Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over 900 e-mails in October...

I sent over 900 e-mails this month. (A decent number of them were pleasure e-mails.)

This isn't my record, but it is my most in a while. The other months that reached these epic proportions included enormous numbers of messages pertaining to the Legends of Caltech book that Autumn Looijen and I wrote. (Writing Legends + teaching courses + research = lots of e-mail. Now we can add College business to that particular equation.)

I really should be going to bed instead of writing this.

Werewolves of Oxford

Tonight was Halloween.

I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada milkshake at G & D's. And his hair was perfect!

Actually, I didn't go out at all for Halloween. (For people across the pond, G & D's is the local ice cream place that I frequent. I often see other Somervillians there, and I have run into a couple of my students there on multiple occasions. As I told one of them, we're going to make Somerville the hip place in Oxford to study mathematics.) I played some Vampire today (which is appropriate), I went to our first event for OCIAM's Masters students (where I had one of my patented "Mason moments," as Carlos Torre used to call them... it was actually pretty classy and it helped get the right point across, so the strategy and its concomitant [very] pointed question that I asked the speaker seemed to work pretty well), and then I've spent most of the day and night marking assignments in preparation for my tutorial session assignments tomorrow. (The marking and the Governing Body meeting, which is the other main thing I did today, are absolutely mind-numbing.) Actually, I still have one problem left to mark, but I am taking a break from it. I also ending up not having a proper dinner tonight, although I did grab a couple of pieces of fruit in the SCR during my last break an hour ago. (Have I yet mentioned here that two of my students have absolutely awesome first names? Well, one of the names is "merely" cool and the other is spectacular.)

I'm going to need to show my students what a phase plane is even though they don't officially learn it until next year. It will help them understand some of the dynamics stuff they're doing a lot better, and I think giving them this kind of preview is good anyway.

Oh, and if you don't know the allusion in the title, you should look at this web page. (Also, if you've never heard the title track to this album, then you owe it to yourself to listen to it. I really appreciate the sense of humor in that song! In fact, I really like several of the songs on this album --- I never previously realized that all of these songs actually come from the same album.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Update on finances and possessions

I just got paid by both Somerville and the Mathematical Institute, so I actually have money now.

Actually, I have a decent bit in my UK account because having free rent, free utilities, and free food removes the need for a lot of the spending I used to have. Now I can safely buy my Alison Moyet and Van Morrison tickets without worrying about how much money is left in my bank account.

Also, I found out to today that my stuff --- which previously got delayed to arriving on 10/28 in the UK --- is now slated to arrive in the London on 11/02/07. It will then need to clear customs, which is supposed to take about 5 working days, and then it should finally arrive at my doorstep in Oxford.

It's a good thing, too, because I am going to host a games night at my flat for the Somerville mathematics students I am tutoring. There will be games, and there will be ice cream. You have to love that... (Also, I know at least some of the OCIAM faculty want to come over and play with the Wii, so I also plan on having a games night for them and some of the folks from Somerville who are my age.)

I've been meaning to post my baseball award prediction blog entry, but I'm tired and want to read a bit for pleasure, so I'm going to punt that. Because of the massive amount of marking I'll be doing tomorrow, I am very unlikely to post this entry then. Anyway, stay tuned...

Dodger manager Grady Little resigns

Amidst rumors of being fired imminently and Joe Torre taking over, ESPN's breaking news has reported that Grady Little has resigned as manager of the Dodgers. I'm guessing that Torre will become our new manager (which I would welcome), but let's see how things go...

(By the way, if the new Dodger manager is smart, he'll try to convince Orel Hershiser to become our new pitching coach.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Seinfeld metaphor of the day

You can find the Seinfeld metaphor of the day at this website. (I saw this link on Rob Neyer's blog.)

In other news, I still have to finish preparing my talk for tomorrow. I shouldn't have spent all that time thoroughly looking through one of my 2007 SURF student's papers. I really need to be less accomodating when they wait to the last minute on these things... Commenting on their papers when I need to prepare my slides is not what I should be doing at 1am.

Pictures from the road

Courtesy Charles Lee, here is a picture that he and some friends took on a recent road trip.

Wow. That's spectacularly "impressive"... I am extremely amused!

And I definitely appreciate the Blues Brothers reference...

Optical illusion of the day

Take a look here for the optical illusion of the day.

I've, of course, encountered this particular type of illusion many times, but I think it's just fantastic for it to occupy the entire facade of a building.

(I found this image on the MAA website.)

The spatio-temporal dynamics of purchasing travel tickets

Continuing my past adventures in arranging my travel, I managed to be off by one day in my departure and return train tickets that I purchased for my trip to Durham to give a seminar.

I also added to my headaches by doing this, as it will probably take a month to get reimbursed for the old tickets (the process doesn't start until I send the old tickets back, which won't happen until I actually receive them). I lose 10 pounds in an administration fee, and depending on whether this morning's registers in my bank account before my transaction, I may also go negative very briefly and possibly incur a small charge for doing so. I am such a champ.

My other really "awesome" traveling adventure was when I accidently booked a flight to the wrong city in January 2002 (I didn't realize that the College Park crowd was holding their conference in Baltimore and I flew to a DC airport because I had had a bad experience at the Baltimore airport the previous year).

Well, at least I have always been correct in at least one of space and time for every plane and train ticket I've purchased. (I was going to write 'one of the space and time variables', but I've basically gotten all three spatial variables right when I've gotten any of them right.)

Somehow, I feel that there must be an analogy with spatio-temporal chaos lurking in here somewhere...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Riddle me this

This is a mini-rant.

Riddle me this: How come when people are trying to reacquire stray ping pong balls and the ball goes to the next table, so many of them will aggressively go after it even if the players at the other table are in the middle of a point (which means they should bloody wait until the point is done!) even at the expense of their own health? I have seen this everywhere I've played ping pong and because the quarters we have at Oxford are close ones, I see it more often than usual here. It's also a great way to get seriously hurt --- I've seen multiple people get smacked in the head by a paddle because they did this, although nothing truly serious happened to them as a result of that. The most extreme case I saw today was that I was about to return a ball with a very hard top spin and I suddenly noticed out of the corner of my eye (or out of half of my eye) that somebody's face was suddenly between my paddle and the ball (and I was about to hit the ball really hard and was swinging accordingly). I had to stop short to make sure I didn't nail the guy in the side of the face and I twisted my knee slightly in the process of cutting short my stroke (basically, it's all people involved that can get hurt when people go too close to another table with a point in progress). It still hurts a bit but it should be ok (but part of my mind is telling me I should have just finished my stroke and not risked hurting myself because it was the other idiot who couldn't even wait 20 seconds for the point to finish). Be patient, people!

George Carlin had it right:People are fucking stupid!

(At least this post reminded me to add the 'ping pong injuries' label. That became a meme among the ping pong gang at Caltech the last couple of years.)

Chance meeting in the Senior Common Room

Maybe a good short vignette that indicates a little bit how life on the Oxford faculty is a bit different from life at Caltech is the following:

I was making a pit stop in the Senior Common Room in Somerville about 30 minutes ago to get some coffee and one of Somerville's famous alums happened to be in there at the time. She has a ward who wants to come to Somerville to study mathematics, so we'll perhaps get a chance to talk a little bit more later. Maybe I'll also pick her brain about politics at some point.

Anyway, it's time for me to head off the ping pong.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Time zone adventures

We just fell back over in the UK, so I am temporarily only 7 hours ahead of the Pacific time zone from whence I came.

