Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Complete Papers of Isaac Newton

For those of you who think we scientists can be a bit (or very) obsessive or even a bit nuts, keep in mind that we're just taking after our founding parents. For example, consider Isaac Newton.

And I bet that I'll leave more than 10 million words before I'm done. :)

(Tip of the cap to MoMath.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do You Believe in Research Grants?

Yes? Well, these days it's kind of like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

(Tip of the cap to Andrea Bertozzi.)

Delusions of Grandeur

I like today's SMBC, possibly because it makes fun of physics students. :)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Citizens Demand Goofy Batting Stances

Yes! Yes we do!

Choice quote from the article: "I want to see more batters standing at the plate looking like complete fucking idiots before they take a cut."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Epidemics on Networks: A Pun

Here it is: "Those infection dynamics are pathological, so we can ignore them."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Doug Fister Wins Points for Awesomeness

Yup, this gesture by Doug Fister was awesome (even though it was Starbucks). Way to go!

Snow Fractals (and Some Beach Invaders)

Simon Beck produces some fantastic fractal art in the snow. I also really like the scene from the game Space Invaders that he drew on a beach.

You might also remember that I blogged briefly about some other beach art in January.

(Tip of the cap to whoever posts for The Museum of Mathematics on Facebook.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Headline: Cambridge University Press Breaks Google Scholar

Congratulations, Cambridge University Press! You have broken Google Scholar. I noticed that a paper of mine (Wymbs et al., Neuron, 2012) suddenly went from 40 citations to 70 in one Google-Scholar update. No other paper jumped so crazily this time, so I ruled out an algorithm update. It turns out that there is a recent 'target article' in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that includes much invited 'open peer commentary'.

One comment cited us, but each comment/article has a separate DOI even though they all link to the same .pdf file. 30 instant citations.

Now I wonder how much BBS inflates their impact factor by doing this... (Important note: this effect can easily be an unintended byproduct. I am just pointing out that it does indeed appear to be such a byproduct of how the website has organized the article and its associated comments. I am making no comments whatsoever about anybody's intent, because I have no idea about that.)

I am amused. (Also horrified.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Awesome Statues

Many of these statues are really awesome!

I have seen two of these in person (to my recollection). I have seen the one outside of the Tate Modern museum in London. It is decent, but I don't consider it spectacular. I have also seen the one in Wroclaw, Poland. Despite it's name of "The Monument Of An Anonymous Passerby", I think of it as zombies rising up from the ground. (Wroclaw also has that whole thing with the many small statues of gnomes. One can play the game of seeing how many of the gnome statues one can find around the city.) Also, note that statue #25 is in Oxford. I have not seen it in person, and I don't remember even hearing about it before.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

"♪ Ooo Shanga Day" And Fruit Falling From the Sky

I was walking peacefully back to my place when, while passing under a tree, I got bonked on the top of the head by a rather large fruit-pinecone hybrid (whatever it is called). Ouch! Isn't this only supposed to happen in cartoons?

Naturally, I responded by looking up at the sky and shaking my fist in indignation. (And maybe I also spoke a bit of Simlish, but I'm not sure.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Modernized Space Camp Allows Kids To Simulate Frustration Over Lack Of Funding"

I'm not sure how I missed this article in May, but The Onion wins again. Sadly, something similar also seems to apply to people who dream of academic careers in science. :(

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"SKIES App Aids Learning in Caltech Classrooms"

I want to congratulate my friend and classmate Julius Su (of capacitor fame, among other things) for his awesome innovations that are helping education at Caltech. He is also doing some excellent outreach efforts.

I am looking forward to when he's famous, so I can tell my many Julius stories to a wider audience. (Capacitors --- and counting to 1 and occasionally perhaps toilet paper or predicting the number somebody is thinking of by looking into their eyes --- will of course play an important role.) Julius is already very much one of the legends of Caltech, and his innovations in education are going to make a huge contribution to the world (and are already making major contributions at Caltech and among local students).

Eigenvalue Diplomacy

Credit goes to Craig Montuori for the title of this blog entry.

As you have probably heard, Cuba and the US are going to normalize ties. Aside from political stuff, do you know what's really cool about this? Now I have an additional awesome pun to use when I write papers on weighted networks. (One way for the US and Cuba to normalize ties is just to divide by the size of the tie with the largest value.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As the Napkin Turns

I think I am in the middle of a sitcom again: I put my coffee and associated napkins on the counter while washing my hands. The air from hand-dryer was pretty strong, and it blew a napkin right over the face of the person at the sink next to me. (Thankfully, he took it rather well.)

Maths and Stat

Brits (and Aussies) say "maths", but Americans and Canadians say "math".

Let's call the whole thing off, though before that you can read about it in Slate.

It's a bit weird that Americans saying "math" but also saying "stats" never came up in the article.

2015 Inductees to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The 2015 inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. They include Green Day (in their first year of eligibility), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Lou Reed (for his solo work), and others.

"Fight-Club Nodes"

First rule of fight-club nodes: You do not talk about fight-club nodes.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RIP Sy Berger (1923–2014)

Baseball card pioneer Sy Berger, who is credited as the co-designer of the 1952 Topps baseball cards, died today.

What Happens in Philadelphia Stays in Philadelphia

I am about to start phase 3 of my northeastern swing. This evening, I will be flying to Philadelphia to visit my friend and former Oxford colleague Sandra González-Bailón at University of Pennsylvania. (I'll be giving a DiMiNet seminar at Penn.)

And, since I'll be in Philadelphia, clearly I should have an epic tweet battle with the band Mason Porter.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Goats in a Tree

At the recommendation of yesterday's speaker Nina Fefferman (of the clan that mathematicians know well), I searched on YouTube for goats that flock in trees. As she promised, this is indeed pretty damn cool!

And don't forget about fainting goats.

One of my Somerville students once fainted in the middle of explaining a problem at the whiteboard when I discussed "narcoleptic goats" in the middle of a tutorial. (The marker slid along the whiteboard with a descending streak and everything. He was ok, thankfully; this was definitely one of the all-time classics.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Elevator Action

The elevator problems in Oxford's new Mathematical Institute have gotten so severe that one of the building's denizens has tried to come up with a helpful mathematical model of the problem... according to rumor, while actually stuck in the elevator...

We moved into the building at the boundary of August/September 2013. Is this really that hard to solve? I wonder what Arrowsmith would say about this problem?

(Tip of the cap to Philip Maini.)

Brutally Honest Referee Comments

Here are some occasionally amusing and often harsh referee comments from submissions to scientific journals. I have been both on the giving and receiving end of such things, such as the following gem that one of my papers was subjected to earlier this year.

One of my PNAS referees wrote the following in the last line to summarize his/her review: "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 Korean and/or English."

(The referee never provided any example paper or author, and we were blown off by PNAS when we requested to have a name or reference as a starting point. We looked very thoroughly both before and after the submission to PNAS, and we could never find any such paper. At the end, though, our story has a happy ending: our paper is now happily residing in PRX, which is PNAS-level but for physics specifically.)

(Tip of the cap to Joshua Bodyfelt.)

Update (12/14/14): Here are a few more harsh comments from referees. A couple of these are amusing, but overall they aren't as good as the ones above.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Happens in Pittsburgh Stays in Pittsburgh

I am now in the proverbial (and dreaded) phase two of my northeast swing. Today, I made it to Pittsburgh for the workshop Advances in Discrete Networks. I was thinking about saying something about continuous networks --- possibly in an indiscreet way --- but I only will sort of do that. I did, however, create a special slide for my talk just for this occasion. My talk is the first scientific presentation of the conference, so I figure I should set the right tone. :)

Update 12/12/14: Here is my special slide, which I created specifically for the occasion.

Terry Tao and Paul Erdős: Awesome 1985 Picture

This article on recent important advances in gaps between consecutive prime numbers has an absolutely awesome picture from 1985 that shows Paul Erdős and Terrence Tao (who was then 10 years old) discussing mathematics as equals. I love this picture.

