Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Self-Identification: "Student" Versus "Researcher"

Here is a new comic from PhD Comics. For the punchline, click on the link and scroll to the bottom.

"Notes for a New Faculty Member"

This article is a worthwhile read for young faculty members, other young academics who are teaching some classes, and established faculty members as well.

(Tip of the cap to Association for Women in Mathematics.

"Null Models for Community Detection in Spatially Embedded, Temporal Networks"

Another one of my papers finally got its volume, issue, and page numbers last week. (It came out in advanced access in November 2015.) I finally got my own copy of the document today, so here are some details.

Title: Null Models for Community Detection in Spatially Embedded, Temporal Networks

Authors: Marta Sarzynska, Elizabeth A. Leicht, Gerardo Chowell, and Mason A. Porter

Abstract: In the study of networks, it is often insightful to use algorithms to determine mesoscale features such as 'community structure', in which densely connected sets of nodes constitute 'communities' that have sparse connections to other communities. The most popular way of detecting communities algorithmically is to maximize the quality function known as modularity. When maximizing modularity, one compares the actual connections in a (static or time-dependent) network to the connections obtained from a random-graph ensemble that acts as a null model. The communities are then the sets of nodes that are connected to each other densely relative to what is expected from the null model. Clearly, the process of community detection depends fundamentally on the choice of the null model, so it is important to develop and analyse novel null models that take into account appropriate features of the system under study. In this paper, we investigate the effects of using null models that incorporate spatial information, and we propose a novel null model based on the radiation model of population spread. We also develop novel synthetic spatial benchmark networks in which the connections between entities are based on the distance or flux between nodes, and we compare the performance of static and time-dependent versions of the radiation null model to the standard ('Newman–Girvan') null model for modularity optimization and to a recently proposed gravity null model. In our comparisons, we use both the above synthetic benchmarks and time-dependent correlation networks that we construct using countrywide dengue fever incidence data for Peru. Our findings illustrate the need to use appropriate generative models for the development of spatial null models for community detection.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

RIP Sloan Annex

As John Preskill has tweeted (see the picture below), Sloan Annex has bitten the dust.

Good riddance. I spent 2.5 years in that rat maze. (Technically, 2 years and 4 months.) It was supposed to be demolished several decades ago.

The condensed-matter physics group was housed in that horrible building for many years. Amusingly, the theory postdocs were split into 'office of people with hair' and 'office of people without hair'. Well, those weren't the labels, but it was an equivalent partitioning.


I want a granita!

(After getting a foot infection at the summer school last year and with my impending international move this month, I wasn't about to schlep over to Malfa this year, even with the promise of granitas. The peaches-and-cream one is named after me.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

RIP Gene Wilder (1933–2016)

Well, we have lost another epic talent: Gene Wilder (who I enjoyed in flicks like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and other movies), has died. He was also in Willie Wonka the Chocolate Factory (which is a bloody creepy film, by the way), many films with Richard Pryor, and a lot more.

I can't write this blog entry without one particular word: FRONKENSTEEN!

(Tip of the cap to Bonnie Harland.)

"Los Angeles Airport Evacuation Sparked by Actor Dressed as Zorro 'Waving Plastic Sword'"

Well, this headline is pretty bizarre: "Los Angeles Airport Evacuation Sparked by Actor Dressed as Zorro 'Waving Plastic Sword'".

(Tip of the cap to John DesJardins‎.)

"What Are Essential Concepts About Networks?"

Our paper describing the process of how we created the networks literacy handbook finally has its volume, issue, and page numbers. (It was otherwise posted in final form late last year.) You can find it here, and here is some information about the paper's specs.

Title: What Are Essential Concepts About Networks?