Do you know what this means? It means it's only about 1:10 am, so I haven't stayed up too late playing Civ IV tonight (though my body and eyes would tell you otherwise, except for the fact that they're mute).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Today's adventures in Eurocracy

Today was spent marking problem sets --- which is just as much "fun" as it was when I was TAing back in the day --- and trying to get the ball rolling to get my National Insurance Number (the UK equivalent to a Social Security number). It's supposed to be abbreviated NINO, but I keep abbreviating it as NIN (first by accident and now on purpose) even though I don't actually like Nine Inch Nails. I now feel like getting this abbreviation wrong is expected of me, so I'm just going to keep doing it.

Anyway, there was some confusion with this because the financial staff in the Mathematical Institute told me I will get instructions with my first pay check. (They are busy with a major time sink with massive quantities of forms involving how much government funding the Mathematical Institute will get, so they are scrambling and because there were so many new people in the department --- which is linked to the particular thing they're doing (for those of you from back home reading this) --- they decided that we should take care of that ourselves. And for many people there probably isn't an issue, but I don't think they truly appreciate just how clueless I am about how this stuff works. I basically feel quite lost when it comes to this sort of thing.

Anyway, I got a message from Somerville today indicating they hadn't gotten some information with me yet and some of the language seemed to me to imply that none of my employers (I am dually employed by Somerville College and Oxford University, as far as where my $ [pounds, actually] comes from) can pay me without an NIN. So then I have these seemingly contradictory pieces of information about the (hopefully!) comprehensible version of the instructions to get an NIN coming with my first paycheck and the comments that made me think that perhaps I cannot get paid without getting the NIN first. (That would be bad for multiple reasons---among them the fact that I would need to borrow more money from my colleagues. I already borrowed some cash so that I wouldn't have to pay annoying fees to transfer money from my U.S. accounts. I find it embarrassing to have to borrow nontrivial sums of money from people like that, and I would really like to repay my debt and actually have money in my U.K. back account so that I no longer have to do that.)

So the gist I got today (and I needed to spend a good amount of time looking at forms, sending e-mails, making phone calls, filling out forms, photocopying every page of my passport, and mailing forms) was that I can turn in the forms with my NIN blank; I will be given a temporary NIN by my employers so that I can get paid; and then now that the ball is rolling, once I have the NIN we can replace the temporary one with the permanent one. I still hope that all the accounting stuff works out correctly (the dual employment thing will confuse matters, and the fact that I still have some U.S. income will confuse matters even more... sigh...) and the plan of attack is basically to look closely at my paychecks when they arrive and take appropriate action as needed if the tax withholdings aren't working out correctly.

Tomorrow is a big teaching day. I will be giving three tutorials, one lecture, and a seminar. And if I have a spare moment, I'll try to find some time to breathe a bit as well.

Hunted by the Yakuza

Or something like that...

We had our second session of Vampire today (I'm in a short tabletop Vampire campaign, for those who haven't heard), and it was really the first full session because we spent the bulk of the time creating characters in the first meeting. The game is set in contemporary Oxford, except with the twist of supernatural things in the air. (Our next session is on Halloween. Spoooooooky....) All of us are humans but have psychic powers (from the book Second Sight) that have just been awakened via a psychological experiment. (We're currently trying to pin down how this happened.) I am playing Billy McLatte, a mild-mannered employee of the Starbucks that is attached to the location of Border's a bit down the road from where I live in real life. Billy has always been interested in the occult, especially the spirit world, and I chose his various skills and specialties (before we picked psychic powers) to give him very good roles in that. His three psychic powers use those good rolls and are actually pretty powerful. He can see and speak to dead people (death sight, ghost calling) and can also do ghost channelling (call either a specific ghost or some random ghost with specific desired abilities --- say, a ghost that's buffer than he is --- into his body). He finds his new powers really cool and always wanted to do the seance thing anyway.

So, why is our party (not just me) now being hunted by the Yakuza (or, more technically, this campaign's version of it). Simple... I called and conversed with the wrong ghost (though I'm pretty sure that conversing with him was an intended part of the plot), who (along with his allies) has basically told us that we should all be killed for breaking the natural balance of things. Hence, because of my character's actions (oops), we are now effectively hunted by the Yakuza. Billy ended up getting chased through the streets of Oxford by a 12-foot tall spectral Hell Hound that started stalking him near St. John's College. Ugh, he can talk to ghosts and do other cool stuff but his physical attributes are craptacular and he can't even come close to defending himself from that. (It's great when the party splits up, huh?)

You know, this isn't the first character I've played that has created party enemies. None of you actually played with Famish, who was my very kenderish sorceror. Sawtooth caused some trouble as well, but his enemies didn't typically leave battles alive and the DM in that game didn't do nasty things like sending assassins to kill us the way my DM at Georgia Tech did. That said, the GT DM was an awesome DM, but the action definitely sometimes came very directly to us. He warned us that people would remember our actions and things like that could happen if we pissed people off. And Famish definitely picked up the 'hunted by the Yakuza' trait --- though I can't remember at the moment what the organization was actually called in that game.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Demographics of designated hitter support

Courtesy of the blog at (i.e., the online presence of Annals of Improbable Research), here is a new report on the demographics of people who support the designated hitter in baseball. The article, which appeared recently in Journal of Political Science (one of the top political science journals), has the following abstract:

Since its introduction in 1973, major league baseball’s designated hitter (DH) rule has been the subject of continuing controversy. Here, we investigate the political and socio-demographic determinants of public opinion toward the DH rule, using data from a nationwide poll conducted during September 1997. Our findings suggest that it is in fact Democrats, not Republicans, who tend to favor the DH. In addition, we find no effect for respondents’ proximity to American or National League teams, though older respondents were consistently more likely to oppose the rule.

This article cites an older one, which I am gathering based on the phrasing in the abstract had the opposite conclusion concerning Democrats and Republicans.

For what it's worth, I'm ok with the DH in one league and not in the other. I'm also registered as an Independent ("no party affiliation", to be technically correct).

A mathematical contest from the Annals of Improbable Research

This month's lymerick contest from the Annals of Improbable Research is the following:

'A Proof Less Strange is the subject of this month's limerick
competition. To enter, compose an original limerick that
illuminates the nature of this report:

"A Less Strange Version of Milnor's Proof of
Brouwer's Fixed-Point Theorem," C.A. Rogers,
American Mathematical Monthly, vol. 87, no. 7,
August/September 1980, pp. 525-7.
this url

RULES: Please make sure your rhymes actually do, and that your
poem is in classic, trips-off-the-tongue limerick form.

PRIZE: The winning poet will receive a (if we manage to send it
to the correct address) a free, possibly strange issue of the
Annals of Improbable Research. Send entries (one entry per
entrant) to:

c/o '

We'll see whether or not I have time to do this. Eventually, I'll also write the lyrics for "88 Lines about 44 Math-men" (perhaps with a different title because I plan to include both male and female mathematicians; I just haven't yet found a catchy title for that yet) to the tune of "88 Lines about 44 Women" by The Nails. This particular parody will take some time to write, so I remain in punt formation for now. But I'll get to it eventually...

Like Caltech's House system, but on crack...

I've been meaning to write a little bit more about the College system at Oxford.

I still don't really know too much as far as specific details go, so I'll give some of my impressions and maybe add in some details on a future occasion.