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

Quote of the Day: The Volume of My Text

The following was pointed out by e-mail by my collaborator Peter Mucha, who is not my department chair: "During my time as a department chair, I received roughly 20K *work-related* (e.g., not personal and not spam) emails each year... Mason occasionally accounts for just over 2K of those himself."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Headline: Dodgers Go Apeshit

Wow, the Dodgers seem to have gone totally apeshit today: 3 trades today, and it looks like we're about to sign a starting pitcher (Brandon McCarthy, which is ok, as long as we don't expect him to be more than an average #4 starter... I'd rather get James Shields). These moves help somewhat, I think, but the outfield logjam is alive and well. I suspect we're not done.

It started with the news that we acquired Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies. We then traded Dan Haren and Dee Gordon to the Marlins for some prospects and a reliever. We then traded the main one of those prospects (Andrew Heaney) to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. We're also apparently close to signing starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a 4-year deal.

All of these stories have broken within the last few hours (and have delayed my bedtime).

Update (12/11/14): And now we have traded Matt Kemp to the Padres along with about $31 million of his salary and catcher Tim Federowicz. In return, we will receive catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Update (12/11/14): I think we have improved our team a good deal with these moves, and we sold high on Kemp. Kemp gave us some good years (and a couple of excellent ones), but the renewed offensive output he showed last year is counteracted to a nontrivial degree by his poor defense and he is rather brittle in terms of his ability to stay on the field (in stark contrast to his former ironman days). I would rather dump Ethier at this point, but Kemp had some value, and that trade with the Padres was a very good one. We have a glut of outfielders, and they are going to pay the majority of the cost for his waning years. We also have improved at several other positions and have acquired a decent number of prospects, who we can either use to keep building for subsequent years or can trade for a premium pitcher (Cole Hamels comes to mind). This is called "Moneyball with money". Jayson Stark summarized the Dodgers moves very well in his recap of Baseball's Winter Meetings. (Why is it "Winter Meetings" instead of "Winter Meeting" anyway?)

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

"Directed Evolution of the Full Professor"

Easter Eggs in Scientific Papers has pointed out a gem this time. It is a farcical abstract for a paper called "Directed Evolution of the Full Professor". Read the whole fake abstract; it's awesome! Here is one of the sweet parts:

"Assistant professors that displayed such proteins (so-called ‘stressed-out’ mutants) were then fused to the M13 coat protein, displayed on phages and passed over a friend and family members column to identify those that were incapable of functional interactions. These were called ‘full professors’. Although these mutants arose independently, they shared striking phenotypes. These included the propensity to talk incessantly about their own research, the inability to judge accurately the time required to complete bench work, and the belief that all of their ideas constituted good thesis projects."

Test Your Strength: Millikan Library and Lloyd Gong Edition

Yes, really. I am very amused.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Tales from the ArXiv: Text "Reuse" Edition

Paul Ginsparg was telling me about this project (now published in PNAS) at dinner when I visited Cornell in February 2013. In looking at this article, you should think about flags such as "substantial text overlap with article xxxx.yyyy by other authors" that we see on the arXiv.

Also, I like the use of "reuse" in quotes in the paper, especially in the first sentence of the abstract.

Oxford's Mathematical Bake-off

Oxford had a mathematical bake-off a couple of weeks ago. Here are some pictures of the contestants (well, of what they baked, technically).

Previously, I showed you my student Flora Meng's multilayer-network cakes.

Update: And, of course, there is Puck Rombach's frosting-embedded visualization (i.e., cake) of the Zachary Karate Club network.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

RIP Ralph Baer (1922–2014)

Ralph Baer, the inventor of the first home video game console (and also of the toy Simon), has died at the age of 92. Baer has been called "The Father of Video Games".

What Happens in Boston Stays in Boston

My northeastern trip (Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia) starts this morning with a flight (through Philly) to Boston, where I'll be visiting the Center for Complex Network Research at Northeastern University. I'll be giving a talk in CCNR on Monday, and I'll give an applied math seminar on Tuesday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

"Husband Arrested for Attacking his Wife with a McChicken Sandwich"

Life imitates The Onion, apparently: A man was arrested for attacking his wife with a McChicken sandwich. (Read the story. Its bizarreness doesn't stop with the headline.)

This follows on from my hearing about one person stabbing somebody with a squirrel a couple of days ago.

Also, this guy seems like a complete bastard, which you can also see from the headline but which you'll see even more from the story. (His wife is also pregnant, for example.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Major Props to Baseball Journalist Keith Law!

I first heard about this from my high school classmate Jeremy Booth, and now IFLS is reporting about the Twitter discussion between baseball journalist Keith Law and Curt Schilling. Major props to Keith Law for his science advocacy!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ocellated Turkey

Wow, the ocellated turkey is really pretty!

(Tip of the cap to IFLS.)

What Happens at Santa Fe Institute Stays at Santa Fe Institute

So far, my flight is delayed 2 hours and 25 minutes (and counting), but hopefully I will end up in Santa Fe by the end of the day. I am going to a workshop at Santa Fe Institute (SFI) on Dynamics of and On Networks.

This is my first visit to SFI --- it's certainly taken long enough --- and also my first visit to New Mexico.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Emotional-Support Pig

Make sure, when you are on a flight, that your emotional-support pig doesn't become disruptive. Yes, really.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snarky One-Line Descriptions of Countries

Some of these one-liners are pretty damn funny (and some of them are also pretty damn true). I would put the one that describes my country in both categories, by the way. Also, some countries that are seemingly easy targets were (surprisingly) spared from the snark.

(Tip of the cap to Taha Yasseri.)

Advice for Young Scholars

Thanks to Aaron Clauset for anonymizing --- and otherwise editing for public consumption --- the notes from the first of our four panel discussions of advice for young scholars (both within and outside of academia).

The panels were held at the kick-off meeting of the Mathematics Research Community on "Network Science" from almost half a year ago. We framed things with a focus on mathematics, computer science, and networks, but you'll see that most of these things apply much more broadly than that. Please spread this widely, pass along to your research groups and colleagues, etc.

Part 1: the faculty market

Part 2: balancing work and life

Part 3: doing interdisciplinary work

Part 4: grants and fundraising

Finally, here is a a copy of the notes for all four panels.

Note (11/27/14): I will add the links to parts 2–4 once Aaron posts them.

Update (12/03/14): Parts 2–4 are now posted.

"Pragmatism is Not Welcome in This Classroom!"

I think the comic strip itself is meh, but I wanted to include my source for the following quote: Pragmatism is not welcome in this classroom!

I am so stealing that phrase.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Animals Who Look Like Celebrities

Sometimes, animals look like celebrities. (Some of these pictures are awesome.)

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Men's Urinals and Antiferromagnetic Equilibria

In the men's room, there is an understanding: you space as far apart from each other as possible at urinals. Not doing so, or when some gaps must be filled, leads to frustration --- not just in real life but also in the sense of spin models from statistical physics.

The stable equilibrium in this case is most definitely the antiferromagnetic one.

(Also, you are not supposed to talk. Ever.)

Update: Aaron Clauset reminds me of the related discussion and mathematical formulation in xkcd.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Top Song Requests: Funereal Edition

What? Funeral homes won't play "Another One Bites the Dust" at funerals on account of bad taste? (Here is a discussion of the top requested songs along with a few that funeral homes refuse to play.)


I would refuse to be buried in a place that doesn't allow me to have that song.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Happens at Arizona State University Stays at Arizona State University

I am at the airport, waiting for my flight to Phoenix for my visit to Arizona State University. I have seen a draft of my schedule. They're going to work me hard, and it's going to be fun!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Consequence of Calculating Annular Areas in Calculus

Well, or at least the consequence of making successful scientists feel bitter about it, as told by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Multilayer Network Gelatin Cakes

My student Flora Meng made some multilayer network gelatin cakes.

Her efforts were part of the recently mathematical bake-off that was held by the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford. (I am sure I will have more pictures to post soon enough.) I've included a picture of one of Flora's desserts in the post, and you can click on the link for two other pictures that will allow you to see the rest of Flora's handiwork.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Cookies" Comes After "Ten"

The spam-protection question below is ambiguous. (It turned out that they were assuming that I should enter an integer.)

