Monday, April 30, 2007

Start the presses!

My book, Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark (coauthored by Autumn Looijen '99), went off to the presses today. We started this project in May 2003, so it's taken quite a while. (Man, did I work hard on this...)

We'll have our first printed copies in two weeks, and the Caltech bookstore will start selling them a few days after that (either on Thursday 5/17 or Friday 5/18). There is supposed to be a book signing on Saturday 5/19 and there should be some sort of presentation as well. Naturally, Caltech will be having a press release, so it looks like I'm going to get to do my media slut routine again. I'm planning on having a book release party at my place on the night of 5/19 -- I'll keep you posted about that. (I hear one is supposed to have book release parties when one's books come out.) There is also a screenwriter looking at the book right now, and hopefully this will lead to a movie inspired by it. (I'm basically trying to inspire a sequel to Real Genius, though the movie aspect of things is at an extremely preliminary stage.)

Autumn and I are also writing Legends IV. You can submit stories to the above website. That book has an ETA of May 2010 or 2011.


I wrote part of this post 9 days ago; I ought to finish it.

Another movie I saw a while ago is Grindhouse, which Cat, Lemming, and I viewed at midnight at the Rialto theatre. For a double feature of campiness like this film, this was absolutely the right way to see the flick (though I was really tired the next day as a result).

I really enjoyed the film -- some of the fake trailers were awesome (I want to see Machete!) -- and the old-school touches like "missing" reels were extremely nice touches.

The format of the film was that of a grindhouse double feature (hence the name). Many of the fake trailers were awesome and most of the others were at least "awesome" (the Nicholas Cage thing was completely random, but it amused me quite a bit), there were "missing reels" at appropriate points (wait, how did that catch on fire? people should be more careful when they're boinking -- that reminds me: the word 'boink' was used in an episode of Buffy we saw last night; I approve!), and it was all a bunch of campy fun.

I actually enjoyed the whole car chasey second film better than the first one (which was a zombie flick with some humerous elemenrs), which surprised me, but a few of the trailers were my favorite parts of the whole thing. Anyway, it was a good time.

Oh, and another good thing about the Rialto was that one can get really good popcorn with real butter. That's always a treat.

I still need to write a review of Hot Fuzz. My reviews have been less thorough and timely for a while. I just haven't been in the mood to write those types of entries lately.

But do they wear them at night?

Here is a picture gallery (and accompanying article, which I didn't read) about some of the eyewear baseball players have worn in the past. (I found out about this from Rob Neyer's blog on

All hail Chris Sabo!

Friday, April 27, 2007

My future?

This website apparently contains chapter 1 of a novel with a character who shares my name. (No word yet on whether I'm getting killed off in chapter one in this book too...)

In this text, I utter the following line:

Welcome new students, and welcome back those who are returning. I am Dean Mason Porter. In this school, you will build your elemental powers. Some of you are aware of this and others are hearing this for the first time.

Did I ever mention that I am a chaos elemental?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

License plate of the day

While leaving the parking lot after tonight's scrumptious dinner at Gyu Kaku, I saw a car with the license plate "MR SUBTL".

I approve!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Baseball update

The Dodgers are first in the National League West and have been for a while. (Granted, as I write this, our lead is only 1 game.)

After today's loss, the Yankees are now in last place! I don't think it will last, but I can at least enjoy this for one day.

My fantasy team has been going through a major slump lately. My ranking might eventually be decent again, but I think it will take a while.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tonight I dine on turtle soup

Well, that was actually three weeks ago when I saw TMNT. The movie was really fun, and I was especially amused by the scene with the imp (and "Black Betty" in the background).

I wouldn't call the film a work of art, but it was good (bordering on very good) and definitely a lot of fun.

I don't feel like writing a long entry about this.

Headline: Catholic Church Removes Outer Plane from Multiverse

You don't believe me?

Just take a look at this story on (which was pointed out to me by Danny Schwarzblatt).

The Catholic Church released a 41-page document that gets rid of the concept of Limbo. As a result, tons of githzerai, slaadi, and Harry Belafonte are now homeless.

