Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Play Pac-Man on Google Maps

Yes, really: You can now use maps in Google Maps to play Pac-Man. I approve!

In case you're interested, you can try a map near Somerville College in Oxford (and also necessarily near the Mathematical Institute). Or perhaps catching Pokémon is more aligned with your tastes?

Or, if you prefer, you can play a live-action version with smartphones.

(Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.)

Update: Here is the post from Google's product manager about the new feature. (Tip of the cap to Mary Radcliffe for this link. Apparently, her husband is the person at Google who created this particular gem.) Ah, I love it when April 1st comes along. :)

Update (4/01/15): the article on CNN.com shows several example mazes from different parts of the world.

Update (4/08/15): Wired.com now has an article about this, which is affectionately called "Pac-Maps". Also, here are the "top" places (which are isolated to just a few cities) to play Pac-Maps. Harvard Square is insane.

Financial Resources and Publishing in Scientific Reports?

As some of you know, I am not exactly the biggest fan of the journal Scientific Reports, which is brought to us by the Nature Publishing Group.

I won't get into my specific grievances here, though the journal now appears to have hit a new low with their pay-to-play peer-review activities (e.g., with authors allowed to pay for a fast-track peer review that uses a different and third party peer-review service rather than normal peer review). As discussed here and here, one editor has already resigned. Good! I hope many other Scientific Reports editors follow suit, and some of my peeps from the complex-systems community are also fighting back: they have sent a letter to the Powers That Be at Scientific Reports. I am sharing this letter with permission.

I hope more editors from Scientific Reports resign and that that forces them to either go under or, better yet, to change to have more reasonable policies on such things. (Ideally, they would also improve other epically bad aspects of their venue, but that is a story for another day.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ant Fight Club

In my latest post for the Improbable Research blog, I discuss modeling of combat in ants.

One of the reasons I chose to write about this paper is that it also allowed me to introduce modeling issues (e.g., the choice of a differential-equation model versus an agent-based model).

Next time, maybe I'll even use a Mortal Kombat reference. Finish him!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Interactive Twitter Network from NetSci 2014

I just found Marc Smith's interactive Twitter network from NetSci 2014. Here is a brief description of the network:

"The graph represents a network of 57 Twitter users whose recent tweets contained "netsci", or who were replied to or mentioned in those tweets, taken from a data set limited to a maximum of 18,000 tweets. The network was obtained from Twitter on Friday, 06 June 2014 at 15:22 UTC."

You can find additional descriptions and some basic calculations about the graph on the site to which I linked. You can also download the network data. Apparently, I contributed to this network, especially with my snark. :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Gerrymandering Mishap Leaves Nation Without Any Borders Whatsoever"

Yup, The Onion wins again! I approve!

John Nash and Louis Nirenberg Share 2015 Abel Prize

John Nash and Louis Nirenberg have been jointly awarded the 2015 Abel Prize for their work on partial differential equations.

(Tip of the cap to Physics Today for their post on Facebook.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Learn Anatomy from Dissected Knit Creatures

Here's another really cool thing: knitted versions of dissected creatures.

Now that is sweet!

(Tip of the cap to Leslie Porter.)

Update: Of course, for several years, people have been able to experience the joys of plush microbes (these are especially awesome), plush subatomic particles, and even plush statistical distributions.

Update (3/31/15): I now have a post about this on the Improbable Research blog.

Turning Coffee Into Art

Yes, really. So awesome!

(Tip of the cap to Yves van Gennip.)

How Long Would It Take to Fall Through the Earth?

There is a new paper on estimating how long it would take to fall through the Earth that does better than the standard crude approximation. I think this is very cool, and I definitely suggest taking a look at the other side of the link.

And I am again reminded that I should have found a way to take the course "Order of Magnitude Physics" at Caltech when I had a chance. (But, thankfully, I often get to think that way for my research.) I just did some googling, and I found the material from the 1995 and 1997 versions of the class.

But I still have one question: How can I make sure that I take the correct turn at Albuquerque?

(Tip of the cap to Physics Today for their post on Facebook.)

Skin-Texture-Changing Frogs

This blurb from IFLS describes frogs whose skin can change texture --- not just color! --- based on their surroundings. Now that is damn cool!

The title of the article claims that this is a "shape-shifting" frog, which to me seems like a highly misleading characterization.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pronouncing Words in the United Kingdom

This poem from a 1906 anthology says it all.

