Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dodgers acquire Manny Ramirez

Today the Dodgers traded for Manny Ramirez. Ramirez is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Here are his career stats. I think the trade is a good attempt to win things this year, though I think I would prefer not picking up his $20 million yearly option for 2009 (and also not to pick up the 2010 option at the same price, of course). I was just telling one of my friends at dinner that I doubted Manny would be traded because there had been constant rumors involving him for several years and he was still with the Red Sox after all this time. Oops. I missed that one completely. The Sox are paying Manny's salary for this year, which is great! (It also means that Andruw Jones will hardly be playing at all, and I hope that I can say the same thing for Juan Pierre.) We lost two minor leaguers: third baseman Andy Laroche (who it was clear we were never going to give a chance to play) and pitcher Bryan Morris (about whom I know nothing) went to Pittsburgh. (Our minor league system is absolutely stocked right now, so this doesn't bother me at all.) The Pirates also got outfielder Brandon Moss and pitcher Craig Hansen from the Red Sox and gave up Jason Bay to the Sox. (I would rather have gotten Bay than Manny, but overall I am happy with this trade---though again I really hope we let Manny walk as a free agent after the year is over.)

Let's see if we can go anywhere with this. Certainly this is better than the Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones free agent signings.

Note: The Angels did much better in getting Texeira. If they can sign him to an extension, then they'll have one of the best young players in the game locked up for several years.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's time to quote Q*Bert.

To quote Q*Bert, my laptop is "@!#?@!"ed.

Disk Warrior could state how it wanted to fix the directory hierarchy (in terms of giving me a preview of what the gloriously correct node structure should look like), but it wasn't able to actually do it. All hardware tests from Disk Profiler and Disk Warrior claim that nothing is wrong, but I just don't believe it at this point. I wiped my harddrive clean (again!), and I couldn't reinstall the OS on it because of an error. Moreover, there are stilling lingering chaotic evil directory structures in there. Bloody Hell!

Anyway, my MacBook Pro has a hot date at the Southampton Apple Store tomorrow. (Sadly, I can't say the same thing for myself.)

So, what should I call my next harddrive? This one was Vecna. Maybe I should go with somebody with a slightly more positive alignment?


The LHC Rap

Courtesy Predrag Cvitanovic, here is a music video about experimental attempts to go beyond the Standard Model. (You can also hear some MC Hawking at the beginning and the end.)

In case any of you, gentle readers, were wondering how something can be simultaneously awesome and "awesome", I ask you to behold this video!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

|Tales from the arXiv: Entropy and Truth?

Here's a nice bit of psychoceramics that was just posted on the arXiv:

Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2008 23:58:10 GMT (5kb)

Title: Interaction between Truth and Belief as the key to entropy and other
quantities of statistical physics
Authors: Flemming Topsoe
Categories: math-ph math.MP
Comments: announcement
MSC-class: 94A17
The notion of entropy penetrates much of science. A key feature of the
all-important notion of Boltzmann-Gibbs-Shannon entropy is its extensivity
(additivity over independent subsystems). However, there is a need for other
quantities. In statistical physics a parameterized family of non-extensive
entropy measures, now mainly known under the name of Tsallis-entropies, have
received much attention but also been met with criticism due mainly to a lack
of convincing interpretations. Based on the hypothesis that interaction between
Truth, held by ``Nature'', and Belief, as expressed by man, may take place,
classical- as well as non-classical measures of entropy and other essential
quantities are derived. The approach aims at providing a genuine
interpretation, rather than relying either on analogies based on formal
mathematical manipulations or else - more fruitfully, but not satisfactory - on
axiomatic characterizations.
\\ ( , 5kb)

The thing that amuses me is that the abstract seems reasonable and straight-laced at first. The author discusses the need for other quantities (which is fine, in principle), and then comes the zinger sentence that he/she derives them based on some garbage that I can't even parse. Next up: some thermodynamic quantities based on "Justice" and the Anerican Way. O, Superman! (OK, so this Bowie reference was gratuitous.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Big Brother is Listening to you (and your musics)

Courtesy Christopher Voyce, here is a nice new invasion of privacy that is apparently under active discussion.

Comment:: Fuck you and the horse you rode in on! (Customs is supposed to protect people from things that are dangerous, not prevent them from drowning out obnoxious young children who sing the Fanta theme song for the bloody entirety of a six-hour long flight!)

