Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One Less Non-Evil Republican

Arlen Specter, one of the few remaining reasonable Republicans, has now defected to the Democrats. Part of me says 'Welcome!' and part of me feels a bit bittersweet that that party has one less beacon of hope in it. (Of course, one can easily see where Specter was in practice based on the voting and legislation cosponsorship records. In fact, my collaborators and I have a couple of plots in our papers that convey it reasonably well.) On the other hand, there is something to be said for being filibuster-proof...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Life imitates "Pandemic"

Unless you're living in a vacuum, you've probably heard about the recent swine flu outbreak. I was playing the board game Pandemic when I was visiting Pasadena, and I can't help thinking about the various abstractions in that game as I read some of the current CNN articles. There is also an xkcd comic strip about it, and I think somehow that making light of such things is necessary as a mechanism for some people (like me) to cope with serious things like this. I am traveling to Salt Lake City in about 3 weeks, so we'll see where things stand then.

Sometimes I wish the world were less "interesting". At least there's escapism.

Making my mark in Somerville

I think I might have added another incident to the Legend of Mason today. (Actually, there is another recent addition as well, but I want to use the exact quote from the magazine's editorial before I discuss it fully here.)

I got to lunch in Somerville a little later than usual today because of a seminar. I was in a really crappy mood, but I recognized that I was in such a state (I still am, to some extent, though I am feeling slightly better now), so I tried to avoid people and use lunch for nourishment only. Unfortunately, my efforts to sit on my own were foiled for various reasons (one time, I was about to sit off on my own when a couple of people sat near there, so I needed to go somewhere else), and I ended up just taking the next seat on High Table and sitting near people. (I also didn't want any of the staff to set up an extra table setting somewhere for me. They shouldn't have to do extra work for this.) I put my plate down after my brief random walking in the dining hall, and the garlic bread on my plate bounced off onto my chair---spreading tons of crumbs to the chair. Some people were already amused by this. I was rather annoyed by what I had done to my seat, so I put the bread on the plate but I was sufficiently frustrated that I mildly slammed it on there. Unfortunately, this caused garlic bread shrapnel to hit the old lady sitting next to me. (I think this was an Emeritus Fellow of Somerville.) She quietly, casually wiped it off and gave me a look of mild dismissal. The other people nearby tried to give me disdainful looks, but they weren't able to keep the straight faces necessary to do so. I think I was too ashamed to apologize, and my mood definitely didn't help turn my thoughts in such sensible directions. (As you can tell, I feel a bit guilty for not giving the apology and I hope I get a chance to do this reasonably soon.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Legendary status is a combination of personality and circumstance. It's rarely a matter of setting out to achieve such things.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Three Fascinating Articles

I just read three fascinating articles on CNN.com.

The first one discusses tweeting directly using one's brain to form the letters.

The second discusses differences between men and women with respect to sexual orientation being continuous versus discrete. (There are other things in the article too, but this is what I found most interesting.) Apparently, a bunch of studies are suggesting that it seems to be much more of a continuum in women than in men (and also perhaps that it is more common for a woman to experience a change in location over time).

The third discusses the new Star Trek film. (If you haven't gotten the allusion yet, let's just say that this article is fascinating in a somewhat different manner than the other two.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Continuing Saga of Lenny Dykstra

Here is another very long (though fascinating) article about how much of a tool Lenny Dykstra is. The picture being painted certainly isn't a pretty one. For reference, here is Dykstra's wikipedia page. I haven't read it, but it has been flagged as the neutrality being in dispute.

The article to which I link also has my quotes of the day. Here is the relevant snippet:

"He thought he could keep my $500,000 and nobody would have the resources to go after him," Dada says. "But in this case, I am going after him. General surgeons are not intimidated by professional athletes.

