Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dodgers get no-hit (but still win...)

On occasion, there are some especially interesting baseball games. For example, yesterday the Dodgers won even though they didn't get a single hit. This is pretty rare, but it has happened a few times before.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What happens at ECMI stays at ECMI

I just got back from NetSci at 12:30 am this morning and I will head off tomorrow for another conference. (A quick piece of advice: Attempting to go to back-to-back conferences is a very bad idea. I already feel quite exhausted...) This time the conference is in the ECMI series. By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that ECMI, which stands for "The European Consortium For Mathematics In Industry", has Wile E. Coyote as its mascot. (Also, I'm not sure whether or not there will be any super geniuses at the conference...)

For this conference, I was asked to organize a session on mathematics and social networks. The main message I want to send is that this is an exciting frontier for the mathematical scientists. For this particular meeting, I will also be stressing as part of my message the increasing important and prevalence of this stuff in industrial problems (such as for online recommendation systems), though I'll concentrate on my own research for the bulk of my talk. I will also give a talk about my work on wave propagation in granular lattices as part of a session on asymptotic analysis.

By the way, NetSci was a very good conference. (I gave a talk on my Congressional research there.) I acquired some awesome new data on political cabinet networks and will be collaborating with Brian Uzzi from Northwestern's business school (in addition to some of the usual math/physics crowd) in studying it. (Brian was already working with some Oxford folks, so I got to meet with him and talk with him a couple of times at the meeting. He gave a great invited presentation that included references to both Wang Chung and the Traveling Wilburys. Dude!) I'm not as well-known in networks as in the applied math/nonlinear dynamics community, but things seem to be on the upswing here as well. (FYI: More important is that those who do know me respect my work...)

On the way back from NetSci, a delay for one train, cause me to miss the last connection at Birmingham New Street. I then walked 5 minutes to a nearby station so that I could visit a couple of extra nodes in Britain's train network and finally get home. I made it to my apartment at 12:30 --- about 2 hours later than planned, but at least I made it and could sleep in my own bed. During this ordeal, it occurred to me that my knowledge of British geography is almost entirely network-based. I basically think of how I can get from one city to another almost entirely based on how I how between different nodes of the network. I have figured out a little bit about how this network is embedded in two-dimensional space, but I know far more about travel in Britain along the network. This can occasionally cause mistakes on my part because the embeddedness in two-dimensional space of the network is quite important (as Mark Newman and Michael Gastner have stressed in several papers over the last couple of years).

Monday, June 23, 2008

RIP George Carlin (1937-2008)

George Carlin died yesterday, apparently of heart failure. Here is the New York Times obituary.

George Carlin was one of my favorite comedians (if not my favorite), and I thankfully had the chance to once see him perform live. Many consider him quite offensive, but I love his stuff. I highly recommend googling to find his 'Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television' skit. It's awesome.

Here is an excellent quote from George Carlin that appears in the article: "Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What happens at NetSci stays at NetSci

Tomorrow I am heading back on the train (for the third time in the last few days) to go to the scintillating city of Norwich to attend NetSci, a networks conference I've never had the chance to attend before. It's been in the US in the past, but it's conveniently nearby this year.

Oxford's complex systems group will be well-represented at the conference, so it should be both fun and scientifically interesting. (Not that there's much to do in Norwich, but I'm sure we'll find something...)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

4th Edition D & D: I'll have time to read it eventually

I picked up my core rule books of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons from my mailbox today. It arrived yesterday while I was away giving a seminar (or possibly today earlier than I checked my mailbox). I am about to finish Dune (I only have the appendices left) and then in early July two Dragonlance books I really want to read will be shipped to me. I'll read some of the new Player's Handbook between now and then, but I'm mostly planning to go through those books first before I really delve into the new edition.

I haven't made any effort to find a gaming group for the summer (and ideally beyond), but maybe I'll get around to it at some point. There is some sort of game day on Saturday, but I'm going to have to miss it because I am visiting Bristol tomorrow and going to the first of two back-to-back conferences on Sunday, so I really need to do work on Saturday. In particular, I have some papers nearing the finish line and others making reasonable progress that would be nice to advance further (and, ideally, one I want to advance enough to be comfortable showing it to people at the upcoming conference!).

I might post some thoughts on Dune later, though that's likely to wait for my year-end review of books. I'm definitely planning to discuss some 4th edition stuff after I go through it in detail. (I only glanced at it for a minute because I want to read some baseball articles, work a bit on a paper [perhaps], and play some Super Mario Galaxy.

In other news, congratulations to all my Somerville students who finished their exams today! (I don't think any of them read this blog, but congratulations to them anyway.)

Petition to prevent mathematics cutbacks at USQ in Australia

I just got an e-mail on the Project NExT list about upcoming cutbacks (that would basically decimate the entire mathematics program) at University of Southern Queensland in Australia.

Please sign the petition on Terry Tao's website.