(Tip of the cap to Jonathan Adams.)

Update: Here is another poem on pronunciation in the English language. (Tip of the cap to Martin Gould.)

Google Celebrates Emmy Noether's 133rd Birthday

Mathematician Emmy Noether is the subject of today's Google doodle. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to several people.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Post-Punk Icons Reimagined as Marvel Superheroes

Several post-punk icons have been reimagined as Marvel superheroes. This is pretty damn cool!

(Tip of the cap to Leslie Porter.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Fine-Scale, Historically Awesome, Genetic Map of the U.K.

A new genetic map of the U.K., which is the product of several-years-long collaboration between geneticists, historians, and others. This looks really neat, and I recommend looking at the map at the other end of the link.

The first line of the news article articulates how cool this is: A remarkable new map of Britain shows how the nation was forged by successive waves of immigration from continental Europe over 10,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age.

Again quoting the article: Geneticists and historians collaborated closely on the 10-years project and have been astonished to find that patterns in the DNA of Britons living today reflect historical events going back centuries, and in some cases millennia. Take a look in the news article for some specific examples.

I am sure that there is a ton more than one can do with the data---and of course, I wonder how much one can improve on the analysis (and, without having looked with seriousness at the Nature article, naturally I have no scientific opinion on its correctness). Many of the coauthors are my colleagues at Oxford, so maybe I will eventually have a chance to play with the data? :)

Update: Taking a quick look at the paper, one could certainly try to use more sophisticated clustering methods. Whether that would have any effect on the qualitative conclusions remains to be seen.

NFL Offensive Lineman by Day, Spectral Graph Theorist by Night

John Urschel is not your ordinary professional football player.

He may be an NFL offensive lineman by day, but by night he is a spectral graph theorist (and numerical linear algebraist). His most recent paper, called "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians", has now been accepted for publication in Journal of Computational Mathematics. Urschel announced via Twitter that it had been officially accepted for publication. (Based on my googling, the published version of the paper hasn't yet appeared in the journal.)

You can read a draft of Urschel's paper on the arXiv preprint server. I just wish that he used his current affiliation on the paper. That would have been fantastic.

(Tip of the cap to Francis Su.)

Update: Looking at Urschel's academic website, I see that he has prior publications. His website gives the reference for a paper on celestial mechanics. I also checked Mathematical Reviews (to find an upper bound on his Erdős Number, of course), and I see that he also has at least one more paper on spectral graph theory. (This paper isn't listed on Urschel's Penn State website, which I suppose he is no longer updating.)

Update (3/21/15): I wrote a blurb on Urschel for the Improbable Research blog.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Some Awesome Passive-Aggressive Notes

Here are some awesome passive-aggressive notes.

There is, naturally, an entire web page dedicated to such things.

We also do passive-aggressive notes pretty well in Oxford applied math. For example, take a look here, here, and here.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Upcoming Movie: "Pixels"

I just saw a trailer for the movie Pixels, in which "real life" video game characters attack the Earth.

The movie looks cheesy and probably deserves its own drinking game (and I could easily see this being horrible), but am I am so going to geek out and watch this! Bring it on!

The movie has a chance to be awesome, but if nothing else it will at least be "awesome".

Monday, March 16, 2015

Star Trekkin' Across the Journal Publications

That's write: The Firm's song "Star Trekkin'" may well be the most quoted song in scholarly journals. I certainly hope it is, because that would be awesome!

And if you are unfamiliar with this song, then you owe it to yourself to watch the music video on the other side of the link.

Over on the blog entry to which I linked above, reader JimBob points to Spock's quote about Organians: "Fascinating. Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all."

And that is really awesome! Because that brings us back to music: "pure energy" is sampled in the song "What's on Your Mind" by Information Society. I didn't realize that that came from the same line as the modified version in "Star Trekkin'".

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Visualizations of π

Several of these visualizations of π are absolutely stunning.

Happy epic Pi Day! It is epic because the year is 2015 (so 3/14/15 in US reckoning), so there are two particular times to celebrate: in the morning and evening at 9:26:535....

(Tip of the cap to Andy Sudol for the website with the visualizations.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Turning Urine to Electricity Using Microbes

Yes, really.

(Tip of the cap to IFLS.)

