animals and in inspiring the design of scalable hydrodynamic systems based on those in nature.

Let me especially point out the following sentence (which is comedy gold): "Despite a long history of successful urology treatments in humans and animals, the physics of urination has received comparatively little attention."

(Tip of the cap to I Fucking Love Science, who posted a popular article about this arXiv paper on Facebook.)

Update: Courtesy of Marc Abrahams, here is what Annals of Improbable Research's blog had to say about this (and about other topics in bodily fluid dynamics).

Burning Metaphors

Well, this panel from SMBC is not the most positive comic panel in the world, but it resonates very well with my sense of humor.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

When Journal Correspondence is More Public Than it Should Be

Wow, the journal American Mathematical Monthly really ought not to put their e-mail correspondence to late referees on a page that one can reach by Google. Seriously. ("D'oh!") Of course this is an accident, but holy shit...

The Monthly needs to be more careful than this. As some of you know, I have issues with the way that this journal operates. (I was victimized by what I view as severe editorial bullying on a paper that I published with them, though ultimately I acceded to what I felt were abjectly unfair editorial demands because I didn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Despite the mess, it is still a very nice article IMHO, even though it could have been even better. In protest of my treatment, I immediately resigned from the Mathematical Association of America, who publishes the journal. I was going to go through the gory details in my blog but then decided that I would rather spend my time on much more productive things. All I would end up doing is working myself up again and taking away time from other stuff in the process. In the interest of fairness, let me also make the obvious but important comment that my side of that story of perceived bullying is not the only side.)

Despite my issues with the journal's editor, I am going to let him know about this so that the journal will take down the site or restrict access so that this material will no longer be on a publicly accessible site. I think that's the right thing to do, though I also think that it is very important to make a public point when a journal is not being as careful as it should be (which is why I decided to write this blog entry), as hopefully that can help influence journals to be more careful in the future. (I did ponder about whether it was best to both write this entry and inform the appropriate people --- the main editor and the president of the MAA --- or just to inform the appropriate people and not write any blog entry. But overall I think the correct thing to do is to write this post and to include a link in it, as that is more likely to lead to more care by journals in the future rather than just only informing the relevant parties and not doing anything else.) Anyway, I expect that that website will be unavailable soon. (The page in the link is not terribly interesting --- though see my first update below --- although I was able to determine the identity of one of my paper's referees. I've never heard of that person.)

Update: I dug a bit deeper by checking if any of the other correspondence of that journal is accidentally in the public domain. If you change the "sequence=9" text to other numbers (3--13 all give correspondence, and '2' downloads a .pdf file), you can also find things like discussions of papers. That is really, really bad. Sigh...

Update 2: To the credit of the editor, he has already responded, and it looks like they will try to take care of this immediately. That is good. (I also let the president of the MAA know about this, as that is important as well.)

Update 3: I decided to remove the link just in case. (If you tried it, that's why it didn't work.) I guess I wouldn't make a very good journalist, but I am having second thoughts about including the link in this post, so I am now going to try to err on the side of caution. The important point is what has been accidentally made public. You can either believe me or not about what's contained in there.

Update 4: The websites themselves now seem to be out of public view. Good!

Update 5 (still 11/03/13): Thinking about it even further, my posting the link in my initial version of this post was not an intelligent thing to do. I purposely didn't tweet or do anything like that to try to attract attention to this blog post, so the fact that I thought things through that far should have alerted me to the fact that including the link originally also wasn't smart (but I did not make that extra leap until I chewed things over a bunch more). I hereby apologize for that and explicitly state my regret for including that link (given some of the contents contained therein) in the original versions of this post. The situation with the unintentially public website (with private information) reminds me of Michael Zimmer's post and (especially) his attention-seeking behavior related to my posting of the Facebook100 data in public a couple of years ago, and the balancing of reporting something important --- which was my goal --- and deciding what is appropriate to include in such a report is a delicate one.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Applications Now Being Accepted for 2014 'Mathematics Research Community' on Network Science

In this post, I described the 2014 'Mathematics Research Community' on Network Science that I am co-organizing and which will take place 24-30 June 2014 at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah. (Briefly, it is a mathematics bootcamp on the subject of network science, and I will be one of the camp counselors.)

Details on how to apply are available on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

P.S. That's right: Snowbird in an even year! (Gasp!)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Porter. Mason Porter."

Through a stray Google search during a spare few minutes, I found episode 16 of an audio drama called Action Science Theatre.

This episode contains a spy named "Mason Porter" and has three mathematics-related tags (math, maths, and catastrophe theory). The brief 'explanation' of catastrophe theory in the episode is ok but not quite right. It is amusing, though, that their brief discussion of catastrophe theory is reminiscent of the more science-fictiony aspects of catastrophe theory that were hyped for years. (In Vladimir Arnold's book on catastrophe theory, he has some very snarky things to say about that with respect to the work of René Thom.)

Here are few lines from this episode:

The character with my name, who is a spy who works for British Intelligence: "Let me introduce myself. [...ominous music...] Porter. Mason Porter."

Main character (the mathematician): "What? Really?"

"Me": "I'm sorry."

Mathematician: "Is that really your name?"

"Me": "Well of course it is. Why?"

Mathematician: "It just sounds a bit made up."

Hmpf. That's my real name --- so not exactly made up. Anyway, at least my namesake wasn't killed off in chapter 1 this time. (The link in my old blog entry is now dead. Perhaps that suggests that that book project might not be completed any time soon?)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Get Outta Da Way!"

Take a look at this puppet's tips for New York City tourists. Hilarious!

(Tip of the cap to Maria King.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quote of the Day: Tenure and Sea Squirts

I love this quote from philosopher Daniel Dennett (from 1991): "The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it fi nds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.)"

(Tip of the cap to this paper by Pablo Echenique-Robba. And thanks to Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers to pointing me to this paper. (I might have actually seen it before, but I didn't pay any attention to it until I saw it on that blog.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

25th Anniversary of Gibson's Homer

Today is the 25th anniversary of my favorite homerun of all time. GO DODGERS! Let's kick some butt tonight!

