Friday, October 31, 2008

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

I need to keep my mouth shut.

This morning, something that I intended only as a marginally snarky comment came across as a bitter hatred (that I don't feel, by the way). The reason I suspect this was because of the shocked reaction of the others in the room, when the worst I thought I'd get was people disagreeing and thinking the joke was stupid. (Well, I'm sure they think that as well.) Then I spent some more time during the day going back over how the phrasing actually came out, and I can see what the unintended interpretation was. Clearly, I critically failed my perform check. I decided that attempting a real-time explanation would only dig a deeper hole, so I at least had enough thought processes going to quit while I was "ahead". So that's why I'm writing this. The one consolation I have is that many people who are still close friends of mine have had visibly similar reactions to my comments on occasion. (Still, I feel like this was a bit of a kender saying 'Oops!' moment.)

Let's see if I do better on my charisma check next week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My new D & D character

I've been playing in a 3.5 edition D & D game since the new school year started.

I am playing a (necessarily) lawful neutral goblin druid/monk. I currently have 2 levels of druid and 1 level of monk. I am only 5 xp from 4th level, so I have a decision to make.

I impressed a ghostly paladin with my massive fortitude, my massive will, and my lawful neutralness. (The party consists of me + a bunch of elves, and my character is by far the most disciplined of the lot. This shocked the ghostly paladin, given my race's reputation.) My saves are quite excellent. (I rolled well with my stats, but not anywhere close to my kobold that I played in Doug's one-shot, for which my rolls were absolutely insane.) I don't have huge attacking power (thankfully, my companions take care of that), but the combination of produce flame, flurry, and casting spells through my riding dog animal companion (on whom I ride into battle; I decided to go that route because goblins have crazy bonuses to ride and other relevant skills for that direction) is actually quite potent.

Quote of the Day (another one)

After an unintentional bit of "awesomeness" in a paper I refereed today, I think I might have to replace the previous quote of the day. This whole situation started because of an unfortunate substitute for the word "data". Here is the quote:

"For many cases a localized date breaks up into a finite collection of solitary waves."

Indeed! I couldn't have said it better myself!

Quote of the Day

I love this quote, which I heard from one of the guests on "Real Time" with Bill Maher: "George Bush is a guy who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple." That is exceptionally well-phrased.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from last Thursday's issue of Oxford Student, one of the two weekly student magazines here. In an article about the apparently-controversial new interview training (which includes a video example) for Oxford tutors, Professor Alan Ryan (Warden of New College) stated:

If mathematicians were admitted on personality it would be the end of the mathematical world. Students can be shy, awkward, even pick their noses in tutorials, we are really interested in their brains.

First, I seriously need to invite this guy to a party at my place. Second, I think I might have to drum up the troops on this one. Third, not a single student of mine has ever picked his or her nose in tutorials.* I'll grant that there is some truth behind this guy's comments, but he's the head of an Oxford College, so I am a bit surprised at his lack of discretion and some response is clearly merited. (I think I'll solicit my Somerville students for their opinions about what to include in a sarcastic response and reward the person who gives me the most amusing comment with a seat as my guest on High Table.)

* As far as I know.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Meanwhile, in the same issue of Nature...

Tn the same issue of Nature as Steve Van Hooser article was an awesome article about how unrolling tape can produce X-rays! Here is a popular article about the research. I think these researchers might have Ig Nobel Prizes in their future... (And their findings are just fucking cool!)

Negative-Time Blogging

I noticed that Blogger was having a bit of an issue with my 1:14 post for a while because it insisted that that was a pending post and didn't publish it immediately. That made me realize that we were about to turn back the clocks, and I guess Blogger wasn't yet in tune with the time change. I did eventually get the post to actually show up and now that it's 1am again, I figured I should do some negative-time blogging.

Is the US going to fall back in a few hours? Here's hoping for that not happening for a couple of weeks so that the remaining World Series games can start an hour earlier local time...

Also, I need to figure out a local place to do a negative-time run next year.

Update: Ah, bloody Hell! Is there no easy way to have both the time-stamp and the ordering I want? Fail!

Caltech Friends in Nature

As has happened pretty often by now, another of my friends from Caltech has gotten an article published in Nature. In this case, the big winner is Steve Van Hooser. (Van Hooser? But I just met her! --- Note: I know the joke is really bad on the surface, but I'm actually alluding to something very specific with it that only a few of my readers have a chance to get. In fact, I'm alluding to two things from back in the day. A few people have a chance to get the first, and you'll have to remember another Caltech friend's old web page to get the other one.) Congrats!