Authors: Hiroki Sayama, Catherine Cramer, Mason A. Porter, Lori Sheetz, and Stephen Uzzo

Abstract: Networks have become increasingly relevant to everyday life as human society has become increasingly connected. Attaining a basic understanding of networks has thus become a necessary form of literacy for people (and for youths in particular). At the NetSci 2014 conference, we initiated a year-long process to develop an educational resource that concisely summarizes essential concepts about networks that can be used by anyone of school age or older. The process involved several brainstorming sessions on one key question: 'What should every person living in the 21st century know about networks by the time he/she finishes secondary education?' Different sessions reached diverse participants, which included professional researchers in network science, educators and high-school students. The generated ideas were connected by the students to construct a concept network. We examined community structure in the concept network to group ideas into a set of important themes, which we refined through discussion into seven essential concepts. The students played a major role in this development process by providing insights and perspectives that were often unrecognized by researchers and educators. The final result, 'Network Literacy: Essential Concepts and Core Ideas', is now available as a booklet in several different languages from

Note (8/30/16): Clearly, I was tired when I wrote this blog entry, as I wrote the word "comments" instead of "concepts" in the paper title. I have now fixed this.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cursing Sentiments About Programming Languages

In case you are wondering how people really feel (at least on Reddit) about certain programming languages, the picture in the Tweet below shows the frequencies of a few curse words in different programming languages.

You can take a look at more of the sentiment analysis on this page.

Cow Magnetization

Here is a cool video of what I will call cow magnetization. Maybe we should bring out the spin models after all? :)

(Tip of the cap to Erik Bollt.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

XKCD on Linear Correlations

Pretty much.

(Tip of the cap to Piotr Szymański.)

"Awesome" Old Board Games

Here is a list of some "awesome" (and, in many ways, justifiably forgotten) board games. I remember some of them!

Several of these are "awesome", and some of them (like number four...) go directly into the "What were they thinking?" category.

(And as some of you will remember, I saw a used copy of the "Where's the Beef?" game in Columbus a few months ago.)

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cornell Video: Steve Strogatz on Mathematics, the Power of Abstraction, and Outreach

Here is a new press video from Cornell University with Steve Strogatz speaking about mathematics, finding patterns through the power of abstraction, and outreach. This video is short, and it does an excellent job of conveying the power of mathematics (as one would expect from an excellent communicator like Steve).

Tales from the ArXiv: Iterated Agony Edition

The last sentence of this paper is priceless: We analytically characterize the detectability threshold and we show that an iterated version of agony can partly overcome this resolution limit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Mario and the Rio Olympics

Well, Mario came out of a giant pipe and made a stunning appearance at the closing ceremony of this year's Olympics. Naturally, this was to help "announce" the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pictures from Costa Rica

I took some pictures in Costa Rica. (The album also includes some pictures that were taken by other people.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

It's a Small World After All: Part N

A very cool "small world" vignette from my current trip: One of the people who has attended many of my lectures at University of Costa Rica (10 hours in 3 days, and then 1 more hour today at a different campus) is a computer science professor whose sister is my Oxford mathematics colleague Xenia de la Ossa (with whom I have worked extensively for our recently-born masters program in mathematical and theoretical physics).

Academics are spread around the world and we get to travel to many interesting and diverse places, and it's simultaneously a small world. Both of these are great things.

Civilization VI: How University of Oxford was Actually Built

The video below from Civ VI shows how University of Oxford was actually built in real life. :)

Strangely, this version is missing both the Andrew Wiles Building and Somerville College.

Also: We built this University on Rock & Roll!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Box Score of the Day

Today's game between San Diego and Tampa Bay was a bit odd. The team (Tampa Bay) that allowed 15 runs used 2 pitchers, and the team (San Diego) that allowed 1 run used 5 pitchers.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley of the Dodgers returned to his old stomping grounds in Philadelphia as a visiting player for the first time. The fans greeted him very warmly indeed in his first couple of plate appearances, and then he got a curtain call from the Phillies fans for each of his two homers today. Very classy!

Matching Bar Graphs to Percentages

Good try, NBC2. Thank you for playing.

(Tip of the cap to Maria Satterwhite and at least one person who I can't remember.)

Hidden Figures: A Movie to Look Forward To!

Hidden Figures is coming out in January 2017. I am looking forward to watching it!

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Squirrel with a GoPro Camera

A squirrel with a GoPro camera gives a nice view of the trees —— just like in Conker's Bad Fur Day.

