Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Correlations between geography and hair

I recently realized that the office assignments among postdocs in Caltech's theoretical condensed matter physics group were arranged by hair.

Room 131 consists entirely of postdocs who are going seriously bald, whereas Room 130 consists entirely of postdocs with luxuriously flowing manes.

Coincidence? I think not.

Customer of the Week

By executive fiat, I have been chosen as Peet's customer of the week for next week, which means free coffee for me.

Did any of you see that episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer could get free coffee from a certain place? Stay tuned...

'C' is for Carrot

I am still having trouble getting the code for my granular medium problem to work. (As Lemming might say, "I'm doing it wrong!".)

Today, I was given a major carrot. (It wasn't given for that purpose, but it's a Hell of a carrot.) There is a conference in Hawaii this summer that my experimental collaborator is attending and assuming I can coauthor something with her by then (which, naturally requires the code to work) to be presented at the conference and which would go into the conference proceedings, she said she would pay for me to go there with money from her start-up package from Caltech. (I don't have any travel funds left from my postdoc.)

This is the work on solitary wave progation through granular media that I have mentioned to some of you at various points.

Now more than ever, I really need to get this code to work...


During lunch today, I accidently squeezed lemon juice on a paper cut. Damnit!

Did I mention how impressive I am?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Quote of the Day

The quote of the day comes from columnist Rob Neyer:

"Most spectacular single-season artistic achievement? That came in 1978, when all four members of Kiss released solo albums on the same day, to universal critical and commercial acclaim."

Of course, although the quote is awesome and provides a catchy lead-in, it doesn't really have much to do with the article that contains it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back from Berkeley

I came back last night. I'm still kind of tired, and I'll need to do a little work tonight for my book and in reading the draft of a SURF proposal. I finished the recommendation letters I needed to do imminently, so tomorrow I'll get back to dealing with something else with my book (that I meant to do before finding out that I needed to go through the edited text cover to cover to find all the things I wanted to change back or otherwise alter).

So, as Gazebo's flickr post for today indicates, one of the things I did up in Berkeley was develop my Guitar Hero skills. I had previously played either one or two songs on easy in Guitar Hero I -- I Love Rock & Roll (which I know very well) and some other song I can't remember. Cooperative Guitar Hero II was the weapon of choice on this occasion. After figuring out the controls (I was confused about them my first couple games), I started off by getting about 77 % success on level 1 songs and I ended up by getting low to mid 90s on all tiers, with a 89 % victory on Freebird. Then I graduated to medium and in my first game got only 57 % on a song I know really well. After that, I got 86%, 85%, and 83% on two level songs and one level one song (in that order), so that's pretty much my current level after a few hours of practice. Not spectacular by any means, but definitely far above where I started. I played in acoustic mode the entire time and as you can see in the picture, I stared down in the general direction of the floor in the best grune tradition.

On Sunday, while I was waiting for my plane at the Oakland airport, I ran into Meredith Alden '01, who I hadn't seen in a long time and with whom I hadn't kept in touch. The long-lost Kaon is now living in Olympia, WA and just got married in November.

Today, I played ping pong for the first time in 2 months with a pre-arranged sparring partner who I managed to pelt only a few times. (It was not on purpose, despite accusations to the contrary.) My foot is still a little sore, but I'm pretty much better now. If you asked me a week ago, I would not have expected to play today. I think my backhand loop got a little better, which is good because I really need my backhand to get stronger.

Also, I confirmed with Wei that the Thursday 9-11 pm slot had been the slot for the advanced class for the entire history of the course, so my prior confusion on the change for this term certainly had a lot of data behind it.

Student Evaluations

Here is a new study on student evaluations.

The basic conclusions: Students give higher scores to (1) profs who are easier and to (2) those who are good-looking.

Comment on conclusion 1: Duh.

Comment on conclusion 2: I suppose they correlated the evaluations with the chili peppers on

I actually got predominantly good evaluations on the classes I've taught, and I certainly wasn't easy. It must be because I'm charming or maybe even nice. [[Mason ducks under the thrown tomatoes.]]

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Killer Bunnies (and the Quest for the Magic Carrot)

I played one of my new games, Killer Bunnies (and the Quest for the Magic Carrot) with Gazebo and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The game is for 2-8 players, and I'm really looking forward to trying it with more players. It should be a lot more fun with several people. The game is a non-collectable expandable card game, and I definitely want to get the expansions, some cards of which are referenced in the cards I have.

I'm hoping to have a game night soon (hopefully next weekend).

New games + upcoming podcast

I browsed through Games of Berkeley today and bought a new frisbee and two new games: 25 Words or Less (which I had tried to find previously for a while but failed and didn't buy at Games of Berkeley on one previous occasion because I didn't want to add stuff to my luggage---then I couldn't even find it online for a couple of years before eventually forgetting about it) and Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. The latter seems to have a sense of humor very much along my lines, but we'll see when I play it. (Of course, this does mean I'm going to have another games night soon.) They had the Dunwich Horror expansion set and I briefly considered getting that, but I decided I was spending enough there for one day and I would rather get completely new stuff. (And this will take up some room in my suitcase...) They also had a new 80s edition of Trivial Pursuit, which would be very fun for me but I'm not currently surrounded by people who like to play Trivial Pursuit, so that didn't seem like a worthwhile purchase. I could have spent quite a bit longer in the story if I really wanted to be thorough: I didn't look through the entire stock of games carefully and I basically didn't look at the RPGs at all. Another time...

Gazebo and I were also last-minute guests on an episode of Berkeley Groks that was recorded today. I'll let you know when the podcast is available. (The podcast for each episode goes online right around when the episode airs.) To say our session needs heavy editing would be kind.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Six Degrees of Wikipedia

First of all, I am stealing this idea from Gazebo.

One of the things I study is real-world networks, and one of the major issues is how they are connected, which includes the even harder problem of how to navigate them when you don't know their structure. This field started with a brilliant sociology experiment by Stanley Milgram. Duncan Watts and Steve Strogatz were inspired by this experiment in their pioneering small world networks paper that appeared in Nature in 1998 (and was the subject of Duncan's Ph.D. thesis). This area of research has absolutely exploded since then, and I am one of the participants (though not one of the centrality players---though I do know some of the main people pretty well and have co-authored a couple papers with one of them and had another of them on my thesis committee), so I was obviously very excited to see Gazebo's blog entry. More recently, there was an e-mail version of Milgram's experiment (by Duncan Watts, Dodds, and I think one other person) and, of course, Jon Kleinberg recently won the Nevanlinna prize partly due to his research on network navigation.

As Gazebo writes, here are the rules:

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. Click the random article link in the sidebar.
3. Open a second random article in another tab.
4. Try to find a chain of links (as short as possible) starting from the first article that leads to the second.

This is exactly the problem of network navigation, with the wikipedia network as the graph one is trying to navigate between one randomly chosen node to another. As with the Milgram and Watts experiments, we are using local information, though with one advantage---we can work both forwards and backwards. (We can't necessarily use backward links, but we can use the information obtained on the end page, which is much more extensive information than the information about the target that was given in the Milgram and Watts experiments.)