According to rumors, Mechanus (aka Nirvana) might be the next Outer Plane to be removed. At the moment, only the Happy Hunting Grounds seems safe from expulsion (if for no other reason than it would hurt Dick Cheney).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Alternative USB drives

Courtesy Janet Sheung, here is an alternative USB drive consisting of a teddy bear that one has to behead to connect to one's computer.

I mentioned this to Lemming while at Jorian's tonight and he told me about the humping dog USB drive (watch it in action here), which is as wrong as it sounds. (IMO, the bear is funnier.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007


As was noted in another post, we (Lemming, Zifnab, [Mike]^2, Lanth, and I) have been powering through Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently. We finished the first season a while ago and are currently about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through season two.

I've been enjoying the series quite a bit predominantly because it has one of my favorite things in life: lots of witty one-liners.

Thus far, my two favorites are (possibly in order):

Xander: "Angel was in your bedroom?"
Willow: "Ours is a forbidden love."

Principal Snyder: "It's fuzzy-minded liberal thinking like that that gets you eaten."

So, I could write more, but I figure that can happen in the comments. Naturally, I always gravitate towards the nerdiest character in just about every show/movie, so I'm in the Willow camp (t-shirt style + occasional deadpan comments = win).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tales from the arXiv: Updated paper edition

The following paper recently got updated on the arXiv:

replaced with revised version Tue, 17 Apr 2007 18:02:10 GMT (17kb)

Title: Communicating over adversarial quantum channels using quantum list codes
Authors: Debbie Leung and Graeme Smith
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 6 pages. Discussion expanded and more details provided in proofs. Far
less unclear than previous version
\\ ( , 17kb)

I love the following portion of the 'Comments' field: Far less unclear than previous version

Actually, I know the first author of this paper (she's a former Tech postdoc and before that was a Mole from the class of 1995), and as far as I can tell her research seems good. (It's certainly quite highly regarded.) But that snippet from the comments is extremely amusing.

Words of advice for letters of recommendation

The following letter to the editor was written by mathematics professor Gerald Folland and appeared in the April 2007 issue of the Notices of the AMS:

"From the chair of a hiring committee to everyone who writes letters for job candidates: Recommending someone "in the strongest possible terms" has become a cliché. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to find other ways of expressing your enthusiasm."


Today's fortune

I opened two fortune cookies today. Here is the fortune that amused me:

"You are heading for a land of sunshine and fun."

Quote of the Day

This one comes from my attempt in an IM conversation to convince one of my friends (essentially by fiat) that I can be charming and not just "charming" (a word -- with quotes -- that also occurred in the conversation): "I have an alternative type of charisma."

Did I mention that most of my close friends are extremely blunt? Just about all the people who pass the various litmus tests almost invariably are.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bumper sticker of the day

I was walking home this afternoon and I saw a car with the bumper sticker, "All your oil are belong to U.S."

That is so awesome!

Report from the refereeing trenches

I am currently refereeing the revised version of a paper I had previously refereed. (Actually, I have been doing a number of these lately, but I have a specific one in mind.) One of my comments on the original version of the paper was that there were severe grammatical problems (and typos) that needed to be fixed. In their response to this point in the cover letter, the authors wrote:

"We have checked spelling and did our best to improve the grammatic."


Prank alert: The California Tech visits MIT

Well, this isn't much of an alert because the prank actually occurred on Friday. I'm just getting around to posting this entry now.

For April 1st, The California Tech decided to have a few fake pages in the style of MIT's school newspaper. There were some April Fools articles in the issue, but the plans expanded to writing an entire fake issue of the MIT paper and flying over to Boston to deliver it on their Campus Preview Weekend (what they call prefrosh weekend) in lieu of their regular paper. I approve!

I have only glanced through the actual articles -- one can find copies of the paper all over campus -- and they don't seem particularly funny (although a couple of things are amusing). However, the writing per se is far less important than the prank itself, which is awesome! (Autumn and I are definitely planning to have a story about this prank in Legends IV.)