What Happens in the Other Place Stays in the Other Place

I gave a talk in Cambridge today in a room in King's College. This was the first time that I gave a seminar while a bust of Keynes was staring sternly at me. (I am far more used to having meetings or an outreach session while a portrait of Margaret Thatcher stares at me sternly and a portrait of Indira Ghandi looks at me with a strange smirk.)

I am also staying in a room in King's College for the night. One can walk on the grass if and if one is accompanied by a Senior Fellow. (My host used his grass-walking privileges on the way to picking me up.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kam Torrye: Rogue Demon Hunter (My New Pathfinder Character)

For those of you who are interested, here is my new Pathfinder character. This gives the details of my flame oracle (with the tongues curse) for any of you who want to try to decipher my handwriting (and are interested). He's a rogue demon hunter.

I previously wrote a shorter description when I made some decisions about the character but hadn't yet determined the details.

Update: It turns out that Firestorm has 11th level as a prerequisite, so clearly I need to fix that.

Demonstrating Moments of Inertia

I have my first tutorials with the new Somerville freshers tomorrow.

I have just prepared my copy of "Somerville for Woman" to use for tomorrow's demonstration of moment of inertia and stability.

(I don't want to mess up my copy of the book, but the dimensions of the book are good for this demo and I can't think of that many books that it would be funnier to use tomorrow. A copy of the OED would be funnier to use for this, I suppose, but I don't have one and I don't have time to get one before tutorials tomorrow.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NLCS = Dodgers vs Cardinals

Well, the Dodgers opponent in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) has now been determined: Last night, the Cardinals unfortunately beat the Pirates in game 5 of the National League Division Series (NLDS). Thus, the Dodgers are going to have to get through the Cardinals (who are a less interesting opponent). But we've got a good team and a particularly awesome top of the rotation, and that will help a lot. Go Dodgers!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

"Commentary: Teach Network Science to Teenagers"

Our article on our outreach efforts to teach network science to teenagers now has its page numbers, so it's out in final form. Here are the details.

Title: Commentary: Teach Network Science to Teenagers

Authors: Heather A. Harrington, Mariano Beguerisse Díaz, M. Puck Rombach, Laura M. Keating, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We discuss our outreach efforts to introduce school students to network science and explain why researchers who study networks should be involved in such outreach activities. We provide overviews of modules that we have designed for these efforts, comment on our successes and failures, and illustrate the potentially enormous impact of such outreach efforts.

Also don't forget our associated teaching materials and University of Oxford's promotional video about our efforts.

My Dialect

I took a dialect quiz that I found via this article that Louis Wang posted on Facebook. My results place the way I speak from The Valley in California --- which I already knew --- though according to this quiz I have almost as strong a similarity as how people speak in Sunnyvale (part of Silicon Valley). From the perspective of how I speak, I apparently have least in common with people from Michigan, which might partly explain certain arguments/discussions with Lanth in the past (and, at the very minimum, it amuses me a great deal even if it doesn't explain anything!).


Backyard Brains' RoboRoach is sparking an ethical debate. The company ships live roaches and neuro stuff to 'install' in it so that one can, for example, control the animal a bit with devices like an iPad. I find both the ethical discussion and the science itself very fascinating. Overall, I have mixed feelings about this being available commercially. Take a look at the article for some of the pros and cons.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for Physics Today on Facebook.)

Monday, October 07, 2013

RIP Abraham Nemeth (1918-2013)

Abraham Nemeth, who created a Braille code for mathematics and also invented MathSpeak, has died. Now here is a dude who made major contributions!

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto.)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

"Who's Afraid of Peer Review"

The magazine Science conducted a fascinating experiment on peer review in open-access journals. They were able to get a bogus paper accepted (often without peer review and even more often without rigorous peer review) more often than not. Interestingly, they did not comment on whether or not they got the IRB approval that is necessary for studies that involve human subjects. (IRB is "Internal Review Board" and is a board for US-based studies. Other countries have analogous bodies.) As discussed in the first link, although this experiment was done with open-access journals, I'm sure one would find the same crap in journals that are published using more conventional pricing models.

(Tip of the cap to someone named Gary King, who appears to be a professor at Harvard University. I found this article via a Facebook link on which my collaborator James Fowler wrote a comment.)

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Faces in Everyday Objects

Here are 26 awesome pictures (well, most of them are awesome) in which one can see faces in everyday objects. I've seen a few of these before, and most of them are big wins!

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Oracles, Tongues, and Finding Paths

My new Pathfinder character is a Lawful Good 'Oracle' who has the 'Flame' mystery and the 'tongues' curse. I chose 'infernal' for the language of the tongues. I have mega-charisma and a rank in intimidate (class skill), so I plan to roll intimidate checks when I start speaking in tongues.

The GM is requiring all characters to be good, so I figured the LG but divine-touched oracle who others will think is possessed because of his curse will cause lots of trouble --- I mean 'interesting role-playing opportunities' --- for the party.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

"Uphill Both Ways Through the Snow" on Steroids

I will see your walking uphill both ways through the snow, and I'll raise you walking in the snow every day with no shoes on a non-orientable surface. I approve!

I am so going to use this one the next time I visit Cornell!

Friday, September 27, 2013


The authors of this paper are now my heroes! Click on the link and read the "Unacknowledgements" section. Wow!

Labyrinths and Ears

A viral labyrinthine infection makes me think of minotaurs holding athletic contests in my ear. (Of course, we're not sure what this is, but the doctor says that all symptoms point to this.)

The doctor prescribes patience, which is of course my best quality. :)

Update (10/1/13): As an alternative visuals to the minotaurs, perhaps David Bowie is dancing the Magic Dance in my ears.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Task-Based Core-Periphery Organization of Human Brain Dynamics"

Another of my papers just came out today, though I have to say that putting 12 pieces of supplementary information (8 figures, 3 tables, and supplementary text) as 13 separate files is absolutely ridiculous. It also led to some botching on the part of the journal --- such as in the table numbering in the .pdf versions and a messed-up reference in the caption of a table in the .pdf version --- and we never had the chance to do anything about it because this journal doesn't do page proofs. Sigh... Anyway, here is a combined version of the .pdf files that my postdoc Sang Hoon Lee assembled, and here is the accepted preprint version of the paper.