"Female Promiscuity Prevents Infanticide, Leads to Bigger Balls"

This vignette about a new paper in Science (see the intriguing article title in the title of my blog entry) is really interesting. It's basically an escalation of war in the proverbial battle of the sexes.

"Mad Sociology"

I love today's SMBC!

Its caption: "I'm sorry, but mad sociology is not a real mad science."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards

The 2014 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards were a clean sweep for Los Angeles and Orange County: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers was named the National League MVP, and Mike Trout of the Angels won the American League MVP in a unanimous vote (thereby becoming the youngest ever unanimous MVP). Trout should also have won the AL MVP Award in 2012 and 2013 (and he also had even better seasons in those years than in 2014), and Kershaw became the first pitcher to win the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968 and the first pitcher to win an MVP since Justin Verlander in 2011. I neglected to mention this in yesterday's posts about the Cy Young Awards, but apparently Kershaw is the first pitcher ever to post the lower ERA in the Major Leagues in 4 consecutive Major League. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet.

The full ballots for MVP will shortly be listed on this page. As I write this, the full rankings for the Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards are on the page. (These rankings include the total number of votes and the number of first-place votes, but they don't precisely tabulate the total number of votes for places other than first.)

What Happens in the Research Triangle Stays in the Research Triangle (2014 Edition)

I have now made it to North Carolina. I am visiting two thirds of the vertices in the proverbial Research Triangle: first UNC Chapel Hill and then NCSU. I'll give a couple of seminars (on two very different topics) and will do some work with some of the usual collaborators.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball Cy Young Awards

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers (yay!) has won the 2014 National League Cy Young Award --- I know: it's shocking! :) --- and is only the 9th pitcher in Major League history with three or more Cy Young Awards! It is also no surprise that he won unanimously. Kershaw, who, by the way, is the best pitcher on the planet, is also only 26 years old. This is Kershaw's third Cy Young Award in the last four years. (He finished second in the other year.) Hopefully, Kershaw will be awarded the National League Most Valuable Player Award tomorrow.

The American League Cy Young Award had a much less obvious outcome, and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians is the winner. He finished just ahead of Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners.

I plan to post the complete voting results later.

Update (11/13/14): You can find the rankings for the Cy Young Awards on this page. (These rankings include the total number of votes and the number of first-place votes, but they don't precisely tabulate the total number of votes for places other than first.)

No Radioactive or Stable Isotopes Allowed!

Apparently, neither radioactive nor stable elements (nor any "materials of any kind that have been used with isotopes") are allowed in Jennings Hall at Ohio State University. I took a picture as proof.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2014 Major League Baseball Managers of the Year

Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals was named the National League Manager of the Year, and Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles was named the American League Manager of the Year.

Update (11/13/14): You can find the rankings for the Manager of the Year Awards on this page. (These rankings include the total number of votes and the number of first-place votes, but they don't precisely tabulate the total number of votes for places other than first.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Labeling Fails and Other Classic Job Fails

This compilation includes some rather classic failures. (The fact that only a few of them are present per page and one has to click the 'next' button many times is annoying, so I could nail the website designer for giving us a decidedly modern form of failing.)

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

The Art of Proofreading

Sometimes, authors, referees, and editors really need to do a better job of proofreading text. D'oh!

2014 Major League Baseball Rookies of the Year

No surprises here: Jose Abreu won the American League Rookie of the Year unanimously, and Jacob DeGrom was named the National League Rookie of the Year.

This article lists the number of votes received by other rookies in the two leagues, but it doesn't (yet) show it cleanly as a table, and I am not sure if it conveys all votes earned by all players.

Update (11/13/14): You can find the rankings for the Rookie of the Year Awards on this page. (These rankings include the total number of votes and the number of first-place votes, but they don't precisely tabulate the total number of votes for places other than first.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

What Happens in Columbus Stays in Columbus (Take N)

I am heading over to Columbus, Ohio for the Nth time. (That is the only city in Ohio that I have ever visited, and I have been there several times because of the math department and the Mathematical Biosciences Institute.) I am up way too early because my flight is not a direct one, and I'll be taking one short leg of the triangle and then the hypotenuse. I'll be visiting Marty Golubitsky at The Ohio State University to discuss things like networks and bifurcations. It should be fun!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Visualizations of Street Networks

These visualizations of street networks are gorgeous. The coloring is based on orientation.

(Tip of the cap to Dave Relyea.)

University of Oxford's Dates of Reckoning

Yup, you got that right: University of Oxford's calendar is described in terms of "Dates of Reckoning".

I hope I survive! Or, to quote a certain movie: "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting. In what world could you possibly beat me?"

Here is a convenient Wikipedia entry.

On a more serious note, I am looking up our calendar because I am trying to estimate the date of the exam for my networks module. I have been invited to give a plenary talk in Singapore, and I am trying to figure out how easily I can manage to accept the invitation. (It's really frustrating that our teaching structure requires me to do this and not just accept immediately, though this is too good an opportunity to pass up --- so I'll just need to be available by phone at an odd hour if it becomes necessary.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

2014 Gold Gloves

The 2014 Major League Baseball Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence were announced today.

The finalists for Baseball's major awards were also announced today. Hopefully Clayton Kershaw will get both the National League Cy Young award and its Most Valuable Player award.

Monday, November 03, 2014

This Article Made Me Itch

IFLS has published a fascinating article about a new paper in the journal Neuron concerning why scratching an itch gives temporary relief but then makes the itch worse. I wish, though, that they had used the phrase "itching question" instead of "burning question". :) Reading this article made me itch more, by the way.

Play Classic Arcade Games in Your Web Browser

OK, this is seriously sweet: now we can play classic arcade games in Web browsers. More than a decade ago, I downloaded a MAME emulator for my Mac and scoured the Web for a bunch ROMs to try to find lots of my old favorites (and some other games that I wanted to try or retry). Now all I need to do is get some proper controllers, and I'll play some of these games again. The main reason I didn't play these games that much after I initially downloaded them is that the proper experience requires the proper controllers. (Also, downloading things from those websites involved a lot of whack-a-mole and presumably downloading additional things that one really didn't want.) I should go and get one. :)

2014 'Dance Your Ph.D.' Contest Winners

The biology finalist was the overall winner of the 2014 Dance Your Ph.D. Contest. I didn't finish watching it because it wasn't amusing me (although it did look very sophisticated.)

I like the winner in chemistry. (It's pretty amusing.) I haven't tried watching the others.

One of these years, my group needs to submit an entry to this contest...

(Tip of the cap to the Improbable Research blog.)

My Blog Entry for Oxford University Press about "Multilayer Networks"

Here is a blog entry that I wrote for Oxford University Press to accompany a review article on multilayer networks by my collaborators and me.

There are also tutorial slides (from a 3-hour tutorial I gave at NetSci 2014) to help guide people through the review article.

Manlio De Domenico, Alex Arenas, and I also have developed software for analysis and visualization of multilayer networks. (There is also an article about our software.)

And if you want to learn more about multilayer networks, we're holding a workshop in July 2015 at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany.

(As a brief correction, "interaction oscillators" in the article should read "interacting oscillators". I didn't catch that typo until reading the published version of my blog entry a few minutes ago.)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Wikipedia Page for "Crackpot Index"

I was inspired by a recent e-mail sent to me (and, apparently, many other Oxford academics) to look up the Wikipedia page for Crackpot Index. Under its "See also" section is a link to the Wikipedia page for List of amateur mathematicians. That's not nice!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Peacocks and Philosophers

I really love SMBC's comparison of peacocks and philosophers in the context of doing something that is not evolutionarily advantageous.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Bacterial Call of Cthulhu

Yes, really.

At least it's good for publicity.

Revisiting the Cult of Genius

Thanks to an illuminating Facebook post and discussion by Sara Solla and some e-mail discussion with Puck Rombach, I was reminded of a blog entry I wrote in early 2007. (How is that for a Flashback Friday!) I had my Oxford faculty job waiting at the time, but I hadn't yet started it.