Oxford has 39 official Colleges and 7 Permanent Private Halls. Much like Caltech's House system, they provide an instant network of people that one can meet. For the undergrads, this seems to be especially true for people who are both in the same year and major, as they are tutored by people like me [this is where I laugh evilly] in very small groups. (Of course, only the people in Somerville College have to put up with me. Well, my OCIAM colleagues and others of that ilk have to put up with me too, but that's a different one of my socio-professional circles.) I am tutoring 3 pairs of 2 people this term. Things like parties, athletics, and so on are also organized by College. The students live and eat together and so on.

The people don't seem as tightly knit as, say, the residents of the Houses at Caltech (and for non-Techers reading this, Caltech's House system took the Oxbridge system as its primary inspiration). But that's easily explained by the numbers: Somerville has about 500 people and, for example, Lloyd House has about 120 people (with 80 living in the confines of the House and the entire Caltech campus being extremely tiny). Of course, given that there are 45 other comparable units, the College system serves to provide a much smaller, more personal social center amidst a much larger whole. Caltech's "larger whole" isn't really all that large, so it's really great to be able to provide this kind of atmosphere at a big school.

The thing that struck me about the being associated with a College (and, in my case, I am also in residence) is that it makes meeting people so much easier. This is the same boon that I experienced as a frosh at Caltech because of the House system and it's been wonderful to have it again---especially given that I am in a new place in which I started out basically not knowing anybody. In this case, I've also met interesting, nice people with academic interests that are so different from mine that I would not have had the chance to meet them elsewhere. And being able to talk to them regularly has really been great. The younger faculty and postdocs have been sticking together as well. (I still don't know anybody really well from either Somerville or OCIAM, but tomorrow is the three-week anniversary of my arrival, so this is obviously very much expected.) I bought my copy of the British Isles edition of Apples to Apples and should soon get my stuff from oversease, so I'm hoping to haost a game night soon. (I checked on wikipedia and the second expansion of the Apples to Apples party box for the U.S. edition is the one that consists of cards that are orthogonal to mine, so please remind me when I'm back in the U.S. that that is the one I should buy for that set.)

Like with the Houses at Tech, the students here seem to identify themselves by College (and I had heard before I got here that that was the case). When I asked my perturbation theory students to write down their e-mail addresses, they instead wrote down their Colleges (which uniquely specifies one of their given Oxford e-mail addresses). The reason I mention that the College system is like the House system but on crack is that not only are the undergrads affiliated, but so are the graduate students, the postdocs, and the faculty. So many of us identify at least a little bit with our College. I have been asked what College I'm in a couple of times, although it doesn't seem to have the ubiquity of "What House are you in?" I'm waiting to find someone who was (or is, in the case of exchange students) a Caltech undergrad so I can ask them what House they were in. :) Having both students and faculty affiliated with the College is a great way to get them to interact with each other much more than they otherwise might.

The students often eat together, but Somerville doesn't have the daily waited dinners that Caltech does. A couple of times a week, there are some fancier dinners that more people attend (including more faculty, postdocs, and staff) that are waited, but other dinners are just like eating lunch in a dorm. There isn't any floating, roll-tossing, table takeovers, or anything like that, so dinners don't seem to bring people together the way they can at Tech. Of course, it's worth noting again that we're talking about 500 students in a College rather than 120.

Another thing that's interesting is that some aspect of my interactions with my students reminds me of my days TAing at Tech while still an undergrad. For one thing, tutoring sessions bear some resemblance to office hours. For another, the "classes" I teach that go with my perturbation theory lectures are pretty much the same thing as the recitation sections from the U.S. (However, attendance for lectures, classes, and [of course!] tutoring sessions is much better here! More of the students are serious about such things here. The quality of the students seems very high --- no surprise there! --- though I've been at Caltech, so you know what I think about the students there... I did see familiar mistakes and conceptual difficulties on the calculus stuff. Some things are universal. :) ) Also, I see several of my students (especially the ones I tutor) around Somerville when I'm doing stuff. It's kind of like running into my SURF students on campus, but there's a bit of the old flavor too in that at least one of them lives in the same building I do and I've occasionally seen them eating in the dining hall. (Of course, I think there will be a duplication of my junior year at Tech. People turned in their assignments to my room --- that actually might happen a bit because the door to the room with my pidgeonhole gets locked --- and one person who was living across the hall from me and in my recitation section could literally turn in his assignments without leaving his room, so he did that on a regular basis just because he could. This won't surprise anybody who knows me, but I very much like being able to have close interactions with my students. That's one of the great perks of this job, which is veritably cushy in many respects. (I have to work my ass off, but I'd do that anyway no matter what faculty job I got. I get as much free food as I want, I don't pay for my apartment, I can get free espresso drinks and pastries [though I still go and pay for proper iced lattes in the morning because I prefer my coffee cold], and Somerville even bought a suit for me that I will be using as an Examiner and at dinner functions like the one with Baroness Jay.)

Thankfully, there is nothing here like Rotation. However, students apply directly to Colleges and people like me interview them and decide who is going to get in. (I don't know exactly how this works yet, but I'll be helping to decide who Somerville's future mathematicians will be. So I'm thinking that the prospective students ought to brush up on their Super Smash Brothers Melee skills before they come here for the interview in order to have any chance of getting in. That could supplement some of the mathematical questions we give them, and it's testing a more important set of skills anyway. :P Well, I'll be taking an online training course and finding out what types of questions actually are given soon enough, but once my stuff arrives from overseas, I plan on digging around my old notes and homework to find the sailboat problem... I'll try to find some framework around here where it fits, and the mathematics curriculum here does include some mechanics.)

I'll add more about the College system when I actually know more about it. (And people who know more about how things work here should definitely correct anything I messed up.) I just wanted to make some comments about some similarities and differences that I see here versus at Caltech. There are, naturally, differences across Colleges. I believe that some of them have waited dinners much more often, for instance. To give another example, some of them are more formal than others. Some of the Colleges have rivalries with each other, although I doubt any of them are as heated as Page-Fleming sometimes gets. (I was asked a couple of weeks ago who Somerville's rival College was. I don't even know if we have one.)

Ah well, this entry is long enough.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Comment of the Day

I uttered an unintended doozy today, and it's actually a quote that is not offensive in any way. (Many of my doozies that get past my filters --- which are very weak filters, for those of haven't experienced me enough yet --- have a tendency to offend somebody, or occasionally several people. Though some of them are also funny, at least in my opinion.)

I was trying to explain to some of my students that the subjects of asymptotics and perturbation theory required a lot of art. (To borrow a phrase from Michael Berry, I called it "witchcraft" at some point --- though to be honest, I was also thinking that I really would like be watching some episodes of Buffy and Angel.) I wanted to make the point that it wasn't just a matter of being mechanical and grinding a crank. So I said something along the lines of "Asymptotics is the Terminator 3 of mathematics; it's only partially mechanical." (I should say that almost none of mathematics is purely mechanical, though many of the things my students have seen up to this point in their careers have largely been mechanical. I was trying to assert how much creativity, thinking, and experience is required in asymptotics compared to most of the stuff they had seen previously. As you can see, I came up with a resoundingly-successful analogy. For that matter, I'm even wondering if the T3 part of my analogy was inaccurate. I never even saw the movie.)

I'll try to be more poetic during my next class.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Interesting new paper (on topics near and dear to my heart)

Here is a really interesting new paper that just got posted to the arxiv.