Ferrell on the Diamond

Will Ferrell played all nine different positions and for ten different teams in spring training yesterday. Although this is a pretty cheesy and is a publicity stunt, I still think it's highly amusing --- and if the publicity stunt is amusing and entertaining, I'll take it. Plus, being traded 9 times in one day is quite an accomplishment. :)

Anyway, the point is to have fun, and I appreciate creative ways to do it. (And if I were given this opportunity, I would do it too!)

Most posterity, I think it's also worth to linking to yesterday's set of box scores.

Update: You can find more details here.

Update: Baseball-reference.com has now posted a highly amusing player page for Ferrell. I approve! Notice the quotations around how he "bats" and also the list of transactions. I approve! (Also see the ESPN.com article about Ferrell's page at Baseball-reference.com page.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"Network Literacy: Essential Concepts and Core Ideas"

I am happy to announce the availability of a booklet, Network Literacy: Essential Concepts and Core Ideas, that represents the distillation of thoughts, comments, and writings from more than 30 network science researchers, educators, teachers, and students.

We live in a connected age, and the ideas in the network literacy booklet are what we collectively think that every person should know about networks.

Start spreading the news!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Decaf Coffee Only: Fresh Out of One of My Nightmares

This is like something out of one of my nightmares*: I went to our Senior Common Room, and every single one of the espresso pods was decaf (including all of the ones in the stash in the drawer).

* Naturally, only I would have nightmares like this. [#firstworldproblems]

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Another Great Baseball Name: Forrestt Allday

Browsing through Spring Training box scores, I have found another great name: Red Sox outfield prospect Forrestt Allday.

I could do this... well... all day. :)

The 'T' in the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam(-Tsingou) Problem

Today is International Women's Day, and today some venues (e.g., IFLS) are posting articles with the theme 'women you should have heard of' (‪#‎womenyoushouldhaveheardof‬), and I would like to contribute one who was intimately involved in introducing (and conducting subsequent studies of) one of my favorite mathematics/physics problems.

The lady in question is Mary Tsingou, and the problem is the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam(-Tsingou) problem.

Seven years ago, Thierry Dauxois wrote an opinion piece in Physics Today about the decades of omission of credit that Tsingou had experience. To quote his abstract, "The computations for the first-ever numerical experiment were performed by a young woman named Mary Tsingou. After decades of omission, it is time to recognize her contribution."

If you look at the original technical report, you'll notice typed text that indicates that the report was "written by" Fermi, Pasta, and Ulam but that "Work done by" credits Fermi, Pasta, Ulam, and Tsingou. Dauxois's paper discusses Mary Tsingou's contribution to the original technical report and advocates renaming the problem as the "FPUT" problem. Tsingou also worked on the FPU(T) problem later---e.g., on "superecurrences" that occur in very long-time calculations. For more information about the FPU(T) problem, see the Scholarpedia article devoted to it, a Scholarpedia article devoted to its mathematical aspects, and an expository article that I coauthored.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Excursion to Bletchley Park: 2015 Edition

Every few years, we take a bunch of mathematics and computer students from Somerville on an excursion to Bletchley Park (home of the U.K. codebreaking during World War II). Today was another one of those treks.

As usual, I took some pictures from today's trip.

And here are my photos from our 2012 excursion.

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Collection of Awesome Historical Snark (and Insults)

This collection of insults of other snark from both the modern era and long ago is awesome. Many of these are awesome (including quite a few that I hadn't seen before), and there are only a few duds. Highly amusing!

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cartoonifying Instagram Photos

These cartoonified Instagram photos are amazing! (Some of the them are also really funny, and most of the them twist the original scene in an interesting way.)

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Awesome Audi Commerical: 'Battle of the Spocks'

Another of the awesome things that has been circulated amidst Leonard Nimoy's passing is this fantastic Audi commercial from 2013 (or at least the io9 article is from 2013, so I am assuming that the commercial is as well) featuring both Nimoy and Zachary Quinto (who plays Spock in the Star Strek reboot) in a 'Battle of the Spocks'.

There are quite a few great allusions in this commercial.

(Tip of the cap to somebody, but I forgot to scribble down whom.)

Baseball Name of the Day: David Goforth

I saw the last name "Goforth" in the box score from the Brewers' spring training game yesterday, so I felt compelled to figure out the identity of this mystery hurler. It is David Goforth. I can already imagine amusing headlines along the lines of "Goforth and Multiply".