Thus, assuming a path exists (which a priori need not be the case, though it clearly usually will be) we want to find one of the paths of minimal path length. This is a hard problem. :)

My starting point was (1) Yvonne_John_Lewis and my target page was (N) Smethwick (UK Parliament constituency). N refers to the fact that this is the N'th page, so I will need N - 1 hops to get there.

I first found a path for which N = 8, but if I were a little more careful, I could have found N = 7 (I'll explain below) and I bet a couple other shortcuts could be found.

Here's what I did (with reasoning included):

2. England (because Lewis is a UK singer and I need a UK parliament constituency)
3. Parliament of England (because I need a UK parliament constituency)

note: parliament of UK didn't seem to be there; that's the one I really wanted

4. Parliament of the UK (that's what I ideally would have done with 3 if the link were there)
5. British House of Commons (perhaps I could have gotten here right from England?)
6. List of Parliamentary Constituencies in the United Kingdom (ok, so this is presumably on this website)

the one I want is in the West Midlands; why in bloody Hell is this not shown on the list of the constituencies in the West Midlands that are tabulated on this website; it should be here!!!! (ok crap, I just checked on the wikipedia entry I want that this was abolished in the 1974 elections... fuck! I should have been working backwards!!!!!)

7. List of former United Kingdom Parliamentary constituencies
8. Smethwick, my goal, so N = 8

I subsequently found a link directly from (4) to (6), reducing things to N = 7. (I checked and there is currently a link from England to British House of Commons, which have gotten me to N = 6.)

Anyway, thanks Gazebo for a very cool time-waster!

"The Passion of the Cockroach"

The last talk of the workshop was a neuroscience/biomechics talk by Phil Holmes of Princeton University (one of the bigshots, by the way). The example of the day concerned cockroach locomotion, which has been studied extensively in the Berkeley laboratory of Bob Full.

I have seen Full speak oin various aspects of this topic a couple times -- he is a wonderful speaker! -- and there are a number of really awesome videos associated with this project.

I tried to find a video online relevant to this blog entry, but I could only find the old ones (and none of the really good old ones). Some of you might have heard me carry on about this series of projects before---I know I have mentioned the great videos of how roaches run over obstacles really well, can recover from perturbations like a small rocket being fired from a launcher on their back, etc.

OK, so whence my title? Well, one of the motivational videos for this talk showed a cockroach running along a treadmill with a thing on its back that looks like a cross. And the speaker casually, dryly referred to this video as "The Passion of the Cockroach." I approve!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rib quanta

Gazebo and I went to a smokehouse for (very good!) food. I ordered beef ribs, which were available in three sizes: full rack, half rack, and 1/3 rack. I wasn't sure how many ribs would be included, so I asked about the 1/3 rack and was told that this consisted of one rib. This made me very confused, but I thought I probably wanted more than one, so I ordered the half rack and contemplated whether I would be getting 1.5 ribs. However, I got the expected number of 2 ribs. Presumably, the full rack consists of 4 ribs (are there even any creatures that only have 3 ribs in one rack?), but this quantization is really rather odd.

Oscar Nominations (2007)

Last year, I made some Oscar Award predictions after the nominations were released.

Well, the 2007 nominations have now been released so here is my fearless forecast of who should win and who will win. (I am suppressing italics and bold on the typesetting below because I am lazy.)

Best leading actor: Well, I haven't seen any of the films, so I have no opinion as to who should win. I will arbitrarily say that Will Smith (Pursuit of Happyness) will win.

Best supporting actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) should win, at least among the nominees. Of course, why the Hell was Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) not nominated? Arkin will win.

Best leading actress: Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) should win. (She was fantastic.) Penelope Cruz (Volver) will win.

Best supporting actress: Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) could and should win.

Best animated feature: Well, I would vote for A Scanner Darkly if it were one of the choices. Of the choices, Cars will and should win. I wonder, however, why only three films were nominated. Flushed Away and Ice Age II should have been nominated. There were plenty of good options and no need to restrict to three choices (especially when it wasn't even the best three).

Best art direction: Pan's Labyrinth should and will win. (By the way, Pan's Labyrinth has gotten a lot of nominations for a foreign film, and they are well deserved! It didn't get as many as did Life is Beautiful -- which I really ought to see -- and Crouching Tiger, but it has done extremely well here.)

Best cinematography: Pan's Labyrinth should and will win. (The cinematography and art direction for this film were both exceptional.)

Best costume design: Well, Curse of the Golden Flower got nominated for this, so that's a clear winner. There's just no way any other 2006 film should have any chance of getting this Oscar. Nevertheless, I predict that Marie Antoinette will win.

Best directing: I didn't see any of these films, so I'll arbitraraily predict that United 93 will win because I think that films about 9-11 will get extra credit because of their subject matter. (I could write a whole diatribe about how that's a bunch of tripe, but I nevertheless think that this will happen.)

Best documentary feature: I didn't see any of these either, but An Inconvenient Truth is going win in a landslide. Hey, if Al Gore can't win the Presidency, he might as well win the Oscar. But then again, the Oscars could imitate the presidential elections and Jesus Camp might win because of Republican finagling.

Best documentary short: Like I have any fucking clue about this one... I didn't see any of these films, so I'm going to pull something out of my ass and predict that The Blood of Yingzhou District will win simply because it has 'blood' in the title.

Best film editing: I didn't see any of these films, but United 93 will win because it's about 9-11. Not to be cynical or anything...

Best foreign language film: This is a no brainer. Pan's Labyrinth will win, and Pan's Labyrinth should win. It's not close. I am surprised that Volver wasn't nominated, as it received a lot of hype.

Best make-up: Pan's Labyrinth will and should win. (Here, I noticed the seemingly strange nomination of Click. I didn't see the film, so maybe there's a good reason for this, but it seems weird on the surface.)

Best musical score: The only film I saw among the nominees is Pan's Labyrinth, but it's score didn't strike me as memorable. So I have no idea what film should win. I'll predict arbitrarily that Babel will win.

Best music (song): Well, the only thing I saw here was Cars. Three of the nominees are from Dreamgirls and the last is from An Inconvenient Truth (that's kind of weird). I'm going to predict that "Our Town" from Cars will win just because Randy Newman is awesome.

Best picture: Well, I wouldn't rank any of the listed films among my best films for 2006. I already discussed that extensively in one of my 2006 wrap-up blog entries. I only saw one of the nominated films, Little Miss Sunshine, and that's the one that I think will win.

Best short film (animated): Well, I'm not sure which one will win. I'll say Lifted based on the pedigree of the people who produced it. I don't believe I saw any of these, so I can't say what should win---but my warm and fuzzy feelings go with No Time For Nuts simply because it stars Scratch from Ice Age. My preciousssssssssss....

Best short film (live action): I didn't see any of these. I'm going to say arbitrarily that West Bank Story will win because it's name amuses me.

