Thursday, May 31, 2007

Caltech press release for Legends III

Here is the official press release for Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark.

I expect to get contacted by some local media at some point because at least the Pasadena newspapers should be interested in this. I have work to catch up on (new stuff that built up as well as old stuff that was already there) when I get back to campus, so hopefully that won't disrupt my researcg too much.

I'll blog more about the conference later. Among other things, I want to discuss the cannibalistic locusts. (Yes, there are cannibalistic herbivores.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Random Cracks

I just found out from Katiya that one of her officemates has chosen Bruno for his advisor.

She asked me to guess what he'll be working on, so I naturally assumed it entailed wave scattering off surfaces with random cracks. That is apparently going to be involved along the way, although it won't be the main thing. But there's no point in discussing the main goal, because random cracks are all that matter for the purposes of this blog entry. (For those of you who don't know, 'random cracks' are fightin' words when it comes to Tim and [especially] Cat. Also, this post gives me another chance to use my 'Cat' tagline.)

Baseball Update

Here's a quick baseball update.

The Dodgers are holding on to a very small lead in the National League West, as we start the day .5 games ahead of Arizona.

The Yankees start the day tied for last place in the American League East with the Tamba Bay Devil Rays. They are 14.5 games behind the division-leading Red Sox. Seeing the Yankees buried like this just warms my heart...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Surprising new knowledge

I just learned that the preferred US pronunciation of 'primer' (when referring to teaching material; not the kind of primer used in biochemistry) ryhmes with dimmer. (The 'primer' from biochemistry has a preferred pronunciation that rhymes with dimer.) However, pronouncing it the way I've always pronounced it -- as if it rhymes with dimer -- is correct (though not preferred, as I mentioned), so I'll continue doing it that way. And maybe that will help me fit in just a bit, because the secondary pronunciation is apparently the primary one in Britain.

I really ought to crash. I'm getting up at 7am tomorrow and still have some work e-mails and baseball articles I want to deal with first.

I'll blog more about the conference later. We'll see what I remember to write about.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More on 'jumping the shark'

So, I was at the welcoming reception talking to a collaborator and some of his friends from grad school (one of whom I met previously who is speaking in one of our sessions), and one person poses the questions, "What are the signs this conference has jumped the shark?"

In an earlier blog entry, I discussed one possible use of the term 'jumping the shark' in science.

So, the following were considered as possibly sufficient conditions (maybe each is sufficient?):

(a) Certain specific people (including some I like to rag on) are invited as plenary speakers.

(b) You're only allowed to give one talk every two occurrences of the conference.

(c) Hmmm... I'm pretty sure others were mentioned.

I then talked about how academic careers could jump the shark, and I mentioned Brian Josephson and my advisor as an example. (In the case of my advisor, he was trained as a theoretical physicist, yet he tries to prove Goldbach's conjecture, which has been unsolved for over 300 years, using elementary methods. He also used to show me his supposed "proofs," which I refuted easily. He also shows up at people's doors unanounced and tries to get instant gratification in answering his questions no matter what they're doing. I could expan on this description with mounds and mounds of detail, but it's quite clear that he jumped the shark.)

We also talked what would entail academic journals and departments jumping the shark.

I saw a lot of old friends, collaborators, and colleagues today. I'll write more about that later. I'll also write more about my recent credit card adventures and the stupidity tax I'm paying as a result. Some people really went leaps and bounds above the call of duty to help me out here. It means a lot to me.

What happens in Snowbird stays in Snowbird

I am flying tomorrow morning to Salt Lake City and then taking ground transportation to Snowbird for the 2007 SIAM Conference on Applications of Dynamical Systems. This conference, which occurs every odd year at the end of May, is my favorite conference scientifically because it has what I consider the optimal level of subject specificity (in my main subject!) and size (about 500-800 people). I've gone to this conference three times before -- I sadly had to miss the 2005 one because of the trifecta of a conference in Taiwan the week before, moving to LA the week after, and not having any money to attend in the first place (any one of the three would have prevented my attendance by itself) -- and I know a ton of the people attending it. Among the attendees this time are two friends from graduate school who I haven't seen since I left Cornell.

