Friday, October 30, 2015

Public Lectures on M. C. Escher

A couple of weeks ago, we had really nice public lectures on M. C. Escher in the Mathematical Institute. Now, you can watch them online. Watch for the modernized version of one of Escher's famous paintings that plays a role in one of the talks.

"Granular Crystals: Nonlinear Dynamics Meets Materials Engineering"

Chiara Dario, Panos Kevrekidis, and I have written an expository article about granular crystals for the magazine Physics Today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Twists and Turns

The people in this article are two of my friends from grad school. I have nothing else I want to say.

Takes from the ArXiv: Hydrogen π

This paper is cool (though surely someone must have done this before).

It rederives Wallis' formula for π by looking at the spectrum of the quantum-mechanical description of the hydrogen atom. (It does this with a variational computation of the spectrum.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ferrofluids + Glowsticks = Awesome!

Those of you who like pattern formation (or even who just like colorful things) should look at this article's video about mixing Glowsticks and ferrofluids. Sweet!

RIP Leo Kadanoff (1937–2015)

Physicist Leo Kadanoff died yesterday. He was a giant in statistical physics, condensed-matter physics, complex systems, and other areas of physics.

Several of my physics friends were posting Facebook updates about Kadanoff yesterday. I didn't write an entry yesterday, as I figured that by today there might be a proper obituary to which to link. I didn't find any, so figured I would post a note now (with a link to his Wikipedia entry) and add one later.

Here is the comment I shared on one of those posts:

I met him once when I was a grad student at Cornell. Besides seeing him give a talk (I think I saw him speak on two other occasions as well), we had a "round table" with him and students, and it was great to get a chance to pick his brain.

One major point of discussion concerned people with physics training (and, for some in the room, who would get PhDs from the physics department) applying methods and tools from physics to problems that were not physics. It was a discussion about identity crises.

(Tip of the cap to Sara Solla.)

Update: Predrag Cvitanovic posted a really cool picture from Kadanoff's 75th birthday conference.

Update (10/28/15): The American Physical Society has now posted an obituary.

Update (11/02/15): The New York Times has now also posted an obituary. The article starts with "Leo P. Kadanoff, a physicist who provided critical insights...", and of course "critical" was absolutely the right word to use here. (Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto.)

Update (12/01/15): Nigel Goldenfeld published an obituary for Kadanoff in Nature Physics. (Tip of the cap to Sang Hoon Lee for pointing me to this article.)

Some Awesome Spurious Correlations

Take a look at these awesome spurious correlations. I have seen a similar list before --- perhaps even the same one? --- and it's possible that I ever blogged about this list at some point (though, if so, I can't find the entry). However, these plots are fantastic, so go take a look at them.

Obviously, I really like the last one, though naturally I wonder if applied mathematics degrees were included. (Now where did I put that uranium...?) I am also amused to see an apparent peak in the revenue of arcades in 2008. I am really surprised that the peak is this recent. (The data only goes through 2009, but I am assuming that arcade revenues haven't gone back up.)

(Tip of the cap to Anna Iwaniec Hickerson.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

RIP UGCS (1989–2016)

Well, from the e-mail today (forwarded to my current account from a chain that started with my UGCS account), it looks like (barring a miracle) Caltech's UGCS cluster is going to bite the dust in a few months. As Blake Jones wrote, "Alas, poor envy! I knew it well." To quote Steve Ginzburg, it's the "End of an era". Indeed it is.

UGCS has served the Caltech undergraduate and alumni communities for 26 years, but technology has moved on. Forwarding will still occur, but I assume that in a few months my "awesome" undergraduate website (from the days of "Oh, cool! I can put up a public page on this thing called the Web!") will go away. (Maybe it will be visible on an internet archive.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Awesome Mountainous Landscape Pictures from Google Earth

Take a look at the pictures accompanying this article to see some awesome mountainous landscape pictures constructed using Google Earth.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Fires and Queueing

Tonight I heard a story that I think encapsulates the UK perfectly. The server at the pub noticed a fire in a trash receptacle (I think that's what it was) just outside of a Starbucks on the High Street. He went inside and asked for water to put out the fire, indicating explicitly that it was a fire. The employees at Starbucks wouldn't let him jump the queue, so he stood in line to get water so that he could go outside and put out the fire with it.

Maybe the guy was trolling us, but this is a story that I want to be true.

Pandemic: Legacy

I just read part of a blurb about Pandemic: Legacy.

Pandemic is a really good choice to try something like this out on a game. (Note that I stopped reading the article in the middle because of spoilers. I wanted to read enough to be intrigued, so I suggest browsing through the beginning to see why I think this is interesting and then stop reading.)

I did once play Risk: Legacy, and this happened. (The person who was running the game as a facilitator noticed exactly what I was doing. I was playing the false peaceful person the whole game, and then I cashed in all my cards and blitzed over the entire world in one turn while annihilating everything and everyone in my path --- and winning, of course.)