I just reread my entry, and I still agree with myself.

I will add that one of the things that really helped make me understand I could be a successful scientist was in seminars in grad school: there were many really intelligent and successful faculty at Cornell who did amazing work that I admired. When faced with a seminar in which both they and I didn't know the topic, I found that I usually figured things out faster than they did. So even though I didn't have the track record that they did, that was one of the early clear signals that I could be a really successful scientist. (Though there were still many more hurdles to come...)

Also, here is the thought-provoking seminar abstract that Sara posted on Facebook. Please read it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Timeless Moral Dilemma: Saving Friends Versus Proving Theorems

I found a silly online quiz with this question while I was searching for the quiz 'Prof or hobo?'

For those of you who don't know what it's like to be a mathematician, let me assure you that we face this kind of moral dilemma all the time.

(See, there is an alternative explanation for why some mathematicians don't have many friends.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Diego Rivera's "The Mathematician"

One of the UNAM meeting rooms include a reprint of "The Mathematician" by Diego Rivera. If I had heard of this picture before, I had forgotten about it.

As an exercise for the reader, try to how many stereotypes of mathematicians can you find in it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Happens in Mexico City Stays in Mexico City

I have made it to Mexico City (my first time ever in Mexico, which is pretty surprising, given that I lived 25 years in LA and environs). Mexico is my third new country for 2014.

Along the way to the hotel, we passed many posters with Frida Kahlo on them.

And I have been assigned to room 100π (well, room 314).

I'll be giving a talk in IIMAS at UNAM.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Real Reason Brontosaurus Went Away

Here is the real reason that brontosaurus was removed from our dinosaur history books and we now have apatosaurus instead. :)

In Real Life As Well, Let the Wookie Win

I love this particular Facebook 'trending' headline.

Remember: Let the wookie win.

Update: There is also a video of the incident.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Networks Revolution is in Progress in Mathematics

It's really amazing how quickly the study of networks (and, to a lesser extent, complex systems more generally) --- in contrast to more traditional graph theory --- has gone from being taboo in mathematics departments, which are usually very conservative compared to other subjects, to not only being acceptable and legitimate, but it's now reached the point that any mathematics department that doesn't embrace these topics is simply going to be left behind.

It's been awesome to see this before my very eyes.

A Primer on the Origin of Mathematical Symbols

The Guardian just published a short article by Joseph Mazur that advertises his new book on the origin of mathematical symbols. The article itself contains a couple of tantalizing hints, but I wish it had more without needing to jump to the whole book.

(Tip of the cap to somebody who posted this on Facebook. I already forgot whom.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Foaming at the Mouth: Academic Inbreeding

One of the nice things about having old issues of The California Tech available online is that I can occasionally look at articles I wrote as an undergrad and see how much I agree with what I wrote back in the day. In this issue from 1998 (the year I graduated), I have a commentary on p. 2 about academic inbreeding. In this case, I pretty much agree almost completely with what I wrote 16 years ago. My occasional feature column, by the way, was called "Foaming at the Mouth". I was a Tech Editor before then and, additionally, my articles from early in my Tech career were reporting more often than features. I made an active change during my time at Caltech. Now if only the Rivet were online so that I could post the blurb from the time (last week of senior year) that I was named "International Terrorist of the Week".

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Most Excellent Welcome Back to Caltech Indeed: Googly Eyes at Caltech

So, I am here at Caltech today to be a dinner guest at Lloyd House, and I was so tired (and was just getting some work done) that I didn't even notice some excellent handiwork.

As part of my e-mail exchange with the current Lloyd President (Grace Park '16), I included the following message:

In case Lloydies want to have a completed prank ready for campus that Friday (I estimate a few hours of work when split across many people the night before), my recent inspiration for such things is summarized in the following two webpages: webpage 1, webpage 2

Simple, but elegant...

(This is inspired by one well-placed set of such eyes I noticed on the Stanford campus recently.)

Anyway, it's just a thought. :)  I don't arrive until the Friday, so I'll see when I get there if this happens.

They were up until 5am setting up googly eyes all over campus, and as you can see they picked some very sweet spots. (These are not anywhere close to all of them. There is also one pair on a door to the math building, a couple of cyclopean ones, etc. Maybe some more pictures will eventually show up?) And perhaps my favorite: one on Millikan Library itself!!!

I have seen people taking pictures of the Millikan bust with the googly eyes and indicating that it looks even creepier that way (and it's when I accidentally saw that after walking around a bit that I realized that it looks like they actually did it... I was pretty well zombified until then), I have on quite a few occasions heard people talk about the various places they have seen it, etc. Apparently, the Lloydies stayed up until 5am working on this.

Way to do me proud, modern Lloydies! I approve! (Let me count the ways... So awesome!) Now that's the right way to welcome an alum back to campus!

Update: Here is one more picture I took. (Also note that this prank is not only simple and elegant, but also inexpensive and very photogenic.)

What Happens in Southern California Stays in Southern California

I flew into LA this morning, and my early flight led to a way-too-damn-early pick-up by Supershuttle, so I am exhausted and extremely sleep-deprived at the moment --- which, I suppose is fitting, because I am visiting Caltech tonight to be a dinner guest in Lloyd House (my undergraduate House). I last was a dinner guest there around 2006 when I was still a postdoc at Caltech. This is the second time since graduating that I'll be dinner-guesting in Lloyd, although I have visited Lloyd on numerous other occasions for various events over the years. (When I first graduated, I visited a lot, though now I have even't entered the House since I was a postdoc.)

Unsurprisingly, two of the people behind the counter at Red Door Cafe on campus who have been working there for many years recognize me. Jeff Kimble also gave me a brief nod. Soon I'm going to walk over to the theoretical condensed matter group just to see if any of the people I know are around.

Tomorrow, I will head over to Westwood, as I'll be visiting Andrea Bertozzi's group at UCLA. I'll be giving an applied math talk on Wednesday late afternoon and then heading for the airport to return to the Bay Area.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: Migration of Populations via Marriages in the Past"

It's been a long road (filled with some interesting stories about the publication and typesetting process), but now our paper on long-term migration in Korea using marriages in family-book data is finally out. APS Physics has posted a popular synopsis along with the article. Here are the details about the article itself, which was published today in Physical Review X.

Title: Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: Migration of Populations via Marriages in the Past

Authors: Sang Hoon Lee (이상훈), Robyn Ffrancon, Daniel M. Abrams, Beom Jun Kim (김범준), and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: The study of human mobility is both of fundamental importance and of great potential value. For example, it can be leveraged to facilitate efficient city planning and improve prevention strategies when faced with epidemics. The newfound wealth of rich sources of data—including banknote flows, mobile phone records, and transportation data—has led to an explosion of attempts to characterize modern human mobility. Unfortunately, the dearth of comparable historical data makes it much more difficult to study human mobility patterns from the past. In this paper, we present an analysis of long-term human migration, which is important for processes such as urbanization and the spread of ideas. We demonstrate that the data record from Korean family books (called "jokbo") can be used to estimate migration patterns via marriages from the past 750 years. We apply two generative models of long-term human mobility to quantify the relevance of geographical information to human marriage records in the data, and we find that the wide variety in the geographical distributions of the clans poses interesting challenges for the direct application of these models. Using the different geographical distributions of clans, we quantify the “ergodicity” of clans in terms of how widely and uniformly they have spread across Korea, and we compare these results to those obtained using surname data from the Czech Republic. To examine population flow in more detail, we also construct and examine a population-flow network between regions. Based on the correlation between ergodicity and migration in Korea, we identify two different types of migration patterns: diffusive and convective. We expect the analysis of diffusive versus convective effects in population flows to be widely applicable to the study of mobility and migration patterns across different cultures.