I have co-organized a two-part minisymposium on complex networks. The first part is on community detection and the second part is on dynamical systems on networks. One of our speakers, Aaron Clauset (whose blog you can reach via the menu bar on the left) typically summarizes conferences and minisymposia he attends, so I'll plan on linking to those specific posts if and when they are available.

Oh, I forgot to mention this before: Today is the five-year anniversary of the official awarding of my Ph.D. I celebrated the day with pirates. (I'll write a post about that later, along with the other three movies about which I need to post. I already am going to get much less sleep tonight than I want.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Quote of the Day

Bill Maher made approximately the following comment in the 5/13 episode of Real Time: "Why is it that the Republicans always win with the 'You're fucking kidding me!' candidate?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tales from the arXiv: Alternative Applications of Fluid Mechanics

The following paper just got posted on the arxiv:

Date: Thu, 24 May 2007 16:11:59 GMT (214kb)

Title: Swimming with a friend at low Reynolds number
Authors: C. M. Pooley, G. P. Alexander, and J. M. Yeomans
Categories: cond-mat.soft cond-mat.other
Comments: 6 pages, 4 figures
We investigate the hydrodynamic interactions between microorganisms swimming
at low Reynolds number. By considering simple model swimmers, and combining
analytic and numerical approaches, we investigate the time-averaged flow field
around a swimmer. At short distances the swimmer behaves like a pump. At large
distances the velocity field depends on whether the swimming stroke is
invariant under a combined time-reversal and parity transformation. We then
consider two swimmers and find that the interaction between them consists of
two parts; a dead term, independent of the motion of the second swimmer, which
takes the expected dipolar form and a live term resulting from the simultaneous
swimming action of both swimmers which does not. We argue that, in general, the
latter dominates. The swimmer--swimmer interaction is a complicated function of
their relative displacement, orientation and phase, leading to motion that can
be attractive, repulsive or oscillatory.
\\ ( , 214kb)

Basically, I'm posting this because I really like the title. One thought it made me have was to wonder what boinking is like at low Reynolds number. (I doubt this arXiv blog entry will lead to an ego boost like the last one did.) Life at low Reynolds numbers, indeed! (This last sentence is alluding to a very famous article by Purcell. I haven't read it, but I really should. In fact, I've heard it's very readable, so I'll also recommend this to the rest of you.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This one hits close to home.

The following arXiv paper includes a rigorous definition of insecure:

Date: Wed, 23 May 2007 00:46:24 GMT (5kb)

Title: Birkhoff billiards are insecure
Authors: Serge Tabachnikov
Categories: math.DG math.DS
We prove that every compact plane billiard, bounded by a smooth curve, is
insecure: there exist pairs of points $A,B$ such that no finite set of points
can block all billiard trajectories from $A$ to $B$.
\\ ( , 5kb)

No wonder I like to study compact planar billiards! They're insecure -- just like me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Congratulations to Jeff Mach!

Jeff (Lloyd, class of 96) sent an e-mail that his brother's wife gave birth to a new daughter. So, while the kid isn't Jeff's, he did send an e-mail bragging about it, so congratulations are in order. (Because if somebody is that happy, then it doesn't matter if it's their kid.)

Some Ditch Day pictures

Lemming posted some Ditch Day pictures I want to pass along:

A duct-taping we witnessed at lunch.

An awesome puzzle from a Lloyd stack.

I still haven't gotten copies of the pictures of the shenanigans that went on in my office on Ditch Day, so I'll have to pass those along later.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Legends of Caltech: The Weekend

The book release party was on Friday night. Many of you were there.

Yesterday was the book signing and a brief honor just before the main seminar day session in Beckman Auditorium. There was a bit of a communication issue (hmmm... that's eerily familar) and Autumn and I were not informed that we were supposed to go into the side entrance of Beckman (well, the regular entrance would be ok as well) and that we had reserved seats in the front. We were sitting in the back so we could escape after our names were mentioned and we stood up because neither of us had any desire to see the talk. I was not informed that I was supposed to pick up a name tag (because I hadn't registered for Reunion Weekend), so I had to spend several minutes convincing the ushers to let me into Beckman in the first place. (Actually, it occurred to me in advance that this might happen and my general reaction was one of extreme amusement. A big part of me was hoping that they wouldn't let me in because that would have been truly spectacular.)