One thing I don't know is whether our upcoming book helped motivate this prank. (An article about the book is going to be appearing in the next issue of The Tech, so such things had been stirring in the air around The Tech for a while now.) Naturally, one of the big motivations of the book is to encourage pranks, so hopefully that will happen. There have certainly been several encouraging signs over the past couple of years and some amount of money from each copy of our book that's sold will be going towards a prank fund, so there will be some money available for this stuff.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Rant Chaser: Baby Animals

A while back, Lemming had the idea of pointing out something cute as a sort of 'rant chaser'. I think that idea is brilliant, so here are some pictures of baby animals.

Jackie Robinson and the meaning (or lack thereof) of "tributes"

This one is going to be a rant...

In his comedy sketches, George Carlin has a section devoted to "things that piss [him] off." Well, here's something that pisses me off:

First, let me set the stage. Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut 60 years ago tomorrow, becoming the first African-American player to play in a Major League baseball game. He and other players from the Negro Leagues had been held out of the Majors for a long time, and Robinson was quite a pioneer. He was not only a Hall-of-Fame player (check out his stats; they're awesome), but he had to really go through a lot of shit as being the first African American player. It's not that subsequent ones didn't go through garbage, but it's really hard to be the first and by essentially all accounts Robinson was the first not just because of his incredible physical ability and skills but also because he had the mentality to be able to be the first. Because of people like Robinson, we have gotten the privelege of watching wonderful players such as Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, and (steroids or otherwise) Barry Bonds. So it's really clear that immense tributes to pioneers such as Robinson are appropriate.

In 1997, Robinson's number (42), already retired by the Dodgers (he played for us) was retired by all of Major League Baseball, except with a grandfathering of others who were using the number at the time. This was, of course, a public relations move, but it was extremely classy and was just a nice touch. The original plan for tomorrow was for select players (chosen specifically because they somehow are good representatives of Robinson; and let's assume for the sake of argument that some outside person selects the players and does a perfect job of doing so -- i.e., I don't want to argue about the details of who should be chosen, but let's assume that there is some relatively small number of players who should be chosen) to wear number 42 as a tribute to Robinson and for all of the Dodgers to wear the number because the Dodgers were Robinson's team and there was some pioneering on the team's part (or at least for individuals associated with the team) for being part of getting Robinson a spot in the Majors where he belonged.

Granted, this is gimmicky and is naturally part of the PR machine, but it's still a very nice tribute if it done correctly. The problem is that what was supposed to be a tribute has turned into one of those rote things that people do on anniversaries that remove all tributary meaning. Basically, just about every African American player is going to wear Robinson's number and five teams (the last time I checked) will have everybody wearing the number. Maybe this is just my cynicism coming out, but this turns things from being a tribute to something on the order of wearing the number because it's hip to do so. Some baseball writers, such as Rob Neyer of, have expressed this perspective. The thing just pisses me off. Here's a guy who deserves a real tribute on the anniversary of his Major League debut and the giant PR machine is instead turning it into a fashion statement and removing the meaning in the process. It's fucking horseshit.

Physical Review resubmission process imitates Dragonlance

I am currently trying to resubmit one of my articles to Physical Review A. My collaborators and I changed several of the figures (we needed to increase the font size of the axis labels) so I need to upload all the figures and indicate what number figure each of the new ones is. I keep writing down what the correct number and subpanel is (for example, 8b) for each .eps file, but when I go to the next screen in the submission process after uploading, most of them are listed as figure "2" and I am getting an error indicating that I have multiple figures labeled as "2". (This has happened on multiple iterations, and I swear there are a couple of figures that I've corrected more than, um, two times.) WTF? When did gully dwarves start working for APS?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Consulting for the movies

As some of you know, I am working as a mathematical consultant for the movie Starship Dave, a new Eddie Murphy project (currently slated to be released in the U.S. on May 30, 2008) by the producers of Norbit. Naturally, this means that it's probably a waste of 2 hours of one's life to see the full movie, but there's one particular scene that you'll want to see (or at least I want to see).