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

"Bank of Canada Urges 'Star Trek' Fans to Stop 'Spocking' Their Fivers"

This story is absolutely fantastic. As a tribute to the late, great Leonard Nimoy, an apparently large number of Canadian Trekkies (or Trekkers, as I suppose they would prefer) have been 'Spocking' their five-dollar bills. Take a look at the story for some pictures that show examples of Spocking, which I think are rather well done. I think this is an excellent tribute. I approve!

(Tip of the cap to several people.)

You Know What They Say About the Size of a Team's Pitching Staff...

Well, possibly what "they" (i.e., generic unnamed people) are saying is that the teams must be crazy.

As a case in point, consider the following comment (from this blurb): "Citing a need to have more roster flexibility and a desire to not be stuck with only three bench players to start the season, new Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor is planning to start the season with only a dozen pitchers on his staff."

"Only" a dozen pitchers on a 25-man roster ... groan

I didn't mind the 10->11 change too much (though 10 is how things started when I was growing up), but --- really? --- the norm is now even 13 instead of 12?

Movie Science Versus Real Science: Vol. 13

Here is the 13th installment of movie science versus real life. It is so, so true. (Also, this comic strip hits way too close to home.)

(Tip of the cap to Vinko Zlatić.)

Flaccid Mechanics: A Systematic Study of Penis Sizes

Scholars from King's College and other UK institutions have just published a new study with the scintillating title of Am I normal? A systematic review and construction of nomograms for flaccid and erect penis length and circumference in up to 15521 men.

The first sentence of the paper's introduction sums things up rather nicely: "The measurement of penis size may be important either in the assessment of men complaining of a small penis or for academic interest."

My first thought about the article was: But did they also measure elastic constants (to determine stiffness, under the assumption that the object is elastic) and other Lamé parameters?

My second thought was: Up to 15521 men? Where is the uncertainty? Despite the odd article title, this item turns out to have a simple explanation: there were multiple studies and that is the number of men involved in the largest one.

In the authors' own words, their objective was "To systematically review and create nomograms of flaccid and erect penile size measurements." Among other things, their methods included a simulation of 20000 observations of penis size from a normal distribution, though it may also have been interesting to consider a heavy-tailed distribution in case of extreme events.

(Tip of the cap to IFLS.)

Update (3/10/15): Here is the modified version of this entry that I wrote for the Improbable Research blog.

Update (3/10/15): Here is a snarky comment that I wish I had thought of earlier: Remember that "soft matter" is an important subject in condensed-matter physics.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

New to the Blogroll: Improbable Research

I probably should have added the Improbable Research blog to my blogroll years ago, but I have a special impetus to do it now: I'm now going to be writing some blog entries for that site.

The people behind that blog, by the way, are the ones who award the Ig Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, I don't (yet) have an Ig Nobel Prize. On the bright side, I am a proud member of Luxuriantly Flowing Hair Club for Scientists.

Additionally, a couple of my papers --- this one and this one --- have been covered by the Improbable Research blog, and Marc Abrahams wrote about them in The Guardian. (I included the links to the Guardian articles above rather than to the associated blog entries.)

I have also performed in a cover of the Improbable Research shows. You can take a look at one of my blog entries from last year for details.

I'm not sure how often I'll write blog entries for Improbable Research --- it essentially depends on my own business and desire to avoid the work I am supposed to be doing --- but I'm certainly looking forward to it! I really like quirky scientific and mathematical (and scientific-ish and mathematical-ish) things, and it will be great to have a wider circulation for my particular brand of snark.

Sierpinski Hamentaschen!

Well, this recipe for Sierpinski hamentaschen is clearly a big win.

This solves the ages-old "hamentaschen problem" of a hamentasch consisting of too much dough and not enough cherries --- here I am assuming sensibility and that one has chosen to make the cherry variety. (Apricot and, to a lesser extent, chocolate are acceptable, as well. If there is a cherry hamentasch available, that is the one I am going for. I think they are best with somewhat sour fruits, although I don't tend to like them with raspberries.)

While you are here, you should clearly also look up the Sierpinski triangle.

Tip of the cap to Karen Daniels.

Update: You may also recall that our very own Mathematical Institute held a mathematical bake-off last fall. You can follow the links therein to pictures from the bake-off and to other mathematical baking awesomeness.

Update (3/05/15): My first post for the Improbable Research blog is about this story. Very timely, too.