The book signing was rather busy. Thankfully, some of my friends stopped by, so it was good that I had a chance to see them and talk to them for a little while. Autumn and I signed a lot of books over a 2 and a half hour period. Jorge Cham was also there signing for a little while. We got more customers than he did this time around, and that obviously had a lot to do with the timing and general event. As of 2:30 pm, 167 copies of Legends III had been sold (since it's Thursday 5/10 release; I think the bookstore started actually selling them on 5/11). About 250 copies each of the first two books in the series are sold every year, so we're doing quite well. Of course, the sales of our book will eventually stabilize as well, though it should be at higher than 250 because our book has an ISBN (so that it should show up on at some point).

One of people who showed up to buy the book and get an autograph yesterday was Tom Apostol. He had met Autumn before (from when she dressed up as a giant copy of Tommy I -- this picture is in the book) and he asked her to sign the book. Autumn pointed out that he should get my autograph as well, but he decided to dis me and go right in line to buy the book instead. I would expect better of a fellow mathematician. :) Ah well... you can't win them all.

Today was the Rickets-Dabney House reunion dinner. I recognized a few people from the late 90s, including one person whose gender seems to have changed in the intervening years. (I can give a little more detail privately.) I talked a bit about the new book (and the fact that we want submissions for Legends IV) and then we raffled off a few free copies of Legends III. One of the Alumni Association (AA) people at the event accidently gave me a raffle ticket, so I joked around at the end of my "speech" (unlike Tom Mannion, the other speaker, I didn't use a script) about hoping that I won one with mine. I then went back to my seat. Another AA person then drew the first winner, which turned out to be me, which gave me the perfect opportunity to make an additional snarky comment publicly. (She had previously stated that I wasn't eligible after I first made the joke.) I was highly amused! (Actually, most of the audience members were rather amused by this.)

More interesting news: I found out from Tom Mannion that somebody is planning to produce a documentary about pranking at Caltech, so I'm going to be having lunch (or dinner) with that guy, Tom, and current Lloydie (and former ASCIT President) Todd Gingrich (who contributed to Legends III). I told Tom about the idea of trying to get a modern version of Real Genius, and this will be an excellent way to proceed in that direction. The meeting probably won't occur until after the school year, so I'll keep you posted on this new development.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Modulated Amplitude Waves in Collisionally Inhomogeneous Bose-Einstein Condensates"

One of my research papers just got published in Physica D. My collaborators and I posted a version of it on the arXiv many moons ago and, in fact, it has already been cited a couple of times.

My coauthors for this paper are Panos Kevrekidis, Boris Malomed, and Dimitri Frantzeskakis.

Here is the abstract:

We investigate the dynamics of an effectively one-dimensional Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) with scattering length a subjected to a spatially periodic modulation, a = a (x ) = a (x + L ). This “collisionally inhomogeneous” BEC is described by a Gross–Pitaevskii (GP) equation whose nonlinearity coefficient is a periodic function of x . We transform this equation into a GP equation with a constant coefficient and an additional effective potential and study a class of extended wave solutions of the transformed equation. For weak underlying inhomogeneity, the effective potential takes a form resembling a superlattice, and the amplitude dynamics of the solutions of the constant-coefficient GP equation obey a nonlinear generalization of the Ince equation. In the small-amplitude limit, we use averaging to construct analytical solutions for modulated amplitude waves (MAWs), whose stability we subsequently examine using both numerical simulations of the original GP equation and fixed-point computations with the MAWs as numerically exact solutions. We show that “on-site” solutions, whose maxima correspond to maxima of a (x ), are more robust and likely to be observed than their “off-site” counterparts.

Basically, the idea is that the nonlinearity coefficient is periodic (which can be achieved using a spatially-periodic magnetic field) and one can get lots of interesting things by putting the periodicity there instead of in the linear potential (which has been studied in considerable detail by many people, including me).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quote of the Day (overheard at Chandler)

As can occasionally happen, my extreme innocence has led to yet another another Housequote: "I haven't done the third grade thing yet."

I slip up way too often. That's what I get from having an obscenely high purity score.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

RIP Jerry Fallwell (1933-2007)

Here is a link to the New York Times article about his death.

I could make any number of snide remarks right now, but the guy died, so I'm not going to do that in this space. My opinions on what he believed and represented are well-known to to everybody who is reading this, and there's just no need for any comments on my part.

