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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Back in the Day: Spring 2001 Penn State/Maryland Dynamical Systems Conference

The recent announcement of the Fields Medals brought me to thinking back at the 2001 Spring Maryland-Penn State dynamical systems conference.

In addition to the schedule --- which included somebody who already had won the Fields medal, who I successfully challenged with one of my questions even though I was just a grad student; somebody else who would win one later; and several other speakers who I met for the first time at that conference and would see many times since over the years --- there were also other people (like Howie Weiss) in the audience with whom I would subsequently interact a lot over the years. This also includes several people from University of Maryland (such as Brian Hunt, who was one of the conference's main organizers), though I am pretty sure that Jim Yorke wasn't around for that conference. (I would meet him many times later.) One of my friends from Caltech also attended the conference, and several audience members who weren't speakers also have moved on to bigger and better mathematical things.

I also vaguely remember that audience-member Misha Brin (who was not yet known as "Sergey's father" at the time) was not particularly fond of the research that I presented in my talk, though I'm not really sure whether that was just his mannerisms or his actual opinion.

Several of the attendees who were still doing rather pure work then are now rather applied in most of their work. (Or have even become famous entrepreneurs in the tech world. :) ) Given what people have done since that conference, it's a rather impressive selection of speakers among the people who hadn't yet "made it" at the time.

Gorgeous Mathematical Sculptures

Eric Standley's mathematical sculptures are absolutely gorgeous.

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vacation: Graduate School Style

This issue of PhD Comics about vacations in graduate school is pretty much true.

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chavez.)

Nope, None of Them Here

I overheard the following comment in the dining hall at Churchill College, Cambridge by one the kitchen staff: "I hate really smart people who think they're above everybody else."

We don't have any such people at Oxford, of course. :)

Note: There was no comma in what she said (so it wasn't "people, who").

My 'Personal Vision'

I am giving some comments on an EU consultation for how mathematics can help with challenges in big data and high-performance computing. The sign-up section contains a long field called "Personal Vision" where we are apparently supposed to stand on our soapbox and give our grant vision. I just wrote the following:

"I like to study interesting problems."

I hope they consider that to be sufficient.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 Fields Medals

The 2014 Fields Medals have now been awarded. The Fields Medals are considered the most prestigious award in mathematics, though the Abel Prize is giving the Fields Medal a run for its money.

The 2014 Fields Medalists are Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer, and Maryam Mirzakhani. Avila won for his work on dynamical systems and renormalization, so there's a victory for the home team. (Dynamical systems is part of the home team because it's one of my research subjects.) Bhargava won for his work on the geometry of numbers. Hairer won for his work on stochastic partial differential equations, and his joint work with Jonathan Mattingly was included in his prize citation. (Now I need to go give Mattingly crap for this --- just because it's fun to give him crap. I could focus on the "too old" part, though of course just about all of us in mathematics would be happy to get a sidebar mention for something like this!) His work is also in an area that has some relation to some of my interests. Mirzakhani got a Fields Medal for her work on dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces, and she is the first woman ever to win the Fields Medal. (About damn time. Surely there are others who could have been so recognized previously?) Dynamical systems --- including billiard systems, which I like a great deal --- play a significant role in some of her recognized work as well, so dynamical systems in its various guises and places where it makes an impact --- and it is a rather diverse field indeed --- has done rather well this year. (Statistical mechanics, which is also near and dear to my heart and which is also rather diverse, did exceptionally well in the 2010 Fields Medals, and it also reared its head among the 2006 winners.)

Update (8/14/14): My department head Sam Howison has written an opinion piece in The Guardian on women in mathematics and Maryam Mirzakhani's Fields Medal.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams (1951–2014)

Comedy legend Robin Williams was found dead earlier today (the 11th) from an apparent suicide. I'm not sure what my favorite one of his roles is, but he certainly had some memorable ones (such as Mork and in movies like Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society).

(Tip of the cap to several people via their Facebook posts.)

Update: The CNN article about Williams' death has some additional information.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Happens in Cambridge (UK) Stays in Cambridge (UK) [2014 Edition]

I only got back from Caltech yesterday evening, and today I am taking a train to Cambridge for the 2014 SIAM Conference on Nonlinear Waves and Coherent Structures.

I have prepared a very topical slide for my talk. Be prepared. :)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

It's a Meme: #HunterPenceSigns

The #HunterPenceSigns meme is pretty damn awesome. Sometimes it's bizarre what becomes a "thing", and this meme is officially a "thing". (Oh, and as you can see from the article to which I linked, Hunter Pence is handling the gentle trolling really well.)

Update (8/07/14): Here are some more Hunter Pence signs.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


I just learned (in a talk by Frank Doyle) about an appropriately-named compound called "longdaysin" because of its ability to slow down biological clocks. Even cooler than "ubiquitin". Those wacky biologists...

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Best Thesis Defense is a Good Thesis Offense!


(Do you know who said that? Mel, the cook on Alice.)

And, yes, today's xkcd is a huge win.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Baseball Cup Art

Yup, the Baseball cup-art war has just been taken to a brand new level. First it was the Rockies spelling "Rox", then it was the Cubs spelling "Cubs", and now a minor league pitcher has given us a seen from Pac-Man. I approve!

Achievement Unlocked: Use the Fibonacci Sequence to Verify ID to Complete a Purchase

Achievement Unlocked: Use the Fibonacci sequence instead of an ID card to verify my identity and complete a purchase.

This evening, I found a nice practical real-world application of the Fibonacci sequence: I was buying a game (called "Pix") at Game Empire and was paying by credit card. The guy behind the counter asked to see an ID card, but I didn't have any with me. After I mentioned that the only thing I could do was to go back to my hotel room to get an ID, he decided that if I could correctly define the Fibonacci sequence that that would suffice instead of an ID card. So I gave him the correct definition, and we finished up the purchase.

(His idea came from the fact that I was using a Caltech Credit Union credit card. He wanted to make sure that card was legitimately mine. OK, I now have a nice story to tell --- which I appreciate --- but the logic was somewhat flawed. I did tell the guy that we both get an "Achievement Unlocked" for this.)

So don't ever let anyone tell you that there aren't any practical applications for the Fibonacci sequence!

Update: As Ernie Barreto points out, doing a Taylor-series approximation correctly was once a matter of life-or-death for physicist Igor Tamm. I am going to use that story when I teach Taylor series to my students.

Love, Three-Body Problems, and Chaos

Well, mathematicians certainly like to discuss love and its chaotic implications. (Remember, the three-body problem is provably chaotic.)

Friday, August 01, 2014

Post-Seminar Comments

After our applied math seminars, we have coffee and cookies (and other pastries, or "cakes" as they are known in the UK) in the common room.

Earlier this year, after a particularly frustrating seminar, one of my colleagues uttered the memorable line "I'm going to have a fucking cookie. I earned it." (We all earned it. It was awful.)

But the best (and most memorable) post-seminar piece of snark that I have ever heard occurred during my postdoc years at Caltech and came from the mouth of Catalin Turc: "His theory is retarded."