Addendum: Writing "musics" was a typo, but it reminds me of a certain cat meme (and also whence it came), so I'm going to go with it. I meant to type "music", however. Damn governments have me all riled up... (not to mention the stress from my computer issues... my Mac passed its harddrive test, so we'll see how DiskWarrior does in a couple of days).

More Computer Conniptions

My MacBook Pro is having conniptions again today. SIGH... I just want to get some work done. (I have a note for something to add to an in-progress paper, and I would love to actually be able to do that.)

By the way, did you know that "conniption" is one of the official 'favorite words' in OCIAM?

Here's it's entry in the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1833, Amer.Eng., origin uncertain; perhaps related to corruption, which was used in a sense of "anger" from 1799, or from Eng. dialectal canapshus "ill-tempered, captious," probably a corruption of captious.

That's right, we invented this one, you punks! ;) (I did tell the story of this OCIAM discussion in my blog, right?)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Adventures in Olympian Lameness

My brother Adam pointed me to the following article, in which the Olympic version of baseball will be sodomized in its 2008 (and "temporarily final", as it's not in the 2012 games at all) appearance in The Games.

Here's how things are going to work for extra innings (after the first 9 innings are played normally):

Under the new format, the 10th inning will be played normally. At the start of the 11th, teams will have the option of beginning at any point in the existing batting order and placing the previous two batters on base.

For example, a team that opts to lead off with its No. 3 hitter would begin with its No. 1 batter on second base and its No. 2 hitter on first with no outs.

The 12th inning and beyond would begin where the previous lineup left off, with the two hitters ahead of the batter scheduled to lead off that inning being placed on first and second bases.

Comment: This is fucking lame. It reminds me of Jose Canseco's suggestion of occasionally using a yellow ball, and when a homerun is hit with that ball the team that hits it gets an extra run.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Return of Mike Hampton

If you take a look at the box score for today's baseball game between the Phillies and the Braves, you'll notice that Mike Hampton started today for the Braves. I'm shock -- I say, shocked! -- that Mike Hampton actually pitched today.

As I write this, the game hasn't yet ended. So should we put some overs/unders on how many innings Mike Hampton pitches this year before getting injured again? Let's say 22 innings.

Three Cheers for my Phylactery!

My MacBook Pro decided to have a conniption today. With a massive amount of help from a local (Christopher Voyce), my computer (Vecna) seems to be working again, although when I saw the same behavior for my G4 back in Atlanta, it was a sign that my harddrive was on the way out. (Indeed, it failed for good a couple to a few months after that.) Hence, I'm not convinced the issues won't crop up again, but right now the computer appears to be working perfectly so if I went to the Apple Store, it would just work and they'd wonder why I'm there. (I could just go ahead and buy a harddrive on my own and assume this one is on borrowed time, but what if it isn't? One thing I now have done is buy the Leopard-compatible version of DiskWarrior because unlike the last time this happened, I didn't have DiskWarrior here to help me out.)

By the way, the observed behavior that I mentioned above was when I noticed iTunes suddenly coughing when it tried to play a song---like it was having hiccups. Then when I did a verify with Disk Utility, I was getting an 'invalid node structure' error. I thought that only happened with social networks! :) At first the OS 10.5 install DVD didn't want to install anything on my harddrive, so I was thinking that I needed to head off immediately (i.e., tomorrow, as the places were going to be closed by the time I got there today---the nearest Apple Store is in Southampton, so I would have needed to get on the train) to deal with it. However, after going to the office to get some stuff (like a possible backup computer), we came back and were able to install 10.5 on my harddrive. We had to erase everything on there, so I am currently copying stuff from Phylactery, which is my back-up hard drive. Once I saw the first conniptions today, I immediately backed up my documents. Otherwise, the back-ups date from July 17th (i.e., right before I left for Rome) and the only changes since then that weren't to documents were some podcasts that I can redownload. Anyway, the back-up business is the explanation for this blog entry's title.