No ergodic clams were harmed during the undertaking of this research project. :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tales from the ArXiv: The Cheese Flows Alone

I just noticed a new paper on the arXiv with the following eye-catching title: Quantifying thermally induced flowability of rennet cheese curds

I think I might smell an Ig Nobel prize in the authors' future...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Font Battles and a Childhood Fascination with Fonts

According to Sang Hoon Lee, the journal club for our collaborator Beom Jun Kim has devolved to include font battles in the slides that the speakers are employing. He posted a picture on Facebook to prove it. (I realize that most of you will not be able to access that picture; I am including it here for my own reference so that I don't need to go elsewhere to look it up.)

This reminds me of something: When I was a kid, I bought the program Fontastic so that I could design fonts without going into Resource Editor (aka: ResEdit) and destroying the systems on my disks (and needing to wipe them clean) in the process. I bought Fontastic as a toy. In short: I could totally win a font battle. You can read a bit about Fontastic in the Wikipedia entry about its sequel ("Fontographer"): "In December 1984, James R. Von Ehr founded the Altsys Corporation to develop graphics applications for personal computers. The first foray by Altsys into commercial font editing software was a bitmap font editor called Fontastic, released in the mid-1980s for the Apple Macintosh. The program, developed by Altsys founder Jim von Ehr, was able to edit the native bitmap font format of the Mac."

Yes, I really was editing fonts on my computer at the age of 8. It's really no wonder that I am still very anal about such things. (None of my fonts were any good, but that's a different issue.)

Cooking Hornets

Wow, now this is pretty impressive: the bees in a colony attacked by a hornet bum-rushed the hornet and vibrated their wings to raise the temperature and cook the hornet alive. (These bees can tolerate higher temperatures than the hornet.)

Bill and Ted and Their Quantum Computer

When I saw the picture associated with this post, the first thing that came to my mind was the quantum computer saying "69, Dude!" when asked about its favorite number.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I Want Labeled Axes!

I want labeled axes --- or possibly a giant sign for his door that says "Label your fucking axes!"

Misinterpretations are also welcome.

(We'll see if there are some labeled battle-axes or something similar waiting for me when I return to Oxford.)

As Rachel Gray points out, there is an an appropriate xkcd for the occasion that involves ending relationships and lack of axis labels. There is also another strip --- I think it might also have been xkcd? --- about putting snarky labels on any unlabeled axes submitted by students. I saw this a couple of years ago, and I might add a link to it later. (I looked briefly just now and couldn't find it, and I don't feel like looking more at the moment.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 Nobel Peace Prize

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

As noted in the CNN article covering the prize, there is significant design in the sharing of the prize of these two individuals from disparate backgrounds and beliefs (and from ones that have often come into conflict with each other).

At age 17, Malala Yousafzay is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (and I would assume of any Nobel Prize, though the article neglects to mention this). I absolutely love one of the side tidbits in CNN's article: "Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai will give her first statement after school".

Thursday, October 09, 2014

How Many Assholes Are There On This Paper?

I knew it! I'm surrounded by assholes! (Yes, really.)

On a similar note, you can also read about an application of the "BS method" on the arXiv today.

(Tip of the cap to Improbable Research.)

Update: Improbable Research has now posted a blog entry about this.

Update (10/14/14): Improbable Research has posted an update about the story.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Caltech Math: Where One Goes to Learn "Topography"

Caltech's undergraduate mathematics has been listed as 10th best in the United States according to some way of ranking these things.

I don't really care about that (because such rankings are only worth a little bit anyway), but there is a choice quote in the article when it comes to Caltech: The Department of Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology offers an undergraduate program that introduces students to theories and principles of math, while strengthening problem solving and analytical skills. Classes in algebra, statistics, linear equations, discrete mathematics and topography build over the course of the program.

Why isn't the applied mathematics (which has been called "Applied and Computational Mathematics" for many years but was still called "Applied Mathematics" when I went there) even mentioned? I've obviously biased, but clearly I favor the applied mathematics major at Caltech over the mathematics major.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go and practice my topography.

Jeffreys, Jeffreys, and Logarithms

My host (Marc Feldman) was trained originally as a mathematician, and there are a bunch of mathematics books --- he apparently doesn't use these anymore --- are in the office I am occupying.

There are a couple in there that I have interest in browsing through. For example, I was just looking a bit through the mathematical physics book by the infamous Jeffreys and Jeffreys (3rd ed, 1953). I like the following footnote in the chapter on asymptotics:

"Actually, of course, we should work out 100 log_{10} e and then evaluate by means of a table of logarithms to the base 10. When a multiplying machine is available two uses remain for logarithms to base 10; to work out high powers and logarithms to base e of large numbers."

Anyway, I enjoy the need to explain in 1953 (or earlier, if this comment predates the 3rd edition) that there are still some uses for log base 10.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Thesis-like Objects

I think that the term "thesis-like object" ought to be in standard academic usage. That is all.

Another Victory for The Onion: Education Edition

Wow, The Onion has scored yet another victory with this scathing article about education. I don't agree with what appears to be the underlying opinion of whoever wrote the article, but I still enjoyed its scathing humor. I don't think it's all doom and gloom, though: I genuinely think that one can reach students who are from the wrong side of the tracks or have other difficulties to overcome. (I do happen to believe a great deal in outreach and in attempting to inspire people.) At the same time, one shouldn't be naive and think that inspiration itself is enough, so it's not like there aren't any relevant implied points in this article.

Update: Thinking about this further, maybe the point of the author is that we should get behind all of our students --- and that is something with which I agree wholeheartedly. I was reading a more insidious message (i.e., not bothering with the difficult cases) into what I thought the author was suggesting, but maybe I was misreading the underlying opinion?

Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine Awarded for Work on the Brain's Navigation System

This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine went to a trio for their work on the brain's navigation system. It's also great that neuroscience (and systems neuroscience, no less) was recognized with a Nobel.

A particularly relevant Scholarpedia entry is the one on grid cells (which, along with "place cells", help the brain to determine where it is and where it is going), whose authors --- a team of wife and husband --- comprise two of the three newly-minted Nobel Laureates.

Now about my horrible sense of navigation...

Update (10/10/14): I neglected to post the official announcement.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Here Comes the (Smell of) Rain Again

In case you are curious, here is a very brief primer on the origin of the smell of rain.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A City Named "Boson"

Note to self: the airport to which I want to fly is in the city of "Boston", not "Boson".

My search will probably be more effective now. And the best news of all is that more than one person can occupy that airport at once.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Omar Vizquel and Asymptotic Scaling

I think I just found my new favorite Wikipedia easter egg: "Little o" redirects here. For the baseball player, see Omar Vizquel.


What Happens in Goleta Stays in Goleta

I flew into Santa Barbara yesterday to give a talk called Cascades and Social Influence on Networks at UCSB yesterday. It's been a fun visit!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Krukow and Kuiper

Giants broadcasters and former Major Leaguers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper are the second-best broadcasting team in Baseball right now. (The only one better is Vin Scully, who is only the best sports broadcaster ever.) I often make it a point to listen to them, and I have frequently chosen to watch Giants games over other non-Dodgers games in order to listen to them. They are excellent, and here is an interesting article about their friendship and about the significant physical challenges that Mike Krukow is facing because of a rare disease.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Anything You Can Safely Bury in Your Backyard"

Today I finally noticed Stanford's guidelines for what you should compost: "Anything you can safely bury in your backyard"

Well, I don't know about you, but my mind has just gone in very bad directions...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Visualization of a Career

Here is a very cool (and rather intricate) visualization of the outcomes of Derek Jeter's plate appearances throughout his career. (The data comes from the usual sources, and the graphics are by a company called Chartball. I might well want to buy a poster from them about my team, my favorite players, or something else interesting.)


I think I just literally experienced the sharpest, most intense physical pain that I have ever had in my entire life (and my fingers were once slammed in a car door, so that's saying a lot).

I was walking merrily along to get a smoothie for lunch, and some insect stung me horribly in my right pinkie right in the bottom spot where I bend it. The stinger went all the way through and poked another (smaller) hole through the skin farther up my finger.

I ending up apologizing profusely for my salty language to the two nice ladies who stopped their walking to ask me what was wrong.

That was close to 30 minutes ago, and my hand is still shaking a bit (and I can't make a firm fist, and it really shakes when I force myself to make a fist). And it still hurts like Hell, though not as intensely as during the heated moment. The pain is very slowly dulling.

