Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What happens in Nottingham stays in Nottingham

I am spending the night in Nottingham to give a mathematics seminar tomorrow to the theoretical mechanics group at the University of Nottingham.

I hadn't previously been here, but obviously this is one of the UK cities about which I heard a very long time ago.

It looks like there are things to do in the city (and the castle is supposed to be cool), but the university is a bit away from the main action, I'm not feeling well at all, and I need to go through the draft of a student's report, so any exploration is going to be punted until a subsequent visit.

By the way, since I've been here, I haven't seen any sign of either Robin Hood or his fagelas (except for street names, tourist attractions, etc.).

Monday, September 29, 2008

New Math: Stolen Base Edition

One of the (very annoying) White Sox announcers just mentioned how impressive it was for Curtis Granderson to steal 26 bases in 21 attempts last year. I'll say! (He slipped and meant to say 26 out of 27.)

My Night at the Vienna Opera House

As I mentioned earlier, I got a chance to see a Wagner opera at the Vienna Opera House. I'm sure some of your minds went in a certain direction, but in fact the show I saw was The Flying Dutchman. (There wasn't even a valkyrie in sight.)

The outside of the Opera House looks very nice, but the inside looks spectacular. I didn't have my camera with me that night because I wasn't sure if I'd need to leave it somewhere to enter the seating area, though in retrospect given just how many people were taking pictures in various spots before the shoe, I really ought to have known. Luckily I went to the opera with someone else (Dmitry Pelinovsky, a collaborator of mine), so once it's sent to me, I'll be able to post a picture of me inside the Opera House.

We had what are sometimes known as "Bob Uecker" seats, but thankfully that only affects the visuals. The music was good (I was basically in this for the whole experience of going to the Vienna Opera House, which is very much worth doing), although I liked Carmen much better. The show the night before was Romeo and Juliet, which I didn't want to attend because I never really liked that story. It's got way too much pathos, though The Flying Dutchman certainly had it's share of that. We saw a version without any intermission, which apparently is the traditional way of seeing it. (It's sometimes performed in three acts, however.) The lyrics or story weren't particular impressive, but the former at least often tend to be afterthoughts anyway for operas (as far as I can tell).

SPOILER ALERT: As a service to you, gentle readers, let me give you a brief synopsis of the opera:

There's a captain who is trying to sail his ship home but can't quite make it because of a sudden major storm, so he lands on some shore nearby (an uncharted desert isle?), having sustained some damage to his ship, and awaits for the winds and seas to calm before heading home so that he can see his doting daughter and his crewmen can get some action. (Here we are also introduced to his helmsman, who as far as I can tell is only in the opera for later comic effect---though admittedly I'm not quite sure if the particular incident was part of the original performance.) During this and some other scenes, I was waiting to see if I would hear some of the songs I've heard during storms in, say, Bugs Bunny cartoons, as I'm almost positive that several of those come from operas. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize this one from those days of yore. (I also naturally thought of the Song of Storms, but that probably would have hurt the mood.)

Meanwhile, back in his evil lair (errr... ship), the Flying Dutchman (the person) is busy lamenting his fate. He is quite pale and he as well as his entire crew look a bit like zombies. They are definitely undead, though the Flying Dutchman seems to be far more interested in love than braaaaains. His ship is doomed to sail the seas for all eternity unless he can find someone who will love him faithfully until her death, and coincidently, this is the one brief time that occurs every 7 years in which he can actually go on land (or something like that). [I think it was 10 years in the Pirates of the Carribean movies.]

Anyway, the Flying Dutchman (the ship) sails off and ends up at the same place where our captain (remember him?) was. They talk a bit and despite the Dutchman's pallid complexion (and the fact that his ship sustained no damage... nothing suspicious here...), he decides to trade his daughter's hand in marriage for the centuries of wealth the Dutchman has accumulated during his voyage. (The captain does indicate that his daughter's approval is required, but she dotes on him, so he has no doubts that she'll agree.)

Back on land, all the women are busy knitting because only by doing a good job with that will they impress their men when they return from sea. (Coincidentally, all of their significant others are sailers on the same ship. Amazing!) This, by the way, was my favorite song from the opera. It sounded vaguely familiar, actually had some meta in the lyrics, and in general was quite pleasing to the ear. Unfortunately, the captain's daughter Senta is so sad because of the very pale, sad-looking portrait of the Flying Dutchman that she has obsessed over for apparently many years. She feels quite a bit of pity for him, actually. (So, can you figure out the rest of the story yet?) She sings about his pathetic plight, and so none of the women can get any work done. Then her boyfriend (who is a hunter, which is apparently considerably less prestigious than being a sailor) catches her obsessing over that picture of the Dutchman again and tells her about his dream in which pretty much reveals the entire remainder of the story so that we now can predict not only the big picture but also most of the important smaller details (but I digress).