(Tip of the cap to Leslie Sheppard.)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

What Happens in San Pedro (Costa Rica) Stays in San Pedro (Costa Rica)

I am off the Costa Rica to give some lectures on dynamical systems, networks, and combinations thereof.

(Thanks to my buddy Fabio Sanchez for making this happen!)

Update (8/15/16): I originally described the location as "San José", which is technically correct, but that is the name of the province. The name of the city is San Pedro, which is the capital of Montes de Oca Canto in San José.

Note: This is not the "San Pedro" from one of Madonna's best songs ever.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Everything is Fucked: The Syllabus"

Sanjay Srivastava (University of Oregon) put together a summary of the field of psychology called "Everything is Fucked: The Syllabus".

My favorite quote from his blog entry is the following one: "The format of this seminar is as follows: Each week we will read and discuss 1-2 papers that raise the question of whether something is fucked." Amidst the topics of all of the other weeks, I am highly amused by the title of week 7: "Interlude: Everything is fine, calm the fuck down".

Of course, there is also the serious side to this about the enormous amount of messiness in basically every step in fields like psychology (and of course there are significant complications in scientific practice more generally).

I know I would be interested in taking this course! Would you?

(Tip of the cap to the Improbable Research blog.)

Code for Making XKCD-Style Plots in R

Because it had to be done. And now I need to find a good way to use this in one of my papers.

(Tip of the cap to Michael Ward.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Prince Fielder's Baseball Career is Over

While Prince Fielder hasn't technically officially retired, he has announced that his playing career is over because medically he will never be able to play again.

As this graphic illustrates, Fielder finishes his career with very similar statistics (including the same number of home runs) as his father Cecil. I guess it's the circle of life. This is pretty cool, and they are the same type of player. I do like how Prince makes Cecil look positively sleek with this pair of pictures.

Also, because of their defensive "value", the two Fielders (despite their monicker) also both have "high" ranks among the players with the lowest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for all Major League players with 300+ home runs.

Several other notable sluggers are also finishing off their Major League careers. Alex Rodriguez is playing his last game this coming Friday, Mark Teixeira is retiring at the end of the year, and David Ortiz has been doing a retirement victory lap all season. Of these sluggers, only Ortiz is going out on top of his game.

Tales from the ArXiv: Lyapunov Exponents and Dungeons & Dragons Dice

My latest 'favorite' figure caption —— to slightly abuse the term 'favorite', because it means I really like it but need not necessarily be my literal favorite —— from a math paper comes from today's arXiv offering from Amie Wilkinson.

This paper is an expository mathematical look at Lyapunov exponents and why they're interesting. It is based on Wilkinson's 2016 JMM current-events lecture.

By the way, Amie Wilkinson is the example I have broached when I brought up to mathematicians whether somebody who missed the age-40 Fields Medal would have gotten one if life breaks, etc. were taken into account. I think she probably would have gotten one.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

2017 American Physical Society "April" Meeting.

Let's be rebels. Why not have the 2017 American Physical Society April Meeting in in January? (Yes, really.)

My Gaming Profile: "High Conflict, Relaxed, and Gregarious"

I filled out a survey for my gaming profile. Some of the recommended games will look familiar to people who know me.

(Tip of the cap to Geek & Sundry.)

Monday, August 08, 2016

"Gifted, Passionate Student Really Stretching Limits Of School’s Resources"

And The Onion wins yet again.

Meme: #firstsevenjobs

Here is my contribution to the meme #firstsevenjobs:

1. Tech Editor (newspaper editor at university newspaper)
2. Teacher's assistant in mathematics
3. Postdoc in mathematics
4. Postdoc in physics
5. Faculty member in mathematics department
6. Faculty member in a different mathematics department
7. ?

#sorry :)

(Well, I had a one-semester postdoc at MSRI as well, but that rolls into jobs (3) and (4) and occurred during a semester off of job (3). I could count that one if I need to get up to seven, but I like the idea of leaving the above open, as I already needed to stretch this out rather substantially. I also had a couple of paid undergraduate research projects in mathematics, so I suppose I could put those early in the list.)