Best sound editing: The only one of these I saw was Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest. I'll say that Letters from Iwo Jima will win, but I am just pulling this out of my ass.

Best sound mixing: I didn't see any of these either, but I'm going to go with Dreamgirls as the one I think will be victorious.

Best visual effects: I only saw Pirates II among these films. The other two are Poseiden and Superman Returns. I'll predict that Pirates II will win.

Best writing (adapted screenplay): My WTF award goes to the nomination of Borat in this category. Look, there are categories in which one could nominate that film (even though I didn't like it). In my opinion, this one simply isn't it. My prediction is that Notes on a Scandal will win this one.

Best writing (original screenplay): Now, here's something interesting. Pan's Labyrinth got nominated even though it's a foreign film. I find this extremely interesting. I think that Little Miss Sunshine will win, but I'm going to go with Pan's Labyrinth as the one that should win just because I liked that film so much. But, if there were any justice at all in the world, Snakes on a Plane would have received an Oscar nomination in this category.

One more thing: Will somebody please explain to me how Prairie Home Companion didn't get a single nomination? (at least among the categories listed on the web page I found ... maybe it got one in a trivial category?)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Quote of the Day (Live blogging)

"I'm not being paid to think. I am paid to lecture." (Edriss Titi, currently lecturing, answering a question regarding whether he thinks a certain conjecture is true)

The question, "Do you think the conjecture is true?" came from Jonathan Mattingly.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Real-time research and other workshop shenanigans

My current conference has a ton of people I have met before---possibly close to 50% of the people there. I have not had a chance to talk to a good number of the people I know. (By the way, I was told by one of the workshop organizers without asking that the reason I didn't get funding to come was that because I'm in CA, they knew it would be pretty cheap for me, and they figured I'd come anyway if they didn't fund me. Clearly, they PS12ed the situation rather successfully...) There are also others I recognize because I've seen them speak before. Another person came up to me from having seen me at multiple previous conferences but never having met me. Several people have come up to me to congratulate me on my job, others came up to me because they saw my application and recognized my name (or were specifically told about me), and one person I know even came up to me to indicate he looked for my application but didn't find it (their advertisement came out after I got the offer from Oxford, so I was going to apply but never did). It's also gratifying that there are several people who have been looking out for me and want to help me. So, this workshop could have been quite the whorefest for me. As it stands, it's been good for the ego, which is much appreciated given my recent mood. (More people are aware of my work now as well, so hopefully that trend will continue. Of course, this conference does consist predominantly of people in my primary area, so this isn't exactly a random group of people.)

Thankfully, however, I have a job waiting for me, so I have been able to concentrate on research for a while instead of job applications. This is obviously much preferable!

OK, so what about the title of this entry... One of the reasons I came is that one of my main collaborators is here and discussing things in person for various projects would be extremely helpful. Indeed, it has been. The M.O. has been to meet about various things, e-mail questions to our collaborators during the talks, and then go through the responses together during various breaks from the talks. Rinse, wash, repeat. Several things have advanced considerably as a result and I actually wouldn't be too surprised if we can start writing one of them up in a couple weeks. (And this is one that should have an awesome chance to get into PRL.) Being in the same place speeds up progress immensely.

Live MathBlogging

Here's a brief comment.

I just saw something in a seminar that I've never seen before.

The medium for the present talk is an overhead projector. The speaker was presenting a brief example but didn't have a good picture to show people. He was struggling with describing what the system is, so the next speaker (sitting in the front row) handed him a slide of that to borrow and show. (The next speaker is going into more detail on that topic.)

You gotta' love mathematical relief pitching...

Monday, January 22, 2007

More adventures in google searching

Somebody got to my website today via a google search for "porno gynecology role play". Wow.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Like staring at the sun...

On December 30th, I saw Curse of the Golden Flower, my 4th foreign language film in a row (though it was in Chinese rather than Spanish, as were the previous three).

If I had only one word to describe it, the word to describe it, that word would be extravagant. If I had only two words, it would be breasts. Because, veritably, watching that movie was like staring at the sun. (There was a discussion of this analogy in one episode of Seinfeld. If I recall correctly, it led ultimately to the whole Greenpeace thred.) Anyway, if you watch the movie, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

While I indicate this movie as "martial arts" in the label, that was really only a small part of the film, which was really a drama. I liked it, but not as much as Hero (by the same guy) and especially not as much as House of Flying Daggers (also by the same guy). My understanding is that my ranking of House of Flying Daggers > Hero differs from the norm.

Anyway, Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li did very good jobs as warring emperor and empress, but the ninjas were awesome and former wife (mistress?) of Chow Yun Fat kicked some major ass and was just awesome. The action scenes in the movie were very good (especially the ones with the ninjas) and the scene in which true parentage was revealed was spectacular.

As is usual with this director (Yimou Zhang), color played a major role.

I enjoyed the film and I recommend it, but I saw Curse the day after Pan's Labyrinth, so it's not even the best film I saw that weekend. (And go see Pan's Labyrinth, goddamn it!)

What happens in Berkeley stays in Berkeley

Tomorrow I am flying to Berkeley for an MSRI workshop on dynamical systems, where I will be seeing famous people talk, networking with people I already know, giving a pseudo-Lebowitzian five-minute talk, and hammering out some things with one of my collaborators.

I'll be crashing with Gazebo, which he must be really eagerly anticipating at the moment given how grumpy I've been for the last week or so. As I found out at dinner today, some of my friends have been avoiding me lately (or at least not actively seeking me out), and I can't say that I blame them. I certainly haven't been my usual cheerful self lately.

Of course, I am currently dealing with a confluence of several things---my right foot (I hope somebody caught this allusion) and related things, food poisoning or stomach flu (and the only other person who got this from something at Interhouse was having lunch with me, so I can't decide between the two other than to speculate that the stomach flu would have lasted longer), projects whose components are taking longer to work than I was hoping, multiple collaborators on these projects who are applying pressure for these things to work (above and beyond the pressure that I apply to myself) and for me to give preference to my project with them, recruiting SURF students (though that's more of something that has been taking time away from catching up on work rather than something that directly causes stress... I have gotten some really good students, about whom I will brag more later), dealing with occasional annoyances in the work environment (that I am reacting to worse than I otherwise might because of my prevaling mood, so this whole business is cascading), and a bump in the road for my book (for which I am currently reading copy-edited versions of the text and compiling a list of changes, which mostly includes lots of things that need to be put back the way they were before...err, duplicating work I've already done multiple times). And, of course, my interactions related to the speedbump with the book have been helped by my mood. (There are lots of recent rants in my 'sent mail' folder...)

It's not that any one of these things is horrible or that they won't get resolved because I can already see how many of them will be resolved. (For instance, with the book, I know that some discussions and time investment will solve the problem, but I may well have to invest time I was going to use for catching up on work to make sure that we get this book out by this May, which we are really pushing to do.) Writing a book is really stressful.

Despite all this, I did have isolated moments of being social in the past week. And then I've just been really grumpy when around my friends. (I think apologies should go out to Lemming especially, as he has taken far more shit from me than he should have this past week.)