The captain and the Flying Dutchman land and Senta meets them at the docks. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, Senta is slightly plump and has sagging breasts. Nevertheless, he falls madly in love with her at first sight anyway, and feels in his heart that she will be the one to end his curse. (Aside: Why do all these artists confuse love with lust? It's annoying. The Dutchman knows nothing about her personality. She could be psychotic. After all, she's obsessing over his picture instead of happily weaving like the rest of the girls. But I digress.) Despite her promise to the hunter to not fall in love with him, she does so anyway, just as he predicted she would from his dream (though to me it actually looks like pity rather than love). Also, without any hesitation and despite her promise of fidelity, Senta decided to go with the ugly undead guy instead of the young hunter with whom she was already at least somewhat intimate. How fickle. The captain, having left Senta and the Dutchman to be alone for a few minutes, returns and tells the Dutchman that he's had more than enough time to court his daughter. Then Senta's boyfriend goes up to Senta after the others have gone and they exchange some awkward words. The Dutchman walks in on them and laments that she has already betrayed him and now he is doomed forever. (This flagrantly ignores the fact that his poor luck with women from past excursions in the seven-year windows has been discussed explicitly in the opera.) Fortunately, Senta is still faithful to the Dutchman (it hasn't exactly been that long), so in the opera's climactic conclusion, while others are arguing and/or lamenting their fate, she lights a candle and throws it to the ground to create an open flame (this was pretty impressive, actually). She then walks into the open flame and dies a faithful women who loves the Dutchman. Then the opera ends without technically stating if this is sufficient to break the curse---there were earlier implications that Senta would have to actually spend the rest of eternity sailing the seas with the Dutchman.

Anyway, it's best not to sweat the details. The music was good and the Opera House itself was really awesome to see from the inside.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Greg Maddux passes Roger Clemens in wins!

In yesterday's Dodger game, Greg Maddux got his 355th career win, to move him past Roger Clemens on the all-time win list. I don't know if Maddux will play next year---though I certainly hope he does!---and I am extremely pleased that whether or not he does that he has passed Clemens. I simply like Maddux a lot better. Amen.

In other baseball news, there AL Central and NL Wild Card races are still going. Today is the last official day of the baseball season, though there may be short playoffs to decide these races and the White Sox also have a rained-out game to make up.

In still other news, CC Sabathia is tied for the league lead in shutouts in each of the two leagues. That's just bloody awesome! I doubt that's ever happened before, though I haven't checked to make sure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tonight's Plans

The plans for tonight include seeing a performance in the Vienna Opera House. The opera I'll be seeing is by some guy named Wagner... :)

200 strikeouts in a season!

Yesterday, the Diamondbacks' Mark Reynolds struck out for the 200th time this season, becoming the first Major Leaguer to accomplish this "feat." As you can see here, several players have come close during the last few years and the Phillies' Ryan Howard might be joining Reynolds in a couple of days...

In other baseball news (besides the most important one about the Dodgers' clinching), the Brewers won in dramatic fashion to remain in a tie with the Mets for the NL wild card and the Twins finished a sweep of the White Sox to take over first place in the AL Central. I would definitely prefer for both the Twins and Brewers to make the postseason. I would love to have an Angels-Dodgers World Series (a so-called "Freeway Series"), and for the Dodgers to kick some ass!

The Dodgers have won the National League West!

With the Diamondbacks' loss to the Cardinals yesterday, the Dodgers have now clinched the National League West! Go Dodgers!

Of course, now we have the major stumbling block of trying to actually win the first round of playoffs, which we haven't managed to do for quite a while. In fact, we haven't won a single postseason series since 1988, when we won the World Series. In fact, we've only won one postseason game since then, and Jose Lima of all people was the winning pitcher in that game...

Let's see how far we can get this year...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kickin' it old school: Knight Rider is back

I just saw an advertisement that a new version of the series Knight Rider premiers tonight. My brother was a fanatical follower of that show back in the day, so I watched a few episodes. (My favorites were the battles between KITT and KARR.) I remember hearing a few years back about a movie version. Maybe that's still happening?

Anyway, right now I need to turbo boost into some more work before I do some more exploration later.

RIP New York Yankees (1995-2008)

Well, the Yankees have officially been eliminated and won't be playing in baseball's postseason this year. About fucking time.

(Note: I had the RIP idea on my own, but apparently the folks at ESPN had similar ideas, given the graphics they're using for their headline for an article by Buster Olney.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hello from Vienna

Today I was walking some of the coldy-efficient streets of Vienna. There's actually a nice pretenious coffee place right next to my hotel and, as a big added bonus, it actually has iced espresso drinks on the regular menu (unlike the coffee bars in some of the really nice European cities I've visited...also unlike the other coffee bars here, as far as I can tell). I also found two gelato places and---here's a big shock---lots of restaurants that serve schnitzel. (I had a good weinerschnitzel today. My mother made that for me many times as a child, and I definitely have a particular fondness for that dish. Finding good examples of it will be pretty easy for the next few days.) None of the menus have had any English translations so far, so I'll need to figure out which words correspond to which other types of meet.

