Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Health Case for Invading Greece

The new SMBC comic is amusing.

(It also makes a good dig at the US for its invading habits.)


The Major League Baseball game in Baltimore today was surreal.

It feels almost like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie (except that the stadium was in excellent condition).

Update: Here are some images from the game.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tales from the ArXiv: "Finding a Mate With No Social Skills"

Well, the title of this paper says it all, doesn't it?

In fact, there is a wonderful ambiguity in the article title: it can either refer to finding a mate without using any social skills or, more amusingly, to finding a mate who doesn't have any social skills.

If it refers to the latter and people circulate this study widely enough, maybe people like me can finally have some hope? :)

Update (4/30/15): Here is my post on this topic for the Improbable Research blog.

The Physics of Water-Skipping Stones

See my post on the Improbable Research blog.

Playing in an Empty Stadium

Tomorrow's game between the Orioles and the White Sox, which is occurring in Baltimore, will be closed to the public. That is going to be eerie.

(Tip of the cap to The Baseball Project.)

Update: Here is the article about the game.

Are We Living in a Virtual Reality from a C+ Class Project?

At SMBC today, the artist asks whether we living in a virtual reality from a C+ class project.

I am amused.

Donating my GameCube for a Good Cause

I just donated my GameCube and its controllers and games to the Somerville undergrads (aka: JCR), because apparently they were still mostly using a Nintendo 64 for their gaming.

I hadn't used my GameCube in many years (not since I bought a Wii when I was a postdoc at Caltech), and it hadn't occurred to me previously that they might want it.

I am happy to see it get used instead of it just sitting on my shelf and taking up space.

Some people donate money for buildings or scholarships; I donate video games. Somehow, it seems fitting.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trojan Butterflies

I recently wrote a blurb for the Improbable Research blog on what I like to call "trojan butterflies". As you will see from my blurb and the article to which I link therein, the monicker is apt and the phenomenon is fascinating.

What Happens in The Other Place Stays in The Other Place (2015 Edition)

I made it to The Other Place on the train today. Tomorrow, I'll be giving an invited talk as part of the Launch Conference for the University of Cambridge's SIAM Student Chapter.

The Chapter president did a research project with me as an undergrad, so yet again the alums from my research group are demonstrating how awesome they are. It's great to see Cambridge start a SIAM Student Chapter.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Iowa is #1 in the US in Lost Chickens

Yup, it's apparently true. I guess there is an official way to keep track of lost chickens.

In the map at the other end of the link, you'll see a visualization of one item that each state in the US leads every other state in per capita. Victory!

And given what California leads in, I guess I should point out that I am a Californian.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Peer Review in Pictures

Yes and Hell Yes!

That's really how it works.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mmm... Soup Dumplings

I am a big fan of Shanghai Soup Dumplings, and I had a chance to have a bunch of good ones when I spent three weeks in Shanghai five years ago. But, wow, some people have OCD about it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Baseball Tirade for the Ages

Reds manager Bryan Price just had a tirade for the ages. (You can also listen to Price's rant on YouTube.)

Also, it makes me nostalgic for Tommy Lasorda's heyday as manager of the Dodgers, though the style seemed much closer to Lee Elia's famous tirade.

Update: Here is Rob Neyer's article about the incident. The article includes links to Elia's tirade as well as one from Hal McRae.

"Extraction of Force-Chain Network Architecture in Granular Materials Using Community Detection"

A new paper by my collaborators and me came out last week in the journal Soft Matter, and the inside front cover picture of the associated issue of the journal goes with our article. Here are the details about the article.

