Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is a link to a blog entry called Welcome to RaysGeek on the blog formerly called "MetsGeek" but now apparently called "RaysGeek" (with the tagline "Because the Mets suck.").

This is very likely a gag, and it's quite a hilarious one!

Chaos's nonlinear science gallery on YouTube

Sometimes one can actually get somewhere with requests to journals.

I was reading an issue of SIAM News a few months back and notice that a video of Doug Arnold (from University of Minnesota) on Moebius transformations had achieved an astounding level of popularity on YouTube. (I had also heard at undergraduate research conferences about various math professors who used YouTube for teaching purposes.)

This is a great way to get more science out to the public, so I e-mailed David Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Chaos, which publishes the Nonlinear Science Gallery every year. This gallery includes video entries, which would be absolutely perfect for YouTube. I have also known David for a few years, and in fact am writing an expository article on the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam problem with him and a couple of other people, and I figured he would be receptive to the idea. The key hurdle would be the thoughts of the publisher (American Institute of Physics).

David got back to me while I was visiting Caltech last week to give me the news that AIP supported the endeavor, and now I'm writing this entry to announce that Chaos's YouTube page has gone live.

Among the videos is one that I coauthored with Caltech undergrad Tom Mainiero. It's currently the 2nd most watched video among the Chaos collection and perhaps with your help it can become #1. It even has a catchy tune in the background. (Though I am a bit perplexed that YouTube lists an Adolf Hitler speech as a related video.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Equation of the Day

6 hours of teaching today + 2 weeks of consecutive jet lag + 4 hours of sleep each of the last two nights = a slow, painful death.

(OK, OK... I'm double counting just a bit---but that's why it's a "slow, painful death" on the right-hand side and not just "death".)

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Word of the Day

Sometimes, a new word is coined whose name has clearly come. Today's (ok, last week's) new word is jeterate, which was defined last week by baseball writer and blogger Joe Posnanski as follows:

jeterate (verb) meaning “to praise someone for something of which he or she is entirely unworthy of praise.”

Here are a couple of Posnanski's examples:

Example: “The father could not but jeterate his daughter for coloring on the wall because she looked so cute.”

Example: “The doctor jeterated his patient for not actually gaining any more weight since the visit four days earlier.”

This word, of course, is named after Yankee shortstop (and future Hall of Famer) Derek Jeter, who has been an excellent player for many years and will obtain his first-ballot election to Cooperstown (and deservedly so!) after he retires. The thing is if you listen to Yankee fans, broadcasters, writers, and other fetishists, you get the impression that he can't do anything wrong, is the best thing since sliced bread (this is an odd expression, don't you think?), etc. It just gets on lots of people's nerves---especially, for example, when people praise his defense even when he has been one of the worst-fielding shortstops in the Majors for years! The argument one typically hears after questioning this is typically along the lines of "If you saw him play every day, you'd see that he deserves a Gold Glove for his stellar defense." I quite obviously hate that argument rather passionately. Every single bloody person can make the exact same argument about their shortstop or anything else---it's just impossible to refute and is basically another way of saying "I want to bear Derek Jeter's child and I really don't give a flying fuck how good a shortstop he actually is." It just pisses me off sometimes, so I very much appreciate this new terminology!

In sum, I approve! (Tip of the cap once again to Rob Neyer, who linked to Posnanski on his blog.)

An Insider's View of Baseball Brawls

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is an insightful opinion piece on baseball's bench-clearing brawls written by former Major Leaguer Doug Glanville.

Glanville, who is one of the most articulate (and presumably intelligent) Major Leagers I have ever seen---ESPN writer Jayson Stark has made a habit of quoting over the years, so I've had a chance to read Glanville's comments a decent amount---has been writing a bunch of guest Op-Ed columns in the New York Times this year.

Idea for new television series

With the occasionally interminable discussions of minutiae and various other important matters that occur in Governing Body meetings (and similar venues), it occurs to me that a "dramedy" about Oxford life called "High Table" would make a potentially extremely amusing television series. Of course, it would have to be cast correctly. For example, the head/principal of the College would have to be played by Judi Dench. And Keanu Reaves would clearly have to be one of the prominent tutors. I'm not sure who else I'll cast in my new tv show, but I'm sure I can come up with some good ideas.