I walked a few miles, but I didn't get to the city center. I also had an early flight this morning so given the need to get a bus from Oxford to Heathrow, I only got about 4 hours of not-too-restful sleep last night. Hence my explorations today weren't very expansive and much more will have to come later. I have all of Saturday, for example.

Madonna seems to be following me around. She had a concert in Montreal during my visit and has one here tonight. I like some of her music quite a lot, but I'm still cross from her performance at Coachella and I'm tired anyway (as I mentioned). On the bright side, Leonard Cohen is performing here both tomorrow and the day after, and I might very well go see him.

Finally (for now), the damn Y and Z have been swapped for the keyboards here (I don't currently have internet access from my own computer), and this is causing me grief in my typing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Vienna Calling (aka: What happens in Vienna stays in Vienna)

I seem to be doing just about everything possible (including finishing unpacking from my recent apartment change!) to avoid finishing the .ppt slides for my talk on Wednesday. I really ought to be much better about this, because I leave tomorrow morning for Vienna and if I don't finish the talk today, I'll need to eat into some of my exploration time tomorrow. (Granted, I'll have plenty more exploration time on other days...)

I am attending a workshop at the Wolfgang Pauli Institute called The Gross-Pitaevskii equation and its application for Bose-Einstein condensates in optical lattices. There are only 9 talks, though I think there were originally going to be around 25 of them. This could make the workshop either really good or really bad. Lots of discussion time has been allocated, and with the small number of people I suspect we'll even be able to calculate some stuff and get going on some projects. That would be really great! However, I can also envision things backfiring by everybody just going their own way and not interacting enough. Let's see how it goes. Even in the worst case, it would also just mean more time to explore Vienna, which isn't such a bad thing either (to say the least).

Anyway, my hope is to have a very exciting trip both academically and culturally. I am particularly excited about exploring the city's fine musical tradition! If I get a chance, I might even try to make my way here to pay my respects.

This will be my first trip to Austria. As for when I get back to Oxford, on Sunday I'll be back (so to speak).

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I recently read a very interesting article called "Calculemus!" in American Scientist. It was written by Bryan Hayes, who maintains the blog bit-player.

In this article, he discusses what he calls "inquisitive computing" and the types of programming environments that best promote it. (At the end of the article, he enumerates the features he considers desirable. I won't discuss them here, but I don't know if there is anything horrible surprising on the list. It might be interesting to discuss that as well, but I'm going to go in a different direction in this entry.)

Some of the example problems Hayes discusses remind me a great deal of the programming nuggets Lemming was mentioning to me a while back. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all if these showed up in the list Lemming was following.)

One of them involves "more sums than differences" (MSTD) sets: Take a set of integers (both signs are possible) and calculate first all possible sums from pairs of integers in that set and second all possible differences from pair of numbers in that set. For which sets of integers does the set of unique sums have more entries than the set of unique differences?

Another involves what are called ABCs: Consider the equation a + b = c, where a, b, and c are all positive integers that have no common divisors (besides 1). Now consider the product abc and find all the prime factors of this product. Get rid of duplicates so that each prime that you find occurs exactly once. The product of these remaining primes, denoted rad(abc), is called the radical of abc. (Dude!) The question is the following: When is c > rad(abc)? Also, how much greater can c be than rad(abc)?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brief summary o' today

Today, o' course, be International Talk like a Pirate Day. Despite me promise, I didn't conduct any o' today's oral examinations in pirate. Sorry!

I finished helpin' out with t' oral exams for Masters students today. Then t' other Examiners and I needed t' determine their fate, which be not somethin' that I be particularly comfortable doin'. Then we gave them their results in person one-by-one, which o' course includes both good and bad moments. (T' amusin' incident was when we forget t' give somebody information and then needed t' call him aft. Then we called him aft yet again t' give him another piece o' information that we forgot t' give him, though t' second call-aft was done partially because it was funny. I was crackin' up and couldn't keep a straight face at that point; all t' students---includin' t' one in question---seemed t' enjoy this bit too.) After that I was finally able t' go home and change out o' sub fusc (sorry, no pictures---but eventually I'm aye someone will take pictures o' me in that get-up). We had t' leavin' party for t' students a little while later; this may well be t' first and last Masters leavin' party I attend because one o' t' students decided that that would be a good time t' come up t' me and tell me off. This has port a pretty bitter taste in me mouth, so I think next time I will just not be part o' t' troupe sayin' I'm shovin' off t' t' students. (I have a year t' get over this, so don't hold me t' not showin' up.) I think most o' them didn't want t' see me thar anyway, so I might as well oblige them.