I got this gig because of my connection to Gary Lorden (who was contacted because of Numb3rs), and my assignment was to come up with a "unified field theory" for Eddie Murphy to show a class of elementary school kids (and to tell them learn that to understand everything). The amount I'm getting paid for what amounted to 2-3 hours of work is, to put it mildly, a much higher rate than I get for my day job (you can ask me about this offline).

I decided that instead of using conventional things that have been proposed for field theory that I would adapt a "chaotic field theory" that one of my postdoc advisors (Predrag Cvitanovic) came up with. Among other things, I actually understand the equations in his research, so it's easier for me to soup that stuff up in a sensible manner (keeping in mind I'm supposed provide an equation that doesn't exist). I was also requested to perhaps come up with a picture that "looks like a vortex or something" that is supposed to represent the unified theory graphically. The gist was that the equation should look "cool and complicated." The stuff I wrote down, which was souped up but had sensible things like matching dimensions on both sides of the equation (though the contour integral I added came completely out of my ass), but it was too long and it needed to be shortened to fit on the two blackboards (it was originally going to be 4). The prop people did it and nixed things such as matrix components and equal signs. (I am mentioning the equal sign part just to indicate the level of understanding we're dealing with.) There were also some "typos" in which, for example, the gammas I wrote looked like r's or something. When I visited the set yesterday morning, I was asked (and this is almost but probably not quite a direct quote) "On a scale of 1 to 10, how knowledgable would you have to be to realize this equation isn't real?" I don't even know how to answer something like that; it's not exactly a well-defined question.

Anyway, I didn't get to meet Eddie Murphy and the gamma delta beta gamma didn't survive the typos/cuts for space. However, the DEI I inserted is still there, so you should watch for that when the movie comes out. (It's not clear if it will be visible in the scene.)

I was going to post this blog entry later, but there's an extra punchline that is compelling me to discuss this now:

Predrag and I were corresponding today because some French journalist wants to write a layman's article related to an expository paper we wrote. He told me that on an episode of Numb3rs from right before April 1st, the following line was apparently uttered:

"According to the scattering theory of Cvitanovich, the debris could not have gone so far. There must have been a rocket."

And just to show you what kind of reputation I have in the mathematics and physics communities, he then asked me if I was the one responsible for this. (It's just like when I put my Screamer in the entry room of Sloan Annex and people just assumed that I was the one responsible for it. They were right, of course, but still...) I wasn't and I can't find a reference to this line on the web (let me know if you can find it...). I hadn't yet told Predrag about the unified field theory gig, so I guess he was right to ask if I did it. So while he correctly guessed the identity of the murderer, he got the weapon and room all wrong (though there was a Numb3rs connection in getting the gig, as I indicated above).

So I guess the next thing to do is to see if the DEI shows up. We have a story about DEI references in Legends III and we plan to add to it in Legends IV and obviously this particular one will be a great one to discuss in that story (though it will be better if one can actually see it on-screen).

Congratulations to Dr. Julius Su!

This afternoon, I went to the Ph.D. thesis defense of Julius Su '98 '99 (yes, Julius has two BS degrees from Caltech... physics was easy for him, but he needed the extra year to satisfy all the requirements for the biology major), who I originally met my frosh year during Rotation.

I don't have that many friends that I met during my frosh year Rotation, and there is naturally the tendency to stop talking to each other that much if people end up in different Houses simply because of inertia. But Julius and I continued to hang out even though I got into Lloyd and he was a Flem. (Julius has the distinction of being the Flem I have counted the most often. I don't know if there was a second Flem in the room while he defended his thesis.)

Julius's thesis was on computational chemistry and one of the class papers he cited was by Rick Heller, a bigshot in quantum chaos (so I've read a lot of Heller's papers). So there actually is a small overlap in scientific interests, though Julius was concerned (and only as background reading, so not overly concerned) with a somewhat different aspect of Heller's work.

I used to collaborate on Chem 41 and (to a lesser extent) Math 2 with Julius. (We were among the only frosh in those classes.) When I was a frosh, Julius would drop by Lloyd to talk about that stuff, although almost every conversation would begin with his bragging about the new capacitor he had found and how he would use it to zap people as they tried to open their doors. (Julius made good use of hyperspace...) This story is told in Legends III.