The giant Rome blog is coming, but because of today's events, I'm not in the mood to do it at the moment. Today was going to be a chance for me to revamp a section of a particular article, but that will now have to be done tomorrow. It can't be helped and in any event I really don't want to deal with it now. I will finally deal with a couple of software things now that I need to do some reinstallation anyway. Namely, I am downloading Firefox 3 and I will switch over from the Caltech-licensed copy of Matlab to the Oxford one. Moreover, I will download Oxford's copy of Mathematica, as my inertia had led me to not bother with that after my Caltech-licensed one expired.

I also found out that everybody who works in my building apparently gets a 10% discount at the ice cream place I frequent. The person behind the counter mentioned that they don't like to publicize this. I estimated that since October, this has cost me about 100 pounds---which is not enough to affect my life but definitely enough to annoy me. The thing I have to do, of course, is treat this as a sunk cost and enjoy my discount from now on. There isn't anything else I can do. I wonder how many of my colleagues in Dartington House have been paying more for ice cream than necessary? Well, since the ice cream bar won't publicize this discount, I will. (Colleagues: When you go to G & D's, make sure to mention that you work upstairs so that you can get your 10% discount! And for those of you who did know about this before, I think from now on we should make sure that all the new people know about this from the very beginning of their time here. If we don't tell them, they have no way of knowing, and that's just not the right way to do things.)

Anyway, I love my Phylactery. :)

Friday, July 25, 2008

My favorite picture from Rome

I've posted it here.

I am tempted to make some comments, but I think it's best to just recall the phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words...

(This picture was taken by Martin Centurion. I took one too with my non-digital camera...)

I'll blog more about Rome later, but not today. I have some more amusement to pass along, including my various attempts to get iced lattes and/or capuccinos.

Baseball imitates Bugs Bunny?

As part of a blog article today, Rob Neyer linked to an Onion article about the Brewers' overlarge players C.C. Sabathia and Price Fielder seeing each other as giant food items. It was quite reminiscent of a particular Bugs Bunny cartoon... (I'm pretty sure it was Bugs Bunny and not a different one from that era, though I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was more than one episode like this.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Geek Life Flowchart

My student Mariano Beguerisse Diaz posted a link on Facebook to a Geek Life Flowchart that appeared recently in the New York Times.

Comment: This network is missing a lot of the edges that ought to be included. :)

P.S. I just got back from Rome. When I get more sleep (and catch up on some work as well), I'll blog a little more about my trip.

Matter-wave solitons with a periodic, piecewise-constant scattering length

Physical Review A just published one of my articles: Matter-wave solitons with a periodic, piecewise-constant scattering length.

My coauthors are A. S. Rodrigues, P. G. Kevrekidis, D. J. Frantzeskakis [who I met in real life for the first time at the conference I'm currently attending] , P. Schmelcher, and A. R. Bishop. [I have yet to meet Augusto Rodrigues, Peter Smelcher, and Alan Bishop in person.]

Here is our abstract: Motivated by recent proposals of “collisionally inhomogeneous” Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), which have a spatially modulated scattering length, we study the existence and stability properties of bright and dark matter-wave solitons of a BEC characterized by a periodic, piecewise-constant scattering length. We use a "stitching" approach to analytically approximate the pertinent solutions of the underlying nonlinear Schrödinger equation by matching the wave function and its derivatives at the interfaces of the nonlinearity coefficient. To accurately quantify the stability of bright and dark solitons, we adapt general tools from the theory of perturbed Hamiltonian systems. We show that stationary solitons must be centered in one of the constant regions of the piecewise-constant nonlinearity. We find both stable and unstable configurations for bright solitons and show that all dark solitons are unstable, with different instability mechanisms that depend on the soliton location. We corroborate our analytical results with numerical computations.

The idea behind this is that my collaborators and I (as well as others) have done some work on BECs in "nonlinear lattices" in which the nonlinearity coefficient (which is proportional to the two-body scattering length) is a periodic function of space: g = g(x). In my past paper on this topic, my collaborators and I looked at periodic waves and g(x) given by a trig function. To try to delve more deeper into some things analytically, we decided to take a step back and let g(x) be a periodic step function. One can solve the governing partial differential equation in closed form in the g(x) = constant regions and then one can try to match the solutions at the boundaries between those regions. This was motivated by some conversations with more theoretical mathematicians (Bjorn Sandstede and Percy Deift) and to try to find a setup that would be more tractable to some theorem-proof work by people closer to the pure side of the mathematical spectrum. In the just-published paper, we looked at localized solutions. Our plan is to look at periodic solutions (in the form of elliptic functions) as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In the boondocks?

