Saturday, February 28, 2015

Famous Last Words

In a post on Facebook, George Takei took inspiration from Leonard Nimoy's last public words (a Tweet on the 23rd) to post some famous last words by several famous people. There's some really good snark in there, and many of them are rather fitting of the people who spoke them.

Friday, February 27, 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy (1931–2015)

In terms of famous people with whom I feel a connection (to them and/or their portayed characters), today's news really hurts: Leonard Nimoy died today. I am sure many of my fellow nerds/geeks feel the same way. Nimoy is best known, of course, for playing---and often reprising---the character Spock as part of the original "Star Trek" crew. The character of Spock, and several aspects of that iconic character that originated with Nimoy (see the obituaries to which I linked to see the origin of a couple of the things that Nimoy brought to Spock) has had a huge impact on popular culture. But as you can from his Wikipedia entry, he had a very long, successful, and varied career.

The CNN article about his death has some nice pictures and nice tidbits.

In addition to Spock, another more recent way in which I will remember Leonard Nimoy is through his voice acting in Civilization IV when one discovers a technology. (Tip of the cap to Travis Hime for the URL with the clips from Civ IV.)

I would also like to include a very nice quote from Nimoy (which appears in the article) in which he describes a visit to Caltech: "I had an embarrassing experience once, many years ago," he told The New York Times in 2009. "I was invited to go to Caltech and was introduced to a number of very brilliant young people who were working on interesting projects. ... And they'd say to me, 'What do you think?' Expecting me to have some very sound advice. And I would nod very quietly and very sagely I would say, 'You're on the right track.' "

(Tip of the cap to a large number of people.)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Article in Physical Review E: "Flow and Clogging of a Sheep Herd Passing Through a Bottleneck"

Yes, really.

The first person who told me about this granular sheep project, which has finally appeared in published form, is Karen Daniels, who points out that there are all sorts of wonderful (baaaaaaaad?) puns that one can make about shearing forces, sheared sheep, and so on.

Tales from the ArXiv: "Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Mathematics Conferences"

I am passing along this paper concerning addressing the underrepresentation of women in mathematics conferences, given my very strong agreement with the following sentence from the abstract: We describe in detail the biases against women in mathematics, knowing that greater awareness of them leads to a better ability to mitigate them.

It's a long road, and "awareness" at least ought to be one of the easier parts that can help in tackling these challenges.

Here are some more details about the paper (which, from the text, apparently will be appearing in Notices of the AMS):

Title: Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Mathematics Conferences

Author: Greg Martin

Abstract: Despite significant improvements over the last few generations, the discipline of mathematics still counts a disproportionately small number of women among its practitioners. These women are underrepresented as conference speakers, even more so than the underrepresentation of women among PhD-earners as a whole. This underrepresentation is the result of implicit biases present within all of us, which cause us (on average) to perceive and treat women and men differently and unfairly. These mutually reinforcing biases begin in primary school, remain active through university study, and continue to oppose women's careers through their effects on hiring, evaluation, awarding of prizes, and inclusion in journal editorial boards and conference organization committees. Underrepresentation of women as conference speakers is a symptom of these biases, but it also serves to perpetuate them; therefore, addressing the inequity at conferences is valuable and necessary for countering this underrepresentation. We describe in detail the biases against women in mathematics, knowing that greater awareness of them leads to a better ability to mitigate them. Finally, we make explicit suggestions for organizing conferences in ways that are equitable for female mathematicians.

(Tip of the cap to Oxford Mathematics Good Practice​. Why do only 20 people 'like' their Facebook page? The last I checked, our department has many more than 20 people in it.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Apology Cards Sorted by Discipline

Today's SMBC, which shows some apology cards sorted by discipline, is a big win! The psychology apology is the best one.

Monday, February 23, 2015

John Guckenheimer to Give 2015 Moser Lecture

John Guckenheimer has been awarded the 2015 Moser Lecture, and it is richly deserved! It is awarded for lifetime achievement in nonlinear science (especially in the context of dynamical systems and applications, as very broadly defined).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Big, the Rich, and the Good (Data)

Nate Silver has written a fascinating article about the stellar success and rapid progress of baseball analytics versus the less-than-rapid progress of data analytics in other areas (e.g., economic and earthquake forecasts).

Putting the baseball angle aside (and of course I like that angle very much), one thing I really like is the very concise comments about "big data" versus what Silver calls "rich data" and why sports analytics have genuinely improved answers to many important-for-it questions, whereas other situations still struggle immensely to use their data for genuinely large increases in understanding.

Note that I have sometimes used the term "good data" before as a contrast to "big data", though importantly good data can be either big or small, and I think that Silver is thinking of Rich Data strictly as a subset of Big Data. See this blog entry of mine as well as additional blog entries referenced therein.

One could also, I suppose, ask whether these other systems are "more complex" than sports competitions, but I'm not sure (a) whether that's actually true and (b) how to quantify it in a way that goes beyond "Ooh, it's complex." Of course, we have measures of information content, but I expect there would be a lot of assumptions involved in crunching such numbers in these cases. Anyway, it's a thought I had, so I figured that I should at least bring it up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

XKCD on Flowchorts

I don't find the new xkcd funny per se, but several parts of it do amuse me. Make sure to follow the flow in this chart.

Rigged Hilbert Spaces

I love the term rigged Hilbert space, which I just encountered from a paper on the arXiv. I was hoping that thinking about probabilities in there would appropriately motivate the name (and maybe that's true in the applications to quantum mechanics), but it isn't immediately obvious to me that this should be the case. I want it to be true, though!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What Happens in Manchester Stays in Manchester (2015 Edition)

I am on the train to Manchester, where I will be giving a talk to the sociologists in the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis.