While the capacitor story is my favorite Julius story, there are a few other amusing ones. The 'Guess a number' story (which occurred sophomore year during prefrosh weekend), which I can't explain very easily without telling the whole story, is a web-only story in Legends III. There is another story, that will not be appearing in that book, about when Julius ran out of toilet paper in his 150 Chester apaprtments. (He ended up smuggling some out of the bathrooms in East Bridge.) I might have a few other Julius stories, but they aren't occurring to me at the moment. There is another Julius story that has been told to me -- it involves a certain stuffed turtle -- that might make it into Legends IV. I should also mention that Julius has a few Mason stories from way back in the day (especially from when I was a frosh), though there was one that he had been inadvertently attributing to someone else for many years before I corrected him. (It involves certain messages from TAs that I got on one of my Chem 41 assignments. I think all O(10) TAs in the class ended up signing their names below the statement in a tremendous show of unanimity. I need to hunt down these notes...)

Also, there were several amusing comments during the thesis defense. I tried to convey them to Lemming but failed miserably, so I won't try to convey them here.

Quote of the Day (overheard in Firestone)

Yesterday, in ACM 210b, Tom Hou uttered the following line:

"I deform the contour -- just like I do in surgery."

Wait... what? Does he do plastic surgery in his spare time?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

2007 SURF projects

Going through the Legends III page proofs has been absolutely mind-numbing -- I'm now on page 57 out of 96. Note that this is not just random reading; I need to read things extremely carefully, and that's just a tiring job.

I also have two movies and season 1 of Buffy to review, but I'll do those later. For now, I want to discuss the projects of my 2007 SURF students, as they have now been finalized (the two on the waiting list got awarded their SURFs today).

There are four students with me as the main advisor and Mike Cross as the secondary one, and two with Mike as the main advisor and me as the secondary one. (I have been working closely with one of thse two -- as I recruited her -- but I technically haven't yet met the other one.) One student got his SURF project rejected, but he still plans to work with me this summer, so I'll discuss that project as well.

Students with me as the main advisor (alphabetical order):

1. Natasha ("Alex") Cayco Gajic: Alex, a Sophomore in Ricketts, will be working on a project in synchronization (see also this page). In particular, she'll be studying basins of attraction of synchronized states and other states in coupled phase oscillators (along the lines of the Kuramoto model). In particular, Alex will be building on a 2006 paper by Dan Wiley, Steve Strogatz, and Michelle Girvan. Alex's mother is a math prof at San Jose State University, and Alex is already attending the Joint Mathematics Meeting that takes place in January. She has a mathematical tattoo that looks like a pentagram but has another name (it's either the 5-clique or the 5-clique minus the "outside" connections that would make it an Euler graph... my memory is failing me here; I don't remember if those links were present in the tattoo).

2. Olga Mandelshtam: Olga, a Sophomore in Blacker, will be working on attachment mechanisms in online friendship networks. There is an idea that is sometimes called preferential attachment which stipulates that the rich get richer when networks are growing. This has been used most frequently in modeling the growth of the web (one is more likely to link to google than this blog in starting a new web page), though the results one gets don't actually do a good job of modeling the structure of the web (despite claims by some people in the literature...). Before that (and before the name preferential attachment was coined), these sorts of mechanisms were used in the study of citation networks (dating all the way back to the work of Polya, despite claims by certain people that they invented it...). Anyway, I think that these sorts of mechanisms may do a nice job with online networks like Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, and so on. Different online networks have slightly different rules for adding friends and these are reflected by different attachment mechanisms. A key question is how to these ("microscopic") differences in attachment mechanisms manifest in terms of the networks "macroscopic" statistics. A (much) harder inverse problem (that we won't get to this summer) is if one wants a desired statistical property in a network (say, a particular degree distribution), how can one design a specific attachment mechanism (or family thereof) to achieve it. Unsurprisingly, the Caltech Alumni Association is seriously interested in this project.