Title: Extraction of Force-Chain Network Architecture in Granular Materials Using Community Detection

Authors: Danielle S. Bassett, Eli T. Owens, Mason A. Porter, M. Lisa Manning, and Karen E. Daniels

Abstract: Force chains form heterogeneous physical structures that can constrain the mechanical stability and acoustic transmission of granular media. However, despite their relevance for predicting bulk properties of materials, there is no agreement on a quantitative description of force chains. Consequently, it is difficult to compare the force-chain structures in different materials or experimental conditions. To address this challenge, we treat granular materials as spatially-embedded networks in which the nodes (particles) are connected by weighted edges that represent contact forces. We use techniques from community detection, which is a type of clustering, to find sets of closely connected particles. By using a geographical null model that is constrained by the particles' contact network, we extract chain-like structures that are reminiscent of force chains. We propose three diagnostics to measure these chain- like structures, and we demonstrate the utility of these diagnostics for identifying and characterizing classes of force-chain network architectures in various materials. To illustrate our methods, we describe how force-chain architecture depends on pressure for two very different types of packings: (1) ones derived from laboratory experiments and (2) ones derived from idealized, numerically-generated frictionless packings. By resolving individual force chains, we quantify statistical properties of force-chain shape and strength, which are potentially crucial diagnostics of bulk properties (including material stability). These methods facilitate quantitative comparisons between different particulate systems, regardless of whether they are measured experimentally or numerically.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

X-Ray Images of a Python Digesting an Alligator

These images are pretty cool.

New Prescription-Strength Nature

The sad thing is that I assumed that this video about prescription-strength nature was referring to the journal Nature rather than to actual nature. I think I need to get out more.

(I was also wondering if the prescription-level version had less bullshit than the off-the-counter version.)

Clearly, a parody of this parody video is in order.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Some Awesome Detention Notes

A few of the detention notes compiled here are spectacular --- like the one with a reason that was first listed as 'flying' but was then switched to 'leaping w/ intent to fly'.

The one from 1994 is depressing. Apparently, one should just accept what others say without questioning. (I remember getting into some trouble with teachers in first grade when the answer to subtraction problems like '3 - 5' was officially that there was no answer because one wasn't allowed to do it, but I would insist rather emphatically* that it was '-2'.)

* I.e., I haven't changed.

(Tip of the cap to Maria Satterwhite and George Takei.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sociomath Workshop: Best. Google Search. Ever.

I am going to be a plenary speaker at a workshop on "Socio-mathematics" at Imperial College in November. I was curious to see if there is a website, but Google seems to think that other words might be more appropriate.

Thank you, Google.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

XKCD's Entertainment Scenery Cheatsheet

I really like today's XKCD. I approve! (Also, it is highly appropriate for the film I saw on Monday.)

Will There Be a Mass Editorial Resignation at Scientific Reports?

Will There Be a Mass Editorial Resignation at Scientific Reports?

There might be.

(And a "Way to go!" and a "Huzzah!" to my colleagues from the complex-systems community for taking this action!)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Stuck in the Middle

IFLS has published a video in a post with the title "How Does The Order In Which You're Born Affect Your Personality?"

The article includes the following line: "Those of us with siblings will have heard it all before - the oldest is the bossiest, the middle child is the most co-operative and laid back, and the youngest is spoilt."

Given that, I am sure that you will be shocked to learn that I was born in the middle. Yup, "most co-operative and laid back"... Describes me exactly. ;)

I thought the tradition was: the oldest one inherits the kingdom/business/etc., the middle one joins the priesthood (or, in modern times, academia), and then you lose count.

By the way, I don't actually care about the video; I just want to be snarky.

Update: After watching the video, let me encourage you not to actually watch it: it's painful. The whole point of my post was the IFLS blurb was good (or at least convenient) excuse for me to be snarky.

Traveling Waves, the Royal Thai Navy, and "The Final Countdown"

The video below shows members of the Royal Thai Navy demonstrating traveling waves (and other wave phenomena) to the glorious sounds of "The Final Countdown" being played by a band!

I think my head just exploded.

amazing parademuhteşem bir geçit töreni

Posted by Mavi Kocaeli on Monday, April 6, 2015

(Tip of the cap to Improbable Research.)