I hope that insect dies a slow, painful death (maybe nailing me was its last act of defiance?), and then I hope it gets experimented on. I know biologists --- I could make this happen.

I have been stung before --- on the bottom of my foot, even --- and it was nowhere near as painful as this time.

As some of you know, I have a history dating back to not just my Caltech days but all the way to Beverly Hills. (I never did get stung by one of the Caltech hornets, even though they harassed me a lot.)

My smoothie was well-earned.

In conclusion: Ouch. And Fuck.

Quantum Espresso

I am on the mailing list for The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, and I recently received an e-mail from that advertises an upcoming conference with a very compelling acronym (ESPRESSO).

Here is an excerpt from the e-mail: In collaboration with the Quantum ESPRESSO Foundation and CECAM, the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy, is organizing an Advanced Quantum-ESPRESSO Developers' Training Workshop to be held in Trieste from 19 to 30 January 2015.

What, so classical espresso is no longer good enough?

Academics Write Like Crap

Well, at least most of us write like crap for our academic writing. Additionally, most of us don't include humor in our scientific articles either.

I do the best I can to buck this trend, though others will be the judge of how well I do. I certainly attempt to put humor in some of my writing, and quite a few of my papers (e.g., this one) contain easter eggs. I do think that I am a good writer, and at minimum I am definitely very anal about my scholarly prose.

Although I don't agree with everything in the article about what we do that is bad --- for example, I think the paragraph with "The rest of this article is organized as follows." is genuinely useful for many readers, especially if the article is long --- but I agree with a lot of it. Also, I can't overemphasize how much my scientific career has benefited from my experience in journalism at Caltech. (Yes, being a Tech Editor has been amazingly beneficial. It's one of the best and most important things I did for my education.)

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chavez.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Even More Average Than Before?

Former Major Leaguer Gabe Kapler offered some astute analysis about the Giants' playoff chances: "The loss of Pagan makes an already league average offense more average."

In related news, I subtracted 0 from 0, and I still have 0.

Note: Pagan's injury is a very big loss. Kapler had a sensible point in mind, but the way he phrased it is "fantastic".

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Smell of Old Books (and of New Video Game Systems)

Have you ever noticed the smell of old books? One researcher described it as follows: a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.

On a similar note, I also have always noticed a distinctive smell when I get a new video game system. Yummy!

Headline: Sudden Execution Causes Extinction of Matrix Products

Here is a quote from a paper I finished reading this morning: "We first execute the last matrix product..."

Well, damn. Now I guess matrix products have become extinct. Cruel bastards.

Induction and Birthday Parties

Well, this is a very depressing way to apply induction.

I find this SMBC perversely amusing, though I have been in this kind of situation before and it's not fun.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More Retiring Baseball Players

Recently, I blogged about Adam Dunn's likely retirement. Understandably, Derek Jeter's retirement tour has gotten most of the major headlines --- and deservedly so. And as much as I can't stand the Yankees (and sometimes get annoyed by all of the jeterating), Jeter deserves immense respect, will make the Hall of Fame in a first-ballot landslide, and I love it that his last game at Yankee stadium had a storybook ending. I'm also not surprised that the The Onion has had a series of articles during the last week poking fun at Jeter. (They have a history of doing that, like the time that I discussed in this blog entry.) I also want to bring up Paul Konerko, who has also has had an excellent career. (When Konerko was a prospect, the Dodgers traded him for Jeff Shaw. Sigh.)

Well Done, Onion: Infernal Edition

I somehow missed this article that The Onion published last year as a satire of homosexual people being condemned to eternity in Hell. This has apparently done wonders for the lifestyle down there.

Four-Sided Polygons: Basically a Rehash of Triangles

I really like today's SMBC about a website in which you can post reviews on anything.

My favorite is one of the reviews of 'four-sided polygons': meh. basically a rehash of triangle.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How The West Was Won

The Dodgers beat the Giants tonight and are now officially National League West champions for 2014!! Tonight we were led once again by Clayton Kershaw, who right now is the best pitcher on the planet.

Go Dodgers!!!!

Spectral Graph Theory: Cover Art

Here is my new cover art for the field of spectral graph theory. (I couldn't wait until Halloween to make this picture.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Laboratory Safety Dance

The guy who gave me the key to my office wanted me to undergo a minicourse in lab safety, but thankfully I was able to talk my way out of it. (This is one of the perils of sitting in a biology department.)

Fun Fact: When I was a frosh... I broke so many things in the digital electronics lab that the department changed the policy after me so that future students had to pay for what they broke. I had a collection of the broken items taped to my door in Lloyd House.


Weird Al and Weird Mason

I have pretty much the same hair as Weird Al Yankovic. Just sayin...

Monday, September 22, 2014

"Big Data" is a Religion

As far as I can see, "Big Data" seems more like a religion than anything else.

I like "Good Data" (which is far from the same thing) and "Good Models" (which can, e.g., include parameters fitted from data). I feel like I have a chance to actually understand things that way.

Data analysis definitely has its place and I certainly also have my moments when I do data analysis (see some of my papers), but data is far from everything. In short, I have ambiguous feelings about "Big Data".

Anyway, data analytics is an approach, and I use it sometimes, but there are also many other approaches that one should pursue to try to understand phenomena and solve problems.

By the way, I first posted the picture to which I link above in this blog entry, I ranted a bit about it in this blog entry, and I talked about a Small Data project at ECCS in 2013. (That work I described in that talk has subsequently been published in PNAS.)

The Random Walker Rankings are Back!

The random walker rankings are back for 2014!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Live Action Paper Mario in the Best Western?

The Best Western breakfast room in a small American town provides an interesting cross section of the population.

If this were a Paper Mario game, I would start querying them to check if any of them had seen Luigi.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Buffalo Beholders and Other Fantasy Football Teams

Here are some very cool fantasy football t-shirts that 'put the fantasy back in fantasy football'. I especially like the Buffalo Beholders, and some of the other ones are also really cool.

(Tip of the cap to Greg Stolerman.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

"I Deserve a Fucking Cookie."

I had a long and tiring flight and then a rather ornery cab driver (and, of course, the website that estimated the taxi fare was off by a factor of about 2.5).

At least the hotel's reception has complimentary cookies at the front desk --- so to quote one of my esteemed Oxford colleagues, "I deserve a fucking cookie."

Humorous Grammar Lessons

Yes, indeed.

(Tip of the cap to Jennifer Nicoll Victor.)

Have I Gotten Stuck in a Mirror Universe?

I think I might have accidentally entered a mirror universe: a store that was a Starbucks just a few days ago has now turned into something else.

Surely that is one of the strongest signs that one has ended up in a mirror world?

(This needs to be used in the beginning of a sci-fi story.)

2014 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last night.

The clear winner among this year's awards is the Economics prize, whose citation is as follows: ISTAT — the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

I also really like the prizes in Physics, Neuroscience, and Biology. (As concerns the Pyschology Prize, maybe I should point out that I am a night owl...?)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rescheduling my November 31st Talk

I just realized that I committed to give a talk on November 31st, which was subsequently confirmed by the host institution. I think I'm going to have to reschedule...

(Yup, the day still doesn't exist. I guess that explains why the November 31st slot was still available?)

I think that this was quite an achievement in "awesomeness", even by my lofty standards.

"(Then again, it may not.)"

One of the new papers on the arXiv today has an abstract that ends with the following sentence: "The work may shed light on the possible properties of different ensembles of mixed systems."

Whenever I see a sentence like that to end an abstract, I automatically think about the implicit "(Then again, it may not.)" sentence that naturally follows as the next sentence.

Update (9/19/14): This also applies to sentences that end conclusions.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 MacArthur "Genius" Awards

The 2014 MacArthur Fellows (i.e., the so-called "genius awards") have just been announced.

And I am super excited about them this year, because my coauthor Dani Bassett is one of the recipients! It is, unsurprisingly, richly deserved. (At age 32, she is also the youngest of this year's Fellows.) The work in which I was involved is cited among her major contributions --- especially this paper and several follow-ups. Major congratulations to Dani!