The Sabermetrics of Health Care

Steve Van Hooser posted (an Facebook) a link to an interesting opinion article. This piece, which was published yesterday in the New York Times, was co-authored by Newt Gingrich, John Kerry, and (Oakland Athletics general manager) Billy Beane. Their point is a simple one: Let's use more statistical evidence to support the canonical reliance on 'expert opinions' (analogous to scouts) that essentially just call things as they see them. What one really needs is both of these things. (Yes, the US Health Care system was just compared to teams like the Baltimore Orioles that spend a lot of money but don't get very much for them. Or, to put it another way, our Health Care system has done a lot of things that are morally equivalent to overpaying for stiffs like Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. It's an obvious observation, but I never really framed it using precisely that analogy before. Clearly, I should have.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A recent tribute to the original "Enjoy the Silence" music video

The alternate version of the music video for Coldplay's 2008 song "Viva la Vida" was specifically meant as a nod to the Enjoy the Silence music video. I approve! ("Enjoy the Silence" is one of my favorite songs of all time, and its music video is one of my favorite music videos of all time.) The Coldplay song is actually pretty good too.

It's coming!

That's right, friends: A new Depeche Mode album is slated to be released on April 20th, 2009. There will also be a world stadium tour to promote the album, including a performance in London. Hell yes!

In the meantime, I am going to order David Gahan's second solo album.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Violent Chess Claymation

David Fang posted an awesome video of violent chess claymation on Facebook. I especially like the first fatality!

(Yes, it is fair to think of Battle Chess.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Inspiring Research Papers

The title of this blog entry can purposely be read in multiple manners.

In this case, I am referring to an article published earlier this year that apparently drew some inspiration from one of my 2006 articles.

At any rate, this is the only article of which I am aware that cites one of my papers in its abstract, so I figure I should highlight it in this spot. I found out about the paper a while back, but I am only blogging out about it belatedly because I don't have anything particularly interesting to blog about today and it's been a few days since I posted anything. (Things have been quite hectic the last few days.)

The paper's title is: Onset of diffusive behavior in confined transport system

The authors are: Owen G. Jepps, Carlo Bianca, and Lamberto Rondoni

The abstract is: We investigate the onset of diffusive behavior in polygonal channels for disks of finite size, modeling simple microporous membranes. It is well established that the point-particle case displays anomalous transport, because of slow correlation decay in the absence of defocusing collisions. We investigate which features of point-particle transport survive in the case of finite-sized particles (which undergo defocusing collisions). A similar question was investigated by Lansel, Porter, and Bunimovich [Chaos 16, 013129 (2006)], who found that certain integrals of motion and multiple ergodic components, characteristic of the point-particle case, remain in “mushroom”-like systems with few finite-sized particles. We quantify the time scales over which the transport of disks shows features typical of the point particles, or is driven toward diffusive behavior. In particular, we find that interparticle collisions drive the system toward diffusive behavior more strongly than defocusing boundary collisions. We illustrate how, and at what stage, typical thermodynamic behavior (consistent with kinetic theory) is observed, as particle numbers grow and mean free paths diminish. These results have both applied (e.g., nanotechnological) and theoretical interest.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Picture of the Day

Here's the picture. You provide the caption.

(Tip of the cap to Jenny Fang, who posted this picture on Facebook. Part of me thinks it's fake, but it does seem to be on a legitimate BBC news website... Maybe Photoshop + hacking? Another theory that has been espoused is that BBC used a photo that it thinks is real but was photoshopped. Then there's the theory of the photo actually being real.)

Here's one (though one can get much, much worse): "I am sooooo hungry."

Look Around You -- Maths

My student Neil Lees pointed me to an awesome video on YouTube called Look Around You - Maths. This video is (a) awesome, (b) "awesome", and (c) because of it's style really brings back the memories of some of the videos I used to watch in high school. In fact, points (a) and (b) rely heavily on (c).

Neil also mentioned that Look Around You -- Water is supposed to be really good, but I haven't watched that one yet.

Wait 'til Next Year

The Dodgers fell to the Phuckin' Phillies last night. That gave us a 3-1 loss in the National League Championship Series. (I think the fact that I own a stuffed Phanatic must have been bad karma.)

At least we won one postseason series this year, but we have more work to do. I hope we don't resign Manny because while Happy Manny is awesome, he will eventually become Petulant Manny, which would provide a major distraction. Also, our money would be better spent elsewhere---like on CC Sabathia (to thrown out one name at random).