3. Liuyi ("Ye") Pei: Ye, a frosh in Page, is going to be looking at Congressional roll call votes using network theory. This is the third separate Congressional dataset my group will be studying, so she'll be comparing her results with the House committee networks and (especially!) the House and Senate legislation cosponsorship networks. She'll also be comparing what she finds with previous data-mining work that has been done on the roll call data. We have this data for the entire history of the US, so Ye will be looking at historical questions --- shifts of political parties, what's happening now with the 110th Congress, etc. Ironically, Ye lives in the same town as Yan Zhang, who worked with me on the legislation cosponsorship network (and who is finishing up some plots for a paper on the topic that is currently in progress). Their parents know each other, but I don't know if they have ever actually met (even though they're in the same House). I believe Ye said she saw Yan walking around once.

Students with me as secondary advisor (alphabetical order):

1. Sherry Chen: Sherry, a frosh who is rooming with Ye in Page (yeah, roommate SURFers!), is working on a project in synchronization. She is adapting a paper from a few years ago that dealt with a certain situation in a neuroscience application (involving getting more precise control in the presence of extrensic noise) to work for "antiferromagnetic" synchronization in nanomechanical oscillators. There are both positive and negative connections, and an antiferromagnetic situation would refer to an alternation of spin up and spin down, so in this context you basically have half the oscillators synchronized with each other and the other half 180 degrees apart from the first group but synchronized with each other. (The coupling between oscillators in separate groups is negative, and this can complicate the situation. One can also generalize the 180 degrees to more complicated situations.) Sherry will ultimately need to deal with not only phase oscillators but also ones with amplitude dynamics. There will be both numerics and analytics, and eventually we hope to compare to work being done in the Roukes experimental group (which is local). Sherry has begun working on the project already. Cat is the one who first referred Sherry to me, so he gets an assist on this one. (I need to see if one can pay for people to get floated at Page dinners because I am very amused by the idea of me, the advisor, floating a pair of roommates who are both research students of mine.)

2. Matt Glau: I haven't actually met Matt, and I can't remember if he's a freshman or a sophomore. He's also working on synchronization in nanomechanics, though he'll be focusing on coupling between small numbers of oscillators so he can get some analytical stuff done with them.

The other student working with Mike and me this summer:

Kausteya Roy: Kausteya is working on solitary waves in Bose-Einstein condensates with spatially-dependent scattering lengths (i.e., spatially varying nonlinearity coefficients). In particular, he'll be considering various sorts of piecewise constant coefficients to hopefully be able to do some analytical work with them as well as numerics to set the stage. He'll start with one jump, but eventually work up to a situation in which the coefficients are periodic and piecewise constant. Solitary waves that one finds in such situations are known as "surface" solitary waves.

Now that I've written these descriptions, I've done part of the work in adding short descriptions to my research website. I also need to add these students to the advisees listen in my CV.

Monday, April 09, 2007

2007 baseball season: update

After returning home from Florida, I was able to watch my first Dodger game of the season (I had listened to a few spring training games on the radio), which also meant finally getting a chance to listen to the great Vin Scully announce a game. (He doesn't call spring training games anymore.) At some level, the baseball season doesn't truly begin until I get to hear Vin call a game. He is the best announcer ever! (Even though I was exhausted when I got back, there was no way I was going to miss the Dodger game, so I stayed up many extra hours just so I could catch the game. I had about 1-2 hours of restless sleep on the plane, but I had otherwise been up for 40 or so straight hours by the time I crashed. I watched the Dodger game, got ice cream, watched baseball tonight, and then talked to a friend by IM for 15 minutes before my body started shaking and I finally crashed.)

After starting the season with two straight losses to the Brewers, the Dodgers have won 4 games in a row (including a three-game sweep of the hated Giants!). We are currently tied for second place, .5 games behind Arizona. The Giants are in dead last.