And now for the details about the paper itself...

Title: Task-Based Core-Periphery Organization of Human Brain Dynamics

Authors: Danielle S. Bassett, Nicholas F. Wymbs, M. Puck Rombach, Mason A. Porter, Peter J. Mucha, and Scott T. Grafton

Abstract: As a person learns a new skill, distinct synapses, brain regions, and circuits are engaged and change over time. In this paper, we develop methods to examine patterns of correlated activity across a large set of brain regions. Our goal is to identify properties that enable robust learning of a motor skill. We measure brain activity during motor sequencing and characterize network properties based on coherent activity between brain regions. Using recently developed algorithms to detect time-evolving communities, we find that the complex reconfiguration patterns of the brain's putative functional modules that control learning can be described parsimoniously by the combined presence of a relatively stiff temporal core that is composed primarily of sensorimotor and visual regions whose connectivity changes little in time and a flexible temporal periphery that is composed primarily of multimodal association regions whose connectivity changes frequently. The separation between temporal core and periphery changes over the course of training and, importantly, is a good predictor of individual differences in learning success. The core of dynamically stiff regions exhibits dense connectivity, which is consistent with notions of core-periphery organization established previously in social networks. Our results demonstrate that core-periphery organization provides an insightful way to understand how putative functional modules are linked. This, in turn, enables the prediction of fundamental human capacities, including the production of complex goal-directed behavior.

Hunter's Hitters

Giants outfielder Hunter Pence is good at comedy. This video is really damn funny! I wonder whose idea it was? (And while you're on this page, you might just want to click on the link that leads to more funny baseball-related clips.)

A Tom Lehrer Recording from 1997!

How awesome! Here is a Tom Lehrer performance from 1997. It includes some songs I have never heard him sing before! (I had never even heard of a couple of these songs before.) Big win!

(The penultimate song takes a really low shot at sociology and the attempt to mathematize it. It's really funny, though, perhaps because I can think of specific examples that it fits very well. Still, the assessment is not even close to fair.)

(Tip of the cap to Marina Chugunova.)

Update: I forgot to mention that I am wearing my "Let ε < 0" shirt today. How appropriate!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

To Comment or Not To Comment

That is the question.

Popular Science has decided to shut off comments on their new articles (with occasional but rare exceptions). Their online content director eloquently explains why.

If anybody has any thoughts on this, I would be very interested to hear them (well, to read them). On the balance, I think it's the right call on their part, but I make this statement with sadness.

(Tip of the cap to James Fowler.)

"Data is Imaginary. This Burrito is Real."

Hah! I am amused by the latest XKCD.

New to the Blogroll: Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers

There is a new blog called Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers. Most of the good ones that it's discussed so far are incidents I already knew about, but it's still good to collect them in one place, and I'm sure that there are plenty of good ones to come. (I should remove some of the blogs that are never updated from the blogroll, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet.)

(Tip of the cap to Petter Holme.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Solitary Matter Waves in Combined Linear and Nonlinear Potentials: Detection, Stability, and Dynamics"

One of my papers came out in its final published form today. Here are the details.

Title: Solitary matter waves in combined linear and nonlinear potentials: Detection, stability, and dynamics

Authors: Scott Holmes, Mason A. Porter, Peter Krüger, and Panayotis G. Kevrekidis

Abstract: We study statically homogeneous Bose-Einstein condensates with spatially inhomogeneous interactions and outline an experimental realization of compensating linear and nonlinear potentials that can yield constant-density solutions. We illustrate how the presence of a step in the nonlinearity coefficient can only be revealed dynamically and examine how to reveal it by exploiting the inhomogeneity of the sound speed with a defect-dragging experiment. We conduct computational experiments and observe the spontaneous emergence of dark solitary waves. We use effective-potential theory to perform a detailed analytical investigation of the existence and stability of solitary waves in this setting, and we corroborate these results computationally using a Bogoliubov–de Gennes linear stability analysis. We find that dark solitary waves are unstable for all step widths, whereas bright solitary waves can become stable through a symmetry-breaking bifurcation as one varies the step width. Using phase-plane analysis, we illustrate the scenarios that permit this bifurcation and explore the dynamical outcomes of the interaction between the solitary wave and the step.

As an additional note, there have been a couple of hundred theoretical/computational papers on BECs with spatially inhomogeneous nonlinearities, but (to my knowledge) there has been only a single experimental paper on the topic, and that paper's basic point was essentially just that one can actually make these things in the laboratory. The challenge is thus to do something interesting in the laboratory, and this paper includes some experimental designs to try to do that (and, indeed, it includes an experimentalist as one of the authors). So here's hoping that we'll see some of these things or other phenomena soon in spatially inhomogeneous BECs studied in laboratories...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Carpet Camouflage and its Unintended Consequences

Perhaps the most awesome costume at Dragon Con this year were from the people who dressed up in camouflage based on the carpet pattern at the Marriott Marquis hotel. I didn't see it in person, but I remember first seeing the picture on Facebook while I was at Dragon Con. It's the best costume from there that I have seen. Unfortunately, the company that made that carpet is being lame: it threatened the cosplayers with legal action after they started selling the costumes online after many people requested that. (You can also see the canonical picture of the carpet camouflage in that article.)

(Tip of the cap to someone who posted on one of the Dragon Con Facebook pages.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Aural Poincaré Section

This musical creation seems to essentially amount to an aural representation of a Poincaré section of the dynamics of a triple pendulum (though the description provided with the video is a bit hard to parse, so I am not 100% sure that this is precisely a legitimate Poincaré section).

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for Physics Today on Facebook.)

Update: Here is a different aural Poincaré section of a triple pendulum.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dodgers Win the NL West!!!!!!

The Dodgers just clinched the National League West division title!!!! This is our first division title since 2009, and we have become the first team to clinch a division title in 2013. Yay!!!!! Go Dodgers!

RIP Hiroshi Yamauchi (1927-2013)

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who was the President of Nintendo from 1949 to 2002 (and oversaw Nintendo's transformation into the company we know today), has died.