I hope the Rays beat Boston and then win the whole thing, but my heart is now broken and thinking about 2009.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New year and new students

Last week was "Week 0" of "Michaelmas Term" (fall term... in U.S. language, we're on the 'quarter system'). Somerville's awesome new mathematics students arrived, and we tried to give them a bit of a preview of what they're in for in the first formal dinner ("Fresher's dinner") and the ice cream/cookies/setup tutorial meeting the next day. Today they each had their first tutorial sessions with me, so if they didn't know what they were in for before, they sure as Hell are now. ;) I think they went quite well, and hopefully the feeling was mutual.

Today was what I believe (and hope!) will be my roughest teaching day of the entire year. I am teaching a course that has 6 hours of lecture this week that counts for an entire half course. Yesterday, I taught two of those hours as well as an hour of asymptotics. Today I taught an hour of asymptotics, three hours of tutorials, and two hours from the aforementioned half course. I taught the last 5 hours consecutively, with only a 5 minute break to walk from Somerville to the Mathematical Institute. I am now brain-dead.

Naturally, I made lots of snarky comments in my tutorials and my lectures. I think that's why my students like me. :) Spending time with me is sort of an experience in its own sake---maybe not one that most want to duplicate, but an experience nonetheless.

Tomorrow I have an Examiner's meeting and a Governing Body meeting, but at least I won't have to talk very much. I need the rest.

Monday, October 13, 2008

New Game: Finding Constellations in Economic Graphs

In these days of financial crises and universal brouhahas, I think we should adapt our old practice of finding patterns in stars to discovering similar constellations in economic graphs.

For example, here you can see something like The Big Dipper.

Maybe this can be a new meme?

(Or perhaps we should just use the iTunes Oracle to determine economic policy?)

One of my best blackboard slip-ups ever?

In the latest installment of 'the mouth is faster than the chalk,' I managed in B568a (intro to applied math and mathematical modelling) to [correctly] say "Assumption: No spatial dependence" but write "Assumption: No assumption" on the board. (In the British applied mathematics community, such things are known Colemanballs. They work kind of like "House quotes.")

There must be something deep contained in that statement. Surely. If nothing else, one should appreciate what I wrote for its metaphysical content.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lord British in Space

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this article.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mathematics and Voting

As this article by Donald Saari in the April 2008 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society eloquently discusses, one can uses mathematics to examine the arbitrary brokenness of voting rules.

Here is the abstract: The mathematical analysis of voting systems, and of aggregation rules in general, shows that they can yield paradoxes as well as preferences. In this article, featured here for Mathematics Awareness Month, the author explains what kind of problems can arise and how they can be mathematically understood.

Saari has written numerous articles and multiple books on the topic, and this particular expository piece is a good place to start. (Notice that I'm a bit late in writing this post... )

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maybe Jesus was a Shark?

You don't believe me? Just take a look at this article on

I'd love to put a jumping the shark joke here, but I just can't think of one at the moment and the Dodgers are now batting.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

WTF of the Day

Apparently, an Ohio inmate tried unsuccessfully to get out of a death sentence using a too-fat-to-execute argument.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alternative lyrics for "Take On Me"

Courtesy Lemming--who got it from Jonathan (who got it from... Agnes?), here is video for "Take on Me" with some alternate lyrics. I approve! That video also included a link to a brief spoof of the video from Family Guy. Once again, I approve!

As many of you know, "Take On Me" is on the short short list of my favorite songs ever, and it's music video is also on the short short list of my favorite music videos ever. (I have harped on it on many occasions.)

Also, one of my Somerville colleagues talked about how "stuck in the 80s" was for me to use Pine---this from somebody who has absolutely no clue just how apt his comment truly was! :) Slowly but surely, I'm making my presence felt here...

2008 Ig Nobel Prizes

The 2008 Ig Nobel prizes were recently announced.

The Nobel Prizes thus far haven't been overly interesting this year (though I suppose I have a bit of partiality towards physics nobel in honor of spontaneous symmetry-breaking that went to Nambu and two others), but thankfully I can proudly announce that Charles Spence, one of my Somerville College colleagues, is one of this year's Ig Nobel laureates! (One of last year's was L. Mahadevan, an applied mathematician who visits Oxford's applied math group a lot.) Here is the citation for his Ig Nobel prize in Nutrition:

NUTRITION PRIZE. Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, Italy and Charles Spence of Oxford University, UK, for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is.
REFERENCE: "The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips," Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004, pp. 347-63.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tales from the arXiv: a new attitude

Date: Sun, 5 Oct 2008 14:23:21 GMT (227kb)