Here is the text of the petition (you can find out more information on Terry's website):

I believe that the proposed severe cuts to mathematics, statistics, and computing at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) will do severe and permanent damage to the quality of education in maths and the sciences for USQ students, at a time when the need to support such education is both urgent and widely accepted in Australia at all levels. Service teaching alone, especially at reduced staff levels, cannot deliver the level of mathematics education that the students of USQ deserve. I urge the university administration to negotiate with the Department of Mathematics and Computing to find a compromise solution that will preserve the proven capability of this department to train students and teachers in the maths and sciences at the highest levels of quality.

I hope that you'll take a look at the petition and sign it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Depressing baseball stat of the day

I was just reading an unsurprising article confirming the fact (that was essentially already known) that Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal won't return until after the All-Star break. This article includes the following sentence:

Furcal is tied for the team lead in runs scored -- even though he has not played since May 5 because of a bulging disk in his back.

Holy shit. That about sums up the way the season has gone thus far.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What happens in Loughborough stays in Loughborough

This afternoon, I'll be heading on a train to Loughborough to give a seminar to Loughborough University's nonlinear waves group tomorrow. Is there anything else to do in that town? (I have no idea how large a city it is, as I've only heard of it because of the university.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Which Superhero and Supervillain are you?

(Hmmm... my copy-and-paste job gives html that looks horrible. I really don't have the patience to do anything about it beyond acknowledging that it's crap. Anyway, you'll just have to scroll a little more for this entry.)

I'm a sucker for quizzes like this, and I decided that I was curious what superhero I'd be. While I was at it, I saw the supervillain quiz and decided to take that one too. There are unsurprisingly many more superhero and supervillain quizzes available from all corners of the Web. (I know, I know: Those sites probably aren't true corners, though one can actually define a rigorous notion of a corner in a graph---just consider nodes whose edges all have low betweenness centrality.) Let me know if you find any betters ones.

Anyway, here is my result for superheroes:

You are Spider-Man

Green Lantern
Iron Man
Wonder Woman
The Flash
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Comment: 35% Supergirl? What the fuck? The combination of Spider-Man and Hulk is kind of odd, but I can see it to some degree. I don't follow comics, so I'm sure there are characters out there who would fit better.

Here are my results for supervillain:

You are Mr. Freeze

Mr. Freeze
Dr. Doom
The Joker
Green Goblin
Poison Ivy
Lex Luthor
Dark Phoenix
You are cold and you think everyone else should be also, literally.

Comment: I didn't match particularly well with any of the supervillains, but the choice probably makes reasonable sense. I'm apparently not at all like Kingpin. :)

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from a deadpan statement meant to succinctly describe the results a student in my extended research group saw with some network analysis:

"The US is isolated with Israel and some remote island nations."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Geometry of Music

Here is a really neat article about applying geometric analysis to music that appeared in Time Magazine in January 2007. Orbifolds show up a lot. :) (Thanks to Jaideep Singh for bringing this to my attention.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

"The Rise of Coffee"

Continuing further into the backlog of popular and/or expository science articles I want to highlight is this gem on the origins of coffee. Mmmmm... coffee. (Click on the cover of the magazine for the article's abstract. If you or your institution have appropriate subscriptions, you should be able to access the full text as well.)

According to the article, the first coffeehouse in Europe opened in Venice in 1645 and the second opened in Oxford in 1650. I believe that Queen's Road Cafe is supposed to be in the location of the first one in Oxford (at least according to the claim on their menu... ), though I don't know for sure if there has been one continuously in that location. (Queen's Road's menu seems to claim that this is the case.)

There is no known truth to the rumors that they had iced lattes and wi fi access back in the day. (Actually, I have no idea if they have wi fi access now!).

I'll end this entry with a question: Do you turn coffee into theorems or theorems into coffee?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Travelling Waves in Guinness

That was what the applied math colloquium was about today. (Can you believe we get paid to study and discuss stuff like this?) Actually, there is (unsurprisingly) some very serious and important science involved. The official name of the subject is "two-phase flows." I'd include an abstract or link to the speaker's webpage, but I couldn't find either. So this will have to do... (For what it's worth, the "practical session" is going on now. The standard procedure is to go to the pub after the applied math seminar, but I have an event to attend at 6pm, so I won't be able to hang out with the gang today.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from the opening lines of States of Matter, David Goodstein's book on statistical physics. He writes:

"Ludwig Boltzman, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously."

Maybe things will be safer for those of us who apply statistical mechanics tools to complex systems? Anyway, this is a word of caution for those who want to join my research group...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Ken Griffey Jr. hits 600th career homerun

Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th career homerun today. The fan who seemingly caught the ball did something very slick. (The balls are specially marked, so we'll see if this guy has the actual ball.) Try to catch the video on YouTube if you get a chance.

I haven't mentioned it in this spot before, but the Lords of Baseball have pissed me off with how they've advertised the now-obtained 500th homerun for Manny (about which I didn't end up blogging earlier) and 600th homerun for Griffey. The advertisement for Manny was ok, as it showed some other players getting their 500th homer and advertised watching to see when Manny would do it. The similar advertisement for Griffey's 600th showed Babe Ruth's and Hank Aaron's 600th homers. In their eternal attempt at whitewashing history, Major League Baseball's advertisement never mentioned Mark McGwire Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. I fucking hate that. Hey, Dudes: Trying to pretend steroids never happened neither works nor helps!