And, yes, I consider this idea to be both "awesome" and awesome. :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Omar Vizquel sets record for most Major League games at shortstop

Omar Vizquel passed Luis Aparicio today to set the Major League record for most games at shortstop. You can see Vizquel's career statistics on this webpage.

I remember when I bought a ton of packs of 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards that included cards from the extended set. This particular baseball card set wasn't known for being well-collated, and there were in fact significant, noticeable correlations. In one box of 36 packs (which had about 15 cards each, with something like 2-3 cards from the 100-card extended part of the set), I got over 20 rookie cards of Omar Vizquel. I was really annoyed at the time because there were a lot more interesting cards in the set, and here I was getting a shitload of cards of a defensive whiz who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. Vizquel's card right now is either the most valuable card of the set (the extended part; it's not even close to true for the entire set, given that the base set contained rookie cards of Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Biggio, and several other luminaries) or close to it. He's certainly had the best career of any of the players whose rookie cards appeared in the extended set. (The set also included cards of people who changed teams.) I never would have called this one back in the day.

Vizquel will get some Hall of Fame votes, though I don't think he quite deserves it. He has a chance of getting in, so let's see what happens.

In other news, I am again having trouble sleeping. Damned jet lag. I won't get up at 2:30 pm again tomorrow, however, as I have set my alarm so that I can actually make my morning meeting. My body hasn't been in the correct time zone in close to two weeks. Maybe in a few days?

Two More Brief Tidbits from Caltech

(1) From the "it's a small world" department comes the following fact: I found out at my reunion that the son of 1970s alum I know (who is heavily involved in the Alumni Association) audited my perturbation methods class last fall. Too bad he came to Oxford and didn't get a true Oxford experience in my course... :)

(2) For what it's worth, the two Peet's I've gone to most frequently (the one on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills and, especially, the one on Lake Avenue in Pasadena) are each now open two hours later every day. (I think they open earlier as well, but that wouldn't help me as much.) This change happened quite recently (some time in 2008, and I think possibly as recently as a couple of weeks ago), though of course I'm rarely around to take advantage of it. At least it will be nice for the times I visit.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Simile of the Day

Today's simile comes from Dune: "The thought hung like a sine wave in Leto's mind"

Reaction 1: Ummm... what?

After a slight delay, I had Reaction 2: What function would make this simile work?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Several movies (plus a musical and a concert)

Here are some belated comments about several movies that I've seen over the last couple of months:

Lars and the Real Girl: This was quite a charming film, and deals with certain types of social awkwardness quite well. (The lead actor did a good job in this one.)

The Spiderwick Chronicles: This film is decent, but there's been much better stuff in this genre the past several years.

The Other Boleyn Girl: This film was a nice piece of historical fiction. It was good but not great. The character that Natalie Portman played was quite a bitch.

Horton Hears a Who!: I really liked this cartoon! (Highly recommended!) It captures the spirit of Dr. Seuss quite well, and Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey were both extremely well cast. I also got to see a teaser for the third Ice Age film during the trailers. I approve!

Son of Rambow: This film has been advertised as a "British comedy," which is a bit misleading. It does have some comedic moments, but it is better described as a dramedy. It is a great film. I recommend it highly.

Persepolis: This film was excellent and incredibly well done! The animation style was awesome. The thing I like best is that even in the most serious scenes, one can see something ridiculous in a small part in the background. (For example, in one such scene--which I believe focused on the tattered remnants of a city after lots of violence--one can briefly see a dog peeing in the background.) I was consistently laughing at that stuff (sometimes the only person in the theatre doing so). After seeing this film, I'll never be able to think of "Eye of the Tiger" in quite the same way again. The main quibble I have with this flick is that characters from culturally similar (or, really, the same) backgrounds are voiced by people with completely different accents, and that hurt my suspension of disbelief a bit. On a similar note, the casting of Iggy Pop as a voice actor was odd (to put it mildly). What the Hell? That notwithstanding, this is one of my favorite films of the year so far.