Tomorrow is Today!

As I mentioned to some of you earlier, Tomorrow is today.

I was told the day Tomorrow would come a few days ago because I was helping Janet Sheung a bit with her stack. Towards that end, there were some shenanigans in my office earlier today. I'll hopefully post some links to pictures later, and I'll postpone a discussion of the events that transpired until then.

Until next time, remember the portentious words of Little Orphan Annie: Tomorrow is only a day away.

Update: Here are the Ditch Day pictures that Caltech posted on its website.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Congratulations to Steve Van Hooser

Steve Van Hooser's wife Liz brought forth a new daughter (Katherine ["Kate"]) two months ago. Here are pictures from the first month and the second one.

Steve is a postdoc in neuroscience at Duke and will remain there for a few more years.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Words of wisdom from George Carlin

Courtesy Lemming, here is a link to 101 George Carlin quotes. (Carlin turned 70 on May 12th.)

For those of you who don't know, Carlin is my favorite comedian.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

T-shirt of the day

Well, the shirt by itself would be mildly amusing, but the context in which it was worn makes it bloody awesome!

Anyway, I was at Peet's this morning (big surprise there), and I saw a young girl (maybe age 10) wearing a shirt that said "Boys are funny when they're drunk."


Friday, May 11, 2007

Loreena McKennitt concert

Last night, I saw Loreena McKennitt in concert for the second time. (The first time was May 13, 1998 -- the night before Ditch Day my senior year. At the time, I went anyway because I didn't know when my next chance would be and my decision turned out to be fortuitious because her current tour is her first one since then.)

As most of you should know, McKennitt is one of my favorite artists, although her musical style is a bit of a departure from my norm. An Ancient Muse, her first new album in almost 10 years, came out late last year. Loreena sang most of the songs from that album and nearly all of my favorites (and a few other songs) from the rest of her catalog. The only ones I really like that she didn't sing were obscure ones from her really early albums that I figure wouldn't be present. ("Blacksmith" and "Kellswater" are two such songs that come to mind. Actually, in the first encore, Loreena did sing one song I really like that I didn't expect to hear.) Loreena sang the shorter, more upbeat "radio edit" version of "The Mummers' Dance"; by contrast, she sang the "album version" of that song at the concert 9 years ago. Actually, while the songs that Loreena performed had a lot of overlap with the other concert, she sang many of them in different ways -- with extended riffs (for example, "Bonny Swans", which I recognized immediately -- my clapping predated the major flux of clapping in the audience by close to 30 seconds; those people are slow... :) -- was given an extended riff) and so on. The main part of the show was a bit longer than time around, and (to compensate) there were only 2 encores this time instead of 4.

Loreena occasionally cracked jokes during the concert, though this was often in response to comments from people at the front of the audience, so it was hard for me to follow them when I could only hear her answers and a small subset of the audience comments. One audience comments sounded like a request to play some Queen (though, based on context, I assume it was actually "Freebird"); Loreena responded with "Our next number will be 'Stairway to Heaven'." and one or two of the back-up musicians played a couple of chords from the song.

Anyway, McKennitt is a very talented, charismatic performer and I know that I made some of you utterly sick of her music (especially "The Mummers' Dance" and "Bonny Swans" [my two favorite songs by her]), but if you ever get a chance to see her in concert, I highly recommend that you do so.

My book is out!

The printed copies of my book, Legends of Caltech III: Techer in the Dark (coauthored by Autumn Looijen '99) arrived on campus today.

We also have some web-only stories (and a submission form for new stories). We're still posting the final components of some of the stories, but they will be complete soon enough.

You can buy one online from the Caltech bookstore. If you're local, you can also go to the bookstore on Saturday May 19th from noon to 2:30 pm and get it autographed by Autumn and me. (Or, since I'm local, you can get me to autograph it at any other point as well.) The book has ISBN numbers, so it should be available on at some point.

It's listed today as a campus special.

Caltech should have a press release about the book in the near future and Autumn and I were contacted today by a contributing writer for Wired (which is now defunct) and Popular Science. He'll be discussing some of the book's contents in an upcoming Popular Science article. (I believe he found us via the magic of google. None of the public PR had started when he e-mailed us.)