I suppose I should also include something positive in this entry. First, there was something really awesome at Robin's tonight, though I'll wait for Lemming to make his post and just link to that. Second, I was talking to an undergrad I know from ping pong last week (this would be the other person who got food poisoning) and apparently the fact that I actually care about undergrads really shines through. So at least I'm doing something right. It's always nice to hear things like that, especially during periods of time when I'm not having a fun time.

So, AG gets to host me at just the right time.

(By the way, I'm hoping that getting things off my chest with this blog entry will make me rant just a little bit less when I am interacting with people offline.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Your Caltech dollars at work

We have spiffy new door labels. They cost $40 each (though they're really worth something like $5) and this type of label (though not at this price) makes sense for grad student and postdoc rooms because the resident names can be changed by printing new stuff out. Our old labels, which cost $30 (and are also only worth something like $5) can't be similarly replaced. For the sake of uniformity, the faculty were given those labels as well even though they still have the old ones. So, considering only the things that are completely redundant, we multiply this cost by the number of faculty in the building and come up with maybe $400.

Anyway, with Caltech's financial crunch from non-research endeavors, one would think we'd see more efficiency with things like this.

Overheard in Sloan Annex

"Sorry for going over your helmet."

I point this out only because I didn't instigate the quote.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Out of Context"

This is the title of my mix CD, which I finally got around to finishing up. The theme is purposely facetious.

The song order matters occasionally (because I twist the meaning of a couple songs just a bit), but sometimes it doesn't matter all that much. The earlier tracks need to be where they are, as do the final few tracks. Some of the ones in the middle need to be ordered in a particular way, but it's ok if there are songs in between them. Others just needed to be on the CD somewhere, I was sure where to put them, and didn't feel like spending much brain power trying t optimize where they should go.

I'll be bringing a copy with me to Berkeley---I'm burning the disk now as I write this. Others besides Gazebo should let me know if they want a copy.

I'll write more after people have listened to the CD. A couple of the modified interpretations are slightly evil.

My next CD will be either more sensitive or my own selection of messed-up/cool covers. I have plans for each.

Furstenberg and Smale receive 2007 Wolf prize

Harry Furstenberg and Stephen Smale have been awarded the 2007 Wolf Prize in mathematics, which is one of the big lifetime achievement awards.

These are two of the living legends in dynamical systems (among other fields), and I'll finally get to see Smale give a talk next week at MSRI. (Back when I was a senior at Tech, he once dissed me by e-mail, though I doubt he remembers that.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mice on Lake

I have noticed in the last couple days that a lot of mice have taken up residence in the greenery in front of the "Shops on Lake" sign. While passing that, one can see numerous mice scurrying back and forth across the sidewalk in that area. It's pretty amusing, though I imagine the city will be doing something about this soon.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I've had it with these motherfucking strangers on this motherfucking train!

Back before this sort of title was hip, there was a film and a book called Strangers on a Train.

I just saw a play version of this tonight with fellow CPA theatre-goers.

It was good---mostly serious but with a few humerous moments thrown in (especially at the beginning). I could write more but I've been writing long entries lately, and I basically just wanted to make the gratuitous joke with the title and then go and do something else.

El Laberinto del Fauno

El Laberinto del Fauno (aka, Pan's Labyrinth) was the 3rd consecutive Spanish-language movie I saw and the 3rd of four consecutive foreign-language films.

It is extremely good, and I recommend that you see it. It isn't for the faint of heart, so there is that one reservation. But anybody who can handle an extremely heavy movie absolutely has to see this film. It is exceptional. The film, which takes place just after the Spanish civil war, is what can be called a "dark fantasy" even though it takes place amidst a historally realistic situation. (This is how the 'war' type of film gets included among drama, fantasy, thriller, and horror.)

I'm a little annoyed at how the title was translated (from an impersonal to a personal noun), but there are few other flaws. The movie is gorgeous, and the intermingling of fantasy and reality was done extremely well. The translating was done very well, so don't worry about that being a problem if you don't normally see films that aren't in English. I was not the only one floored by this film: Lemming and my opera singer friend (Maria) both enjoyed the film immensely and Maria mentioned that she's been telling everybody to see this as well. (She doesn't understand how a certain rescue occurred either. I should check the wikipedia entry to see if somebody has come up with a plausible explanation.) The IMDB rating is very high as well, in case that provides further impetus.

The next paragraph has a bit of a spoiler.

In this film, everybody knew who the evil bastard was and the audience absolutely couldn't stand the guy, which provides obvious signs of the quality of the film and the acting. When Lemming and I saw this movie, a lot of audience members erupted into cheers when this guy got what was coming to him. (We hated this character by this point.) I have never seen that before. Just about everybody was into the film and we had definitely opinions about the important characters and we wanted him to get nailed. Anyway, this is to give you an idea of how everybody got into the story.

By the way, this story was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, who also brought us Hellboy.

I could write a lot more, but if you can handle heavy films, you need to see this film NOW! So this means people like Gazebo and Josh better go buy their tickets. (I think that a couple of the rest of you reading this may find Pan's Labyrinth to be beyond your threshold, though unfortunately this means you'll be missing out on a really great film.)

2007 Inductees in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The 2007 inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame are REM, Patti Smith, Van Halen, The Ronettes, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.

The ones who are part of my paradigm are REM and (to a lesser extent) Patti Smith, and they are both certainly deserving inductees (whose inductions have been considered a given for over a decade, and in the case of Smith, over two decades). Van Halen isn't my cup of tea, but I know they're extremely influential (not to mention extremely popular), and their induction was also a foregone conclusion a long time ago.

This blog speculates on the possible dirt-flinging that may arise regarding which subsets of which configurations of Van Halen show up to the award ceremony. (That could be pretty entertaining...)

A couple of the songs I would expect to see performed are "White Lines". This is the only Grandmaster Flash song I can name without looking things up... this song isn't my thing, but it's been exceptionally influential; I assume their other stuff has been as well or they wouldn't have been inducted.

I'm guessing Patti Smith will perform "Because the Night" as one of her two songs. (By the way, an interesting exercise is to compare the versions of that song by Patti Smith, Bruce Springstein, and 10000 Maniacs. I believe that Smith and Springstein both have writing credits, or maybe it's just Smith.)

I'm sure I've heard of the Ronettes before, but I can't think of any of their songs and I can't currently remember having heard of them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Return of Interhouse

Interhouse was already gone by the time I entered Caltech as a frosh in 1994. However, the memory of it (I think the last one was in 1989) was still quite strong, as some people on the N >4 year plan were there for it (as were then-recent alums). I had heard things about it, especially during frosh year and at the various times I've talked to old alums. For the current students, that's a distant memory. I was having lunch with an undergrad I know during the bbq (the food was pretty decent), and she never heard of it before. (She had also never heard the term 'slAvery House' before, and I was really surprised that hadn't stuck.)