(Tip of the cap to baseball writer Buster Olney, who wrote about Yamauchi's death in the context of the latter's never having attended a Mariners baseball game even though he was their majority owner.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Long Live the Billiard Simulator!

How exciting! It turns out that this bit of Matlab software --- a simulator for billiard systems along with a graphical user interface --- that my Georgia Tech student Steven Lansel wrote in 2003-04 as part of his undergraduate research project (with Leonid Bunimovich and me) and that my Caltech undergrad student Kris Kazlowski then updated somewhat in 2006 is still being used as a tool for teaching and producing nice graphics in 2013! That is just sweet! The last update of any kind to the software dates to December 2007. (That was an update to get things to work on the then-latest version of Matlab, although we also included code for a couple of new billiard tables from Kris's 2006 summer research project.) This is excellent!

Bohemian Gravity

If you want to listen to some tidbits about string theory and the like to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody", then I strongly suggest that you watch the music video by Timothy Blaise called Bohemian Gravity. It's awesome!

(Tip of the cap to Jeff Moehlis.)

Good for the Audience

The following exchange just occurred at ECCS:

After a coughing spasms interrupted what I said to my collaborator Renaud Lambiotte, I said "Sorry. My mind is working much faster than I can talk at the moment."

Marc Timme (matter-of-factly): "Probably this will be good for the audience."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Happens in Barcelona Stays in Barcelona

Well, I finally made it to Barcelona. I have been meaning to go for several years, and I even was planning to go to a conference here a few years ago (but I was only given a poster presentation and --- under the circumstances of the initial e-mail response to my abstract when I submitted it --- it felt like a bait-and-switch, so I declined it). Now I am here for the 2013 European Conference on Complex Systems and for its associated satellite meetings. I have never gone to this conference series before, though some of my collaborators have previously presented our joint work at ECCS conferences. I already ran into Alex Vespignani at the hotel check-in desk, so I know I'm in the right place!

I was tempted to introduce this post with a Crystallian (as in Billy) fake European accent as a nod to a certain oral report I did in 7th grade on the city of Barcelona. The school year was 1988-89, and we chose Barcelona as our city on which to report because of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games for a presentation in Andrea Ambler's class. I think it was my idea --- not too creative, I admit. In our oral presentation (and in other presentations on other European cities), every single person used the same fake European accent --- no matter which European city was covered in their report. It was kind of ridiculous. (Is it too late to apologize for this past transgression? Now that I have several European friends, I feel like I owe them a retrospective apology for that oral report.) And for those of you who don't know what that "European" accent sounds like, let's just say that it's simply marvelous. In summary: My group's 7th-grade report on a European city was on Barcelona, our collective notion of a European accent (for all countries) was Billy Crystal, and this series of oral reports must have been extremely painful to watch (and, especially, to listen to) for anybody in the room who had any knowledge at all about Europe. Those were the days.

Update (7/01/14): I think I forgot to post my pictures from Barcelona.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sweet Dreams are Made of Granular Packings (and Who am I to Disagree?)

On Friday morning, I had a strange dream dream. It included an ice-cream parlor, which was rumored to be wild and crazy. I backtracked to this parlor after leaving my friends in our hotel. The parlor had two flavors named after one of my Oxford colleagues (though I decided in my dream that it must be a coincidence), and their method of choosing mix-ins --- which were required to come with the ice cream (one couldn't opt out) were based on which part of their large vat with a mixture toppings had the largest local packing density (and one had no choice in the algorithm either). That's right: granular packings are now officially showing up in my dreams.

There were some other parts as well, but that was the most vivid. Clearly, I need to get some ice cream --- though I still don't feel well enough to do that (I've been really sick with the flu for a week). I also need to work on reviewing a paper on granular force chains (which is on my desk) and finishing up a new paper of my own on granular force chains.

As Matt Sullivan reminded me on Facebook, some candies have been used to study granular packings. Given that things like M&Ms and the other things were all mixed together in one container, I think the dream store's idea was that the property of particular items having a higher local packing fraction than others was going to systematically make specific items show up more often among the mix-ins. I also suspect that having seen that project before had an influence on some of the particulars of my dream.

Friday, September 13, 2013

This Happens to Me All the Time

Sometimes, you're in a dark alley, and somebody points a gun to your head and demands the answer to a calculus question. Seriously. This happens to me all the time.

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

2013 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prizes have now been announced. Sadly, the 2013 Prize in Probability is going to make it just about impossible for my cow project (and, in particular, this paper) to ever get an Ig Nobel. (I think that we should have been awarded a share of that prize.)

I love this year's Peace Prize, by the way. The Safety Engineering Prize is also awesome.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Excellent Metaphor

When I get sick, my bedroom sometimes starts to resemble a war room, with crumpled tissues strewn about like discarded battle plans.

(I may have cobwebs in my head and be unable to think many deep scientific thoughts at the moment, but damn I can come up with a fantastic metaphor!)


Rob Neyer got this exactly right. Let's be respectful without going overboard, pandering, diluting things, or being disrespectful of people whose believes are different.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Effects of Drugs on Spiderweb Design

Take a look at this article for a primer on the design of spiderwebs by spiders exposed to various drugs. And don't forget to watch the video at the bottom of the page! Wow...

It reminds me of an artist's work on the effect of drugs on his self-portraits.

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

Monday, September 09, 2013

RIP Cal Worthington (1920-2013)

Cal Worthington, a well-known West Coast used-car salesman who appeared all over the place (and early and often) on television commercials during my childhood---and starting several decades before then---died on Sunday while watching a football game. Worthington's jingle was burned into my head for many years, and I still remember it pretty well. I have no idea where his "dog" Spot is buried.

Update (9/10/13): As I have been reminded by many people, "Go see Cal! Go see Cal! Go see Cal!" sounded like "Pussy cow! Pussy cow! Pussy cow!" to so many of us.

A New Way to Give People the Raspberry

Hopefully, nobody who goes to the market and notices the liquid-droplet remnants from the minor raspberry avalanche will think that those are drops of blood.

Only one person would dare give them the raspberry...