Later in t' evenin' I had a party at me place t' celebrate t' fact that t' Yankees be not goin' t' make t' playoffs this year. (T' secondary reason was that it was a house-warmin' party and t' tertiary reason was that I was done markin' dissertations and examinin' students for quite a while. I've become too fatalistic about t' Dodgers these days t' celebrate a National League West division victory until it's a done deal.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lyman Bostock

Tuesday September 23rd will mark the 30th anniversary of the murder of Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock. I first found out about this incident many years ago when I read Rod Carew's autobiography. Today, ESPN.com posted a fascinating article by Jeff Pearlman on the subject. It's well worth a read, though obviously the story is far from a happy one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New apartment

I have moved one floor down to the 0th floor of Penrose (the 'garden set') in Somerville. I have 50% more space now. I started packing yesterday and finished it up in real-time while things were being moved down here. With the help of a couple of porters [bringing the total number to 3 :)], everything got moved today and I have actually unpacked a good bit of stuff.

Among the things I inherited from the previous resident (besides a dirty apartment, which will be remedied soon enough) were two unused pale green candles. I have used these to help create an altar for Summer Fun Cthulhu above the center my living room bookshelves. I don't have a digital camera, but I am having a party on Friday, so I'll get one of the attendees to take a picture so that I can post it. I must say that this is the best altar I have ever created.

Tampa Bay Rays = Muppets?

According to Bugs & Cranks, the Tampa Bay Rays are muppets.

To be honest, I can't see much of a resemblance except for one case which is so awesome that I have to do this post: Check out Matt Garza versus Sam the Eagle. Separated at birth, Man!

(Tip of the hat to Rob Neyer, who posted the link on his blog.)

My vote is in the mail.

I was worried when I didn't get any response from the bureaucrats when I filled out my overseas voting form, but I found my ballot in my mailbox this morning and I have now voted and sent things out.

If the Democrats don't win California (and we're in very big trouble if that happens!), it won't be my fault. (Well, unless the ballot gets lost in the mail or something, but we won't talk about such things.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin Numbers

There is currently an active discussion on SOCnet (a social networks listserv) about Palin numbers. Shudder.

I didn't have the heart to bring up either Schroder numbers (which apparently bear a small bit of similarity in the definition of links) or connections to Monica.

That discussion started becoming political, so it's probably over---though I think I'll be shuddering for a little while.

Monday, September 15, 2008

'Overseen' in Oxford

In this blog entry, I'll incorrectly use the term overseen as a visual analog of overhead. But I like it, so I'm going to do it anyway.

As many of you---perhaps most of you---know, I've spent the majority of my days since Monday September 8th marking Masters dissertations. Today I got down to the last two ("Not more than two...") dissertations and the final one, which I just finished, had a very pleasant surprise. Namely, it included the invention of a new chemical element: criterium.

Words of Warning

Whatever you do, don't fall asleep for 10 minutes in the Shea Stadium bleachers. Wow.

(Tip of the cap to Rob Neyer, who posted the link on his blog.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Annoying experience in Super Mario Galaxy

I was playing some Super Mario Galaxy after yet another grueling day of reading Masters dissertations. I decided to start with the 'secret' star on the second level of the Toy Box galaxy, which involves going to a secret planet and turning all the blue question mark panels into yellow exclamation point panels and then picking up the star you're allowed to get once you do so.

I find this particular part of that level annoying because I find the game's camera very annoying in this particular spot. (I find it annoying in some other spots as well, but this one really irks me. In fact, the parts where the game's camera goes a bit nuts make me dizzy in real life when I play them. This is one of the spots in the game that does that.) OK, so I fought the camera and turned all the blocks in a way that would make Q*Bert proud and then I tried to make my way to the star (while fighting the camera again). Certain spiky platforms no longer move after all the blocks are turned. I got greedy and decide to get some star bits and I accidently bumped into the edge of a non-moving spiky platform because of my carelessness. The deflection from this knocked Mario prone in between two of the turned platforms. He tried to get up, but was caught in between so automatically ended up prone again. This turned out to be an infinite loop, as no form of jumping registered. Fuck. I thus needed to leave the level without my coveted star, and now I'll need to redo my efforts for this particular star. Bloody Hell! I'm not doing it now though because I play such games to reduce frustration, not to add to it. I'm just going to go read or something, but this will be pleasure reading rather than another dissertation.

K-Rod breaks Bobby Thigpen's single-season save record

Yesterday, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez ("K-Rod") recorded his 58th save of 2008, breaking Bobby Thigpen's single-season mark. Bobby Thigpen---who has an awesome last name, by the way---was a decent reliever who had a couple of very good seasons, but given how many significantly better closers there have been (including Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner, and Dennis Eckersley, to name just a few), it's nice that a much better reliever now has this record. (Just thing what it would be like if Juan Pierre held the record for most consecutive games with a hit. It's kind of like that, though not quite as bad.) Obviously a lot of luck is involved---being on a good team really helps for this particular record, for example---and the save statistic is rather problematic anyway.

Given this blog entry, the other thing I wanted to mention is the origin of K-Rod's nickname. Alex Rodriguez had the nickname "A-Rod" going back to before he entered professional baseball and because of him, basically every baseball player with the last name of Rodriguez was dubbed "\alpha-Rod", where \alpha denotes the first letter of their first name. However, K-Rod is the one exception to this rule and the only one of those nicknames that is in any way creative. K-Rod came up late in 2002 during the Angels' Word Series run and blew everybody away with lots of strikeouts (which are denoted "K" in box scores), and that's where the K comes from.

