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.