A couple of mathematicians are also among this year's winners, and of course that always makes me happy. (Among the mathematicians, it is particularly cool that Yitang Zhang won because of his career path.)

53 Colorized Historical Photographs

Many of these colorized historical photographs are way cool.

(Tip of the cap to David Blau.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pictures from Göttingen

Here are some pictures that I took during today's excursion from the conference.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Happens in Göttingen Stays in Göttingen

I am now traveling to Göttingen for a workshop in ecology and "networks on networks". The program, which was sent to participants yesterday, makes it looks much more like a conference than a workshop.

Academic Rookie Cards

Today's SMBC is a big win! Creating academic rookie cards is an excellent idea, and I love the snarkiness in the associated joke that SMBC told. I approve!

P.S. I am listening to the closing theme of "This Week in Baseball" right now. How appropriate!

Mathematicians and Justice

Oxford currently has a photography festival that is spread over many buildings in the city.

The two themes that we're housing in the Mathematical Institute are "Mathematicians" and "Justice".

The punchline is left as an exercise for the reader.

Grandpa and Grandmaster Flash

Through the magic of autocomplete, many grandmothers have been accidentally tagging rapper Grandmaster Flash on Facebook. I love it!

Like Grandmaster Flash, the Grandmas had no part in the song "White Lines".

Friday, September 12, 2014

Adam Dunn and the Three True Outcomes

Adam Dunn is almost certainly going to retire after the 2014 season is over. He is currently third all time in strikeouts among hitters, and he's only 34 years old. He would only need to play a couple more seasons to set the record.

Jayson Stark wrote about Dunn's career today, and some of the numbers are mind-boggling (like how often fielders weren't particularly needed when he came to the plate). Amazing.

Update (10/01/14): It's now official (and unsurprising): Adam Dunn is retiring. He is on the Oakland Athletics, who just lost to the Royals last night in the AL Wildcard one-game playoff. This season was the first time that Adam Dunn got into the playoffs (after more than 2000 games played, which made him the active "leader" in that category), and he didn't even get to play in the game.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Being Part of the Story of Science

When you are an undergraduate student, and for the most part when you're a graduate student (though it starts to change then), you read scientific and mathematical results that have been neatly polished and compiled into books --- and then somewhat less neatly polished and compiled into papers. You probably will see that there are many mysteries left to uncover, but it's still knowledge and somehow something that already exists. And then you become a scientist (and mathematician) and you realize that there are stories --- often very interesting ones --- behind the knowledge and that can occasionally be just as fascinating (or even more so) than the knowledge itself. It's not just that some of the personalities are genuinely interesting (though that is also true) but that the path to knowledge is typically a maze of twisty little passages, all alike --- and there are a lot of inside jokes and events that become part of the stories, and these jokes and stories often have many layers (pun intended).

Being a professional scientist isn't merely about creating new knowledge (though that definitely is part of the deal). It means that you're part of an ever-enfolding story that people outside can watch and appreciate, but you are actually in the story, because you're one of the people helping to create it.

And let me tell you: It is incredibly awesome being one of the players in this evolving story! It's hard to beat being part of that, and I can't imagine trading it for anything.

So the next time you open a math book and see a theorem (or some other important or maybe not-so-important result), remember that that theorem might well have an interesting story behind it. It's more than just a piece of deductive reasoning. And, obviously, the same goes for all other scientific discourse. :)

And what made me think of all this particularly poignantly right now? Ergodic clams, of course. None of the thoughts above are new to me (I have had them many times, in fact), and I'm sure that I could have phrased them more eloquently, but I have to thank Petter Holme and Sang Hoon Lee for the immediate inspiration for writing this post when I should have gone to bed instead.

Now I better start thinking about what my theme song should be...

Hmmmm.... I Think Oxford is a Cult

If you think a bit about this comic from SMBC a bit, it does kind of make one ponder the possibility that University of Oxford is a cult. There does seem to be some level of truth to that perspective.

Pendulum Wave: Bowling Ball Edition

Go ahead: Take a look for yourself. It's pretty damn awesome! (I like demos.)

(Tip of the cap to Damien Storey.)

Ten Books

Over the past couple of days, I was seeing a meme over Facebook to name 10 books that have stuck with you for whatever reason. This meme seems more interesting to me than most, and I was tagged today, so I decided to play along.

The rules are as follows: In a text post, list ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard---they don’t have to be the "right" or "great" works, just ones that have touched you. (And because it says "books" rather than "novels", I decided to include some math and physics books, because that is part of what came to mind. I also included some other possibly "nonstandard" choices, but I could try to come up with a list that is pure fiction if you want. :) )

Here are 10 books (in no particular order), but numbered for convenience:

1. Introduction to Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Steven H. Strogatz

2. The Dragonlance Chronicles (original trilogy; you could possibly include Dragonlance Legends as well), Weis and Hickman

3. Dark Elf Trilogy (especially Homeland, which is the first book), R. A. Salvatore (3 books again)

4. Manual of the Planes, Jeff Grubb (1st edition AD & D sourcebook)

5. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and its sequels), Douglas Adams

6. Shōgun, James Clavell

7. Noble House, James Clavell

8. The Scouting Report/The Scouting Notebook series of yearly baseball previews (may they rest in peace), by Stats Inc. in some years (with writers John Dewan and others)

9. Thermal Physics, 2nd ed, Kittel and Kroemer (this was my first statistical mechanics textbook, from Ph 2c at Caltech; I found it really inspiring to start from counting and to derive things like temperature)

10. Rotisserie League Baseball: The Official Rule Book and Draft Day Guide, various yearly editions, Glen Wagonner, Robert Sklar, and others.

"99 Red Balloons" Covered with Red Balloons

Yup, yes it is.

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

New to the Blogroll: Bruggebrain

Through the magic of e-mail signatures, I noticed that my doctoral student Birgit Brüggemeier has a blog. She studies neurogenetics, and is working on an awesome project. You can read about what she studies on her page.

At some point, I should also delete the blogs on the blogroll that are no longer being updated, but for now I'll let you --- dear reader --- scroll just a little bit more. That is what Janis Joplin sang about, right?

Community Detection and Scottish Independence

A few years ago, I read a very interesting paper that is rather topical when it comes to the issue of Scottish independence.

The final sentence of the abstract reads as follows: We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.

The methodology in the paper is "community detection" --- a type of clustering --- applied to networks constructed from mobile phone data.

Technology Translation

So.... can anybody translate what a funding agency means when they write "Describe the empowerment of new and high-potential actors towards future technological leadership."

Seriously, WTF. I read that, and my mind just goes "[tech] [tech] [tech] [tech] [tech] [tech] [tech]" like in the script for a sci-fi movie.

I had a ton of problems with just the buzzword version of the word "disruptive", which seems like child's play compared to the sentence above.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Quote of the Day: Referee Request Edition

Well, I haven't used this line in my decline letters (at least not recently) because maybe it isn't the kindest thing in the world to write, but there are certainly times when I want to end my e-mails declining a request like this: Please also make it clearer in the future what method of communication you would like from me for declining review requests.

To give some context, I consider it exceptionally obnoxious when somebody asks me to referee something on a short timescale and assumes that I will accept the reviewing assignment. It's a very poor assumption, and in fact it increases by a rather substantial margin the chance that I will decline the request.

It would be good, by the way, if every such request automatically included the procedure to decline and not just the procedure to submit a referee report.

P.S. Get off my lawn!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Gaussian Curvature and its Practical Consequences

Wired has a very cool article about manifolds and curvature.

I have used ice cream cones (and the act of unrolling them) to help explain curved versus straight geodesics for one of the problems our student had to do in calculus of variations. I then "assigned" my students to do this the next time they went to the local ice cream place.

(Tip of the cap to Jeremy Kun.)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Pop Sonnets

The blog Pop Sonnets presents Shakespearean-sonnet versions of pop songs. It's pretty amusing.

(Tip of the cap to Alan Champneys.)