I think Tom Mannion's spearheading to bring it back in some form is a very good idea, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple years. I was certainly curious to see the construction, which (in true Techer tradition) wasn't finished until the 13th hour (i.e., after the parties had already started). I went on the tour of the last-minute construction and then I went back at the beginning of the party. (Though it involved the least construction, the Dabney-Page party, which had a jazz band including some Caltech students, was the one that was the most to my tastes.)

I saw a couple undergrads I know and also a couple alums from my era that I know (and some Alumni Association people I know---I know some of the older alums these days because of the book, etc), though most of the alums in attendance were people from the 80s and earlier. There were rumors that a couple other mid-late 90s Lloydies would show up (at lunch, I saw Anatole Faykin '96 for the first time since something like 1998; I also saw Ben Miller '98 at the party per se), but I didn't feel like sticking around without many people to talk to until that may or may not have happened. There weren't many places to sit, so if my foot weren't gimpy, I would have walked around more to try to find people I know. However, walking and--to a lesser extent--even standing are major problems at the moment, so I started limping home at about 9:35.

I was never much of a partyer, but it was cool to see a big project, and I think the potential of having current students and alums interact more through this is a great idea. (I was told that something like 500 alums [including their families] registered for the event, which is pretty impressive.) Not that I saw too many alums talking to students, though I talked a bit to ones I know and a couple of my SURF students for this summer encouraged me to go. I am not qualified to compare this to the older iteration of Interhouse, and it will be interesting to ask some of the 80s people about this. Oh, and I also like the idea of increased interaction between the North and South Houses. There always seemed to be a bit of a divide there, and there are definitely cool people on both sides of the walk.

The light show was cool, but the band Caltech hired was memorably awful. (The Alumni Association people are already aware of this and seem to share this opinion quite strongly.) It's a good idea to have events other than Interhouse per se, but there are some kinks to work out. For example, there are some local Caltech bands, and if one could get them to volunteer, that would be greatfully preferably to a crappy band like the one they had. At least a crappy band of Techers would be our crappy band, and some of them have actually been pretty decent. Hell, Dave Antonio '01 is in a jazz band, and I was digging their music at Casino Night.

Anyway, I'm glad I showed up, though staying up late for the full festivities is not something I was about to do without compatriots with whom to hang out.

I need to do something about my gimpy foot. The long limp home was not fun.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday BayouBlogging

Well, I'll technically be commenting both on New Orleans and a more rural area of Lousiana (which isn't part of the Bayou).

Let's start with what else I saw while at the Joint Math Meetings in New Orleans:

Wow, my memory of the meeting is already fading quite a bit. Maybe if I weren't so tired...

On Friday, I didn't bother with dinner but was able to get some nice appetizers (almond-crusted chicken fingers!) in one of the receptions to which people with Project NExT affiliations are invited. I saw a couple people I knew there, but I was an hour late and managed to miss almost all of the speeches. I didn't try to do that, but my confusion about what constituted the "Balcony" helped out here. Another contributor to this was the fact that I ran into Steve Strogatz (a member of my thesis committee) at the meeting, so I talked to him for a while as a pause from rushing to where I intended to go. I asked him about a certain paper of his one of my students will be generalizing this summer. Oh, and he did one of the major awards, but not one of the ones I mentioned in the blog. He one the Joint Math Policy Board communications award, which is essentially a sort of lifetime achievement award for communicating mathematics to the general public. I hope I one day will have done enough to deserve that (whether or not I win it, though I suppose the only "official" recognition of having merited it is to actually win it --- anyway, the goal is to actually make a sufficient contribution in this area to deserve that kind of recognition).

On Friday night, I went to the Gibbs lecture, which was given by Peter Lax this year. (It alternates between a mathematician who has contributed significantly to the sciences and a scientist who uses lots of math in their research. Formally, Lax was recognized in the former category, but he really could be recognized in both.) After that was the AWM reception, and the area outside the lecture hall was way too small for the number of people there. I thus grabbed some food --- because of the two receptions, I skipped dinner Friday night --- and escaped closer to escalators which was away from the throng... when I was suddenly accosted by a women with green hair (well, green streaks in her hair) who was telling me about how I was being really antisocial and that I had also done that last year at the Project NExT reception. She said she felt comfortable doing that because I was a fellow Project NExTer (at which point I realized that I was correct that I hadn't technically met her before) and that something on my blog last year had irritated her. (I neither asked what nor did she volunteer the information, but I can only think of one thing last January --- which I suppose is when she looked at my page because she did so after seeing my talk on Congress --- that could have done that, and I'm not sure whether I only thought of writing that particular thing or actually did write it. Of course, I could have completely forgotten plenty of other things.) I was then told I'd be forgiven this time for both that comment and my present antisocial behavior because it really was ridiculously crowded where the food was. (I also was asked if my Congress talk this year would be the same as last year.) Anyway, I tend to get kind of confused when somebody I don't know comes up to me and starts giving me hell for my antisocial behavior. Apparently, "Dots" (aka, Project NExTers) are supposed to be social. But we got along fine after my confusion was dispelled and I was forgiven.

On Saturday, I went to the Prize ceremony and reception. In addition to Strogatz, one of the major prizes was awarded (well, co-awarded) to Tom Mrowka, who was my first ever math prof at Caltech. (I still remember his comment during a demo about how Tommy II was "bound and gagged." He was demonstrating the stable versus unstable eigenvectors in rigid body rotation of a non-symmetric body.) He won a research prize in geometry. I was going to leave the ceremony after Strogatz got his prize to attend a Project NExT session on advising graduate students, but Strogatz got his award close to the end and I didn't feel like walking into the session 20 minutes late.

I went to dinner with a couple friends from grad school (and their students) who run an REU. The speciality where we went was alligator (which supposedly tastes like chicken, but has the consistency of fish), though I chose to have a nice steak. There was a live band where we went and while some of the music was catchy, their selection was limited and the service was very slow, so we heard some of the songs more than 7 times (or if they were different, they were similar enough to seem the same to me). One of the oldsters in the band recruited women from the tables to dance with him and another recruited people to play a couple instruments (I forget their names), and the participants were given beads. Some of our table went, but then things got really crazy when a table of young future cheerleaders and a (separate!) group of cheerleaders from the University of Michigan (I think it was the University of Michigan) came into the restaurant to eat. The ones from Michigan saw the young ones demonstrating some of their moves on the dance floor and decided they should demonstrate a bit, and two of them went on instrument volunteer duty and played the instruments especially gregariously --- it was actually quite impressive how much fun they were having --- that they ended up getting their beads awarded to them in the middle of their performance instead of casually after the fact. All of this passed the time while we waited a loooooooong time for our food to arrive. After dinner, I went to my hotel room to finish my pass through a draft of a manuscript to give back to my student for him to revise further.