Anyway, with all due respect to Bobby Thigpen, I'm pleased that somebody appropriate now holds this record.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Massive Media Roundup

Time for the long-promised set of massive media reviews, which will mostly be short and sweet. I kept the tickets so that I could actually remember what I saw. The order below is simply the order in which I pick up the ticket.

Hellboy II: Great movie! I approve. The German phastasm was amusing. Was the elven princess in Stardust? (Apparently not, but for some reason she seemed similar to me.)

The Wind in the Willows (theatrical version): I saw this at a small theatre and I enjoyed it very much. Now I finally understand where Disneyland's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction comes from... Highly recommended!

Bugsy Malone: In this play, British teenagers (and sometimes younger) attempt to do gangster noir. It was very good overall, but it definitely didn't work at times.

Get Smart: I had been waiting for this film to come out ever since I first heard about it something like 2.5 years ago, given that I really enjoyed watching reruns of the original series as a kid. The casting was excellent! Steve Carrell was the obvious choice to play Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), although nobody will ever duplicate Don Adams in that roll (not even Inspector Gadget, who was based on Agent 86 and was voiced by a Don Adams sound-alike). Anne Hathaway did well as Agent 99, though the dynamics between Agents 86 and 99 in the movie were a bit different than in the show (where 99 was madly in love with 86, who was completely oblivious to the whole thing---at least at first; by the time of the failed return of the series, I believe the characters were married). Duane Johnson and Alan Arkin were also excellent. The film included several catch phrases (which I appreciated) and in general was quite good, even though I prefer the original series (which was a Mel Brooks creation, by the way, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I like it so much). Also, the shoe phone played a prominent role in the film. That was extremely important.

Hello Dolly (musical): Unfortunately, I was not very impressed, though I admit that it did have its moments. However, once I saw Wall-E, I became happy that I saw the musical given that it played an important role in that film. (The clips being shown in the movie were from Hello Dolly.)

Wall-E: Another excellent Pixar film. I'm shocked. It's amazing how they conveyed such emotion in the characters with so little dialog.

Kung Fu Panda: I really liked it! I tried unsuccessfully to get people to see it with me, but se la vie. They thought it would be silly---their loss. (Or maybe it's more precise to say that they assume that "silly" means not worth watching?)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: I enjoyed it, although I was a bit annoyed that they were hitting harder with the religious overtones in the film than they did in the prequel. The older daughter was a frosh (or "fresher", as it's called here) at Oxford last fall. I forgot which College.

The Pirates of Penzance: This was awesome! I recognized a very high percentage of the songs, which is not surprising given that many of the songs in there show up all over the place. I am the very model of a modern applied mathematician---or something like that. It could have been worse: I've been planning since I saw the musical (for the first time, amazingly enough) to write a parody of a certain song that I plan to call "Condensed Matter". Stay tuned...

The Forbidden Kingdom: I really liked this film as well. I could have done without the token white boy, but it didn't detract too much from what I actually paid to see (so I guess this is sort of like a milder version of AG's opinion on this point).

Oklahoma! (musical): This was a production by Oxford students that I saw at a small stage in Wadham College. I should have blogged about this earlier because then I could have mentioned that I ran into Lloyd alum Joe Jewell '04 (I think that's the right year), who was also in the audience. He will be starting as a grad turkey at Tech in the fall. I think he'll be in aeronautics. Oh, and the musical was really good! There was a recognizable vignette that I didn't realize came from this musical that I had seen parodied in a cartoon (I think in an episode of Bugs Bunny). There was also a very recognizable song ("Oh, what a beautiful morning") that I had no idea came from this musical.

Two Hobbit-Sized Parodies: Harry Potter and the Generic Adventure and Swords & Saucery: The second of these had a Lord of the Rings Theme. These plays were also performed by Oxford students and many audience members knew some or all of the people in the plays, so there was some audience participation at appropriate points. The Harry Potter parody was first. One of my friends played Snape, although I was already planning to go even before I found out about that. The guy who played Valdemort was booed lustily every time he came on "stage" (the performance was in the Wadham Gardens), including when he played a different character (a good guy) in the second parody. That was awesome! There were also lots of private jokes, and I even caught a couple of them. Think of these things as roughly like Lloyd movies, but as live performances. That was the basic ambience, which I liked very much.

Stuff at the Montreal film festival: I'm now wishing I could have gotten tickets for the new Woody Allen film (they sold out, so my debate whether I should go to that one versus having dinner at a normal time ended rather quickly) because I really want to see it and the UK is not presently listed in its IMDB entry as somewhere it's being released. Damnit! Satellites & Meteorites was an excellent Gondrey-esque film was an Irish director, who was there to answer our questions after the film ended. (A short film called The Ranger was shown before the main film. This was meh.) It was a bit rough around the edges and in a couple of situations could have been more subtle, but it is definitely on the short list of my favorite films of the year.) The Japanese film One Million Yen Girl was enjoyable, but it was merely good. Lissi and the Wild Emperor was a very funny German cartoon (with very high animation quality) which would probably get a PG-13 rating in the US. It made fun of Emperor Ferdinand. (For what it's worth, I picked the order randomly except for the ones at this film festival. I did these last on purpose.)