Iron Man: I saw this film on Tuesday, and it is also one of my favorite films so far this year. This flick is outstanding. In fact, in my mind this is one of the best comic book films ever! (Note: I am not classifying these films according to how faithful they are to the original sources, but merely according to how much I enjoyed the movie versions.) After seeing the film, I was thinking it might be my favorite comic book film ever, but this morning I remembered V for Vendetta (which is from a comic book, right?) and I'm probably forgetting others. Robert Downey Jr. is awesome, as usual, and I love the witty repartee he has with his character's inventions. (Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors.)

I also saw a musical and a concert during the past couple of months (with two more musicals coming up in the next couple of weeks):

Buena Vista Social Club: This show was basically a linear combination of Jazz and various types of Latin music. The highlight for me was their souped-up rendition of "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps." Of the Caltech crowd, I think Lemming in particular would have enjoyed this.

Fiddler on the Roof: I've wanted to see this for several years, so I'm glad I finally had the chance to do so. The performance was very good (especially that of the lead actor), but everybody except for the lead had a considerable amount of trouble maintaining their accent (and even the lead slipped once or twice). Somehow, hearing a bunch of different British Isles accents hurts the suspension of disbelief quite a bit for this particular musical, which is usually done by a bunch of people who are supposed to speak English like Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, Fyvush Finkel, etc. (Finkel has actually played several different roles in this musical in the past.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Adventures in Security X-Rays

Today I saw something "awesome" during the carry-on luggage security at LAX. There was a guy trying to get flowers and balloons into the x-ray machine, and the balloons were causing all sorts of misadventures as they were lifting into the air when he and a security (TSA) person were trying to get them into the x-ray. It was delaying that entire line and taking so long that they needed to open an additional x-ray machine. (Everybody in line was filing towards the second x-ray machine because of the balloon ordeal, so they opened up the third one to usher people through faster. A bit of a pile-up was starting to occur and the TSA folks wanted to nip it in the bud.) I can't say I've seen this one before, but a couple of minutes viewing futile attempts to get the balloons into the x-ray machine was pretty damn amusing.

In other news, the UK customs people once again let me through immediately, even though the US ones gave me some grief. Thanks for the hometown loyalty, guys. (Though I didn't have a repeat of last time when after saying I had a faculty job at Oxford, one customs person asked something along the lines about my not having been able to get a job in the US. Naturally, I answered "No. I couldn't." --- with a complete deadpan, of course. What kind of retarded question is that? It's Oxford! I wouldn't have moved to the UK to have a job at a pissy university.)

In one last bit of news, I preordered the core 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks today. It actually only cost about $10 more in total buying it through the UK rather than picking them up in the US, and I'm willing to live with that premium. (The mark-up is of a different order-of-magnitude when it comes to video games, however.)

Finally, I will eventually be blogging about several movies I've seen in the last couple of months. I'll make it one big entry, and maybe I'll even be able to get myself to write it tomorrow. I've been promising this for a while, so we shall see.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mike Piazza officially retires

Former Dodger catcher (and future Hall of Famer) Mike Piazza officially retired today. Here are his career stats. Next stop: Cooperstown.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

(Approximate) Quote of the Day

Today's quote of the day was uttered at breakfast this morning by an old alum. I'm going to need to be slightly approximate on the phrasing (because I can't remember everything precisely), but the point will come across loud and clear. The line I'm going to give you is the straight line. You provide the joke.

"The only news service I trust now is Fox News because they're the only ones who give it to you straight."

Wow. I'll leave it to your imagination to figure out how the rest of us (both of us) at the table reacted.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What happens at Caltech stays at Caltech

I flew to California yesterday, and I am writing this entry from a couple of friends' apartment near the Caltech campus in Pasadena. I am here mainly for my 10-year reunion, though I have been sneaking in some work as well. I am attempting to remain in touch via e-mail and I am also having discussions with local collaborators (tomorrow especially will involve a bunch of research).