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Oxford's New Mathematical Institute (aka the "Andrew Wiles Building")

I just got back from a two-week trip to the US, and the stuff in my old office in Dartington House got moved into our shiny new building while I was gone.

We are going to have the official opening conference for the new building on 3 October.

The building is a bit of an eyesore from the outside, but the inside is excellent. There is one large visual kluge (where a walkway and an otherwise-nice architectural feature butt heads in a particularly grating manner), but the whole ambiance of an Escher-esque ant farm on the inside just works. (We are, of course, the ants.) There are a bunch of diagonal walkways within the floors and also diagonal vertical stairways and a very open feel. This will increase the chances of random encounters (and I expect many of them will be useful), though I'll need to be careful not to make a Bugs-Bunny-like wrong turn at OxPDE. :)

My office seems about twice as large as my old one, and I have tons more shelf space, a desk to facilitate meetings (finally!). Presumably, I also finally have working windows and blinds, and the Powers That Be could never manage to get either of those truly working properly in my almost 6 years in my old office. My office is also located strategically. For one thing, many of my lab members near it, and a restroom and both grayscale and color printers nearby. Moreover, when using a grayscale printer, I get to choose whether to use a printer that passes the offices of my lab members or one that does not... how very convenient :P ). Arguably even cooler than that is that my office is situated so that its entrance is just above one of the diagonal staircases. This will allow me to rain 'Death From Above' on people as they walk up and down the nearby staircase. (Now where are my red shells when I need them?) Truly, this building's layout would make one truly awesome arena for battle mode in a Mario Kart game. I will simply have to try to resist the urge to drop things on people as they are traversing the nearby staircase.

And, of course, there is the following extremely important fact: Once everybody has moved in, the mathematics department is going to be in one building (though a few stragglers will likely still be using an office elsewhere as their main office), and that is simply awesome! Most recently, we had been split over 4 different buildings (and we had gotten up to 5 at some point), so this consolidation will simplify things like having quick conversations with graph theorists without e-mailing back and forth to schedule something for a month later, etc. It's also very helpful for everybody that all of the support staff are now in the same building. Many of the ones with whom I dealt were in Dartington House (the building I was in) and quite a few things needed to be delivered by hand, and this is a royal pain in the butt when the deliverer and the deliveree are not in the same building (which was often the case for many of our faculty).

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pinky and The Brain Read "Who's On First"

I didn't catch this while I was at Dragon Con, but it turns out that there was a performance of "Who's on First" in the voices of Pinky and The Brain.

(Tip of the cap to somebody who does Facebook postings for Dragon Con.)

Monday, September 02, 2013

What Happens in Troy Stays in Troy

Tonight I am heading over to Troy, NY. Tomorrow and Wednesday, I will be giving seminars in RPI's Department of Mathematical Sciences.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pictures From Dragon Con 2013

I have now uploaded a batch of pictures from Dragon Con. I will post more pictures later...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

RIP Cherie Galvez (1950-2013)

Cherie Galvez died on July 12th. (I just found out now.) Cherie was Barry Simon's secretary at Caltech. She was a very nice person and was always very kind to me. When I was an undergrad, she always let me have free food from the mathematical physics workshops even though I didn't attend any. (I never asked. She just offered it to me because she knew me.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Applied Mathemagics

While I am at Dragon*Con, I will be guest-starring as a character (an NPC) in Ben Williamson's D&D game.

I am pretty sure that I won't have any trouble at all role-playing this character... considering that it was based on me in the first place!

Now I can go all meta- on their asses! Anyway, I will try to interpret myself correctly. This character is what one might call an "applied mathemagician" (to quote Ben) who specializes in evocation spells. Sure, I can blow things up. :)

"Decentralized Routing on Spatial Networks with Stochastic Edge Weights"

My paper on routing in spatial networks has now been officially published. Here are the details.

Title: Decentralized Routing on Spatial Networks with Stochastic Edge Weights

Authors: Till Hoffmann, Renaud Lambiotte, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We investigate algorithms to find short paths in spatial networks with stochastic edge weights. Our formulation of the problem of finding short paths differs from traditional formulations because we specifically do not make two of the usual simplifying assumptions: (1) we allow edge weights to be stochastic rather than deterministic and (2) we do not assume that global knowledge of a network is available. We develop a decentralized routing algorithm that provides en route guidance for travelers on a spatial network with stochastic edge weights without the need to rely on global knowledge about the network. To guide a traveler, our algorithm uses an estimation function that evaluates cumulative arrival probability distributions based on distances between pairs of nodes. The estimation function carries a notion of proximity between nodes and thereby enables routing without global knowledge. In testing our decentralized algorithm, we define a criterion that makes it possible to discriminate among arrival probability distributions, and we test our algorithm and this criterion using both synthetic and real networks.

Titles of Food-Like Items

If your food item is titled based on time of day (e.g. "breakfast syrup"), location on other food (e.g. "whipped topping"), and/or its color (e.g. "brown sauce"), then you have given me reasons to be concerned. That is all.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Welcome Back?

I stepped out of the taxi at my fancy hotel --- I didn't take public transportation, as I have some travel money that needs to be spent before it goes away for good, and I am really tired and not feeling well --- and then I paid my driver and got my change....

... And immediately (within 15 seconds ... welcome back to Atlanta) a guy walked up to us and asked the taxi driver (not me) if he could spare a dollar.

Honestly, I don't know whether to be offended or thankful.

"In Your Copious Free Time"

I e-mailed Somerville's new mathematics freshers for the first time today, so it was time to introduce them to important phrases --- such as "in your copious free time". (I heard this in the past from people like Mark Newman and Barry Simon, and I am sure that its use in academia far predates the latter.)

Didn't you know? Free time at Oxford is always "copious".

Update (9/10/13): I was listening to Tom Lehrer yesterday, and he uses this exact phrase in the same snarky way. I wouldn't be surprised at all if that is a common origin for how many of us started using it. (It occurs in the introduction to the song "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier.")

What Happens in Atlanta Stays in Atlanta (2013 Edition)

I am off on a trip to several places on the east coast of the US. My first stop is Atlanta, where I will be giving a talk in Georgia Tech's math department and then going to Dragon Con for some geekery and gaming (and geekery and fantasy ... and yet more geekery).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Could It Have Been Any Other Way?