Alright, now I've finally caught up on one of the entries I had been meaning to write for a while.

A secret admirer?

Based on the picture that one of my former postdoc advisors just forwarded to me, I wonder if I have some secret admirer who wishes to remain anonymous (and also wishes that there were more of me)?

Just so you know, my mentors and postdoc advisors (including this one) also do more useful things other than sending me expletive-ridden pictures.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Classic "Awesome" Spam

Courtesy Felicia Gottmann, here is an oldie-but-goodie --- a list of "awesome" (and occasionally awesome) sentences by some future Bulwer-Lyton laureates. (A few of these actually are legitimately good, though most of them are just "awesome." Make sure you get all the way down to #56. I approve!) I can't remember precisely when in my life these sentences (or many of them) arrived in my e-mail box back in the day, but I definitely saw at least many of these sentences at some point many years ago.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Baseball History Lesson

We interrupt this dissertation-reading (yuck!) to bring you a lesson in baseball history. Fellow local baseball fanatic Eduardo Lopez just e-mailed me this BBC article exposing baseball's early UK history. However, I actually found out earlier today, as my friend Felicia Gottmann e-mailed me an audio version of this earlier today. In fact, she seems to be trying to break the hearts of all her local American friends (she sent the e-mail to all of us), given how she phrased her e-mail early this afternoon:

"Heard this on radio4 today and just couldn't resist sending it to you guys ?
since I know how much you're looking forward to having a benign grandfather
and a pitbull with lipstick for your next presidents, I thought this would
cheer you up even more. Enjoy! ;o)"

The main part of my response got to the point pretty quickly:

"You're trying to break my heart, aren't you?

Well it won't work because (i) my team now has a 3.5 game lead and (ii) the
Yankees will be staying home this year (finally)!"

I replied to all just in case some of those other folks are Yankee fans. :)

By the way, here are the main lines of the article:

Local historians in Surrey have confirmed evidence that baseball was played
in the UK more than 20 years before American independence.

Major League Baseball, the governing body of the game in the US, has been
informed of the discovery.

I should also point out that the second sentence I quote above is awesome!

Finally, I am presently dealing with a 'slam dunk' grant proposal that just got bounced (I'm pretty pissed off about this, actually), so I really need the Dodgers to be in first place right now. Ah, priorities...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Life imitates Civilization?

The title of this article is making me think of the game Civilization (and its sequels). Maybe Bush II thinks he's playing a live-action version of this game? (Can we just stick to trying for the cultural victory? Pretty please!)

I can no longer take your vile provocations. Prepare for WAR!

Amazing Waterfall

Jaideep Singh posted a link to the following video of an amazing made-made waterfall on Facebook. The video is a bit long, but this is seriously impressive. I want one. :)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Ben Williamson's first published article

Congratulations to Ben Williamson (a friend of mine from Caltech, for those of you who don't know) on his first published article, which just appeared in Florida Law Review.

In certain ways, one's first published article is the one that is the most special. I know that my first article is nowhere near as good as most of my other articles, but I do remember being giddy when it finally appeared in print. There is a feeling of 'I actually contributed to scientific knowledge' that simply can't be beat when one gets it for the first time. (It still feels good, but the giddier feelings now tend to come only for my best articles.)

I only browsed through Ben's article because law is ridiculously far from my expertise. However, I am pleased to report that Ben's sense of humor shines through even in an academic article such as this one (rather than being the dry affair one normally expects). You can see some of his verve in the article and section titles, but the true masterpiece is the first paragraph of the conclusions. It is (1) really funny and (2) makes his point extremely well. (Also, this paragraph is vintage Ben. I especially love the last footnote.) Awesome!


Here's the straight line (you provide the joke).

As reported in this article:

Later this month, intelligence community analysts will begin using A-Space, an online collaboration environment that officials hope will improve analysts’ abilities to share information, form communities and collaborate.... Like many social-networking sites, each analyst will create an online personal profile, and colleagues can see what others are working on and the A-Space workspaces that they are using.... A-Space analysts will have access to all information at the highest classification level that is accessible through the collaboration environment.

I would really love to apply community-detection techniques to that data set...

(Tip of the cap to Ben Williamson for pointing me to this article.)

WTF of the Day

Professors have nightmares sometimes---thoughts and dreams that infect our souls, curve our spines, and keep our country from winning the war. There are a few of them, but for many of us, one of them is when we walk along a street like Cornmarket in Oxford and see one of our former students playing a guitar while people toss coins into his guitar case. Oh wait... that actually happened today!