The next day, I had lunch with a friend of mine and got a chance to explore Bourbon Street both during the day and at night (with a collaborator when I went back there at night). There was a moon over Bourbon Street when I went there at night. There were lots and lots of bars (and strip clubs and the like), and my friend and I had some trouble finding the restaurant that had been recommended to him. It wasn't raining at all until suddently it became a huge downpour and we had to retreat under an awning of a nearby store because neither of us had umbrella with us. After a couple minutes wondering when things would let up sufficiently for us to escape, I noticed that we had sheltered ourselves right next to a general store ("Hey, they probably sell umbrellas!"), so we walked in, bought cheap umbrellas, and went on our way. We were going to play chess later in the evening, but it didn't work out this year.

At night, I had to miss a dinner for CAMsters (members of CAM at Cornell) from my era that had been organized at the last minute because I had already agreed to go with a collaborator to dinner. We went back to Bourbon Street and passed by a live Jazz band while we were walking off the dinner. I would have stayed there longer because it sounded good. The sounds in most of the parts of the streets were just really loud music being played over a stereo. One thing that was funny was a bar advertising themselves as the home of a certain specialty drink --- a "Hand Grenade" or something --- which had a person dressed as a life-sized hand grenade just outside the place. That's the straight part of the joke. The really funny part was the very next bar, which had a large sign proclaiming "We sell hand grenades too."

I then went to the main Project NExT reception and talked to a bunch of friends there, although I unfortunately didn't get a chance to talk to all of them. (At this reception, the partially green haired person mentioned that she caught me being social at the undergrad poster session earlier in the day.) I hung out with a couple friends for a couple hours after the session and then crashed at 12:40 even though I was giving my Congress talk at 8 am the next day. (Pain!)

I got a 7 am wake-up call and made it to my room in plenty of time. (The last day was the only day I bothered with a wake-up call, so I missed some morning talks the prior two days that I would have attended if I were awake. I couldn't sleep the first night, so I was up bright and early on the first day of the conference.) My talk went well. The attendees included one of my friend's students (the other had already flown off), a person at the meeting who I wanted to track down and meet about some quantum chaos stuff (one of his collaborators had told him I would be at the meeting and that he should track me down because I was a person worth meeting, so this made my life a lot easier), and a bigshot (who I've met before) who has written a book about mathematics and voting. The talk went well, and then I went outside, autographed the Mathematical Moments based on my Congress work for the undergrad (she had said when we discussed things on Saturday that she wanted me to do that in case I became famous some day and that now I was obligated to become famous some day... that's quite a bit of pressure), and then discussed quantum chaos stuff and possible collaborations. So I definitely got some work stuff done that was on my agenda, despite my own antisocial tendencies (which I admitted openly in my conversation Friday night). Starting to get a scientific reputation is really useful for somebody who is antisocial because then sometimes people will come to me and I don't have to seek them out. My discussion with my friend's students was on Sunday, and I talked to them both about their projects and grad school stuff. Also, a couple of my friends at the meeting mentioned how when I'm famous, she's going to tell everybody she knows me. (Man, people are putting so much pressure on me. I can't say it wouldn't be cool, and I'd rather the expectations be this high than the reverse. Still, I don't particularly see my achieving that level of recognition.)

Just after lunch, I hitched a ride with the Louisiana Tech prof by prior arrangement and we drove up to Ruston, which is in Northern Louisiana (which is quite different culturally from southern Louisiana!). We passed over the Mississippi River, so I did get to see it for the first time even though I didn't get a chance to walk by it in New Orleans. (I had been too busy during the day and it was too sketchy for me to want to go alone at night --- and I couldn't convince anyone else to go with me.) We also drove into and out of Mississippi, so I got to add a second state (though in a much weaker sense) to my list rather than the one I was thinking would happen. I did use the bathroom in Mississippi, so I suppose that's something. (I like to make all the states I visit just a bit dirtier.) In April, I may be visiting University of Louisville, so I should be able to add Kentucky to my list soon enough.

Social life in the town of Ruston revolves around churches. Alcohol couldn't be sold in the city until recently, though there are several places that do this epsilon distance outside the city limits. One place was a drive-through daquiri place, which is apparently legal as long as they don't put the straw in your drink. (My mind immediately went to parallels with the selling of mp3 players and the companies denying any connection with downloading songs for them illegally --- in particular, before the legal downloading servicex existed.) On the first night, we ate at an Outback Steakhouse (a familiar franchise...) in Monroe, which was on the way to Ruston. A couple faculty members took me to a Mexican restaurant the next night, and their colleagues remarked that it was curious that they would do that with a Los Angeles native. (Our waiter was completely dumbstruck when I asked for iced coffee to drink. He was just completely confused.) For the first lunch, they took me to a nearby Chinese restaurant. The only Asian I saw at the place was a faculty member from Korea. They gave us forks at this place (so you can guess how authentic I think it is), and I asked for chopsticks and was the only person I saw using them. (It wouldn't have felt right to use a fork.) One of the people at the table was referring to an accident but it sound like "accent" to me because of her, well..., accent. At the Mexican resturant, one of my hosts brought up the local culture and how the town was a typical southern town though (naturally) the LA Tech faculty were a much more diverse bunch. He mentioned one time when he went to a doctor's appointment, somebody there found out he worked at LA Tech and mentioned to him conspiratorially that "I hear there are atheists there." His response was that he was Buddhist and she said that that was ok. (I was extremely amused by this story.) I love snarky people.

I spoke about complex networks for my talk and used college football and Congress as my extended examples. I started the talk by mentioning that in Louisiana, I wasn't sure which one was more controversial.

On Thursday, my host drove me to Shreveport for my flight back. We passed by their minor league baseball stadium on the way to the airport. (That was why I had originally heard of the city.) I listened to some music from my laptop while waiting for my flight. I had my earphones on, but unfortunately I had them plugged into the wrong jack. (Oops!) I did the same thing on the plane from Dallas to the other LA when trying to watch Much Ado About Nothing (Oops!), though I had to quickly give up on the movie because watching it was making me far sicker than watching a moving a screen on a plane normally would. (I listened to the airplane's music a bit and used my computer for that a bit. This is where having a working iPod with me would have been reallty nice.) Once I am finished with this entry, I am going to finish off the movie.

In the Dallas airport, I finally played the single player version of New Super Mario Brothers for the first time in a few months. I passed one level with which I had been having trouble before I stopped for a while, and now I hope to get past some of the other ones I hadn't solved before my hiatus. More important, I ran into a friend from grad school (now a postdoc at Colorado State) who I hadn't seen since I left Cornell. He was on his way to a conference in Vicksburg. Anyway, that was a really nice surprised.

So, now I am no longer in LA but am instead in LA and it's time to finish watching a movie.

Also, I will hopefully be able to walk normally tomorrow. While at Peet's tonight, my right foot decided it no longer wanted me putting any pressure on it, so I had to limp back home and walking is seriously problematic at the moment. First my iPod and now this.

My iPod ("Chotchke") is terminal

I visited the Apple Store's "Genius Bar" (that name is annoying) about my current iPod ("Chotchke"), which had a sudden conniption on Wednesday. (This was rather unfortunate because it severely hurt my musical selection for my flights on Thursday.) It was given me the sad iPod icon, which is a strong indication of hardware problems. (My attempts at restoration, etc. failed.)