I am watching the game between the Phillies and the Diamondbacks. It's throwback night in Philly in honor of their 1993 team. Mitch Williams threw out the first pitch ... and it was wild and almost nailed the Phanatic.

Could it have been any other way?

Update: I finally got to see the full video (the Diamondbacks broadcast included various parts and a nice description by broadcaster Steve Berthiaume, but most of the details were missing), and the Phanatic actually looked pretty safe, but the ball girls certainly had to jump out of the way when the first pitch went wild.

But Isn't It Just Homophily?

I have just created a Batman-Slapping-Robin meme for this one.

My computer's autocorrect keeps trying to make me write "homophile" instead of "homophily". Bloody Hell.


What is old is new again: Last night, I extracted a stuck moth from between my laptop screen and its keyboard. My computer is now debugged.

Vin Scully is Returning in 2014!!!

YES!!!! Vin Scully will continue announcing Dodger games in 2014. Sweet!!!!

(Tip of the cap to Sammy Kline and whoever posts on behalf of 'Vin Scully' on Facebook.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

4000 Hits

Ichiro Suzuki got his 4000th career hit today, where this count includes both his hits in the Major Leagues and his hits in Japan. I was planning to use the title "Mr. 4000" for this entry (in allusion to this movie), but ESPN already did that, so never mind. Ichiro has a place in Cooperstown reserved for him.

2014 AMS "Mathematics Research Community" on Network Science

I am organizing, jointly with Aaron Clauset and David Kempe (and with help from Dan Larremore), an AMS Mathematics Research Community on Network Science. It will take place 24-30 June 2014 in Snowbird, Utah, USA.

Online applications will be available starting 1 November. Please drop us a line if you have any questions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Controlling the Clock

Sabermetrician Martin Manley committed suicide on August 15th (his 60th birthday), and he documented his reasoning in detail. (He included lots of details about both his life and his death.) I read the beginning blurbs about his death just to get the gist of what he had in mind, and I am writing this post and linking to his material because I think it's a fundamentally interesting document. I didn't go through the details of it, but I think there is a natural curiosity about what he was thinking. (You can call it "morbid" if you want, but I think it is natural to wonder about his train of thought. I don't consider it morbid.)

P.S. My own choice is to stay around until I am dragged away --- like the baseball player who has to have his uniform pulled off or else he'll keep trying to play forever.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer.)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bulletproof Whiteboards

Every university should have bulletproof whiteboards, right? I hope they erase well, at least. And now maybe I can make my exams even harder? :)

This is pretty depressing. Well, my actual reaction is one of simultaneous amusement and depression: On one hand, it's really a bad sign of what our world and our lives have become. On the other hand, these are bulletproof whiteboards, and the only really proper reaction to that is LOL!.

Anyway, I could really use one of these...

Also, we totally need these for our new Mathematical Institute building! (Into which we'll be moving ... very ... soon ... now ... really.)

(Tip of the cap to Andrew Waugh. Note that I have updated this entry with additional snarky and non-snarky text from the original version.)

Draw a Stickman

The web page Draw a Stickman is pretty damn amusing. I seemed to be combining this game with The Sims and was rather cruel to my Stickman. My 'latent' violent tendencies were coming out again. :) This tends to be the case with certain types of games. (**Cough** Black & White **Cough**)

(Tip of the cap to Jason Chen.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Seattle Police Department to Hand Out Free Doritos at Hempfest

Don't believe me? Just read the news for yourself.

As the Seattle PD's Twitter feed says (in response to some flack): "Please ignore maliciously false reports that we're giving out Bugles at @seattlehempfest. We would never, ever do that."

At least this department has a sense of humor. The LAPD tends to hand out very different things (rather than Doritos)...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cats and Dogs

China has a really "awesome" zoo that does an impressive job of labeling its animals. Seriously.

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

If You Didn't Communicate It, Then You Didn't Do it.

If you didn't write it down or tell anybody or communicate it in some other way, then you didn't do it. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

I proved cold fusion. I just didn't bother to tell anybody or show it to anybody or ever even mention it really, but I still deserve credit and a citation if you do it later (because that's when I'll bring it up). And a Nobel Prize. Give me one of those beauties, too. You're just going to have to take my word about my notes that I never showed to anybody.

That is now twice this summer that I have run into so-called "scholars" who apparently believe crap like this --- not cold fusion, but the notion that their idea that has never been communicated in public means that they don't have to give proper credit or (in the more extreme case) that of course they did it but they didn't bother to mention it at all in their paper, so you can't get credit for doing it and don't insult them by stating that those calculations hadn't been done in the literature. And these people are ok with stepping on other people in the process. And one of these people seemed to be ok with screwing over their own student! WTF?

National Relaxation Day

In honor of National Relaxation Day, I offer you a link to the wikipedia entry for "Relaxation (physics)". It's about time that you learned about that anyway. :) Unless, of course, you already know about it (like the physicists and many others who read this blog).

Also, according to the website Punchbowl, which appears to keep track of holidays, today is also "Assumption Day" and "Lemon Meringue Pie Day". So, if possible, find a way to combine all three. I'm just going to assume that you do that. August is "National Goat Cheese Month", so eat some of that too, and don't forget to listen to Elvis while doing so because it is "Elvis Week" (though you get to decide between Presley and Costello, even though I assume that they mean the former) and do it in a plane because it's "National Aviation Week".

OK, "Enough of that.", as George Carlin might say.

(Tip of the cap the the Dragon Con Facebook page.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Addendum to 'Critical Truths About Power Laws'

Here is a brief addendum to the opinion paper "Critical Truths About Power Laws that I coauthored with Michael Stumpf in 2012. I wanted to post this addendum on the arXiv, but the arXiv admins wouldn't let me post it and removed my submission. I am attempting to 'set the record straight' (or at least my perspective on it) on a specific point.