Title: Sine function with a cosine attitude
Authors: A. D. Alhaidari
Categories: quant-ph
Comments: 11 pages, 4 color figures
Journal-ref: J. Phys. A 41, 175201 (2008)
We give a revealing expose that addresses an important issue in scattering
theory of how to construct two asymptotically sinusoidal solutions of the wave
equation with a phase shift using the same basis having the same boundary
conditions at the origin. Analytic series representations of these solutions
are obtained. In 1D, one of the solutions is an even function that behaves
asymptotically as sin(x), whereas the other is an odd function, which is
asymptotically cos(x). The latter vanishes at the origin whereas the derivative
of the former becomes zero there. Eliminating the lowest N terms of the series
makes these functions vanishingly small in an interval around the origin whose
size increases with N. We employ the tools of the J-matrix method of scattering
in the construction of these solutions in one and three dimensions.
\\ ( , 227kb)

I just like the idea of a sine function with a cosine attitude...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Ranking universities using polytopes

Courtesy Peter Mucha, here is an article in Science News covering a new arXiv paper by Peter Huggins and Lior Pachter that uses polytopes to examine the US News and World Report rankings of US universities. (Some of you may be aware that Lior Pachter is yet another Techer. He was a Rudd, who I believe graduated in 1994. He's currently on the faculty at UC Berkeley and is one of the pioneers in the new field of "applied algebraic statistics." Actually, algebraic statistics is pretty much a new field of mathematics even before one considers applications.)

One of the ideas I've been bouncing around for several years is the idea of using network science to rank universities. One of these days I'll do that... (My current ranking system project, by the way, involves ranking baseball players using the bipartite graph of pitcher-batter interactions. My collaborators and I don't have any results yet, but stay tuned...)

Dodgers sweep Cubs to win NLDS!

As you can see from this article, the Dodgers swept the Cubs in the National League Division Series to advance to the National League Championship series against either the Brewers or the Phillies (probably the Phillies). Sweet! This is the first postseason series that we've won since 1988, when we won it all! Go Dodgers!

(Of course, the bad side of things is that the games are on so late at night---especially the last two, which started after 3am my time---that it's hard for me to actually watch it. I caught about 2/3 of the first game and otherwise I needed to rely on the box scores. I was feeling too sick to push myself and stay awake, so I hope I can get better soon so that I can screw up my sleeping schedule a bit and catch some of the games.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

2008 Random Walker Rankings

They're baaaaaaack.

By now, I assume that most of you know that this ranking system is for NCAA American Football. You can see how our systems (RW and RWFL) are doing on Kenneth Massey's comparisons page.

OJ finally found guilty

As you can see from this article on, the justice system has finally found OJ Simpson to be officially guilty of something.

(Whenever I see comments about OJ and 'guilty', I always think of the old menu at Caltech's Coffeehouse...)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fearless baseball postseason predictions

Now that all of the teams in Major League Baseball's postseason tournament have been determined, it is now time to give my fearless postseason predictions.

National League:

NLDS: Cubs over Dodgers in 4 games (I'm sorry to say, but my mind just won't let my heart predict a victory for the Dodgers) and Phillies over Brewers in 5 games

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in 5 games and Rays over White Sox in 4 games.

NLCS: Phillies over Cubs in 6 games (NLCS MVP: Jimmy Rollins)

ALCS: Angels over Rays in 5 games (ALCS MVP: Torii Hunter)

World Series: Angels over Phillies in 6 games (World Series MVP: Mark Texeira)

However, I wouldn't really trust my predictions given some utter failures in my preseason predictions.

I got two of the NL playoff teams right (Dodgers and Brewers), though I thought the Brewers would actually win the division. My other two (Mets and Diamondbacks) competed until the very end. My NL MVP (David Wright), Cy Young (Johan Santana), and Rookie of the Year (Joey Votto) predictions all produced solid choices who won't actually win. Though my Cy Young choice will probably finish third in the voting (he deserves to finish second) and my ROY choice will finish second. (My MVP choice probably should finish second but will probably be in the lower reaches of the top 10.) My NL team on the rise was the Brewers, so I was solid there. My choice was Giants as team on the decline was reasonable, though some of their young players definitely matured slightly faster than I thought, so they may well be my NL team on the rise for 2009.

In the AL, I got two very obvious teams right for the playoffs: The Angels and Red Sox. My other two were the Yankees (giggle), who I thought would be the Wild Card team, and the Indians. My AL team on the rise was the Rays, so I was spot on with that one. (Hell, they did even better than I thought.) My team on the decline was the Twins, though I considered choosing the Orioles, which were my "honorable" mention here. I failed on that one. Also, my MVP (Travis Hafner) and Cy Young (Erik Bedard) choices were epic failures. Ouch! My ROY prediction of Daric Barton also failed miserably, though at least my honorable mention Evan Longoria will actually win the award.

Anyway, I certainly hope I'm wrong about the NL playoffs. The Cubs are a better team than we are, but let me raise my latte cup in a toast to small sample sizes!