It discusses a very interest way of constructing datasets for social networks that is very appealing and I would like to use in future research. (In fact, even though I haven't had the chance to read it closely yet --- I started rectifying that earlier this evening, though I don't plan to finish reading it until tomorrow --- this paper has already given me some new ideas for undergraduate and/or Masters research projects for this summer.) Moreover, the working examples in this paper cover three of my favorite groups of people: physicists, U.S. Senators, and baseball players. (It's like the authors are trying to steal my heart: not only did they do something really interesting with real-world networks, but look at the examples they chose! And they even cited one of my papers. If I ever decide to deal with children, I think I'll simply have to adopt some of the authors of this paper.) Also, I very much appreciate the use of the word "googling" in the paper's title. I use the word a lot (and I know others among my crowd at least use it occasionally), but I had never previously seen it in the title of a scientific paper.

Here is the paper's abstract:

Recently, massive digital records have made it possible to analyze a huge amount of data in social sciences such as social network theory. We investigate social networks between people by extracting information on the World Wide Web. Using famous search engines such as Google, we quantify relatedness between two people as the number of Web pages including both of their names and construct weighted social relatedness networks. The weight and strength distributions are found to be quite broad. A class of measure called the R{\'e}nyi disparity, characterizing the homogeneity of weight distribution for each node, is presented. We introduce the maximum relatedness subnetwork, which extracts the most essential relation for each individual. We analyze the members of the 109th United States Senate as an example and demonstrate that the methods of construction and analysis are applicable to various other social groups and weighted networks.

Their idea for gathering data is awesome! Because I haven't read the paper closely yet, I'll reserve comments as to the analysis they do with that data. However, their choice of methodoly has already inspired several ideas in my head, so that alone makes this paper's existence extremely worthwhile in my book.

The most straightforward of my ideas is simply to use their method of data collection to construct other networks that interest me (such as collaborations among mathematicians and various kinds of collaborative connections in the U.K. parliament). However, I'm also wondering if I can come up with some sort of variant involving Google Battle. (For the record, Oxford beats Cambridge according to this index. Sadly, Caltech doesn't fair nearly as well against MIT. In fact, this latter battle was downright embarrassing for the home team.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

T-shirt of the day

Take a look at this t-shirt, which (in a highly amusing fashion!) makes a nice statement about the fact that mascots like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians simply have to go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Community Structure in the United States House of Representatives"

One of my papers, Community Structure in the United States House of Representatives just came out in Physica A. (My coauthors on this paper are Peter Mucha, Mark Newman, and A. J. Friend.) Here is the abstract for the paper:

We investigate the networks of committee and subcommittee assignments in the United States House of Representatives from the 101st–108th Congresses, with the committees connected by ‘‘interlocks’’ or common membership. We examine the community structure in these networks using several methods, revealing strong links between certain committees as well as an intrinsic hierarchical structure in the House as a whole. We identify structural changes, including additional hierarchical levels and higher modularity, resulting from the 1994 election, in which the Republican party earned majority status in the House for the first time in more than 40 years. We also combine our network approach with the analysis of roll call votes using singular value decomposition to uncover correlations between the political and organizational structure of House committees.

I am currently very active in continuing this work, with a current focus on Congress that includes not just committee assignment networks but also legislation cosponsorship networks and roll call voting networks. I also have datasets for US Supreme Court case citations, and I am planning to find some UK political datasets to help entice some of the locals to work with me on this stuff.

If you are interested in this stuff, the paper that just came out is an archival (i.e., very long) sequel to this paper that appeared in 2005 in PNAS. (For those who participated in a certain discussion last Thursday, this 2005 PNAS paper is currently my favorite among all the research papers I've written.)

I will be talking about some of my work on US Congressional and American college football networks on October 30th in Oxford's complex systems seminar series. If nothing else, you can use this as a good excuse to go inside the business school and see how the other half lives.

Presentations by 2007 SURF Students

For those of you near Pasadena, my 2007 SURF students will be presenting talks about their research at Caltech on Saturday (10/20). I don't have final versions of their papers yet, so I'll post those in a future blog entry, but I'll provide links to the two sessions in which they're speaking and give the titles of their talks.

The synchronization students are speaking in this session. They are as follows:

Alex Cayco-Gajic, Synchronization in Coupled Phase Oscillators

Sherry Chen, Antiferromagnetic Synchronization in Nanomechanical Oscillators

Matt Grau, Small Systems of Nonlinear Oscillators

The networks students are speaking in this session. They are as follows:

Ye Pei, A Network Theory Study of Roll Call Votes in the United States Congress

Olga Mandelshtam, Growth Models of Online Social Networks

Additionally, at least four of my former SURF students are going to be giving talks on Saturday about work they have done with other people. They are Sean Li, Tom Mainiero, Austin Webb, and Tatjana Wiese.

For people on my side of the pond, I am very actively continuing my work on social networks and I am trying to find local students to work with me on that stuff. I also plan to continue the synchronization stuff, which is a new area for me.

A show with everything but Gary Coleman

Back when I was still living in the United States --- you know, a few weeks ago --- I finally got a chance to see the musical Avenue Q, which I had really wanted to see ever since I first heard about.

Here is part of wikipedia's description of the musical:

The show is largely inspired by (and is in the style of) Sesame Street: Most of the characters in the show are puppets (operated by actors onstage), the set depicts several tenements on a rundown street in an "outer borough" of New York City, both the live characters and puppet characters sing, and short animated video clips are played as part of the story. Also, several characters are recognizably parodies of classic Muppet characters: for example, the roommates Rod and Nicky are versions of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, and Trekkie Monster is based on Cookie Monster. However, the characters are in their twenties and thirties and face adult problems instead of those faced by pre-schoolers. The characters use profanity, and the songs concern adult themes

I enjoyed the show very much! The show-stealer was quite clearly the rendition of "The internet is for porn" by Trekkie Monster (with help from some normal people). It was slightly different than the recorded version, and the differences were pretty cool. Trekkie Monster is my favorite character, though it's really too bad that they didn't have a "Do you know what else starts with 'P'?" line... Or maybe a bit of a play on a certain line from The Music Man...

One thing I found out after going to the show was that the "Gary" of the 'normal people' is actually Gary Coleman. This, of course, makes the line about Gary selling all his stuff on eBay even funnier than I thought it was before; in fact, it makes it bloody hilarious! As far as I can tell, the real Gary Coleman has never actually appeared in Avenue Q (which is a shame, because that would be awesome).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tales from the Arxiv (Spoooooooky Edition)

The following paper just got posted to the arxiv preprint server:

Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 19:43:48 GMT (232kb)

Title: Spookytechnology and Society
Authors: Charles Tahan
Categories: physics.pop-ph cond-mat.mtrl-sci quant-ph
Comments: Comments welcome. Visit for
more and related information
New technologies based on the exploitation of so-called "second order"
quantum phenomena - such as quantum entanglement - deserve a public-friendly,
rational, and sexy name. Spookytechnology is that unifying term. From
historical and motivational perspectives, this name has greater value than the
many variations of quantum this and quantum that presently used. As many
already believe, the pursuit of spookytechnology has profound implications for
the development of the physical and information sciences and ultimately for
society at large. Spookytechnology will find its place in the increasingly
dense line of major technological revolutions of our time: quantum, info, bio,
nano, spooky.
\\ ( , 232kb)

I'm not sure this really needs any commentary --- that's how "awesome" this is. However, I'm afraid I'm going to have to rethink how I phrase my C.V. and grant proposals. Among other things, I guess this implies that the topic of my thesis was not 'quantum chaos' but was instead 'spooky chaos'.