By the way, if enough people buy the book, maybe we'll be able to screw with the Caltech Alumni Association's tax-exempt status...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Life imitates Major League imitates life

I am listening to the baseball game between the Nationals and the Brewers, which Bob Uecker is currently announcing. Here is the call on a recent pitch: "1-1 count. Just a bit outside." Dude!

I'm sure the quote I have in mind is familiar to most of you. The awesome fact is that the announcer in the movie who made that comment in the movie was played by Bob Uecker, so it's not a random announcer citing the movie -- it's the same person calling the pitch a way he normally would (which was part of the reason why that was used in the movie) which has become a famous movie line because of the way it was used there.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Congratulations to Janet Sheung!

Janet successfully defended her senior thesis this afternoon, so her graduation is now assured (not that there was ever any doubt). The celebratory dinner will include lots of meat (as any proper one should).

She did her research as part of Nai Chang Yeh's group, which is apparently a bit more broken now than it was back in AG's days.

Baseball milestones

Here are some baseball milestones that various players will surpass this year and next year.

It's raining starters... (hallelujah)!

The Yankees set a Major League record last night: They used their 10th different starter in the 30th game of the season and thereby became the first Major League team to ever do this. The Yankees will employ at least one more starter this year (Roger Clemens), so we'll see if they set any other player usage records this season.


Here's an incident that occurred recently (today?) at Caltech that is a microcosm for the akwardness of Caltech males:

Basically, some guy at Tech wanted to hold the door open for a girl at Tech (which is a nice gesture and something I try to be in the habit of doing) and somehow the girl ended up with a broken nose.

I don't have any additional details. (For example, I don't know if there's any "fault" involved and as Lemming points out, it's easy to imagine both parties going to the door at the same time and something like this accidently happening.) I'll let you know if I find out anything further, but it's kind of amusing as a spectacular failure.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Roger Clemens Saga: 2007 Edition

Today it was announced that Roger Clemens will be pitching for the Yankees for the rest of this season. (Actually, he'll make a few minor league starts and then start pitching for the Yankess.)

Clemens is not just a Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher but is on the short-short list of the best pitchers ever (and is in the argument for the best pitcher ever).

Welcome back, Roger! Again. Too bad it had to be the Yankees, though. I would love to see Clemens come back and pitch for the Red Sox to end his career.

I wonder where Clemens will be pitching in 2008?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Lookin' for some Hot Fuzz, baby, this evening!

I saw Hot Fuzz a couple of weeks ago.

Every time I hear the title, I think of Donna Summer and while there was some great music in the film, none of her stuff made it in. (The use of "Romeo & Juliet" was especially awesome, particularly considering that both Lemming and I got that joke far earlier than the rest of the audience because each of us can recognize that song instantly and most of those people actually needed to hear lyrics.)

Hot Fuzz is by the people who brought us Shaun of the Dead and along with the awesome trailer, that was the big reason I wanted to go see it. The film was in the same vein--except for police action movies rather than zombie flicks. The film was very good, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it great, and I definitely liked Shaun better. Along with the main dudes, actors such as Timothy Dalton ("I'm a slasher... of prices!") did very good jobs. There were also a couple of recognizable names in the film who weren't in the credits---including Steve Coogan, Cate Blanchett, and Peter Jackson.

Anyway, while I don't think I liked the movie as much as Lemming and (Mike)^2 did, I did enjoy it quite a bit. You should definitely be lookin' for some Hot Fuzz, baby, this evening.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How to get from New York to London

My brother passed along the following set of instructions to me (from a forwarded message he received):

1. Go to google.

2. Click on "maps".

3. Click on "get directions".

4. Type 'New York' in the first box (the "from" box).

5. Type 'London' in the second box (the "to" box) & hit "get directions" on the same line.

6. Now scroll down to step #24 and read.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The PECOTA Top 100

Here is a very interesting discussion of top prospects and young players (and the teams for which they're affiliated). If you haven't yet noticed how many good young players the Devil Rays have been piling up, take a look at this article...

Also, one of the things I've always loved about the PECOTA system is that it's named for former Major Leaguer Bill Pecota, who would otherwise be forgotten by most people pretty quickly. (I'm pretty sure I have a couple of his rookie cards in my collection. Of course, they aren't actually worth anything.)