Sunday, September 25, 2016

RIP José Fernández (1992–2016)

Marlins star pitcher José Fernández is gone way too soon: he died in a boating accident this morning.

I found this out through a Facebook post by As you can see from Fernández's stats, he was somebody with Hall-of-Fame potential. What I learned from the post (aside from the tragedy), was that among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched, Fernández has the best FIP (fielding-independent pitching, which is a quantity like earned run average that is adjusted to incorporate the fielders behind pitchers) in the live-ball era at 2.43. Clayton Kershaw is next at 2.54, and he is followed by Sandy Koufax at 2.69. From another Facebook by, I see that Fernández has the highest strikeout-per-inning rate of any Major League pitcher ever whose has pitched at least 400 innings (although strikeout rates are much higher than they were before, so take this with grains of salt). I was looking forward to following his career for many years.

Update: Jayson Stark has a nice article about "what might have been". Also take a look at Jerry Crasnick's article.

Update: Here is a post from that discusses Fernández's pitching dominance and just how good he's been.

Modern Street Art

Some of these acts of vandalism produced some wonderful modern art. Several of them are fantastic. I have seen a few of these before, but others are new to me.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back on the West Side

Last night, I arrived back on the West Side, my first time living in this part of LA in more than 20 years (when I was living in my parents') house.

A couple of weeks ago, I set up my "boring, professional web page" at UCLA. I might make it more aesthetically more please at some point, though tons of information is there and pretty easy to find, so this isn't exactly a high priority. (But with the current amount of information, that's somewhat less easy than it used to be, and it would be nice to have something nice—so it's very low priority, but not 0 priority. Ask me in a couple of years, and we'll see if I've gotten around to it.)

And more generally I am setting myself up on practical things and simultaneously trying to get some work done.

Some Tributes to Vin Scully

Vin Scully is retiring at the end of the 2016 regular season, his 67th year of broadcasting Dodger games. I have listened to Vin all of my life (ever since I can remember), and that covers only a bit more than half of Vin Scully's career. (He's had the longest career of any broadcaster in any professional sport.) Wow! And Vin is the best of all time.

As Vin's career winds down, I have (especially in the last couple of days) seen various tributes on my Facebook feed, so I am going to put some links to some of these here—partly just so that I can have a few of them in one place. I should have compiled a few I saw over the last couple of weeks, and I'll add some of those when I see those links again.

Here is are stories compiled by Jayson Stark.

Here is a video from Baseball Tonight. has posted a discussion with a statistical trip through Vin Scully's career.

Update (9/23/16): I hadn't caught this before, but Vin has broadcast more than half of the games that the Dodgers have ever played. Wow! (I am listening to the live presentation of the presentation at Dodger stadium honoring Vin Scully.)

Update (9/23/16): Here is a rank-ordered list of the "top 20" Vin Scully calls of all time. As I write this, numbers 1 and 2 haven't yet been listed, but they are not at all surprising: number 2 is the end of Sandy Koufax's perfect game, and number 1 is (obviously) Gibson's home run. The reason I put "top 20" in quotes is that fans were given a list of 20 moments and then voted among the given list of 20. That's a bit cheesy, though some of my favorite moments and a few other obvious ones are among the memorable 20.

Update (9/24/16): Here is an article about the tribute to Scully. Also, I happened to notice that #vinscullyday was trending on Twitter yesterday.

Update (9/26/16, about 1:03 am): The Dodger players have Vin Scully a great tribute during today's game, which we won in the 10th inning on a walk-off homer to win the National League West for the fourth year in a row. I haven't yet gotten my cable tv working in LA, so I listened on the radio, although for most of the game I couldn't hear much because my friends and I were busy building my furniture for my apartment. I'll need to catch some video clips of the game.

Update (10/01/16): Here is an article in the New York Times about the "archive of oddities" that Vin Scully leaves behind.

Update (10/02/16): Vin's final broadcast finished a little while ago. You can see my comments about it in this blog entry, where I also link to a few other goodbyes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oxford Mathematics Alphabet: "'H' is for Homology"

The latest entry in the Oxford Mathematics Alphabet, 'H' is for Homology, is out today.