How did this paper get past the posting filters?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How many World Wonders can I get in one city?

In my current game of Civ IV, I have 10 World Wonders (+ various National Wonders, special buildings from Great People, etc.) in one city. I'm currently working on my 11th Wonder for that city. What's everybody else's record in this extremely important statistic?

See! The third dungeon in Zelda: Twilight Princess is really hard!

OK, I feel vindicated now!

As this recent article in The California Tech demonstrates, I am not the only person who found the 3rd dungeon (the water dungeon) in Zelda: Twilight Princess. Some of you reading this will remember that I got very frustrated by it and kept putting it down for long periods of time on multiple occasions.

Well, many of you have probably heard of the program WikiScanner, "which traces back anonymous edits of Wikipedia entries to corresponding IP addresses and organizations that they are associated with, allowing users to uncover cases of companies, businesses, politicians, and others editing their own entries in a way that benefits them."

And guess how this program came about? It was because its author couldn't beat the 3rd dungeon of Twilight Princess! Here is the evidence in his own words:

“I was playing Zelda and I got all the way to the third dungeon, the water dungeon, and it was very hard,” explained Griffith. “I got very frustrated at the puzzle, I still haven’t beat it, so I had to go do something else. And that’s the only reason that the WikiScanner exists, because that dungeon is too hard.”

Given my experience with that dungeon, I can't overstate how much that quote amused me!

In related news, I really was in the mood to play Zelda today. I hope my stuff from the US arrives soon, so I can set up my Wii again (buying an appropriate new tv, if necessary). I really want to play Twilight Princess right now, although I have been dealing with my gaming needs by playing Civ IV. (I'm well on my way to another cultural victory.) Video games cost roughly twice as much here as I'm used to paying, so my plans for the forseeable future include buying my games in the US (and for the Wii, I have a US version of the system anyway, so I have to buy them that way). Sadly, I found out last night that Super Smash Brothers Brawl got delayed yet again, so it looks like that particular brand of four-player goodness will have to wait a bit. I have requests from people to... um... come over and play with my Wii, and while I can have some fun with some Wii sports to show off the system, I really want to get Super Smash Bros. Brawl and play multiplayer games with that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Clockwise or Counterclockwise?

I saw this on Rob Neyer's blog.

Here is an interesting web page. Does it look to you like the dancer is going clockwise or counterclockwise?

I can only see the dancer going clockwise (which isn't what one would expect, if the premise behind the page were correct), though I am curious to try concentrating hard enough to make it go counterclockwise.

I was having a brief conversation with a sensory psychologist at lunch today; I want to show this web page to him and see what he thinks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Top 10 Differential Equations of All Time

Now that I know that I am providing endless amusement to the grad students, faculty, and (dare-I-say) postdocs in OCIAM, here's a little survey that I have been meaning to do for a while.

Basically, I want to write (or co-write, if anybody else is interested) an article for a venue like the AMS Notices or American Mathematical Monthly that discusses the "top 10 differential equations of all time" (a la David Letterman). The thing is that I need some sort of survey first, so if I just choose 10 that I like, it would be geared too much towards specific subjects. So, if anybody wants to pipe in here, by e-mail, or by any other venue, I would be greatly appreciative. (List of differential equations written on napkins are particularly encouraged, but toilet paper is right out.)

I'd like to get enough lists from people so that I can take the 10 most popular choices from that list and write the article. For each equation, I'd include some (reasonably brief) discussion of where it comes from and why it's important.

Here is a list that partially reflects my opinion but also reflects how little time I'm going to spend typing up the rest of this entry:

10. Lorentz equations

9. the Nesterenko equation*

8. the Klausmeier equation (because it's named after a former colleague who made a great Thanksgiving turkey)

7. Duffing's equation

6. Einstein's field equations (if for no other reason than because it made a guest appearance in The Triplets of Bellevile, and I got a free book out of that)

5. Navier-Stokes equations

4. the linear Schrodinger equation

3. the complex Ginzburg-Landau equation

2. the cubic nonlinear Schrodinger equation (aka, the Gross-Pitaevskii equation) [notice the correlations from 2-4; that's why I need help writing this list]

1. x' = 0

Honorable mention: That equation I "derived" on my AMa 95b final back in the day. (Actually, I could have mentioned any number of courses here, and I think 95b is one of the few in which I didn't develop my own equation of one sort or another with some misplaced derivation. But it amuses me to attribute this to AMa 95, so I won't let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

* This is the "unnamed" equation in a recent paper of mine (and several upcoming ones!) that my collaborators and I decided to name after the person who first derived it because it makes citing his results less cumbersome for the exposition. I wonder if this is how other equations have gotten named?

I swear I'm going to write my review for Avenue Q in the relatively near future.

It's all about the meta-

I'm a bit tired and don't feel like writing too much at the moment. (I think I'll read a bit of Neuromancer, figure out which of my perturbation methods students should be in which sections [without a solution to the optimization problem discussed earlier today], and then turn on the Diamondbacks-Rockies game --- though with the game starting at 1:37 am, I won't actually be able to listen to very much of it.)

I feel like I should make a meta- post today, and I was given a great opportunity to do so because one of my colleagues said she wanted to do something interesting enough to end up in my blog. So if anybody wants to volunteer any good ideas, let me know. But I think the chance for me to go all meta- on everybody is good enough for me (though I think I have more of a fixed point than was in the movie Adaptation). Anyway, I'm always happy to help people out.

There are also games of Mah Jong planned for the future and requests for coming over to my place to play games on the Wii. (This is in addition to the students of mine who come over to play Wii games with me, because I'm just going to have to fail the lot of them if they refuse to do that.)

I didn't end up going to the games night tonight because I went to the pub and then to dinner with my colleagues. Plus, we have plans for future board games (blokus was discussed) and I have gotten a space in a Vampire campaign run by some person I'll meet during the first session. I hope to get into a D & D campaign at some point, but it will be interesting to try Vampire.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sworn in

Today was the first meeting of Somerville's Governing Body, which included the swearing in of the three new members (including me). Actually, the younger SCR members (which includes the three of us) have been sticking together (sitting together at things like the Governing Body meetings and so on), which is a very good thing. I know the least about the Oxford system, so I'm pretty sure that I'm the most clueless person among us. In any event, I think I've talked to most of the young people in SCR at some point, and the ones I've talked to are all really nice. I should find out if they like board games. Once my games arrive, I'll bring some to one of the Monday night dinners and see if I can convince people to play. (Alternatively, once my UK finances are in order --- I have a bank account now, but it has no money in it --- I can get a copy of the British Isles edition of Apples to Apples that I saw at the local Border's. Like just about everything else around here, it's expensive (25 pounds), but I really want to get it so I'll buy it anyway after I no longer need to preserve cash for immediate use.)

At the Governing Body meetings, one has to wear one flavor of academic robes (I'll need to wear another flavor when I serve as the Examiner for a doctoral student in December), but one can put it over whatever one is wearing. I don't own my own set yet, so I borrowed one that was way too big for me (not that I would know how large these things should be). I had to jump through a couple of hoops to get it (I think the Porters don't all yet realize that I'm faculty rather than an undergrad), but I was able to get help to get one in time for the meeting. My regular clothes were visible underneath the robes, so I looked absolutely stunning taking my oath in my 'magic missles kill people' t-shirt. I thought that was classy --- the perfect mix of formality and casualness --- and provides just the ingredient that Oxford has always needed! Today's meeting was an absolutely mind-numbing 2.5 hours, though several people told me that most of the meetings take far less time. My fellow new Fellows were about as lost as I was. We're all trying to learn things as we go and catch up with the people who have been here a while. I don't think it will be bad, but it takes to get up to speed when one is new.