My fantasy team also had a rough start, but it has started doing well the last few days. After today's games, I am now first place in my division (with 20 teams), though my 97-point lead is rather tenuous. Led by awesome starts by both Johan Santana and Kip Wells, my team I earned 355 points yesterday and gained 859 spots in the world rankings to land at number 72 out of about 11000. I have no starters going tomorrow, so I'm going to dip a bit (and likely also lose first in my division briefly unless my hitters start picking things up a bit). I am currently 200 points behind the #1 person overall. (If the season ended today, I would get $60. The cost to play was $18.) By the way, the name of my team is "Make Solitons, Not War". I'm planning to design a t-shirt with that slogan, but I haven't gotten around to it (and have other shirts I need to finish designing first anyway).

(Oh, and today I played Zelda: Twilight Princess for the first time since March 26th. Now that I am home and have enough sleep to play, I'll try to advance a bit more. I am currently flying to achieve higher ground in the twilit Lake Hylia.)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Disciplined Minds

I imagine I heard of this book before, but after an e-mail I received today, I am interested in taking a look at it.

This book was written by Jeff Schmidt who used to write for Physics Today but was apparently fired as a result of writing this book.

First, let me quote the wikipedia entry (which I imagine will be expanding a bit in the near future):

Jeff Schmidt is a physicist who worked as an Associate Editor of Physics Today, the magazine of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), for 19 years before he was fired for writing the book Disciplined Minds[1]. Schmidt's firing led to a public campaign involving academics and physicists, the largest number of physicists to ever speak out on a freedom of expression issue. The public campaign in turn led to a legal case, carried by a law firm specializing in civil liberties issues, that produced a favorable settlement for Schmidt, including anti-discrimination policy changes at AIP.

According to the e-mail, "Based upon examples from physics graduate training and beyond, it provocatively critiques workplace hierarchy in general and the politically subordinate role of people hired to do creative work.[2]"

Schmidt ended up taking legal action and AIP recently settled the case; they agreed to shell out a lot of money and make germane public statements.

Reference [2] is the Disciplined Mind home page.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Caltech women's table tennis

I should blog about this a bit, since I have a close friend on the team and refer to various ping pong things pretty frequently in general.

Anyway, the Caltech women's table tennis team was in lovely Columbus, Ohio for the past few days competing in Nationals. (Yes, a Caltech team made Nationals. That's pretty much the impetus for this blog entry.) They returned to Pasadena on Monday and because of the tiring weekend, my friend went to only 4 hours of class on Monday instead of her usual 6 (hard core!).

A couple of months ago, both the men's and women's teams went down to San Diego to compete in a regional tournament. They were ranked something like 14th before it started and on the strength of our #1 player, who went undefeated there, the women's team rose all the way to an 8th place ranking at the time and (after some more regional tournaments took place) received the news that they got into Nationals as a wild card team. For Nationals, the team needed to have some sort of uniform, so I helped in some preliminary discussions for part of the design (I basically provided some feedback) and more directly with manpower in helping to make the shirts.

The team had heard about some great players on other teams in Nationals, so it was known that things would be tough. I got some information on Sunday morning and got some more today. Caltech did finish in last, but they almost didn't. So while most schools wouldn't consider this a huge success, getting to Nationals (which is unheard of for teams from Tech) and almost avoiding the cellar is an extremely nice foundation. The #1 player is a freshman, so I'm optimistic about another trip to Nationals next year. The #2 player (the person with whom I hang out) won one of her matches and won a game in an at least one other match.

Almost the entire team (except for the #4 player) experienced injuries or sickness. There were eventually some "ping pong injuries" (a meme that has been going around the Caltech ping pong crowd at least since first term), but there was other stuff, too: The #1 player got sick walking around in the rain (the team is at a hotel not associated with the tournament, so they were walking instead of taking a shuttle), and the #3 player apparently broke out in hives.

I requested to be the unofficial team mascot because I wanted to mention that snippet of infomatin in a bio for a math article of mine (the football-team ranking one) that is coming out this year. My coauthors and I have been mentioning sports-related stuff in our bios, and I already needed to update mine because of recent victories by the Caltech basketball teams. However, I wanted to mention ping pong instead because that's the only Tech sport with which I have any affiliation. Anyway, a vote was taken on Sunday morning, and it was agreed unanimously that I should be the team's mascot. This is one of the proudest moments of my life. I am shedding tears of joy. :)

Sam and Matt's Wedding: A Review

Here's another post that I should have written about three weeks or so ago.