The reunion officially starts tomorrow. I will have a continental breakfast and (non-continental) dinner associated with it. On Saturday, I'll be going to an alumni bar-b-que and also giving a presentation on Caltech pranks (along with my Legends III coauthor and two of our contributors). While on campus today, I went to the campus bookstore to buy a copy of my own book. The person behind the desk managed not to notice. :)

One of my goals on this trip was to eat good beef, because that's a bit harder to come by in the UK. We were going to go to Gyu Kaku tonight, but we were late in the game getting our reservations in order, so we're going to Robin's instead. We're also going to be playing some Mario Kart for the Wii tonight, and I may sneak in some Rock Band as well. On Sunday, I'll be running a one-shot D & D game, and on Monday I will transfer over to Beverly Hills to spend some time with family and pre-college friends. On Monday night, I am going to the Dodger game against the Reds. (This will probably be the only baseball game I attend this year. Sigh...) I will fly back on Wednesday and arrive Thursday afternoon. I'll sadly have to almost certainly miss a talk I really wanted to see, but sacrifices had to be made. (I had to miss yesterday's Governing Body meeting, for example, which was such a shame.)

I still have some movies and mathematics articles to write about. I'll plan on trying to catch up on some of that when I get back. I also just had a BEC paper accepted today, so I'll blog on that one when the reprint is out.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Taking one for the team

Courtesy baseball executive Paul DePodesta's new blog, here is an instructional video ("Hardball Made Easy") about taking one for the team. I approve!

I watched the one with Matt Kemp, and it was ok. The one with Zambrano, however, is pure genius. There are a few others as well, though I didn't watch them.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Greg Maddux gets 350th career win

Yesterday, Greg Maddux became the 9th Major League baseball player to get his 350th career win. Here are his career stats (not yet including last night's game, as I write this).

Maddux is something special, so enjoy him while you can! I can't wait for him to pass Clemens on the all-time list!

By the way, in case you haven't noticed, a lot more of the NL position players have been having really good seasons than AL position players. Right now, there are about 20 everyday players in the NL who have an OPS of over .900 and only about 5 or 6 of them in the AL. It's still early and things will balance out some more, but some writers have discussed whether the balance between leagues is starting to tilt again. The AL has been stronger for several seasons now, and it will be interesting to see if we see some signs of a reversal during interleague play.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Some time in the park

I went to a friend's birthday party today. It started out in the evening in the park and then moved on to his place.

The part I want to mention is the park. These days, it's light outside until 9pm or so and spring seems to have finally arrived on a somewhat "permanent" basis (well, permanent on an appropriate time scale --- just think of my applying a philosphical form of multiple scale perturbation theory with this comment). One thing this means is that when I look at the part of the quad outside my window, some group of students is invariably playing croquet there. (This would be one of the accurate parts of the Oxford stereotype. I haven't played croquet since I was about 7 or 8... I need to join them for a game at some point. I want to play.) Another thing this means is that it has put me very much in the mood to play frisbee. It is frisbee weather, after all. Naturally, today was the perfect opportunity to do so, and I indeed got the chance to toss around a frisbee for the first time since I moved here in October. (People back home: I'd really like to play some frisbee while I'm visiting!)

There are a couple of other things worth mentioning:

(1) The park is only 5 minutes from home, and it's really nice! There are tons of great places to play frisbee, it is bordered by a river, etc. I could live without the tons of insects, but that isn't exactly avoidable. I hadn't actually gone there before, but I wandered about for a bit and it's really great. Maybe I'll be able to find people who are interested in weekly frisbee games? That would be awesome!

(2) There were a couple of "awesome" incidents at the park: In one, some random teenager came up to us and asked us for food. This wasn't somebody who was destitute and needed food but rather someone who thought it would be cool to try to get some freebees. We declined his kind offer and apparent need to eat food so that he can grow. In the other, a couple of teenage girls who were seriously drunk and/or stoned kindly offered us the burnt tampon that they were using to smoke stuff with. (The stated reason was that they weren't able to put it out entirely.) What the fuck? We kindly refused this offer as well. I hope they don't get themselves in serious trouble, because if they go up to the wrong person in that kind of state, there's a major danger of that.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Advice for people trapped in libraries

An article in this week's issue of Oxford Student (one of two competing local student newspapers) ended with the following paragraph:

"The library advises any student who finds themself trapped in the Social Sciences Library in future to try to return to the main reception, follow signs to the fire exits or, in very drastic situations, set off the fire alarm."

I have just one question: What should people do if they get caught in the Mathematics library? (Maybe give up hope because they were there in the first place?)