I already mentioned that I'll need to buy some fancy clothes for the Examination in December. I signed up today for a dinner (which is, of course, free) on November 7th in London with the Baroness Jay, who is a Somerville alum. (This is a fund-raising affair and several of the tutorial fellows will be going.) That's black tie, so I'll need to buy stuff for that as well. I hope that some of this clothing can overlap with the specific stuff I need for the Examination, so I can buy as little of this stuff as possible. One option would be to avoid dinners like this, but I think the idea of having dinner with a member of the House of Lords is pretty cool and is a neat type of opportunity that not many people get a chance to do. Plus, I'll get to explain to her my network analysis of voting networks that can also be used on voting in the English parliament (to look at party realignments, for example, as my SURF student found for the US Congress this summer). (I have been told where I can get relevant data sets, though I haven't tried to find them yet.) That will be really cool.

In completely random news, I saw a flier today advertising a new radio station that is starting in 8 days in Oxfordshire. It's name should be familiar to many of you: JACK fm. They're really spreading rather widely (and doing so pretty fast).

I think that's about it. I'm considering working on my grant proposal a bit tonight. We'll see if that happens. Also, I have my first tutorial sessions tomorrow. That will be fun. I'll get to interact with my students more. I've run into a couple of them here and there (including one math major at the ice cream place I like) since the official meeting last week, but then tomorrow we can start interacting a little more closely.

Learning to grovel

But I ain't got wings... (ok, so the Tom Petty reference doesn't exactly work here).

Today I was complimented on my ability to grovel. See, I can learn traditional Oxford values reasonably fast. :P

I'll send out a wave to the OCIAM grad students that I am told are reading this even though I've hardly met any of them yet. Now I feel like I should actually occasionally put intelligent things here, but that will have to wait until later.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More Oxford stuff

Later on, I'll write a belated review of "Avenue Q" and make some comments about "Superbad", but let me do more Oxford stuff. I'll try to stay out of trouble this time!

Last Wednesday was the dinner to meet the new frosh. I talked with my charges a bit and will have my first tutorial sessions on Thursday. I wrote about the dinner a bit, and as I mentioned I had some nice conversations by dinner.

I am getting proper iced lattes on a daily basis now, which obviously improves my quality of life. Next to the coffee place where I get them is a pub where apparently (as I found out last night) Tolkienn and CS Lewis used to go. Their are supposed to be some letters between them decorating some of the walls (and the food is supposed to be good), so I'll be trying that place pretty soon.

In a new Monday night tradition, the new members of the SCR are going to meet for dinner. We're eating dinner in College and than hanging out. Kudos go out to the person taking the initiative on this! It's an excellent idea, especially for someone like me who is in a brand new place and needs to meet people (especially those my own age)! We talked about redecorating the quaint SCR room, and my tie dye beanbag chair is one thing that might go there. (As one person put it, "Oxford can always use more tie dye.") There are also some really random books in that room (such as a Who's Who from 1989 and 1995), so another plan is put some other book in there and see how long it takes someone to notice. So, yes, there was some flicking after dinner. (Of course, I'm kind of giving that away here, but if this gives me more information on who is reading this, then that's also good. Apparently, most of my OCIAM colleagues are taking a look at this page every so often, so I have more readers now. You know, it's been very consistent that the only time I find out that I have more readers is when I write something stupid or tactless. How come people who haven't already identified themselves as a reader let me know that they're watching me only when I say something amusing? Compliments about my sense of humor would be nice.)

Anyway, the Monday dinner was fun, and I told the other diners my answer to a facetious challenge posed during the frosh dinner last Wednesday. (I think that my idea, which is highly amusing, for that will be hard to top, and there's no way in Hell I'm mentioning that one publicly because that one could get me in real trouble --- as opposed to the good-natured chastising I already got [and perhaps will get more of].)

I received a mailing-list e-mail about stating my nationality to see what my voting rights here will be. The answer in my case is easy: I don't have any. I did mention that I was going to vote by absentee in the US to do my part to keep the Republicans out of office, and I was very enthusiastically encouraged in the response to my e-mail that I should do this.

Oh, and I've finished setting up my research group web page. You can find that page here.

I also now have a course webpage in blog format. You can find that page here.

I think that's it for now. My current set of simulations is still going to take forever (and I'm doing them a second time because Matlab quit automatically after they were done before I could save them last night, as I had already selected to update new firmware... sigh).

A kinder, gentler Mason

Well, maybe not, but I'll try to stay out of trouble. (So some comments might come by e-mail instead of here in appropriate circumstances.)

Anyway, I received some good-natured ribbing today. But I wouldn't want things to go beyond that (especially given the expanded readership), so consider this entry to be a proclamation of increased caution (and that I eventually do learn my lessons, hard as that may be for my friends to believe).

It's been fun here so far. And maybe I have a chance to win snarkiness competitions around here after all. :)

And if nothing else, perhaps I've already guaranteed myself that I will never be the department head, which will leave me more time to devote to my research. (Of course, that would then be giving myself credit for having some sort of strategy, which would of course be patently false.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ping pong in Oxford

Or as the Chinese say, "ping pong."

I went to my first meeting of Oxford's table tennis association yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the club here is done more formally than it is at Caltech. They have uniforms, warm-up jackets, and all sorts of other stereotypical things one would expect to see for sports at a place like Oxford. The team members are pretty hardcore, though a couple of them did have trouble with my serve. The other people I played --- others in the club and people considering to join the club --- couldn't hit my serve at all (which is the usual thing I see). I didn't notice anybody using the pen-holder grip, though I did some some play styles that I knew about and had occasionally seen (Wei Wang demonstrated them). It will be good to get more of a chance to play against people who employ those styles regularly.

I only played once during the summer, so I was a bit rusty. One could thing about the club being more formal is that we do some drills during the club meetings, which makes up for not having a class as we do at Tech. This was a very pleasant surprise. The drills we did on Sunday were pretty familiar (though they were specified a little too much, IMO). This included a particular drill with the backhand loop, which I don't have but most of the team members do. Also, there was a variant on this in terms of playing a 21-point game with one's partner and not being allowed to use forehand at all. That was a good drill, although I lost a couple of points when my opponent used forehand anyway (granted, in shots that definitely called for it).

Most of the club members seem nice, but a couple of them seemed to have the sort of stereotypical holier-than-thou attitude that one hears about Oxonians. We'll see how that goes.

I played for 2.5 hours yesterday, which is a bit much for me at one time. The surface on which the tables were placed is made of some sort of rubber turf. The ball wouldn't bounce when it hit it, so there was a lot more bending down to get the ball than I'm used to. I found that to be both annoying and tiring. Also, it didn't help my knee, which was a bit sore before I started. Playing on that surface seemed bad on my knee, so we'll see how that goes as well. I feel like it's much easier to hurt oneself seriously with this surface rather than just a wood one below the tables. One person did suffer a slight ping pong injury, though he was better in a few minutes. (Some dumbass went right behind him while were were in the middle of a point, so of course there was a collision. Why can't people understand that when somebody is in the middle of a point, you give them space and don't go right next to them? I fail to grasp why people find this so difficult, and most of the ping pong injuries I've seen occur when some dumbass does this. Also, is it so hard to wait for the end of a point? It's not like they last that long at non-professional levels!)