The student in question (whose name I won't reveal, though I know he's read my blog occasionally, so I'll wave a brief 'hello') is quite clever. He is part of OCIAM's Masters program in applied mathematics and computational science. Actually, he just turned in his dissertation on Friday and will be formally defending it in an oral exam (a so-called "viva") in a couple of weeks. He sings in an a capella group (which performed at the Edinborough fringe festival, for example), needs to practice his guitar, and figured he might as well earn some money while doing so. That's pretty sharp and amusing, and I wouldn't be telling this story on a public web page anyway if it weren't innocent. I was a bit surprised to see him, and I asked two of the obvious questions: (1) What are you doing? and (2) Does our program really cost that much money? (Apparently it does.)

Now I wonder how many of the other street performers I see on Cornmarket Street are actually Oxford graduate students. Also, my student probably saw several other people he knows. Oxford is a small place and you pretty much always run into people you know when you're walking around. This student spent some time as a high school teacher, and if any of his former students saw him, they would have a field day! (For the sake of optimizing this story, I very much hope this happened.) My student is well on his way to having a fantastically successful career in whatever scientific field (academia or industry) he chooses, but I'm not going to ever let him forget about this incident, which with this blog entry should become part of the MSc's official lore. (On Friday, we actually had a celebration of the program's 30th birthday. I wish I could have told this story two days ago, but alas it only occurred today.)

Did I mention that I like good stories?

Did I run away and join the circus?

I walked outside of Somerville this morning and noticed lots of rides (and various other booths one would associated with a circus or county fair) being set up right outside and as far south as the eye could see. (Note that I wasn't actually entirely surprised, as I saw a notice on the Ashmoleum Museum a few days ago that it would be closed from today until the 9th because of this.) My first reaction was that this would be really annoying because the density of children in this area would probably increase. Bloody Hell! My second reaction came after I looked at some of the themes of the various rides---the only ones with "regional" themes seemed to be US-centric: American football, Disneyland, the Kentucky Derby, etc. I guess this is part of some sort of world tour? I can't see British children being into some of those themes---wouldn't polo have made more sense than the Kentucky Derby?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Annoying movie subtitle

I was at the theatre today to see Hellboy 2 (which I'll review briefly when I go through lots of media in a subsequent post that I swear I will write eventually). While there, I noticed a poster for the new Bond film, which will come out here on October 31st. I'm obviously very interested in seeing it, but its subtitle ("Quantum of Solace") really annoys me and (less relevantly) seems to break from the Bond subtitle formula. Maybe the subtitle of the 2010 Bond film will be "Strangled Perturbations"?

T-shirt of the day

I just received my new J!NX newsletter in which they advertised a new t-shirt that combines two of my obsessions and is so awesome (not to mention "awesome") that I'm simply going to have to buy one: Rock Me, Asmodeus!.

Update:: I guess I'm not going to buy one immediately given that the shipping would cost me more than 50% of the price of the full item. While in the big picture that doesn't matter, it annoys me sufficiently that buying this through J!NX isn't going to happen. I suppose I'll do it when I'm imminently visiting Southern California. Ah well. It's a really nice shirt, though.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Tribute to Vin Scully

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is a fantastic tribute to Vin Scully by Richard Hoffer.

Like many other Dodger fanatics, when I think of the Dodgers, I actually start with Vin rather than any of our current or former players or managers. I've been listening to him call baseball games for almost 30 years, and he's the best announcer I've ever heard.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

RIP Phil Saffman (1931-2008)

I just saw on the Physics Today obituary notices that Phil Saffman, one of my Caltech professors, died on August 17th. Here is the Los Angeles Times obituary.

As some of you probably know, AMa 95 was essentially created by Phil Saffman. (In fact, I have my copy of the Saffman lecture notes in my office and I still refer to them on occasion when teaching relevant material.) So in this way, he impacted a lot of Caltech undergrads (though given the level of popularity of that class, I suppose many wished he hadn't). I had Saffman for AMa 101 during my junior year (1996-97). This was the last class he taught at Tech, and he specifically decided he wanted to end his classroom lecturing career with that course (which he had previously taught 20 years ago). So he was the first person who showed me things like steepest descents, WKB theory, multiple scales, hypergeometric functions, etc. On the last day of class, he very quietly said he was retiring and had specifically decided to end with that class. (I had been wondering why his TAs and random people---including his daughter---were in the audience.) That remains the one time I have ever seen champaign in a classroom, and I remember we all had a laugh after one of his TAs accidently fell backwards into her chair after taking her first sip. (There were comments about how little alcohol she could handle.)

Anyway, so while I didn't know Saffman that well, I do have some memories of him and definitely was influenced by him to some degree academically through AMa 95 (intro methods in applied math, for non-Techers; this was a one-year course) and AMa 101 (methods in applied math; this was also a one-year course).