OK, so I technically shouldn't make fun of things in light of the serious situation (people got trapped inside the library during a suspected gas leak that thankfully turned out not to be an actual leak), but there are parts of that specific phrasing that strike me as a bit absurd (especially when used as the ending paragraph of an article rather than directly as the public service announcement that this presumably started off as) and consequently amuse me (independent of the gravity of the situation described in the article). And, yes, I am the type of person who would laugh at my own funeral.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Fun with Equation Names

I looked at a very interesting paper today (that I need to read carefully) that refers to a paper called the "modified MKdV" equation, which is called the MMKdV equation for short. Let's unpack this name:

The KdV equation stands for the Korteweg-de Vries equation. In other words, it's named after two people.

The MKdV equation stands for the "modified KdV" equation, which means that the MMKdV is in fact the "modified modified KdV" equation, which I would prefer to called the (modified)^2 KdV equation, although I'd really prefer a different adjective entirely be applied to KdV.

It's not close to as bad as "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" (which means "The The Angels Angels of Anaheim" or (The)^2 (Angels)^2 of Anaheim), but it's not exactly great. I have started to get a little bit of personal experience in how equation names arise. Namely, I wrote a paper and found myself in a paper constantly citing the book of a guy who formulated an equation that showed up in what we were doing, so my collaborators and I decided to name the bloody thing after the guy just so we wouldn't have to awkwardly cite the equation from his book so many damned times. He can thank us later.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Julio Franco factoids

After considering and deciding not to blog about Julio Franco's official retirement from baseball at the ripe old age of 49, I just read this very cool article with some cool factoids and decided to post a link to it here. You can find his statistics here.

I think my favorite factoid from the article is the following: In 1982, Franco was traded by the Phillies with Jay Baller, Manny Trillo, George Vukovich and Jerry Willard to the Indians for Von Hayes. The last player in that deal to retire (other than Franco) was Jerry Willard … 14 years ago.

By the way, I remember for years there were rumors that Franco is actually older than his listed age. These were never officially put to rest, though eventually his listed age got high enough that nobody bothered to mention this anymore.

Finally, Franco is ripped. If you've ever seen him up-close, it's kind of ridiculous. His arms look like solid muscle.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

No more splinters!

I just got back from giving a talk at Southampton today (it was my first talk on quantum chaos in about 5.5 years). As promised by the maintenance people at Somerville, the wooden planks in the "hallway" (more like a very small corridor) within my apartment were covered with another surface today (the type of surface I have in my kitchen and bathroom). I had been getting tons of splinters from walking barefoot at home (wearing socks never actually helped because they would catch on the wood). Occasionally, enough of these would occur in a sufficiently short period of time that I would have some trouble walking, so I am quite pleased that this has now been rectified. (This could have been done earlier, but I was my typical stubborn self when it came to actually bringing this problem to the attention of others.) I think this will also have the benefit of reducing the number of bugs that make their way in here, but the main thing was to get rid of the splinter problem. Excellent!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Ising model edition

Here is an abstract for a paper that just got posted to the arXiv:

Date: Fri, 2 May 2008 13:00:53 GMT (55kb)

Title: 500-th solution of 2D Ising model
Authors: S.N. Vergeles
Categories: cond-mat.stat-mech
Comments: 14 pages, 4 figures
One more solution of 2D Ising model is found
\\ ( , 55kb)

Comment: Do I detect some sarcasm in the title of this paper? I approve!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New strategy for seminar speakers

Here's one I hadn't seen before until today.

I have often seen seminar speakers say that they encourage everyone to interrupt them during the talk with questions, etc. Today, however, one speaker (who is local and who knows me) good-naturedly started a talk with an alternative version of this statement that everybody except for me was encouraged to interrupt him with questions, etc. Everybody in the audience who knew me was naturally extremely amused by this. The moratorium was later lifted in the middle of the talk (at an appropriate point in which he discussed stuff I know pretty well), at which point I felt obligated to make some useful comment.

Oh, and the official reason that I was not allowed to ask questions was that there was apparently a risk that I wouldn't stop talking if I started.

In any event, this is one way to preempt potential bad behavior on my part. I'm also pretty sure I'm not going to be allowed to forget this...