XKCD on Human Subjects

I like the new xkcd on human subjects. I am amused.

(Tip of the cap to Bruno Gonçalves.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mapping Locations with Three Words

If I matched things up correctly, my Mathematical Institute office is located at "twist.learn.curiosity" (and other nearby coordinates).

And if it's not me, then my three Ph.D. students next to me have those coordinates.

The entrance to my flat in Somerville is roughly at the location "accent.slim.inspector". (Now where was that diamond...)

(Tip of the cap to Sam Howison, who apparently now has much more time on his hands since he stopped being department head on 1 October.)

Recap of Somerville College's Ada Lovelace Bicentenary

Here is a recap from the Ada Lovelace Bicentenary that we held at Somerville College last Friday. Planning started in 2013, and last Friday was the big day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Differential Geometry and Soft-Serve Ice Cream

On this ultimate Way Back Wednesday (#wbw), I'll go back 20 years rather than 30.

Dig, if you will, the picture*: A sophomore (second-year students, for the locals) in his differential geometry lecture, assiduously taking notes with his right hand while consuming his (stage 1, hopefully) soft-serve ice cream with cone in the other --- the very paradigm of sophistication. :)

* I don't have actual photographic evidence, even though a scene like this occurred numerous times during my undergraduacy and several times as a PhD student.

Tongue-in-Cheek Play-by-Play

In terms of style, the tongue-in-cheek play-by-play in the new XKCD reminds me very much of some of Zifnab's play-by-play over the years. (I don't think this xkcd is particularly funny, but the unintentional homage --- not that that is technically possible, as I think it's supposed to be intentional by definition --- and the resulting nostalgia are the reason I am posting a link to it.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tracing the History of "Tom's Diner"

Well, clearly after seeing an article about the history of the song "Tom's Diner", I feel compelled to bring it up here.

Also see the brief comment on Suzanne Vega's website.

Monday, October 19, 2015


This is a great word!

Especially in verb form --- I love the fact that the dull sound is part of the definition.

And I played it with 'Dex' in Scrabble. Usage: "I might not have been so soundly dunted by the paladin's mace if my half-orc had a higher dex."

Fun Fact: A dunt is the sound made by a boot to the head.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Horror or General Fiction?

When I was a grad student at Cornell, a short-lived coffee + book place in Ithaca put one of John Hubbard's textbooks in a section called "General Fiction". But maybe the Horror section would have been better?

Actually, I thought (and still think) that the book in question has some good stuff in it, but I am amused on general principles --- and the fact that it was one of Hubbard's books added to my amusement at the time.

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chávez.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Women in Computing" Playing Cards

You can buy (or freely download) these Notable Women in Computer Science playing cards.

(Tip of the cap to the Eight of Spades, who was our opening speaker in Somerville College's event today to celebrate women in computer science.)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Images of a Microscopic World

These images of a microscopic world are gorgeous (well, most of them).

(Tip of the cap to Alexander Morisse.)

10 Years Later

Things have been so crazy lately that the 10th anniversary of my first entry in this blog has come and gone. The present entry is number 3984.

I knew the anniversary was coming this month, and I had meant to check which exact day I started. But then I got ridiculously busy and forgot all about it until I had a moment to breathe today, and then I remembered.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: A Population with Two Genders

The English language has reared its ugly head again.

In the paper Constrained evolution algebras and dynamical systems of a bisexual population, the authors actually mean a population with two genders (as one can see from the abstract). This is one of those cases where the direct translation of their desired word into English happens to have a very different meaning.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Vladimir Arnold on Russian Versus American Mathematicians

Not only are these comments about Russian versus American mathematicians vintage Arnold, but there is also a very fundamental truth in his comment: spending time working to produce new results versus spending time talking about prior stuff that you did.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Literature and Googly Eyes

Googly eyes definitely improve the covers of literary works.

They also improve Caltech's campus.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Trailer for Jaws 19

There is now a trailer for Jaws 19, the fake installment to the franchise from Back to the Future II. The trailer is funny; you should watch it.

(Tip of the cap to Jonathan Adams and others.)

Monday, October 05, 2015

"Parasitic Disease Scientists Win Nobel"'s tagline to their article about today's Nobel Prize doesn't distinguish between "parasitic disease-scientists" and "parasitic-disease scientists".

The power of the hyphen. :)

Friday, October 02, 2015

What Does Probability Mean in Your Profession?

Here are some drawings about the meaning of probability in various professions.

The one for philosophy is fantastic! Several of the others are also funny.

The so-called "actual meaning" among the drawings is not correct: "definitely" requires a probability of exactly 1, and "definitely not" requires a probability of exactly 0.

I would have loved to have seen a mathematical one, as then we would need to use "almost always", epsilons, and measures.

(Tip of the cap to Karen Kustedjo​.)