Tales from the arXiv: Narcissistic Edition

My collaborators and I finally submitted our paper on Facebook networks last night. I normally post blog entries about my papers after the official journal version comes out, but this one was a royal pain in the ass ('particularly arduous' in more official language) to write, so I'm going to make an exception. Besides, this article is 38 journal-pages of sheer joy and community detection, so how can I not post about it now. (This is the longest article I've ever written, and it's longer than many doctoral theses. As I said, writing it was a pain in the ass, but I'm quite proud of the article and I hope it has a nice impact.)

First, here is the link to the arXiv posting.

Before I give the abstract, let me also shout out to my coauthors Mandi Traud (UNC student), Eric Kelsic (my 2005 Caltech SURF student, which is where this project all started), and Peter Mucha (UNC applied mathematician). Let me also give a shout out to Aaron Clauset and James Fowler, whose thorough commentary on an older version of the manuscript were inordinately valuable and way above and beyond the call of duty. (I can overstate my thanks for your help!) Without further ado...

Article title: Community Structure in Online Collegiate Social Networks

Article abstract: We apply the tools of network analysis to study the roles of university organizations and affiliations in structuring the social networks of students by examining the graphs of Facebook "friendships" at five American universities at a single point in time. In particular, we investigate each single-institution network's community structure, which we obtain by partitioning the graphs using an eigenvector method. We employ both graphical and quantitative tools, including pair-counting methods that we interpret through statistical analysis and permutation tests, to measure the correlations between the network communities and a set of self-identified user characteristics (residence, class year, major, and high school). We additionally investigate single-gender subsets of the university networks and also examine the impact of incomplete demographic information in the data. Our study across five universities allows one to make comparative observations about the online social lives at the different institutions, which can in turn be used to infer differences in offline lives. It also illustrates how to examine different instances of social networks constructed in similar environments, while emphasizing the array of social forces that combine to form simplified "communities" obtainable by the consideration of the friendship links. In an appendix, we review the basic properties and statistics of the employed pair-counting similarity coefficients and recall, in simplified notation, a useful analytical formula for the z-score of the Rand coefficient.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best baseball slide ever

Courtesy Rob Neyer's blog, here is the best baseball slide ever! Wow!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

Courtesy Rob Neyer's chat on ESPN today, we have this wonderful line from Mark Twain as today's quote of the day: "Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Comment: Amen!

Tales from the arXiv: OK, that's just wrong

I had forgotten about this particular mathematical object, but I was poignantly reminded by the following paper that was just posted to the arXiv:

arXiv:0809.0262 (*cross-listing*)
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 2008 15:06:04 GMT (12kb)

Title: Replica overlap and covering time for the Wiener sausages among
Poissonian obstacles
Authors: Ryoki Fukushima
Categories: math.PR math-ph math.MP
Comments: 14 pages
MSC-class: 60K37; 60G17; 82D30
Journal-ref: Journal of Mathematics of Kyoto University 2008, Vol. 48 No. 2,
We study two objects concerning the Wiener sausage among Poissonian
obstacles. The first is the asymptotics for the \textit{replica overlap}, which
is the intersection of two independent Wiener sausages. We show that it is
asymptotically equal to their union. This result confirms that the localizing
effect of the media is so strong as to completely determine the motional range
of particles. The second is an estimate on the \textit{covering time}. It is
known that the Wiener sausage avoiding Poissonian obstacles up to time $t$ is
confined in some `clearing' ball near the origin and almost fills it. We prove
here that the time needed to fill the confinement ball has the same order as
its volume.
\\ ( http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.0262 , 12kb)

Comment: That's just so wrong! (And I don't mean wrong scientifically; I mean wrong on humanistic grounds.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Scary Dodger thought

I am reading Peter Gammons' blog on ESPN.com and he points out that "There isn't anyone who doesn't laugh at the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers' suggestion that they put up a statue of Jose Lima outside Dodger Stadium in honor of his being the only Dodger pitcher to win a postseason game since the Reagan Administration."

Holy shit, that is scary!

(I obviously remember very poignantly that we only have the one win. What I forgot was that Jose Lima of all people got it! Also, as depressing as it is, I have to admit that Simers' suggestion is pretty damn funny. Ah well, I have to laugh at my team sometimes I suppose even though my heart is breaking all the while.)

Handouts in the Quad

I had just finished lunch and was walking back to my flat through the quad when I passed by a guy who was giving handouts to people who were passing by him.

I didn't think Somerville allowed that in the quad, but anyway I passed by this guy, heard him mumble something and then automatically said 'No thanks' and passed him by. I have many years of experience in just filtering that stuff out and assuming I don't want whatever is in the handout.

Then it occurred to me that I thought the guy is 'quantum field theory problems.' I figured that was my usual overactive imagination until I found a sign in the quad that we're apparently hosting an "HEP" (i.e., high energy physics) summer school. Now I am actually tempted to go and see what problems are being assigned, but then again maybe this is all some elaborate hoax to give me a leaflet about the Jesus degrees-of-freedom we have all been ignoring in our Hamiltonians.

(Also, the handout method doesn't seem like the most efficient way to do this...)