On Tuesday and last week, I had to restore it from crashes. (The initial crash on Wednesday was weird because when I pressed play, it went through a couple seconds of each song and wouldn't let me do anything else. Then the iPod wouldn't mount when I connected it to my Mac and instead gave me the dreaded sad icon. The crash on Tuesday was slightly weird in that the iPod pretended that there were no songs even though they were there. The crash last week --- my iPod's first in several months --- was the canonical freezing that one sees on occasions even in healthy iPods.)

I set up an appointment with the Genius Bar today and brough my backup iPod to work. My backup iPod, called "Hoopak" and one of the original bulky 20 gig pieces that is one of the old models that people apparently collect a bit because it completely defies the now-prevalent sleek theme, works perfectly except for the fact that the battery has experienced the usual extreme decay of that generation's iPods. I hadn't even checked Chotchke since last night, but it loaded just fine by the time I was at the Apple Store. (This always happens.)

I was helped immediately even though I was 30 minutes early because the people ahead of me weren't there. (I like it when that happens.) When I said that the sad iPod icon had appeared, the person behind the counter got a sour look on his face --- essentially signifying that this was a bad sign. He heard lots of clicking from the hard drive and basically deduced that the hard drive is on its last legs and could completely die at any time, so it looks like Hoopak is going to outlast Chotchke by a factor of at least 3. Replacing the hard drive costs $250, which essentially means that one buys a new iPod.

I wasn't sure whether I had bought Applecare for Chotchke, but it turns out that I did. I bought it in March 2005, so it doesn't expire until March 17, 2007. The guy at the Apple Store indicated that if I can bring it in and one of the store workers actually sees the sad icon on the iPod, then I can exchange it for free as long as this happens before Applecare expires. Basically, I feel like there is a life insurance policy on my iPod but that I need to use it within the next two months or else it isn't any good. (I feel like I'm in a murder mystery.) Even if the next sad face icon isn't the permanent death of Chotchke, I will definitely be heading immediately to the Apple Store if that happens while I still have Applecare, because the free exchange is far better than coughing up a few hundred dollars.

So, the motive has been established...

Chotchke already did a normal freezing type of crash tonight after my visit to the Apple Store. I won't be murdering it or anything, but I'm going to be really annoyed if I end up seeing a March 18th sad iPod icon.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I was thrown for quite a surprising curveball this evening. (Note that this is technically redundant the way I am using the word "curveball.")

I am back from the Bayou---I'll have some more BayouBlogging later (probably tomorrow)---and I decided I would go to my ping pong class tonight even though I am absolutely exhausted and feeling sick from my flight. I'll be out of town for another week after being in town for the next 10 days, and I didn't want to miss 3 of the first 4 classes this term.

It turns out, however, that the advanced class is meeting Mondays from 7-9 pm this term, despite the fact that the class has met Thursday from 9-11 pm every term since at least fall term of my frosh year (Fall 1994) and I believe several years before then. Technically, it's possible the class met at some other time while I was away from Tech, but I've never seen this class meet at another time and I've taken it 13 times before this term (and it also met at this time every term I was at Tech, so my sample size is 19 and I figured it was the same in the 7 years I was gone because the times before and after were the same---I know, this is not exactly rigorous or even the induction of the sun rising every day, but it's what I have).

Some of the BayouBlogging I have is pretty amusing, but I'm really tired and hungry and don't feel like going through it at the moment.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Baseball Hall-of-Famers

This year's new Hall-of-Famers are first-ballot inductees Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. Their elections were foregone conclusions. Goose Gossage got over 70% of the votes, and will almost certainly meet the 3/4 requirement next year. Bert Blyleven (among others) got screwed over again.

The Veterans' Committee will be considering some candidates a little later. Hopefully, some of the previously overlooked people will make it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tales from the arXiv: Endorsement Edition

We take this break from mathematics with a special news bulletin.

I am listed on the arXiv as somebody who can endorse articles in my areas of expertise. If somebody who can't post an article on the arXiv (due to not having posted before), they can request somebody (such as me) to endorse them so that they can henceforth upload papers. (The arXiv first instituted this a couple years ago because a lot of garbage was getting posted. Now, only a small amount of garbage -- though still plenty of research of questionable quality [which in most contexts I would still refer to as 'garbage'] -- gets posted.) In practice, only a couple people have asked me to endorse them. I am not expect to review papers, but I am supposed to look them over to make sure they're legit. (I can also endorse based on the author's credentials if I want.)

Yesterday, I was asked to endorse a paper. I (obviously) can't include the author's name and I don't feel comfortable providing a link, so let me restrict myself to the abstract:

The author offers a new method for re-writing the human brain on electronic chips. This method allows for the modeling of a human soul in order to achieve immortality. This method does not damage the brain but works to extend and enhance it.

I responded with the following e-mail:


This article is very far outside my area of expertise, so it would not be proper for me to endorse it.

Also, I'm not really sure who else to suggest, as I don't know any scientists who work in this area.

Good luck,


Friday, January 05, 2007

Live from New Orleans...

Things I've seen at the Joint Math Meetings so far...

Several people asking about my job situation followed by impressed surprise and congratulations. (I anticipated this.)

A person from Davidson College who said he will be attending my Congress talk on Monday morning because Susan Schaeffer said he should... (Thanks for the advertisement!)

Lots of people who overlapped with me in grad school at Cornell... (I knew this as well.)

One of my former TAs from Georgia Tech and a couple other GT grad students I know... (I didn't anticipate it but I'm not at all surprised. I just never hung out with them, so I didn't think about it too much.)

Lots of fellow Project NExTers... (Well, duh.)

One of my thesis committee members (Steve Strogatz), who I didn't know what attending. He said he didn't know either and he typically only goes to the applied math meetings. This can mean only one thing: he got one of the major prizes. These aren't announced until tomorrow, but the two most logical ones are the award for research in applied math and the Steele Prize for exposition (which would most likely be for his nonlinear dynamics textbook but could be for his popular book on synchronization. (I was surprised to see him.)

Lots of free chotchkes from the Exhibit Hall and some of them are actually useful. (Also no surprise...)

My student and her mother. (This is the second year in a row she's gone with her mother, who is a mathematician -- I think at San Jose State.) She'll be working on synchronization this summer, so hopefully I'll be able to introduce her to Strogatz. (She told me on Wednesday that she'd be here.)

A shuttle containing mostly fellow conference attendees on the way from the airport. (This almost always happens for conferences of this size.)

A premeditated awesome/"awesome" comment by me during one of my talks: "This slide is for people who forgot the 60s." (The title was "Shrooms!" in multicolored letters. In the slide, I introduce the example of mushroom billiards.)

An unpremeditated (well, premeditated by coming up with it a minute earlier in case I might need it) awesome/"awesome" comment: "My slides will be kind of like Pleasantville, except they won't become color at the end." (I already can't remember exactly how I phrased this.) This was for the other talk I gave today. It was in a room without a computer projector, so I had to print them out, and I printed them out entirely in black and white. (One person was asking whether some stuff amidst the black background was part of the slide or because of the printer.)