Update: Of course, I managed to inadvertently mention McGwire instead of Barry Bonds, so maybe I'm wrong about the whitewashing not working!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Mathematician on Mathematical Research

The famous mathematician G. H. Hardy, who liked to brag that all of his mathematics was useless (even though the notion of a Hardy-Weinberg equilibrum happens to be quite a simple and useful application of mathematics to genetics). For him, the most beautiful mathematics was that which had no application at all. [Of course, he was a Cambridge professor, so we have to consider the source of such comments. :) Go team!]

Here is something Hardy wrote in A Mathematician's Apology about mathematics research, but he could easily have been talking about the vast majority of scientific research (except for some landmark discoveries, etc.) and he had a more general context in mind anyway. He wrote:

"What we do may be small, but it has a certain character of permanence; and to have produced anything of the slightest permanent interest, whether it be a copy of verses or a geometrical theorem, is to have done something utterly beyond the powers of the vast majority of men."

I am not arrogant enough to wake up every day and always agree with this quote, but I am arrogant enough to believe it during specific moments on specific days. The times when I see it in a positive light (feeling like I've produced something lasting and not actually thinking of anything comparative with anyone else) are some of my favorite moments. However, those when I view it from a more negative perspective (which suggests a cynical attitudes of others being lower than me), then it is extremely arrogant and it pretty much just means I need a boot to the head. Quite the dichotomy, eh?

I must admit that there is something about, e.g., going into the Caltech bookstore and seeing my book being sold in it that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling---and at least part of that definitely jives with Hardy's quote.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: Best abstract ever

Here's a new paper that just got posted on the arXiv:

Remarks On A Nicolas Inequality
Authors: B. A. Kupershmidt
(Submitted on 5 Jun 2008 (v1), last revised 5 Jun 2008 (this version, v2))

Abstract: The Nicolas Conjecture appears to be true.

You can find this paper here.

Short and sweet! Now I just need to see a paper in which the title is longer than the abstract...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today, Rob Neyer ended his chat with the following awesome quote: "When all is said and done, there's nothing left to say or do."

I googled it and found that it was supposedly attributed to former NBA player Darryl Dawkins. I'm not convinced that that is the original source of the quote, so if anybody knows the right attribution, please let me know.

(By the way: Wherever you go, there you are.)

Cell Phone Networks and Privacy Issues

Here is a new networks paper that just came out in Nature. It is by one of the usual suspects (Barabasi), an up-and-coming postdoc (Marta Gonzalez), and somebody else (of whom I've never heard). One of my networks buddies at Oxford has done some related work in the past and is in fact involved on the follow-up work to this paper. (One of the new postdocs here was hired for this project as well.) There are some pretty dicey ethical issues involved in this one, and the author with the unfamiliar name has seemingly shot himself in the foot with one of his comments in which he mentioned basically that there are nefarious things one could do with that data so that it's a good thing that it's scientists who are using it and not someone else---that was really not a smart thing to say. (Unsurprisingly, by the way, this paper is getting a ton of press.) Here are the title and abstract:

Title: Understanding individual human mobility patterns

Authors: Marta C. González, César A. Hidalgo, & Albert-László Barabási

Abstract: Despite their importance for urban planning1, traffic forecasting2 and the spread of biological3, 4, 5 and mobile viruses6, our understanding of the basic laws governing human motion remains limited owing to the lack of tools to monitor the time-resolved location of individuals. Here we study the trajectory of 100,000 anonymized mobile phone users whose position is tracked for a six-month period. We find that, in contrast with the random trajectories predicted by the prevailing Lévy flight and random walk models7, human trajectories show a high degree of temporal and spatial regularity, each individual being characterized by a time-independent characteristic travel distance and a significant probability to return to a few highly frequented locations. After correcting for differences in travel distances and the inherent anisotropy of each trajectory, the individual travel patterns collapse into a single spatial probability distribution, indicating that, despite the diversity of their travel history, humans follow simple reproducible patterns. This inherent similarity in travel patterns could impact all phenomena driven by human mobility, from epidemic prevention to emergency response, urban planning and agent-based modelling.

The overall result (about how predictable we are) isn't surprising at all, but what is really nice is more specific quantitative information about such regularity--probability distributions, etc.--that could be really helpful for things like designing vaccination strategies.

I'm not planning to give my thoughts on the ethics of the study in the entry itself (though I'll consider doing so in the comments if an interesting discussion arises (as I hope it will). This is certainly one of those studies that ought to provoke such a discussion.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Mathematical Hermit

Here's a brief article from Science News about Alexandre Grothendieck, who celebrated his 80th birthday in self-imposed isolation in the Pyrenees.

A lot of Grothendieck's work was in a subject known as "category theory." As my Cornell abstract algebra professor once said, he wanted us to learn what a category is the same way we learned what an animal was: by seeing examples of them. (A student then immediately asked the professor what a category was, and he went completely berserk. It was awesome.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

80s music pun

I saw a listing of upcoming shows at one of the local venues. The one that struck my eye immediately was the show by Glenn Tillbrook & The Fluffers. You might say that I'm tempted to go.