This club also charges --- it's 15 pounds per year or 30 for life (as long as one is affiliated with Oxford). I chose the latter because that's a dominant strategy if one is going to be around >= 2 years, and I'll obviously be around a lot longer than that. Oh, and I'm not eligibile for the team because permanent faculty aren't eligible. Grrrr.... At Tech, postdocs weren't eligible because the NCTTA rules work just like the NCAA ones. Now I go to a place where postdocs are eligible but permanent faculty aren't. Ah well. Next Sunday, I'll try out for the team anyway and if I would end up making it (which is iffy, but I might sneak in there at the bottom, which is what happened both at Cornell and at Tech when I was an undergrad), then I'll be allowed to practice with the team in their extra Friday practice and just won't be able to participate in tournaments. Alternatively, I could just be the mascot again...

Anyway, it was great to play ping pong again! (No Sean mauch sighting this time, however... I would have been really impressed had I run into him doing martial arts there.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A quick note on blogging while on the job market (+ Sharp Dressed Mason)

This is a brief update to a blog entry from last year (late October for the one in question and then maybe I referred in another entry to the head of the Oxford mathematics department having read the entry before I got hired).

I found out while having dinner tonight that the hiring committee apparently had an internal discussion about that given that I mentioned a bit about how my interview went (though without any details of how the process works that wasn't already public information). It was mentioned at dinner that they certainly had never seen that before. See, I'm already changing how they do things around here! :) Playing "Freebird" at the graduation ceremony comes next...

One reason I bring this up is that when one is interviewing, it probably is a good idea to remove links from outside web pages to blogs. (This had been recommended to me the month before my interview but I hadn't gotten around to it yet. It was one of those piece of advice with which I basically agreed but wasn't going to follow anyway. I'm a pain in the ass that way sometimes. But it doesn't mean that it's not good advice...)

Oh, so I'm going to need to buy a suit (and I guess a white tie) to serve as an examiner in December for a thesis defense. (Both the person defending and the faculty have to wear this stuff for that. And I guess an academic robe on top of that... but I can borrow a robe.) I'll deal with this after my bank situation is in order. Apparently, I would be far from the first faculty member who needed to buy the clothes to do this. (The mathematicians here essentially dress like the mathematicians back home, so I think there are a fair number of them [possibly even a very large majority] who prefer to be casual. The head of the applied math group suggested jokingly that I should put this in my blog, so I'll mention it now and maybe have Makeup Party Entry: Part Deux later on when I go to buy the suit.

So I decided to try plugging in my alarm clock (via a power strip)...

... and there was this fantastic flash of light and a popping sound. (The power strip was turned off when I did this, by the way.)

I had counted on basically two possibilities: Either the thing would work or it wouldn't (which could involve nailing some of the stuff I was plugging in). I discussed the different voltage with people at some length before I left and I figured that trying with something cheap like a power strip and an alarm clock wouldn't kill anything I cared about. So I definitely would not have been surprised by things not working. What I didn't count on was a third possibility --- that this whole thing would cause some sort of flip somewhere to switch in some cupboard that would turn off all the power to all the sockets in my apartment. (I still have power for things, such as internet, that don't need sockets.) Then I started wondering if I took down anybody else in the building with me. I really hope not (although I have to admit that part of me would be extremely amused by having that story to tell).

Of course, I can solve my problem by flipping the switch back on. I don't know where it is, of course. I went down to the Porter's Lodge to let him know what was going on. It turns out that for insurance reasons, they're not allowed to turn these things back on. Oh, and the people who come to do this don't come on weekends unless it's an emergency (flooding, gas leaks, and what not). Bloody Hell!

Now, I can plug my computer and so on elsewhere to get power to use in the apartment, but this will make it hard for me to listen to baseball games and music (which I like to have on when I go to bed). I'll be able to get some, but only as long as power lasts.

I am such a champ. (And I can't say that I wasn't warned.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

A baseball record that went under the radar

I've started to look more carefully at the final-season baseball stats to try to figure out who I think should win the various awards and just noticed that Jimmy Rollins had 716 at bats this year, establishing a new Major League record. That was lost amidst what his team was doing and all the more prominent records and milestones being achieved this year.

Also, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson each stole at least 20 bases and hit at least 20 of doubles, triples, and homeruns. That quartest has only been accomplished a handful of times and it's interesting that two guys did it this year. (Amazingly, the sports media focused almost exclusively on Granderson's attempt to achieve this milestone and Rollins' efforts to do so was almost completely ignored. I'm not sure what was going on there.)

2007 Ig Nobel prizes

As one of my OCIAM colleagues pointed out today, the 2007 Ig Nobel prizes have now been awarded.

One of them was awarded for the infamous gap bomb. Others were avoided for real research, such as that on the wrinkling of an elastic sheet. (That's actually extremely important and interesting research and was done by a very well-known guy.) Aside from the gap bomb one, I think my favorite concerns the side effects of swallowing swords. There are some other big winners as well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Iced latte!

Today I was able to get my first proper iced latte (and I did it without resorting to go to Starbucks). I'm making progress. Awesome!

Oh yeah, and this is entry 1000.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tonight we're going to blog likes it's entry 999

Oh wait, this is entry number 999.

Baseball update

Well, the baseball postseason is upon us and I am currently listening to the end of the Rockies-Phillies game.

I had been busy for several hours. First, I met the new math undergrads --- in particular, the ones I will be mentoring. They seem very nice, and they also seemed very happy with the fact that my style is much more informal than that of the stereotypical Oxford tutor. I really like being able to live in residence and interact with the students so closely. It's very much like an RAship, and this whole mechanism is making it much easier for me to meet other people in Somerville, including people in other subject areas who I basically wouldn't meet at all in other circumstances. Then I had dinner, and sat near one of my mentees, a postdoc, and a stray first-year grad student in medicine who had spilled over from the medicine table. [The tables were organized by subject area tonight.] The medical student was really cool, though it will likely be hard to convince someone with her schedule to play D & D even though she played back in the day. (We also talked about music and the Caltech vs. MIT prank rivalry for a fair bit.)

After dinner was a gathering of the Senior Common Room (in the Senior Common Room... recall that it refers to both the room and the group), and I had the chance to meet up with the Tutor assigned as my mentor. He was selected because he too emigrated from the United States, and it appears that he has extra adaptors and knows where to get more! Also, because he's from Boston, I asked him about the Red Sox and he is indeed a huge baseball fan, so then we proceeded to talk a lot of baseball. He has the MLB video internet package (I have the audio one this year and will get the video one next year). It looks when he shows up, there's going to be lots of baseball discussion flying back and forth. So, anyway, I'm basically extremely pleased with this whole setup. I'm not sure if I can make the RPG thing tomorrow because of a small gathering of Tutors to try to meet some more of them (that needs to get priority), but things are going very well and I hopefully should be able to hang out with some people around here. Oh, and basically everybody I met (including the undergrads!) thought I was a new freshman before they knew better. It was awesome! We were at the pre-dinner drinks (it's Oxford policy to get the freshman drunk before classes start), and several of the frosh asked me if I was a new freshman. Graduate students, postdocs, and (least surprisingly) faculty have also confused me for a new frsoh. I've been enjoying this...