It was written by doctoral students Bernadette Stolz (my collaborator and my former masters student, who I cosupervised with Heather Harrington, who is Bernadette's main doctoral supervisor) and Barbara Mahler (my doctoral student, who I am supervising along with Heather Harrington and Ulrike Tilmann).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Things to Do on the Last Night Before Your International Move

Things to do on the last night before your international move:

1. Order a bunch of novels to arrive at your new place.

2. Finally order that 120-sided die (d120) you've been eyeing for months.

3. Get ice cream. (Seriously, how could I not go to G & D's on my last night here?)

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: A View from Park 40

Well, after knowing for more than half a year that I'll be leaving, we've now finally reached the end. It's been fun, and I'll be back early and often to visit. (And I am ever available electronically.)

Tonight is my last full day in Oxford. I fly out to LA tomorrow. I came to Oxford on 1 October 2007, so it's been almost a full 9 years. (And that was almost a full year after getting my job offer after interview escapades, which you can read about here and here. (And as a note to junior scientists, I strongly recommend blogging about your interview before the hiring committee makes its hiring decision. Seriously: This was an excellent idea on my part. :P)

This is a view from my Somerville office (Park 40) from the past 7 years.

I have chosen an angular view so that the main entrance to Penrose is in the picture. (I used that entrance for my first year in Somerville, and after a year I moved into an on-site flat, with its own entrances, that is attached to Penrose.)

And that other thing in the picture? Well, that is my gift to Somerville College, to be passed along over the generations from one tutor to another (preferably one in mathematics) and to be displayed in a prominent place in the College. And maybe in a few decades I'll read a history of Somerville College where the author will wonder where that piece of College lore came from.

(And maybe somebody will eventually find the other Screamer, which staff members somehow managed to lose early on in my time in Somerville when they moved my stuff from one office to another. So, yes, this one was actually purchased by the College to replace the original, and I am sure the second one must be around here somewhere.)

Also, I originally got the idea for a Screamer from Predrag Cvitanović, who has had one in his office at Georgia Tech for many years. I bought one when I got to Caltech as a postdoc, and I took that one with me to Oxford.

I am going to replace the Screamer, but I think it's time to pick a different figure for my UCLA office. I'll need to see who's available. I'll probably check if Poincaré is available, but I'm sure there will be many interesting choices.

Update: You can also see some discussion and a few more photos on the Facebook version of this post.

XKCD: Academic Imposters

This old xkcd comic is amusing. It also includes an (I believe) unintended joke about centrality measures.

(Tip of the cap to Carlos Castillo Chavez.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Most Prolific Scholar Ever

With more than 2.4 million citations and an h-index of 333, this prolific scholar puts even Paul Erdős to shame. :)

(Tip of the cap to Ramis Movassagh.)

Update: Peter Mucha points out that it's worth following the link to this prolific author's homepage. I didn't do that before; Peter is absolutely correct.

What's Lurking in the OCIAM Drawers?

While trying to find an envelope to mail stuff (none in the mail room), I check in the drawers under one set of Mathematical Institute printers, I found reams of paper (of course), a few technical books, a book about what to do if one gets pregnant, and the supply of the old (from more than a decade ago) OCIAM t-shirts.

I couldn't find an envelope large enough to mail the book I want to send, but I wonder if the t-shirt that I bought almost 9 years ago was the last new one anybody acquired.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Headline: North Korea Bans Sarcasm

Damnit. Now I'm going to have to change my travel plans.

(Tip of the cap to Kevin Hickerson.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

RIP Deborah Jin (1968–2016)

I just heard through the Twitterverse that Deborah Jin has died of cancer.

She was a great experimentalist in Bose–Einstein condensates and related topics, and I think she was probably going to get a Nobel Prize at some point in recognition of her work.

(Tip of the cap to Sean Carroll.)

Update (9/19/16): Here is the NIST news release.

Update (9/20/16): Here is the new release from the American Physical Society.

Update (9/24/16): The New York Times also posted an obituary. It's good to see recognition of Jin's importance in "mainstream" media. (Tip of the cap to Cynthia Gong for the link.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

2016 Finalists for Toy Hall of Fame

The 2016 finalist nominees for the Toy Hall of Fame have been announced. Wow, I need to choose between Transformers and Dungeons & Dragons. Those are clearly the best two in my book, and I am definitely going with D & D.

(Tip of the cap to Dungeons and Dragons Memes.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

An Amazing Film

Wow. Kubo and the Two Strings is an amazing film.

Sometimes, made me think a bit of the game Okami, but that is most likely because of common inspirations.