My hotel is nice, but it's located in a place with tons and tons of graffiti, which makes me wonder a bit about the area I'm in. Right now I am in my hotel lobby waiting for my roommate to arrive. I had a bit of an arduous, sweaty walk from the train station. (It had to be a bit circuitous because the sidewalks on some streets were completely blocked and I didn't want to get run over. The estimated walking distance was from the opposite corner of the train station where my train landed, and it went up quite a bit further with the twists and turns.) The concierge asked to see my passport to copy down some information, and he seemed a little offended when I said I'd wait to get it back instead of going to my room and then coming back for it in 10 minutes. (My attitude: I'm sorry, but you're going to have to be offended because that would just be a stupid risk for me to take.)

I saw a bit of scenery during my treck (including a few cafes and, especially important, gelato places). When my roommate (who I know from Caltech postdoc days) arrives, we'll do some touristy stuff and also explore a bit. Now that I've taken a shower, I'm in more of a mood to do it. I'm exhausted because my 6am flight required me to get a 2am coach from Oxford--Why do I do this to myself?--but I slept on the flight due to my exhaustion and (with the kind help of some coffee) I should be able to manage. The conference starts tomorrow, so today is going to be the main touristy day. In the meantime, I'm happy to chill out and read some box scores.

At the airport, I was able to get through security quickly. There were tons of people in the EU line and tons of people in the non-EU line, which actually meant people with European passports from my places not in the EU. (So the Brits got screwed.) I went to the line for non-European passports, which only had 3 of us in it. We were all allowed right through. In fact, the country in which it consistently takes me the longest to get in is the US. (Thanks for welcoming me home, guys!)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What happens in Rome stays in Rome...

...which of course has the obvious subtitle of "When in Rome, do like the Italians." :) (Ave Maria. Gee, it's good to see ya.)

I am going to the SIAM nonlinear waves conference, which is held once every two years. This is the third conference in the series. The first was in Orlando and the second was in Seattle.

Two of the conference organizers e-mailed me early on to ask my collaborators and me to organize a minisymposium. (As you can probably guess, this is one of the conferences where I know a ton of people.) We chose to organize a two-part session on nonlinear waves in periodic media, which is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

I will let you know if I see anybody doing the Vatican Rag. (By the way, my musical jokes for the blog entry I write for my Vienna conference in September will be better. Some of you will see it coming from miles away, but I'll be doing it anyway.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

A new occurrence of DEI in films

There's a new film called Meet Dave that just came out. I was the mathematical consultant on the film, which was produced by the same luminaries who brought us Norbit. (I was asked to produce a fake grand unified field theory, so I took [fair] advantage of that opportunity and inserted a DEI into the formula, which I can confirm made it into the official movie props. My gamma delta beta gamma didn't make it into the props, as I describe below). I was worried that I would have to actually go see the film in order to see the one scene about which I cared (namely, the one with my stuff in it).

Thankfully, due to the magic of the Web, I don't have to waste 2 hours of my life and actually go see the film (which currently has a 3.3/10 on IMDB, which is even lower than Norbit's rating) to see how my efforts turned out, because this clip in IMDB conveniently includes the relevant scene (or at least part of it). If you fast forward to when there are about 8 seconds remaining, then you can see a massive formula being put very quickly on the board. That massive formula just so happens to be the fake grand unified field theory that the movie people asked me to come up with (for which I was paid, of course). I included a DEI (as a subscript of the wave function in the upper left... sadly, it's basically impossible to read --- let me know if you were able to do it) and a gamma delta beta gamma. The latter got cut off because the film's prop people simplified the relation by reducing the size of the 4 x 4 matrix that I included. (Anyway, if you wanted an idea of how film people change mathematical formulas, now you have one.) I saw the prop and the DEI made it on there, but it gets cut off on-screen during the close-up and it's too small to read when they show the full board.

By the way, the 'periodic orbit expansion' (which the movie folks called a 'period orbit expansion') is a nod to one of my Georgia Tech postdoc advisors.

By the way, I would have laughed hysterically if the music they had chosen to use during the clip were The Ride.