RIP Joan Rivers (1933–2014)

Joan Rivers, a comedy legend, died today.

I don't remember when I first heard of her, but it was a long time ago, and vastly predates when I saw her in 1987 in Spaceballs, where she played the voice of Dot Matrix (who is, roughly, analogous to C3PO). That's her role that I know the best (by far), and my favorite quote of hers from that movie is the following one: That was my virgin-alarm. It's programmed to go off before you do!

(Tip of the cap to David Blau.)

Polymeric K_{3,3}

Some chemists have now constructed the graph K_{3,3} (and other tiny graphs) out of a polymer, and they seem to want to go after Königsberg next.

In related news, I think the South Side (aka: applied and related) of the Mathematical Institute now should annex the North Crystal, which just so happens to have a K_{3,3} graph as its vertices and edges.

(I'll be truely impressed, however, when somebody successfully constructs the ZKK graph using such polymers.)

Best Pitcher on the Planet

Well, first of all, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet right now, and he's really showing this year that he truly is one of the all-time greats.

We saw a bunch of that before, but he's really taken things to a new level. I hadn't realized this until last night's Dodger broadcast, but Vin Scully mentioned that Bryce Harper's homerun against Kershaw during Tuesday's game against the Nationals was not only the first homerun by a left-handed hitter against Kershaw this year but it's also the first RBI of any kind against Kershaw by a lefty this year. Holy shit! I looked at Kershaw's 2014 stats late last night --- and, in particular, his separate stats against righties and lefties --- and indeed this is true. Spectacular! (Note that the game recap to which I linked mentions the fact about Harper's HR but not about the RBI that went with it. The latter is considerably more impressive.)

It's so awesome having Kershaw on my team! Hopefully, he'll get not only the National League Cy Young Award this year but also the Most Valuable Player Award. (Right now, I think Giancarlo Stanton is a slightly better choice for MVP than Kershaw, so we'll see what the rest of the year brings.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Basis of a Good Outfield

An article tagline that I would love to see in a newspaper: "Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Denard Span form the basis of a solid Nationals outfield."

Sadly, I doubt most newspapers like linear-algebraic jokes as much as I do. Maybe an independent newspaper?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tales from the ArXiv: Herbivore Meltdown

I love the main label of the caption of Figure 5 (on page 12) of this new paper. It starts with the bold text "Meltdown of the herbivores." I love it!

Anyway, the next time you go into a forest, be very careful in case of herbivore meltdown. (I have all sorts of wonderful images in my head at the moment.)

And googling "herbivore meltdown" yields the fact that "ecological meltdown" is actually a standard term. It's certainly very image-provoking. I have to say, though, that I also find the term very humorous, even with its very serious implications.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Mathematical GIFs

These mathematical GIFs are sweet.

Invertible Yogurt

The yogurt that I had on Saturday successfully passed the Invertibility Test* (that is, it was invertible), so I knew that it was safe to eat.

* The Invertibility Test (tm) is especially important for milkshakes, as passing this test is the only way to ensure that they are safe to consume. (For other food items, the only way to pass this test is to not be invertible.)

For more about invertible milkshakes, see Legends of Caltech III and also one of its web-only stories.

(Tip of the cap to Frances Schaeffer for taking the picture.)

Raindrops on Spider Webs

I really like the patterning that I saw this morning with a bunch of raindrops on spider webs. I am showing one picture in this entry, but here are a few more.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Transformers: Now in 1D

Here is a really awesome spoof trailer for a one-dimensional version of The Transformers. Awesome!

My favorite line is the one about from one end of space to the other.

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

"Objecting Function"

Fun Fact: "Objecting Function" is not the same thing as "Objective Function".

I am waiting for this function to complain about the fact that multiple algorithms use it before it's been defined in the paper. (Well, I am going to complain about that one even if the function doesn't.)

It's a draft, but it's a fun typo nonetheless. I have certainly done more than my share of amusing word substitution. (It's good to have fun with it, and it's also good to catch it before we submit the paper and upload it to the arXiv.)

Update: I fixed another amusing typo in my draft ("asses" -> "assess"), and I am reminded of my favorite typo that I ever saw in a draft. This was a draft written by one of my Georgia Tech students, and it referred to "consecration" of angular momentum. I find this all the funnier because it occurred in Georgia.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Which Yiddish Word Describes Me?

You can check your own personal Yiddish word for yourself. I got "meshugene". [[whistles]]

By the way, I phrased things the way I did in the paragraph above because today is the 25th anniversary of the release of the song Personal Jesus.

The Onion Wins Again: GOP Edition

Yup, The Onion wins again. Hilarious!

The Rise of Nature

Charles Day writes about Rutherford, Bohr, and the rise of the journal Nature.

Damn you, Rutherford. :) What a monster you wrought.

(To be fair, this did make a lot sense in the context of the times, but I continue to be dismayed at what this has evolved into.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not in Academia! Never!

Surely we would never do anything like this in academia... Oh wait.

Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree

IFLS reminds me of the rainbow eucalyptus tree, which is the most colorful tree in the world! I would love to see one of these live. In the meantime, go to Google Images for some very pretty pictures.

Headlines and the Name Game

Sometimes, somebody has a last name that makes a headline awesome. No umlaut, but this headline from today's Beverly Hills Weekly is still pretty damn good.

Update: This of course reminds me of a certain scene in a certain Mel Brooks movie. (And while I'm thinking of that movie, don't forget this scene.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


A harmonograph is a drawing device that is constructed of coupled pendula. Here are some instructions for how to make one based on triple pendula. Oxford's Museum of the History of Science apparently houses this one, although it wasn't there the last time I visited. I also remember seeing something along these lines (or maybe it is even an example of one?) at KITP.

And, of course, this automatically makes me think of the Spirograph drawing set that I had as a kid.

(Tip of the cap to the National Museum of Mathematics.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Editable SMBC?

I want an editable version of this SMBC to inflict on my buddies in complex systems...

(And I am going to be good and get some work done and then read a bit of a novel instead of opening up graphics software.)

Things People Say

In case you haven't ever checked out my quotes page, you might find some amusing things there.

Like this classy one: "If I do that, do I have to talk to you again?" (Me, on the phone with Expedia customer service, 9/17/10)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

More Sobering Statistics

The Onion wins again: apparently, 79% of statistics are now sobering. As Todd Snider likes to sing (in Statistician's Blues), "75% of all statistics are made up right there on the spot."

The tagline for the article from The Onion, which reports on fake results out of MIT, quotes a scientist as saying "We found that there are very few, if any, encouraging statistics left."


A Colorful Stranger Alighted on my Doorstep

And here it is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Happens in Limerick Stays in Limerick

I'll be flying to Limerick tonight for a grant meeting tomorrow. In honor of my trip, I present the following:

There once was an Oxford professor.
Who wasn't much of a confessor.
When his rigor was pondered.
He said his mind wandered.
But at least he was a possessor.

(I think the last line could be better, but I didn't exactly spend a long time on this.)

Update: "Assessor" would also work (and give a slightly different flavor) instead of "confessor".

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Human, Meet Nonlinear Oscillator. Nonlinear Oscillator, Meet Human.

Yes, really. The title of the paper was a bit odd (because of the stress on "social" interactions via the 'human dynamic clamp'), but this idea looks very cool!

A Very Short Paper Title

Wow, now that is a very short paper title: 'Q', just 'Q' --- which represents 1 divided by the attenuation factor (not modularity and also not Q).

Sociologist Jim Moody once submitted a paper called "Titles" to a journal. He was trying to get a one-word title, but that didn't fly with the journal, so he switched the title to something very long. (I e-mailed Jim to ask him for a link, which I will provide once I have it.)

The shortest title (in terms of number of words) that I have used in a paper is two. That occurs in this paper. It broke my previous record of 3 words. Now I need to try to write a paper with a one-world title. I don't think I'll ever get down to one letter.

Update: Jim sent me a .pdf of his paper. It turns out that the story I heard about the title being hugely long isn't true. Rather, his paper is called "Trends in Sociology Titles", which is accurate but doesn't have the same effect as going overboard.