Title: An Addendum to 'Critical Truths About Power Laws'

Author: Mason A. Porter

Main Text of the Article: In Ref. [3], my coauthor Michael Stumpf and I wrote that "The power law reported for allometric scaling stands out as genuinely good" and reinforced this comment in the paper's figure. We also wrote that "... few people would dispute the reality of such a relationship." I have since learned that the "power law" in allometric scaling is in fact the subject of intense debate. Please see the discussions in Refs. [1, 2] (and in references therein) for details.

You can click on the addendum to see which references I cite.

The Signs Says What?

Here are some awesome (and also "awesome") Chinese signs that got lost in translation. Several of these are hilarious, and in my opinion #22 is the best. (Number 22 made me laugh out loud. It is awesome!) I have doubts about the authenticity, though. They seem too funny to be real signs without any photoshopping or other alterations. They're damn funny, though.

(Tip of the cap to Ravi Montenegro.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

See! I Told You That People Are Particles!

Even Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal agrees that people are particles! See! I told you so! :P

(Well, actually, they aren't --- though that perspective can be both useful and insightful. Just don't go overboard with that perspective...)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Opening Act

Thought of the Day: The Wilson-Fisher Renormalization Group ought to have opened up for The Steve Miller Band at least once.

A Local Version of Global Warming

An ice age has hit my refrigerator (and freezer), and it's reached the point that a drink is actually jammed in there and can't be removed because it's stuck in the ice. (This was a glass of vodka that a friend of mine left after my 2009 birthday party. I don't drink, so it's just stayed there for 4.5 years.) My version of global warming is now in progress, and it involves lots of towels. This is what happens if you let something like this wait several years too long.

Update (8/13/13): Operation "Local Warming" has now reached Hour 31. The heavy machinery was brought in on Day 2, and I'm also keeping the door of the kitchen closed so that it stays warm enough to actually melt the ice. The vodka is no longer stuck and the refrigerator seems to finally be out of the ice age now. Here is how things looked in April (and things were even more severe last week, when I finally got around to doing something about it). The vodka in the freezer is literally jammed. (Somebody local should let me know if they want the vodka, by the way. I don't drink, so it's free to a good home.) We have now brought out the heavy machinery.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Automatic Dissertation-Title Generator

Here is an automatic generator for titles of PhD theses. My fake dissertation title is "Vesuvius Wept: A Mechanical Analysis of Popular Drinking Songs in Dante's Inferno".

The title of my actual dissertation is "Quantum Chaos in Vibrating Billiard Systems"

(Tip of the cap to Jure Leskovec.)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Congratulations to Dr. Puck Rombach!

My Ph.D. student Puck Rombach passed her dissertation defense (aka "viva") today with "Minor Corrections". It appears to be a relatively large number of minor corrections, but they're all eminently doable and it won't take long to dot all of the i's and cross all of the t's. You can find some of Puck's work on my website, as we have coauthored several papers. Puck's thesis is on a mixture of topics from pure graph theory (equitable colorings in random graphs), networks (core-periphery structure and centralities), and a couple of things that interpolate between these two extremes. The Examiners were Colin McDiarmid (internal) on the pure side and Alex Arenas (external) on the applied side.



Sorry, Cub fans. This is pretty damn funny, though!

(Tip of the cap to Ben Williamson.)

Peer Review Fail

Well, this incident sure is a beauty.

To quote a line the supplementary information of this paper, Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis.... (And also an ethics fail.) Way to proofread! This is an instant classic. (By the way, there is already an update.)

(Tip of cap to Katie Siek.)

Update (8/10/13): Petter Holme has pointed me to this link, which updates the story further. The Editor in Chief is handling the aftermath very well, in my opinion. Of course, things shouldn't ever have gotten to this point, but the situation is what it is.

Monday, August 05, 2013

And So the Axe Falls...

The suspensions from the Biogenesis scandal have now been announced. A-Rod has been suspended for the rest of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season (though he will appeal), and 12 other players received 50-game suspensions. I don't particularly like to blog about PEDs and I tend to avoid it, and I hope that this is finally the beginning of the end of this long-running era in Baseball's history. At the very minimum, it's good to know that consensus player opinion is now massively against such things, and that is a great improvement over what used to be the case.

New 'Board Game Cafe' in Oxford!

I walked a few minutes away from home to get some food, and it turns out that a 'board game cafe' called Thirsty Meeples just opened up last week. It's only about a 7-minute walk from home and right near one of my coffee places! (Though I managed not to notice it the past several days when I went to get coffee...) Sweet!!

On a similar note, I am going to a board-game group meetup today. The group is called 'Oxford on Board'. I found out about this from my postdocs right before my trip to Korea, and I really ought to have found out about this group before (considering that it has existing for a few years). Tonight is the first time that I am going to one of their events. Better late than never, I suppose.

Anyway, it looks like my board-game options have expanded a decent amount, so I'm very much looking forward to more gaming! Of course, there is still the issue of my lack of time when term is in session (and lots of travelling when it isn't --- and, often, I suppose even when it is), but it's really great to see my board-game options expanding. More gaming for me!!

Back to the Future

It's good to know that we have a few spare blank 3.5 inch 'floppy' disks under lock and key in our filing cabinet (in Dartington House) in case we ever need them.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Noogie Heard 'Round the World

Today is the 20th anniversary of The Noogie Heard 'Round the World.

(Tip of the cap to Buster Olney.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Claim: Big Data Often Seems to Entail Small Thinking

My new reviled term is 'big-data approach'. This term makes me want to cry. The term 'big data' bothers me somewhat, but the term 'big-data approach' bothers me a lot. It's not a fucking approach to anything! It has nothing whatsoever to do with an approach or a way to actually solve a problem, dammit! Indeed, as far as I can tell, many people seem to try to sell their product (i.e., their research) with big data instead of with good science or big thinking. Sigh...

As an alternative, I advocate a 'big-thinking approach' (whether or not the data is big or small). I want people to stop equating big data with good science (or even with good data).

Unfortunately, I think this battle is lost.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Welcome" Back

I haven't even been back in this country for 3 full hours yet, and already multiple people have been really unkind to me. Now I already want to leave.