"Like I told him, if I can cut somebody from the neck all the way down to the pubis with a scalpel, then I cannot be intimidated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Great Falls Little League to pay fine on behalf of Elijah Dukes

Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes, known for a long history of miscreant behavior, was recently fined $500 and benched for a day for being late 5 minutes for whatever time players were supposed to show up for Saturday's game. Now it turns out that he was late because of volunteer work at the Great Falls Little League, who have now announced that they are going to pay his fine for him. Their official reasoning is as follows:

"The point is, this guy gave back to our community, and now he's in a hard spot. We need to help him," said Jim Mraz, the Great Falls LL president, according to the Post. "It's not a question of whether this guy can afford the 500 bucks. We're just trying to send a message to our kids: He was here for us. Now we've got to be there for him."

You know, I'm with the Little League on this one. Now if Dukes really wants to set the right tone, he should pay the fine for himself anyway and not let the Little League do it. Nevertheless, I think the gesture by the Little League was the appropriate one, as they are sending the right message by saying that they have some accountability too. Amen!

Monday, April 20, 2009

2009 Mathematical Art Exhibition

The American Mathematical Society's website is hosting a 2009 Mathematical Art Exhibition. Take a look at it, as some of the pictures are really cool!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Force is apparently strong in Scotland

According to BBC News, The Force is apparently strong among police officers in Strathclyde, Scotland.

As reported in the article's tagline, Eight police officers serving with Scotland's largest force listed their official religion as Jedi in voluntary diversity forms, it has emerged. (Apparently, Jedi are officially classified as atheists, but I hope I see the day when Jedi is officially considered to be its own religious designation. I also hope to see pastafarianism given such official standing.)

My favorite line in the article comes from Jane's Police Review editor Chris Herbert, who said: "The Force appears to be strong in Strathclyde Police with their Jedi police officers and staff.

I approve!

(Tip of the cap to Jaideep Singh.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Particle collisions for fun and proft

Mini-AIR points out the following awesome article.

Title: The expected frequency of collisions of small meteorites with cars and aircraft

Abstract: The cumulative distribution cf2>Ncf1>(cf2>dcf1>) of diameters of Earth-Crossing Asteroids (ECAs) derived by Poveda et al. (Poveda et al., 1998, submitted) is used to estimate the frequency of collisions of meteoroids with cars and with aircraft. The expected frequency of collisions of a car with a meteorite larger than 10 cm in diameter turns out to be one impact every 16 years. This frequency is consistent with the known incidence of such events (Lewis, 1996).The expected frequency of collisions of a cruising airplane with a meteorite larger than 1 cm in diameter turns out to be one impact every 30 years. Such an impactor hitting an airplane at a velocity of several hundreds of meters per second could cause a serious accident.

Comment: Wow! Now that's what I call "awesome".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Life (and apparently an old schoolmate) imitates Wedding Crashers

One of my old schoolmates from Hawthorne Elementary School and Beverly Hills High School has apparently become very good at crashing Hollywood parties. He is apparently considered a blagger among blaggers.

I suppose I shouldn't reveal his name here, but the name being used in the article above is close enough. I'm sure there's a wikipedia entry in his future, which would make him the 3rd (to my knowledge) member of my Beverly High graduating class to have such an entry.

(Tip of the hat to the subject of the article linked above.)

RIP Harry Kalas (1936-2009) and Mark ("The Bird") Fidrych (1954-2009)

Major League Baseball lost two more members of its family yesterday: long-time Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas and famous one-year wonder Mark ("The Bird") Fidrych.

I listened to Kalas broadcast a few games, and he was quite good. In particular, he was very articulate, which is something that few other broadcasters can claim.

Mark Fidrych is one of those legendary figures that I often heard about as a kid, but I never got to see him pitch during his magical 1976 season. Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski wax poetic about him. One thing that was particularly notable about The Bird was how much fun he was obviously having on the pitching mound. There have been a number of baseball players who reached amazing heights and burned out, but Fidrych seems to have stayed more prominently in the hearts and minds of many fans.

I didn't blog about it, but of course course there was also last week's car accident that claimed the life of Angel rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart. The Angels seem to be terribly unlucky when it comes to such tragedies.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Non-chaotic cycling

New Dodger 2nd baseman Orlando ("O-Dog") Hudson hit for the cycle in today's game, becoming the second LA Dodger (and the first since Wed Parker in 1970) to hit for the cycle. A player is said to "hit for the cycle" in a game when he gets a single, double, triple, and homerun (in any order). There are fewer cycles in Major League history than no hitters, though this achievement is a bit of a curiosity, as of course one would rather have a second double instead of the single that would complete a cycle, etc.