Anyway, in early March, I went to the wedding of former Techers Matt Reese '01 and Sam Bench '01. (Matt is now officially known as Mr. Bench.)

The wedding was held in a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado; this allowed for a lot of hanging out because most of us were staying in the cabin. Sleep was rather sparse but flicking was plentiful. In fact, that was my favorite part of the weekend, because I really don't get a chance to do traditional flicking very much anymore. The wedding guests included one very close friend of mine (Jit Kee Chin '01) and some people I had not seen in a very loooooong time (such as Selwyn Scharnhorst '00 and Jaideep Singh '00). I volunteered to help do gofer work in the kitchen a couple of times, but Jit Kee knew to keep me away from there, because this likely would have led to a negative contribution. (It's good to have that kind of reputation.)

Stephen Shepherd '00 conducted the wedding, and the neuroscientist in him came out in several of his comments. Anyway, the fact that he presided over the wedding was highly amusing.

A few people also arranged it so that The Ride started playing (though it was stopped after a few bars) right after the vows were exchanged. (I knew it was coming and my heart rate still went up!) The reaction from the audience was a mixture of horrified shock and utter confusion, so it was very easy to tell who went to Tech (not that one couldn't already do that).

Anyway, it was very fun and very tiring, and it was especially nice to hang out with some people I hadn't seen in many years!


I meant to write this post quite a while ago.

On Thursday, March 8th, the Caltech physics colloquium had its second historical/societal talk in a row. This time it was on a group known as the JASONa.

As stated in wikipedia, JASON is an independent group of scientists that advises the U.S. government on matters of science and technology. The group was first created as a way to get a younger generation of scientists — that is, not the older Los Alamos and MIT Radiation Laboratory alumni — involved in advising the government. It was established in 1960 and has somewhere between 30 and 60 members.

There are some Caltech profs who have been part of this and others who are rumored to be -- including some people in the audience for the talk, at least one of whom doesn't normally doesn't show up to physics colloquiua.

The talk, based on a book the speaker just published, was really interesting. It was also notable in several respects:

1. There were no visuals. The speaker is a historian, and apparently their tradition in talks is to read from stuff they wrote (with occasional skipping of paragraphs, sections, and so on).

2. This is the first physics colloquium I have ever seen in which the speaker used the word "fuck." She was quoting Murph Goldburger (as in "Murph Day"), who apparently was pretty crude in how he talked.

3. The oft-quoted "political policy is like sausage" made another appearance.

4. There was a nice euphemism about putting "people who understand our interests" in the group. I like that line.

Update: My 2006 Nonlinear Science Gallery article

My paper on Congress from the 2006 Gallery of Nonlinear Images was the 8th most downloaded paper of the journal Chaos in February. It dropped out of the top 20 in January and, after premiering around December 15th, was something like the 19th most downloaded paper in Chaos in December. Well, at least people seem to be reading some of my stuff.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Google TiSP

Today, Google released the beta version of their new TiSP service. I was especially amused by the 'TiSP for Enterprise' under Advanced TiSP options. Anyway, this one was very funny, but I liked Google Romance better (because love is, after all, just another search problem).

Because of my current trip, research, upcoming book, Zelda, and general hanging out, I didn't have a chance to do an April Fools joke this year. (Additionally, doing lots of writing with the book also made me less inclined to spend time writing polished stuff in other arenas at the moment.) However, here are links to some of my past handiwork:




Play ball!

Today is opening day of the 2007 Major League Baseball season.

There is only one game tonight (Cardinals vs. Mets), but there will be plenty more to come later. I still need to finish up reading spring training box scores and there's a small change I want to make for my fantasy team. Plus, I still haven't gotten a chance to listen to Vin Scully yet this season, but that will happen in the next few days.