People were so nice to me while I was in Korea (e.g. on several occasions, random people helping me of their own accord without my asking when I was in the metro and looking confused), and here I am dragging a heavy suitcase home --- it needs to be replaced, as the additional damage is too much for it --- and having a lot of trouble with it and some bitch sticks her head out of a car window just so she can laugh at me. Welcome back, I guess.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Anticipated Matchup

Vin Scully, a few minutes: "Sunday's game, in case you happen to be in Seoul, will be on the air at 10 am."

Thanks, Vin!

I probably ought to figure out where this game is going to be broadcast in public. This is the game that has the long-anticipated matchup between Hyun Jin Ryu and Shin Soo Choo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Unexpected Ass-Kicking (Food Spiciness Department)

Today at lunch I finally got my ass kicked by spicy food. Because I am in Korea, I've been ultra careful about this, and I did well until today.

One of the cool things is that Korea has several US chains that the UK doesn't have, and this gives me the chance to have some favorites (like ice blended drinks at Coffee Bean and ice cream at Baskin Robins) that I don't normally get the chance to have. (I still haven't gotten any smoothies from the one Jamba Juice I saw, and I hope to do that at some point too.)

I noticed a couple of days ago that there is a Popeye's on the Seoil National University campus, which is where my conference is located. I really like Popeye's fried chicken, and we don't have Popeye's in the UK, and today was my chance to go there. And, of all things, it was the spiciness of Popeye's fried chicken that completely kicked my ass. Apparently, they lace the chicken with some stuff here that makes it much spicier than usual, and I was completely unprepared. Ouch!


The Birth of Emoticons?

Here is the most commonly accepted explanation for the origin of the first emoticon. :) (It occurs to me, by the way, that an emoticon really ought to be a special type of Decepticon.)

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

Pictures From Korea: 2013 Edition

I have now posted my first batch of pictures from this trip to Korea. And if Gangnam Style was ever going to break out at any physics conference, then surely it had to be this one!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Best. Name. Ever.

Sicnarf Loopstok. 'Nuff said. (Eat your hearts out, Razor Shines and Stubby Clapp!)

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Happens in Seoul Stays in Seoul

I am at the airport and in an hour I will be boarding my flight to Seoul for a big conference on statistical physics. I am then going to stay for about another week, so in total I'll be spending 11 days in Seoul so that I can explore it a bit. I'm stoked about this trip! During there, I will be staying in a hotel in Gangnam (and I am now listening to a certain song in preparation). And, of course, I am planning to go to a baseball game while I am there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Sharing the Beauty of Networks"

University of Oxford has just released its promotional video about my lab's outreach efforts to teach school students about networks! Pass it on. :)

Dinosaur Chrome

Check out this chrome skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that was installed by the Seine River in Paris. Absolutely gorgeous!

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Length of Doctoral Dissertations

One person compiled some statistics about the mean length of doctoral dissertations in various fields.

Just to give some context, let me point out the following: Version 1 of my PhD thesis was over 400 pages. Version 2 was about 178 pages. (Also, Version 2 was much better than Version 1.)

And, to better appreciate this length (which I would prefer to call "volume"), take a look at where mathematics lands on the chart at the other end of the link.

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto.)

XKCDifying Plots in MATLAB

In case you were wondering (and I know you were), there is a script to "xkcdify" plots in MATLAB. Enjoy!

(Tip of the cap to Sang Hoon Lee.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Best. Demotivational Poster. Ever.

OK, it's not actually the best one ever, but it is pretty damn good! This is for all of my friends who have children. I encourage all of you to make your own version of this picture.

Frozen Snickers

I often froze Snickers as a child.

Snickers are much better frozen than consumed any other way. Plus, they get exceptionally hard when they are frozen. (I think that freezing Snickers bars was probably also my first true introduction to elastic moduli.)

Fun Fact: Frozen Snickers also make excellent ammunition to discourage people from applying shaving cream or toilet paper to one's front yard. (As a child, I always kept a stash around Halloween in case I needed them. Then I ate them on the days that followed.)

By the way, the reason I thought about this is that I put my Dutch waffles in the fridge to cool them down because it's been hot and humid here lately. The caramel was hardening in a way that reminded me a bit of frozen Snickers, though it wasn't as extreme today because I put them in the refrigerator rather than the freezer.

P.S. Get off my lawn!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Coffeehouses: The Social Media of the 1600s

Here is a very interesting article about coffeehouses and how, upon their arrival, they were analogs of modern social media.

(Tip of the cap to Predrag Cvitanovic.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Density Tower

This home-brew experiment looks awesome! And I mean that literally: click on the link and take a look at what it looks like.

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

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Noise-Induced Synchronization, Desynchronization, and Clustering in Globally Coupled Nonidentical Oscillators"

One of my papers came out in final form today. Here are the details.

Title: Noise-Induced Synchronization, Desynchronization, and Clustering in Globally Coupled Nonidentical Oscillators

Authors: Yi Ming Lai and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: We study ensembles of globally coupled, nonidentical phase oscillators subject to correlated noise, and we identify several important factors that cause noise and coupling to synchronize or desynchronize a system. By introducing noise in various ways, we find an estimate for the onset of synchrony of a system in terms of the coupling strength, noise strength, and width of the frequency distribution of its natural oscillations. We also demonstrate that noise alone can be sufficient to synchronize nonidentical oscillators. However, this synchrony depends on the first Fourier mode of a phase sensitivity function, through which we introduce common noise into the system. We show that higher Fourier modes can cause desynchronization due to clustering effects, and that this can reinforce clustering caused by different forms of coupling. Finally, we discuss the effects of noise on an ensemble in which antiferromagnetic coupling causes oscillators to form two clusters in the absence of noise.

Spirograph for MATLAB

Wow. This Spirograph GUI for MATLAB brings back some memories from my childhood. According to the Wikipedia entry, it is still in production. And of course I am sure that you are all shocked --- shocked, I say! --- that I liked drawing with this toy when I was a child.

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

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Health Insurance and 'Grilled Cheese Happiness'

And, sometimes, two advertisements are placed near each other in such a way that it completely messes up the parsing.

This is how an advertisement pertaining to health insurance (Blue Shield) gets associated with 'grilled cheese happiness'. Yeah, it's all happiness until you have a coronary... (More money for the insurance company!)