Anyway, enjoy!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Interesting tidbits involving the prehistory of community detection

I am writing a survey article on community structure in networks, and part of my hard work in doing this is to look up classical algorithms from the computer science and other literatures that give a prehistory to its modern descendants that are being used in network science.

One of the things that I looked up in the process was of course the Kernighan-Lin algorithm for graph partitioning. In the process, I became extremely impressed with Brian Kernighan for several reasons. For one, it looks like he devised this algorithm as part of his Ph.D. thesis. At around the same time, he and Lin devised an important algorithm for the traveling salesman problem (this is usually called the Lin-Kernighan algorithm. Then I looked further and found out that he is the one who devised the ubiquitous "Hello, world" paradigm, co-authored the first book on the C programming language, and contributed fundamentally to Unix from its inception. (His wikipedia entry credits him with coming up with a pun leading to Unix's name. That statement seems more speculative, so I'll just report that this is stated in the entry. Mabye Lemming or Zifnab might be able to comment on this?) The only thing that would be cooler would be if he had coauthored The Mythical Man Month.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another vote for iced espresso drinks

Lemming just sent me the following story about trying to order iced espresso drinks. Apparently I'm not the only person who prefers caffeine over ice.

I both appreciate and empathize with the reference to Five Easy Pieces.

I'm definitely with this guy telling this story on his frustration of the barristas refusing to give him an iced espresso out of coffee snobbery. (You can read in his blog entry just how extreme it got in his case.)

I've definitely gotten a few odd looks as a result of ordering iced espresso drinks (I greatly prefer them that way). I've once or twice seen such snobbery (though not at the level that guy did), although it's more common that places that can't do it simply don't have ice machines or ice.

The couple of times that baristas refused on principle, I just voted with my feet and left. (I've had one or two similar experiences with trying to substitute things on menus.) They can have whatever policy they want, and I can take my business where I want.

He was being a dick with what he did with the "tip", however. That's not cool.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jim Healy tribute page

I am watching the telecast of the Diamondbacks-Phillies game, and Fox announcer Matt Vasgersian commented on Adam Eaton's pitching by stating that he's "gone the Leonard Toas route." Wow, that takes me waaaay back, as that was an expression that the late, great Southern California broadcaster Jim Healy used to use. He would then play a sound clip: "Leonard Toas has... uh... lost it."

When I was a kid, my brother introduced me to a hilarious, snarky radio show by Jim Healey. The format of his radio shows, which were wonderful, is described on his wikipedia entry:

Healy's shows (at least those from the late 1970s onward) took the form of him reading headlines, with the clicking sound effect of a teleprinter in the background. In response to his own headlines or comments, Healy would then play one of his many favorite audio clips, such as "That's a bunch of bull," "That's just plain poppycock," or "Jim Healy, you've got a weak show." (Howard Cosell) Among his sound effects was a silly laughtrack, sounding like, "Hee-hee-hee-hee..." (Norm Sherry)

Basically, he would give a headline (or give some commentary), occasionally being snide and sarcastic in his own deadpan way and constantly being snide and sarcastic through his sound bites. (Let me guess. You're shocked that I enjoyed this show. Just shocked.)

Anyway, the reminder inspired me to look at his wikipedia page and find a link to a Jim Healy tribute page that draws some of it's material from a site that no longer exists. (The Way Back Machine was, of course, of great help here.)

There's also an off-again/on-again podcast show hosted by Rich Perlman that is specifically of the same format called "The Sports Examiner: Out Loud!" In fact, I just checked and it's back after being gone for close to a year. Awesome! I'm going to listen to it now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Three Baseball Links

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here are three extremely funny baseball links:

1) Baseball frivolities (March, April), as compiled quite snarkily in a blog known as The Baseball Analysts

2) Baseball frivolities (May-July), as compiled by the same folks.

3) An absolutely wonderful meltdown by the manager of the Wichita Wingnuts. Check out the oscillatory dynamics of his head at the beginning of the video clip... I was extremely impressed by the head-bobbing. (I ought to do my all-time baseball meltdown blog entry at some point. It will have a separate section for audio and video. Maybe I'll even be able to find the Carlos Perez versus the dugout watercooler --- which is the best baseball dugout fight ever, by the way! --- video online by that point.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

OCIAM versus ComLab: Annual Cricket Game and BBQ

You know, part of me has the urge to write this entry in the form of George Carlin's famous Baseball and Football skit. ("In baseball, the object is to go home... and be safe. In cricket, the object is to stand in the outfield and drink beer. Wait... I should probably use a different argument to convince this crowd that baseball is better.")