Summer undergraduate students of one of my friends from grad school, who indicated that the people running the program (all of whom went to grad school with me) told stories about me all summer. Also, this included a quote along the lines of "Mason Porter in the flesh!" because I was just a name on an article. (I gave them my Congress data, and they were doing some of their work on it. They have a poster on this topic. I'm one of the poster judges, though each person only gets 2-3 posters to judge. In the spirit of Scalia, I will be recusing myself from judging this poster if I end up being selected for it.) Also, I already knew from my friend that they would be attending the meeting, and part of my hoped-for agenda was to see how they were doing and see if I could help.

My math 5 prof from back in the day. (I last saw him at the Atlanta meeting in 2005 and, before that, I last saw him when I was still an undergrad.)

A hotel which actually had a floor 13... (This is exceedingly rare in the U.S.)

Another hotel with the most assinine room selection mechanism I've ever seen. (Errr.....)

Rooms called "balcony" that are on the 4th floow. (At first, I thought I should go to the highest floor possible, which was the 41st. This is how I found out about the aforementioned hotel. As one math prof I know said when I told her about it, "Mason, you can really be an idiot sometimes.")

I have some more things to write, but I'll do them later. We're in the downtown area of the city. Everything's open really late (apparently 24/7), but the streets and sidewalks are narrow, the smell outside isn't so great, and the area of the city is pretty dirty. (I asked a friend who did a postdoc at Tulane, and he assured me that downtown is basically in its pre-Katrina state and that what I am seeing is not the result of that at all.)

There is a Harrah's here, so I could play craps if I want. (I doubt I'm going to do this. I am sleep-deprived and very busy.)

I hope I can see the Mississippi River in person. I've never done that, and I think it's supposed to be within walking distance.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans

To start, truer words than the title of this entry have rarely been written.

Tomorrow, I fly to New Orleans to attend the 2007 Joint Mathematics Meetings, which is the mathematics version of the APS March Meeting (though it's not quite as large).

I will be presenting three talks: one on Bose-Einstein condensates, one on billiard systems with mixed dynamics (with a focus on mushroom billiards), and one on Congressional networks. (I will try really hard to not make jokes on certain topics when I give my Congress talk.)

As usual, there are a ton of people I know who will be attending the meeting, so while things will be hectic, it will also be a lot of fun. I found out earlier today that one of my SURF students for summer 2007 will also be attending the meeting, and she has promised to ask me tough questions during my talks.

After the conference, I will be visiting Louisiana Tech University for a couple days. I'll give a talk about networks while I'm there and meet some of the mathematicians there. My flight back home should arrive on Thursday evening, so the first day I'll be able to hang out again once I return will be Friday 1/12.

By the way, you shouldn't worry about me. If anything goes wrong, I'll just sit tight and wait for FEMA to arrive.

Quote of the Day

This one comes from one of Caltech's current undergrads.

First, he asked, "You were a Lloydie, right?"

Nothing special yet... I answered in the affirmative, and he followed up with "You graduated in what, the mid 80s?"

OK, so I know I look older than I used to, but where did mid 80s come from? Most people who don't know me guess I'm in my late 20s, which is only a couple years off. (I'll turn 31 in just over a month.)

Here is Lemming's response by IM:


In some ways, a student of the 80s. In some ways, no, not really. [My response to this: "True that."]

Quote of the Day

Today's quote of the day (technically yesterday's, but I just read it) comes from an online chat by writer Rob Neyer:

Yankee Hater (St. Louis, MO): New Year's Resolution: to hate the Yankees more than ever. Are you with me?

Rob Neyer: I don't have enough energy to hate a team that loses every October.

Comment: I approve!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

RIP Martin Kruskal (1925-2006)

I just got an e-mail from Norm Zabusky that Martin Kruskal died on December 26th, 2006. A brief obituary can be found here.

Kruskal did a lot of very important mathematical work, but I know him best for coauthoring an old PRL (from back in the day when PRLs were actually both seminal and understandable) with Norm that gave the first mathematical formulation of a soliton. Considering the fact that a huge component of my research involves solitons and solitary waves, we're talking about somebody who did some serious foundational stuff the stuff I study.

I unfortunately never had the chance to meet him. However, let me tell a brief story from the 2006 AMS/MAA Joint Meetings. Thankfully, Martin was around to receive his Steele Prize. I loved the fact that (1) he was the only person on the award podium who wore a t-shirt rather than something fancy and (2) he very humorously commented that the award came 30 years later than it should have. This was one of my major highlights of the meeting.

In the same e-mail, I was informed that another major person who laid the foundations for this field has lung cancer and isn't doing very well. (I'm going to suppress the name in public locations because I don't know how common this knowledge is.)

Because academia is such a small world, a certain component of it (namely, people in the fields I work---and, in some ways, especially people who laid the foundations of the field and whose work everybody knows) is one of my families in many respects. So, while this is not the same as somebody I know personal dying, there is still a strong connection here in other respects.

Faraday patterns observed in BEC experiments

This summer, one of my SURF students (Tatjana Wiese) studied Faraday patterns in Bose-Einstein condensates. These patterns had not yet been observed in BECs and while the project was a cute theoretical project, I wasn't sure how easy that stuff would actually be to observe experimentally in a BEC setting. Well, a paper just posted on the arxiv reports the first experimental observations of Faraday patterns in BECs. Now, while this is not as cool as when predictions that I published (that people didn't seem to think would be seen in experiments) were observed experimentally a year later, it's still nice to know that I can pick out phenomena for my students to work that haven't yet been seen in experiments but subsequently are. (It's also not as cool as when I predict something, convince somebody to try something in the laboratory, and it subsequently works perfectly. Of course, that has only happened a couple times. This has lead to two papers in PRL and an archival paper currently under review by an applied math journal.)

I originally got this idea while I was attending a pattern formation conference in Cambridge in December 2005. Faraday patterns were the theme of one of the days, and I had this sudden insight that Faraday patterns would be a cool thing to study theoretically in BECs. I e-mailed one of my collaborators to tell him about this, and he e-mailed me back a reference from 2002 in which that had been done. (At least my I knew my idea worked...) My student studied an extension of their results.

False Positives

As some of you know, my spam filters have had a couple critical failures with respect to false positives.

In the last 24 or so hours, I have gotten 4 false positives, which is a far more frequent pace than I got before, so I'm wondering if I will need to alert the IMSS folks at Caltech. (I could also set up extra filters, but I've only noticed one pattern so far, and it wouldn't help for the other cases, which are the more important ones.) These four e-mail messages are two PR e-mails from Caltech (and it amuses me that these got flagged), an application letter from a prospective SURF student, and an e-mail from Brian Limketkai '98 sending new contact information. (Obviously, I am extremely annoyed that the last of these showed up as spam, because missing that message would have royally sucked.)