In terms of baseball, the Rockies beat out the Padres for the NL West Wild Card in a game that was an instant classic. I wish I had a chance to see it or listen to it! The Rockies-Phillies series is the one that I find the most interesting. I could go for either of them winning, but I think I'd like to see the underdog Rockies get to the World Series. (The Rockies just won game 1.) The other series pits the Cubs against the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are boring, so I'd much rather have the Cubbies win. In the AL, the Yankees are playing the Indians, and I want the Yankes to get their asses kicked! (By the way, I was remarking to that Tutor that he must really have taken offense when the Brits called him a Yankee. It's bad enough to call a Dodger fan that name, but to do it to a Red Sox fan is just horrible!) I'd prefer the Angels to beat the Red Sox, but I could handle any AL team except the Yankees in the World Series. My preference would be for Rockies vs. Angels and for the Angels to win, but there are a lot of other combinations that would also be very cool.

It's a bit tougher to say who I think will win. I'll guess that the Yankees will beat Cleveland in 4 and that Anaheim (or the LAA of A, if you prefer) will beat Boston in 5 games. I think the Rockies will be the Phillies in 4 games (I would have said 5 before today's victory) and that the Cubs will beat the Diamondbacks in 5 games. In the ALCS, I think the Yankees will beat the Angels in 5 games and that the Cubs will beat the Diamondbacks in 6 games. That would leave a Yankees-Cubs World Series, and I'm going to be crass and predict that the Yankees will win in 6 games. That's not what I want to happen, but they seem to be the strongest team by far based on the last few months.

I'll shortly write an entry on my predictions for baseball award winners (maybe in a few days?) and a review of Avenue Q.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

An American Mathematician in Oxford

I've got ethernet set up in my apartment now, so I've got regular online access again.

I'm exhausted and I have a ton of stuff to do to get settled (and prepare for my perturbation theory course, which starts next week).

Once I got online at work, I went through the built-up e-mails quickly because I knew there would be a lot of stuff to do. The first thing I did online at home is to check on the Rockies-Padres game. I couldn't get online last night, so I didn't get a chance to listen to it. The Rockies won! Their assent to the playoffs was really incredible! I'll blog some more about baseball later.

One thing I've noticed in Somerville is that I keep getting duplicate online and hard copies of things (actually, I was given multiple copies of some things because different people wanted to make sure I get everything I need). At US universities (at least the ones I've been at), most stuff comes only online now, but here they're still in the transition period where one gets copies both ways. For the one day while I didn't have access it was helpful, but now I see that a lot of Somerville College's resources are going to get wasted this way. Apparently, the older folks don't want to have to go online for such things, and I've heard some of the older Tutors are set in their way, so I'm looking forward to getting chastised for my newfangled ways.

I get free lunches and dinners whenever I want, so I won't have too many expenses for a while. (I do plan to get some ice cream tonight though...) When eating in the dining hall (so, for dinners that aren't for private parties), I get to eat at the High Table, which is quite literally on higher ground than where the students (in full view of the table) are eating. Tonight isn't one of the regular dinner nights where Tutors go and I doubt there will be the requisite minimum of 3 to eat in the private dining room, so I'll eat in the regular hall tonight. This could be my chance to eat at the special seat reserved for the Principal (or, in her absence, the highest-ranking Tutor present), but then it seems to me that that almost becomes like the old Table of Shame situation we had in Lloyd. I'm thinking I might just go ahead and eat on the regular tables with the students (a la Feynman). As the Senior Tutor said, I'm a member of the Senior Common Room (which refers simultaneously to an actual room and to the social group of Tutors and Administators in Somerville), so I can do what I want. Many people have confused me for a new student anyway---so I have the power of faculty (which gives much more benefits in this system than in the US one) and I can blend in (to whatever extent I can blend in with anything) with the students. This could be fun.

The head researcher in OCIAM (Oxford's applied math group) is extremely blunt. I was told about him before, and he really utters some off-the-cuff remarks. He was pleased to know that I'm blunt, though given the stuff that he utters, I'm afraid I am beaten hands down in this regard. Plus, I usually need time to become comfortable for that stuff. Anyway, I met some of my fellow applied math faculty members and they seem really nice. There are 5 new ones out of 20 in total (with a couple of the other 15 to retire soon), so there's a lot of new blood in the department. Two of us are Americans, so we plan on taking over (as I indicated to the head of OCIAM's research program). It's our manifest destiny. (Plus, we need more room to breathe.) This is the largest turnover in this group in a looooooong time, so there are some really exciting opportunities to build up some nice new things in addition to what's already there. Oh, and the Tutor assigned to mentor me is an American. The Senior Tutor figured that somebody else who also had to make the US->UK transition would be a good person to choose, and I agree with her completely. I can also ask my colleague in OCIAM (who finished up as a grad turkey in applied math at Caltech when I was a frosh), as he moved here a couple of months ago and has already figured out some of the stuff I need to figure out.

Getting to Oxford was pretty uneventual. The luggage I was taking with me weighed over a metric fuck ton (by which I mean more than 100 pounds), and having two heavy suitcases was a bit of a pain. My brother helped me with that a bit in LAX and then I used a cart to lug them from the baggage claim to the coach when I arrived at Heathrow. (Incidentally, getting into the country was trivial. They wanted to see my work permit in addition to the VISA. Thankfully, I had the work permit in my carry-on suitcase. (I hadn't remembered if I had put it there or in the check-in stuff, which I didn't have back yet at that point, but thankfully I was thinking clearly at some point.) He stamped that, so now I just need to show my passport to get back in. Using the cart helped a lot but things were still a bit difficult when I went on downhill ramps. I had to exert force to prevent gravity my making the cart careen away and because the wheels on my cart were suboptimal, I think I almost twisted one of my ankles a couple of times. There might have been the chance to do some damage, but I managed to be ok.

I got on the coach and then made it to Oxford at about 3:40 pm yesterday. Here is where the tricky part with luggage would come. It was about a .5 mile walk to Somerville but a .25 mile walk to the place that taxis go without being expressly called. Even the .25 walk promised to be very rough with my laptop, my red carry-on, and about 115 pounds of stuffed pastel purple and light blue suitcases, and I felt pretty stupid walking .25 miles just to take a cab to go another couple of blocks. OK, so what happened? I started trudging my way to the cab stop and a girl (Eda, who just arrived 10 days ago from Turkey for a Masters program in some sort of social work thing) walking in the other direction saw me struggling and offered to help. I normally would be stubborn, but the circumstances were extreme, so I wasn't about to protest in this situation. So, the half mile walk become much more pleasant both because I had someone to talk to and because I was dragging one big suitcase instead of two. Anyway, a big thanks goes out to Eda (I'm pretty sure the second letter was a 'd'; my memory is already hazy), who I'll hopefully run into again at some point.

What else... my apartment is a bigger than the one I had before. The bathroom could be bigger, and I really wish the kitchen were bigger and that the fridge I have weren't so piddly. I have a crapload of bookshelves --- something like the equivalent of 8 or more full-sized bookshelves (8 full shelves, not 8 levels in one shelf) in space, so finding room for all my D & D books won't be a problem... Oh, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but the apartment is too cold and I need to figure out a way to get the heat to blast a bit more.

That's it for now. I'll shortly send a spammy e-mail with my contact information and then I need to start dealing with bank account stuff.

Update: I just got a good-natured ribbing for a subset of the above comments from the head of our research group. (I also watched him put a copy of the text into the OCIAM director's box.) I'm also supposed to expect a witty response, so we'll see how that goes. Oh, and I think I should take this as a lesson to learn to be more careful. This also means that my readership has expanded, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with the being more careful part.