Somehow I feel as if this particular blog entry is expected of me (although I was planning to do it anyway) after playing in my first cricket game. Actually, at some point I plan to write an entry on some of the strange sports people actively play and follow here---Like rowing. What the fuck is up with that? Apparently if you watch it live it's like watching a parade; they just go past you once. (Now that I've pissed off half my local readership, I can return to the main thread...)---but for today let's talk about our cricket match.

First of all, OCIAM won for what I am told is the third time in a row. Apparently, the players who led to this victory correlate quite well with the players who led to the previous victories. ComLab, the Computing Laboratory, scored some ungodly double-digit number of runs in their inning (which in sensible sports like baseball is called a "half inning." Apparently, it's considered good if you keep them under triple digits in one inning. (In case you ever wondered why cricket games can last for several days, wonder no more. Somebody can become a full professor, start playing in a cricket game, and then be of mandatory retirement age before the game is over. Wait... that won't convince this audience that baseball is better either.) So we had a pretty successful inning. I learned a few lessons during our inning in the field: (1) I prefer catching balls with a baseball glove rather than my bare hands (which is required in cricket, except for their equivalent of a catcher). (2) Cricket balls that are hit hard really sting when they impact your hand shortly thereafter. (3) Being used to catching with a glove makes it harder when you suddenly try catching with your bare hand. (4) I'm a much better baseball player than cricket player. (OK, I already knew that one.) Not that I'm a great baseball player, but in that situation I can use my knowledge of the game to make up for my minimal actual talent. In cricket, I just stink---though I was getting the hang of the differences at bat when I took batting practice.

In our inning, we scored some ungodly number of runs that was slightly larger than ComLab's ungodly number of runs. That gave us what is now known in baseball as a "walk-off win." (I believe that that term dates from the 70s among professional baseball players, but it became much more popular outside those circles starting in the late 90s.) That is, in the bottom of the last inning (or the last inning, in the case of cricket, which for today's game was the second inning), you surpass your opponent's score and, having won the game, you walk off the field. I was going to be the next batter to come into the game, so I didn't get a chance to display my baseball stance during the game. However, I got some nice batting practice in and there are pictures of me in some cricket regalia specifically using a baseball stance. (In batting practice, I basically found an isomorphism between the last part of the baseball swing and the entire cricket swing, and that allowed me to start hitting reasonably at least during practice---I'm not game-tested yet, but hopefully we'll fix that next summer.) I'll post the picture when I get a copy of it. I assume it's good because I was scaring people with my baseball stance. And I was doing my best Gary Sheffield with lots of bat waggling in addition to my usual thing of banging the plate with the edge of the bat. I guess the sophisticated folk of this country simply aren't used to such behavior.

Anyway, the company and the game-playing were fun, though baseball is a much better sport---not that I'm biased or anything! One thing that was really cool, by the way, was being able to use all 360 degrees while batting at one of the two "wickets," which is their version of a plate. (Yes, there are two of them.) This gives quite a bit of strategy when it comes to angling the ball. A couple of people had some success just turning around and hitting the ball backwards. (You can move wherever you want when you're batting.)

I guess aside from the promised pictures, that's about what I wanted to say. Maybe I'll even call my shot next year. I think enough people would get the joke.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Baseball All-Star Rosters (mostly) announced

The rosters for Major League Baseball's All-Star game have been announced, except for a set of five players from each league for whom the fans can now vote (and for the replacement of injured players, of course). Here is the American League roster and the National League one.

As usual, there are people who should be there (such as the Phillies' Pat Burrell, though he's one of the 5 NL players who the fans can now vote in) and those who really, really shouldn't (Jason Varitek? You've got to be fucking kidding me!).

By the way, in my opinion Tim Lincecum (who is extremely awesome, by the way) deserves to be the NL's starting pitcher and Cliff Lee deserves to be the AL's starting pitcher.