They were stressing the importance of multiplexity several decades ago (take a look at a couple of the classical references in a certain review article), so it's an especially appropriate that I am giving a talk on multilayer networks there.

Update: On the way from the train station to my hotel, I passed "Back Action Street". I have no further comment.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bill Murray's Summer in Baseball

Rob Neyer has written a very nice article with descriptions and reminiscences of Bill Murray's summer hanging out (with occasional spots coaching and even playing once or twice) with minor league baseball team Grays Harbor Loggers in 1978. It's a fun read.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Physics of Popcorn

Here is a new paper on the physics of popcorn. In particular, the authors propose that "the familiar 'pop' sound of the popcorn is caused by the release of water vapour."

(Tip of the cap to Mariano Beguerisse Díaz.)

Ada Lovelace Bicentenary: Celebrating Women in Computer Science

On 16 October 2015 (Friday, week 1, next Michaelmas term), we're going to have a symposium to celebrate women in computer science in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace.

We've got some awesome speakers and potentially other surprises, so go take a look at the website! (And also say that you want to come, of course.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Headline: "Mathematicians Discover How Many Licks It Takes to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop"

Well, people have been wondering how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, and now some applied mathematicians at New York University have estimated that it takes about 1000 licks. The main reason behind the study is in fact a rather serious one:

The study was done to explore the effects of dissolving materials within a fluid flow, such as rocks in geological environments and pills for pharmaceutical applications. The lollipop angle was just a fun side effect.

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

Tales from the ArXiv: Rodents in Hyperbolic Spaces

This morning, I noticed the new paper Can Rodents Conceive Hyperbolic Spaces? With a title like that, clearly the paper deserved a closer look.

The abstract also includes a great line: We show that, according to self-organizing models, if raised in a non-Euclidean hyperbolic cage rats should be able to form hyperbolic grids.

I know I have obvious biases as a mathematician, but the idea in the paper seems really cool to me.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Caltech's Basketball Team Wins Back-to-Back Conference Games!

For the first time in more than 60 years, Caltech's basketball team has won back-to-back conference games. Yup, we don't win very often. :)

It's somewhat more common that we have losing streaks that last a decade or so. :)

Upset Triangular Matrices

I just saw a delightful typo in an e-mail that I received a few minutes ago: Apparently, there is something called an "upset triangular matrix". I better go and console it.

I think that that typo just made my day.

Julio Franco: Still Playing Baseball

That's right: Julio Franco, at the tender young age of 56, is still playing baseball. He is currently a player-manager (though it looks like he doesn't play in that many games in practice) on a semi-pro team in Japan.

Now that is a man who loves the game!

P.S. Franco's team really needs to sign Jamie Moyer.

Update (2/11/15): I just noticed this news item about Franco signing with a Japanese independent-league team as a player-manager.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

"Graph-Theoretic" and "Graphical" Language in the Description of Marriages

This Onion article makes me realize that one can describe marriage laws very precisely using graph theory: allowing non-bipartite graphs, allowing hypergraphs, etc.

Clearly, the outcomes of the court cases ought to be written using graph-theoretic (or, to use a perhaps unfortunate pun, "graphical") language.

Note: I have no comment about self-edges.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: Microorganism Billiards

Yes, really. The idea is very interesting, and I am also amused. :)

This paper is a theoretical and computational one, but here is the first sentence of the abstract to tantalize you: Recent experiments and numerical simulations have shown that certain types of microorganisms "reflect" off of a flat surface at a critical angle of departure, independent of the angle of incidence.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A More General Set of Branching Processes Now Give Realistic Processes

Sometimes the outcome of important legislation has unintended consequences---like the fact that a more general set of branching processes than before now give realistic models of genetic transmission.

Really, all governments should determine the outcome of legislation based on what makes more mathematical models into realistic models. :)

(More seriously, I'm glad to see this approved for nonmathematical reasons.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"Oxford Don or James Bond Villain?"

It's a game. Sometimes people play it. (Or at least I do.)

You can think of it as a variant of Prof or Hobo?

Monday, February 02, 2015

Möbius Strips: Now Apparently Three-Dimensional

Today I found out about a new paper that reports the generation of Möbius strips of optical polarization, which is very exciting. Unfortunately, the paper's abstract starts out in a very depressing manner that makes me cringe: "Möbius strips are three-dimensional geometrical structures, fascinating for their peculiar property..." Nooooooo!

Although does need three dimensions embed a Möbius strip in an ambient (extrinsic) space, a Möbius strip is a two-dimensional manifold.

(Tip of the cap to Physics Today for their Facebook post of a popular article about the new discovery. Notice the comment about the number of dimensions in the correction. In this case, the popular piece has done better than the paper's abstract.)

Fargo VHS = Treasure Map?

I just found out about the movie Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter via an advertisement for the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford. (It's playing on 14 April.) It has a very appealing tagline: "A jaded Japanese woman discovers a hidden copy of Fargo (1996) on VHS, believing it to be a treasure map indicating the location of a large case of money."

I so need to see this! It sounds awesome.

Update (3/19/15): Here is a trailer for the film. It looks amazing and really appealing to somebody like me who lives in a strange land. Sadly, the 14 April day seems to not be happening, but a different theatre in Oxford is showing the film on 6 April and 8 April. I can't wait to see it!

SMBC and Statistical Averages

As Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal reminds us, one needs to be very careful about only report a statistical average.