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, 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!)