The worst selection is clearly Jason Varitek, and it's not even close. (Apparently, the players are the ones who voted him in.) He's been craptacular this year, so it's not like it's even somebody having a meh year. He's been so bad that he ought to actually be relegated to the bench at this point. So let's send him to the All-Star game instead, eh? There are a number of candidates for worst ommission, but I don't think any of them are as blatant as the Varitek thing because there is a numbers game after all. Putting Brian Wilson on the NL roster instead of deserving starters like Cole Hamels or Johan Santana (or even a reliever having a better year, such as Takashi Saito) is bad, but not close to the Varitek level.

Hmmm... looking at ESPN, it seems that the Sabathia trade between the Indians and Brewers has indeed gone through. I already thought the Brewers were going to win the NL Central, and now I really think they're going to win that division.

UK government data mash-up

My collaborators Nick Jones and Peter Mucha separately e-mailed me to let me know about the new UK government data mash-up.

Basically, the UK government has launched a competition to find innovative ways of using the mass of data it collects. Towards this end, they have released (in SQL format) a ton of data from the National Health Service and other interesting parts of their bureaucracy.

While there will presumably be many cooks stirring this pot, I still am quite pleased to have access to cool data for student projects. (Currently, I really need to recruit somebody to help me study the longitudinal cabinet data that I got from Brian Uzzi...)

Also, the UK government is being very smart to release the data in this fashion. Kudos!

Saturday, July 05, 2008


I just got back from ECMI yesterday. I was going to come back this morning (because I had paid for a dorm room stay up through last night instead of the night before due to some bait-and-switch with respect to details of my attendance at this conference), but I was so tired that I came home early. (I was going to go to the theatre last night, as there were several things I wanted to see.) The conference had ended a couple of hours earlier and I had just finished a discussion with a couple of the speakers in the session I organized. The advantage of trains instead of planes includes the idea of a "period return", in which I can come back at any point during a one month period. So after I was done with my conversation, I was thinking that I was tired and I could just go home. The 40 pounds for the extra night (that I didn't want) was a sunk cost. The room was small and hot. The shower was aggressive---the water temperature could be adjusted, but the intensity of flow couldn't---and the room had a dank, musty smell. I was exhausted in general and didn't want to set my alarm this morning. So I just put my stuff away, went to the tube station next door, took the tube to Paddington, got on the train, and was home within 2 hours of my decision to 'fuck it' and return home. Not bad. Then I took a bath (rather than those stupid shower things), got some ice cream, read some Dungeons and Dragons, went to see Kung Fu Panda, and felt much better. I need to remember this lesson that things like that are a sunk cost and I shouldn't punish myself by the stubbornness of insisting to use the room for every day for which I paid.

Here are the top sites seen while in London:

1. Lloydies in London (Jit Kee Chin, Anatole Faykin, and David Richard --- Reza Mohsin has two young kids and is hard to track down)

2. Very bored and angry exhibitors. (In fact, this situation appears to have been an epic failure. The exhibit hall was in a different building from all the talks, so people didn't come back to visit it very often. When they did come back, the coffee was mostly in nearby hallways rather than where the exhibits were themselves. So the exhibitors didn't get many customers, and I overheard comments from some of them expressing boredom, anger, and the possibility of never coming back to ECMI again. Somebody screwed-up big time on this point.)

3. Some good talks. (There was some crap as well, but that's how it always works.)

The conference also included the Quote of the Week:

"The IMA are a bunch of parasites."

I'm obviously not going to pass along who said this, but based on what I saw with this conference, I'm inclined to think that there's at least some truth to this. (At the very least, some of the people they employ are tools.) Things with registration could have been more flexible (then I wouldn't have had to eat 40 pounds), the conference was rather expensive (we'll see after time passes whether I get my money's worth in connections I made... I have already gotten one seminar invitation from this, so I am feeling somewhat better about this than I was a couple of days ago), and I am apparently one of many minisymposium organizers whose invited speakers were annoyed about how expensive things were. (In fact, I agree with them.) Worse than that, one of the speakers I invited was insulted in an e-mail by one of the IMA staff. (I should mention that I have seen the e-mail and the tone was pretty sarcastic. It was out of line.) They were also briefly talking about me behind my back (Hey Dudes: If you're reading this, my name is "Mason", not "Manson"!) when they didn't realize I was in the room and could hear them. They weren't horribly unkind or anything, but one person wasn't entirely kind either. (I couldn't tell everything he said, but he seemed to be acting like my entirely reasonable request to upload both my .ppt and .pdf files for each of my two talks---which he seemed to think were all for one talk---was not a reasonable request. As I said, not horribly unkind, but perhaps it might have occurred to him that I might have been in the room and hearing him say this.)