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Ichiro Suzuki Gets 3000th Major League Hit!

Ichiro Suzuki tripled today for his 3000th career Major League hit. Spectacular!

Ichiro also got more than 1000 career hits in the highest level of professional baseball in Japan.

What an amazing player!

Saturday, August 06, 2016

"Eldritch Horror" (Tabletop Game)

I tried the game Eldritch Horror last night. It came out in 2013 and was "inspired by" Arkham Horror, which I bought all the way back in 2005 when it first came out and have enjoyed immensely. (I also own the Dunwich Horror expansion to Arkham Horror.)

Yesterday's game was eventful. My first investigator got turned into a Deep One (and was DEVOURED), and we all — including my second character — died horribly when Azathoth awoke, and the world got DEVOURED. (I love the name of the event — which involved DEVOURING by name — and the front of the card describes flipping it over to resolve the event. And then you flip over the card, and everybody just dies horribly, with the world along with it.) But I feel fine.

And getting Innsmouth Look on the back of the Curse card when I was expecting the karmic reversal of the Curse going away that someone else got previously — oh, right, the backs of the cards might be different... I missed that part — and then turning into a Deep One and being DEVOURED instead of merely taking a lot of sanity damage if I were not near the sea was a rather unexpected turn of events.

In so many ways, the dice were simply not on my side last night.

All in all, it was a rather enjoyable first game of Eldritch Horror.

Note: Eldritch Horror was inspired by Arkham Horror (as stated explicitly on the box), but there are substantive differences. It plays a bit like a streamlined Arkham Horror, and it too is a cooperative game, but the authors also took innovations from some AH expansions and added their own. The authors of Eldritch Horror are also different from those of Arkham Horror, but there are enough similarities that it is necessary to cite AH explicitly as inspiration. Once one gets through setup (which was annoying, though I'm sure I'll become better with practice), it is a more streamlined game overall. There were eight years of experience and feedback to use to help with that. There are some innovations that I think are particularly good, though some of them appeared in some (probably very different) form in various Arkham Horror expansions.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

"A Unified Theory of Randomness"

This article is very cool. It talks about some exciting work that follows up that of people like Wendelin Werner, Oded Schramm, Martin Hairer, and others. The younger author of the pair who are doing many of these great things seems like somebody who is going to be considered strongly for a Fields Medal. (The article doesn't mention this, but this does appear to be at that level.)

In fact, several recent Fields Medals have been awarded for work with deep relationships to statistical mechanics (and related topics like kinetic theory and probability theory), and it took quite some time for these to be considered "acceptable" mathematics topics.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Metric System!

Well, at least Antarctica and Myanmar are standing with us. (Groan.) :/

Monday, August 01, 2016



We have reached Idiocracy. I am simultaneously crying, laughing hysterically (probably to prevent additional crying), and really angry. What a country America is now, and the rest of the world feels pretty barmy at the moment too.

(Tip of the cap to Ernie Barreto for the Washington Post article, parts of which have previously spread widely.

Don't Let People Name Their Own Burgers

Seriously, don't.

Look at the other side of the link, though! It's epic (and really damn funny).

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Jill Sobule's New Song: "America Back"

I saw Jill Sobule sing this song live last December. I love the chorus!


Here is an expository discussion of a recent mathematical analysis the game Set. The same author also wrote previously about Set.

Pokémon Go and the Traveling Salesperson Problem

I should have posted this article about Pokémon Go and the Traveling Salesperson Problem a couple of weeks ago when I first saw this blurb.

I thought about it again today when I posted the link as comments on posts by a couple of Facebook friends (who are both also former undergrad students of mine from Somerville College).

Network Neuroscience is Open for Business!

The new journal Network Neuroscience is now open for submissions. Submit to us!

Part of my editorial contribution thus far has been to ensure that mathematical modeling is listed explicitly in the masthead as part of the journal's scope.

Here is a bullet point in the published scope: "Mathematical modeling, including work that addresses principles of statistical physics and dynamical systems theory relevant to the structure and function of brain networks"