My New Grading Scheme

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Hummingbirds in a Wind Tunnel

IFLS has posted an article about hummingbird flight, that includes a really cool video---including of how they adapt to being in a wind tunnel. Very cool!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

New Article: "The Tongue as an Excitable Medium"

Yes, really: an article called "The Tongue as an Excitable Medium" was published a few days ago in New Journal of Physics. This title is fantastic on so many levels! The article is about a condition known as "geographic tongue", which the authors of the paper model as an excitable medium, in which they (of course) examine pattern formation. But that's not what you were thinking, is it?

I have written a blurb about the paper for the Improbable Research blog. I'll post a link to it when it's available.

(Tip of the cap to IFLS.)

Update: Here is the published version of my blurb.

"Infinite Moments of Incredible Delight"

I just got a spam e-mail with the title of "Infinite Moments of Incredible Delight" (or something like that), and naturally the first thing I wondered about was which was the first moment that was no longer finite. Of course, it then struck me that that would make a great title for a paper (or section thereof) involving probability theory or power laws.

Friday, April 03, 2015

30th Anniversary of the "Sidd Finch" Prank

This snuck up on me.

Baseball Tonight's Facebook post, which links to this article, brings up (and reminds me of) the Sidd Finch prank from 1 April 1985. It's amazing that that prank is now 30 years old. Sidd Finch had his 168 mile per hour fastball (and various other oddities), and the New York Mets played along with the hoax. So awesome!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fool's Day!

I am sure that there will be many gems for April 1st this year, just as there was last year and in previous years. Here is a link to some pranks from 2011 and to April-Foolish arXiv papers from 2010 (here and here). I have more April-Foolish blog entries around here somewhere...

This year, Google got into the act early by letting people play Pac-Man on Google Maps.

Now, CERN has demonstrated that The Force exists. (Now that is a truly fundamental force!) [Tip of the cap to Josie Messa for the "news" from CERN.] And in other news out of CERN, apparently rainbow universes are for real.. [Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.]

And now we have an article in Nature by Bob May and collaborators indicating that dragons might be real after all. The article has been published in Nature, so we know that we can count on its scientific accuracy. [Tip of the cap to Catarina Amorim and another source that I can't recall.]

The journal Science has also gotten into the act, indicate that NASA has found strong evidence at least one Hell (the many-Hells theory is more plausible than the existence of just a single Hell), and it appears to be located on Mercury. Considering the planet's namesake, it kind of makes sense that one might find a Hell there. I really love the article's culminating quote: "Congress told NASA to go to hell, and, by Jove, they made it." [Tip of the cap to Physics Today.]

The BBC has summarized some of the pranks from "Tech sites", and of course technology sites tend to take the lead when it comes to April Foolishness. :) [Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chavez.]

Also, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum unveiled a "limited exhibition" of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. [Tip of the cap to Foster McLane.]

And the American Physics Society, in their popular blurb, reported on killer app for graphene. It was published in a strange journal called Physical Review Graphene. Choice quote: Markus Merk of the Max Planck Institute for Topological Physics in Dingenskirchen, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the research, said the finding is “Refreshing—and potentially very important.” But he thinks other materials could outperform graphene. “Graphene, unfortunately, has no spin-orbit coupling. But topological insulators do. Using these novel materials could increase the plaque-prevention efficiency of toothpastes by at least 35% at liquid helium temperatures.” I love it!

And the world apparently went backwards over at Google. [Tip of the cap to Jimmy Lin.]

The "Association for Computational Heresy" at Carnegie Mellon University produced an entire conference proceedings with serious realizations of joke ideas and joke realizations of serious ideas. [Tip of the cap to Juegren Pfeffer.]

Meanwhile, in a new paper on the arXiv, some scholars have proposed that we give up not only on Falsifiability (as others have suggested) but also on other 'F' words, such as Fidelity, Factuality, and Frugality. [Tip of the cap to Vinko Zlatić.]

Even DARPA got into the act. They advertised new programs that simultaneously test the limits of technology and credulity. [Tip of the cap to Heather Dean.]