I think if the conference were less expensive, I'd feel better about it. That said, it is important for me to meet more of the UK applied and industrial mathematicians and going to this conference certainly seems like an effective way to do so. Its price is quite prohibitive and may well keep me away, but we'll see how things go.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Now I think I've "seen" everything...

I just came back from seeing Kung Fu Panda (which is really awesome, by the way!) and I can hear a wedding party outside of my flat in Somerville. (I decided to come back from London today instead of tomorrow because I am absolutely exhausted. I was going to stay tonight and see a show, but I just wanted to return to my adopted home and relax.) OK, so what's the special thing that I wanted to mention? Well, as I entered my flat, I heard some very prominent lines from this song coming from the wedding party. Wow. (Hmmmm... and they appear to have the track on repeat. I'm going to have to drown this out with my own music because while the "song" is great, I don't want to hear it that often.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Subatomic particle plush toys

This is just so wrong... and yet it's both awesome and "awesome"...

Namely, this site is selling stuffed toys of subatomic particles. I was tempted to buy some, but the price is a bit too steep. Apparently, the weight of the stuffed toys is supposed to have some correspondence (via 'light' versus 'heavy') with their actual weights. I'm amused.

And when you complete your subatomic particle collection, don't forget to buy some stuffies of internal organs and microbes. (I've seen the microcrobes in a couple of places---first at DragonCon and then at J/L's place.)

There are also a bunch of crocheted Lorenz manifolds out there. (My link is to a page of the Bristol mathematicians who made the first one. Their page links to a few others.) I'd be up for buying or making something like a stuffed network. Does anybody want to help make a stuffed Watts-Strogatz graph? (I was going to suggest a random graph, but that would take more nodes to be able to appreciate.) One could get a bunch of stuffed spheres and connect them with stuffed rods.

(Tip of the cap to Jonathan Adams for posting the link to the subatomic particle zoo.)

Tales from the arXiv: strong (and likely false) claim edition

One of my students (Mariano Beguerisse Diaz) just sent me a link to the following paper, which was recently posted on the arxiv:

A proof of the Riemann hypothesis

Xian-Jin Li

(Submitted on 1 Jul 2008 (v1), last revised 2 Jul 2008 (this version, v2))

By using Fourier analysis on number fields, we prove in this paper E. Bombieri's refinement of A. Weil's positivity condition, which implies the Riemann hypothesis for the Riemann zeta function in the spirit of A. Connes' approach to the Riemann hypothesis.

If this paper actually does what it claims to do, then this is obviously quite a big deal. This is ridiculously far from my area, but I'll take the safe attitude of being skeptical of the author's claims unless acknowledged experts on the topic come to a consensus that this paper accomplishes the trick. I did some googling to try to find reactions, but it came up empty (though I did find articles about a 2004 attempt). The wikipedia article to which I link above has a small section that briefly discusses false claims of a successful proof.

Anyway, it will be very exciting news if this new claim turns out to be well-founded, but I'm not about to start holding my breath.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Kickin' it old school

I found this webpage just now. It's a blog entry from a physicist (who presumably found me by some sort of googling) and has a link to a certain to a certain facetious article I wrote a few years ago. (It also has a link to my Caltech writing page, which mostly has the same stuff as my Oxford writing page.) I actually don't keep the link for this particular article on my Oxford writing page, but finding someone else linking to it makes me want to point to that blog entry.

For all I know, maybe this is my most-read paper. (Actually, my pieces in the AMS Notices are likely my most-read paper, followed by my BCS ranking system article in the American Mathematical Monthly, followed by my PNAS Congress article and my introduction to LaTeX in some order. (I went to give a seminar in Durham last fall, and one of the grad students informed me that she first saw my name a few years ago when she used my latex intro to help her write her report. At least one of the papers I wrote was useful, though I never bothered trying to polish that one to publish it anywhere official. It does appear on random resource pages in various corners [both public and private] of the web.