The credits includes allusions to some famous pictures, such as this one. It also includes a spiffy version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

The Mario-Kart System of Economics

Maybe we should try the Mario-Kart system of economics. With Spiny shells, I hope. And well-timed lightning bolts. Not to mention well-placed banana peels.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Art: "The Random Walker Heads Off Into the Sunset"

I couldn’t stop thinking about my idea about an exhausted random walker leaving a network and retiring and heading off into the sunset, and I was able to get my former student Yulian Ng to draw it. Add a bit of text, and here is what we have.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Problem Solving by Country

This snarky "infographic" about the way that problem solving "works" in different countries is highly amusing.

(Tip of the cap to Oleg Kogan.)

Friday, September 09, 2016

I Moved the Sheriff (But I Didn't Move the Depute)

Today I tried the game Colt Express. Gratuitous "I shot the sheriff." jokes are an integral part of this game.

This game is fun. One can induce a bit of Robot Turtles-style 'off by one' screwage of one's opponents. And other screwage.

Although we didn't get to play with it, one of the Thirsty Meeples employees told us about this sweet expansion.

Colt Express is pretty simple to learn and is fun — and appropriate players can add the right type of humor — so it has my recommendation.

My Life as an Initial Condition for a Reaction–Diffusion System

This is what happens when I am used as an initial condition in a reaction–diffusion system.

This animated gif is a very cool "departing gif(t)" from Oxford Mathematical Institute postdoc Thomas Woolley.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Why Nearly Every Film States It's a Work of Fiction

Apparently, this has a connection to Grigori Rasputin and his murder — yet another interesting bit in the mystery of Rasputin.

(Tip of the cap to George Takei.)

RIP Joe Keller (1923–2016)

Joe Keller, one of the greatest applied mathematicians of our time, died today.

By the way, the sentence above doesn't need the word "applied" in it to be accurate, but I retained it to emphasize Keller's perspective on mathematics.

A couple of years ago, when I gave the applied math seminar at Stanford, I was really excited that Joe Keller was in the audience to see it.

(Tip of the cap to Improbable Research for sharing the public Facebook post above.)

Update: And I just remembered that I forgot to include an all-time great quote (which I have been using for many years) by Joe Keller: "Pure mathematics is a branch of applied mathematics."

Update (9/10/16): The Stanford news release has more details about Joe Keller.

MLB Tonight's Tribute to Vin Scully

This season is the last season that Dodger announcer Vin Scully will be broadcasting Dodger games. MLB Tonight has produced a nice tribute video.

I have been listening to Vin announce baseball games for more than 35 years, and that is barely more than half of his career! Vin's voice has been one of the soundtracks of my life, and I sure as Hell am going to miss it.

When it comes to broadcasters, Vin Scully is the Best of All Time.

(Tip of the hat to Chris Howland.)

"The View from Trump Tower"

The View from Trump Tower is a new (and clever) take on the classic cover from The New Yorker.

(Tip of the cap to Tim Harford.)

Live-Action Tetris

Tel Aviv's city hall was transformed into the backdrop of a live-action Tetris game. I approve!

Update (9/17/16): Here is a picture of the game.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Natural Logs: Licorice Edition

A few minutes ago, I encountered Natural Licorice Logs (and principal ones, no less!) at a local chain called Taylor's...

We have a couple of locations of Taylor's across the street from each other on Little Clarendon. They have different things from each other, and I walked into the south one to buy some funky chocolates, and noticed the Natural Logs near the checkout counter. I don't like black licorice, though, so I didn't buy it.

Still, Natural Logs at Taylor's! That makes a lovely math joke.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Awesome Elevator Ride (with Sesame Street 'Yip' Aliens)

I have been enjoying the various Dragon*Con pictures (with great costumes) that I have seen on Facebook, but this video especially makes me wish I could have made it to Dragon*Con this year!

Update (9/04/16): A high-res version has now been posted on YouTube.

Friday, September 02, 2016

America's New STEM Initiative (According to The Onion)

Yup, The Onion wins yet again.

A Victory for Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This SMBC from a few years ago is a big win. (Today is the first time I saw it.) So much truth!

Also, hooray for chaotic dynamics! ;)

Nature Physics and Joy Division

The journal Nature Physics has included an explicit shout out to Joy Division in the cover of their September issue. I approve!

In a very short blog entry, I linked to an article and video about the astronomical inspiration for Joy Division's iconic album cover.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Mathematical Purity Ring

I strongly approve of today's SMBC! Hell yes!

And, as I mentioned in this post, I also strongly approve of this recent edition of SMBC.

Periodic Table of Network Centrality

Yes, really.

I wonder what new "elements" will be discovered this year? :)

Note: Many centrality measures are missing (unsurprising, given how many there are), and quite a few of them have incorrect citations attached to them.