By the way, you should read this book if you want to find out about chaotic cycling.

Extreme Sheepherding

Wow, this video with LED art created by herding sheep is pretty insane. (Tip of the cap to Steve Van Hooser.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

One of the weirdest baseball plays ever

One of the best things about baseball is that no matter how often one follows the game, one can always see something that is fundamentally new. This happened today, as today's Dodger game had one of the weirdest baseball plays I had ever seen. Unless my memory is failing me, I have never seen this in 30 years of following baseball closely.

Here is how it is described in the recap:

The Dodgers tied it at 1 on an unusual play in the second.

Los Angeles had Andre Ethier on third base and Pierre on second with one out when Wolf hit a line drive that was caught by Haren (0-2). He wheeled and threw to Lopez, who tagged Pierre for an apparent inning-ending double play.

Ethier was running on contact, and he crossed the plate before Pierre was tagged out. The Diamondbacks left the field, apparently thinking the run didn't count.

But the umpires said it did -- and by then it was too late for Arizona to appeal that Ethier had failed to tag up.

Wolf was credited with an RBI on the play, which was recorded as a 1-4 double play.

Adding to the confusion, the correct score -- Arizona 1, Los Angeles 1 -- wasn't posted on the scoreboard until the Diamondbacks came to bat in the bottom of the inning.

Note that Ethier did not tag up. Two things had to occur for this scenario to happen: (1) Lopez had to tag Juan Pierre after Ethier crossed the plate, and this happened because he went over to tag Pierre rather than tagging the 2nd base bag; and (2) Arizona was not allowed to appeal the play (namely, Ethier not having properly tagged up before crossing the play) because they had already left the field. Weird.

I'm sure ESPN writer Jayson Stark will have a lot more to say about this play, which Vin Scully (who has been broadcasting baseball games for 60 years) apparently has never seen before either.

By the way, we won.

Update (4/13/09): As Vin Scully mentioned last night and this article reminds me, the mechanism by which the Dodgers got their run is apparently known as "the fourth-out rule" (which is a new term for me). (Tip of the hat to Rob Neyer.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Woody Harrelson mistakes person for zombie

Let's start this report with an "awesome" quote of the day: With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie. (It is the "quite understandably" bit that makes this line priceless.)

Basically, as described in a CNN.com article Harrelson had a small tousle with a guy with a camera. So there's not much to the story, except for the fact that Harrelson was apparently still "in character" from a movie (in which he's pursued by zombies) that he had just finished filming.

Um, can I use this excuse if I assault somebody after playing certain video games? For example: Your Honor, I mistook him for a walking turtle, so I jumped on him and then kicked him into his friends.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pulling Out (from) All the Stops

Here is a really awesome new Mathematical Moment from the American Mathematical Society about a pair of New Yorkers (who are implied to be math students, based on the vignette) who used some graph theory to help them set a new world record (by over 2 hours) for the fastest time to visit all of the stops in New York City's subway system. The thing that I really liked about this was something with which all Techers (and, in a different sense, most scientists) are familiar: The idea of doing something really cool in a collaborative fashion while using some technical expertise as a vital component. It's not just about breaking an old record; it's about how one goes about doing it!

I approve!

RIP Dave Arneson (1947-2009)

Once again the dice are silent, as D & D co-creator Dave Arneson has died of cancer. Co-creator Gary Gygax died in March 2008.

Every time I see a news story like this, I feel like a part of my childhood has died as well.

(Tip of the hat to Vincent Kong.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Fermi, Pasta, Ulam, and the Birth of Experimental Mathematics

The May-June 2009 issue of the magazine American Scientist will include the article, Fermi, Pasta, Ulam and the Birth of Experimental Mathematics, which I coauthored with Norm Zabusky, Bambi Hu, and David Campbell. (I added an extra comma in the title of the blog entry, as I prefer that style. I was not allowed to use it in the article because of the magazine's official style policy.

This article is basically "FPU for Dummies", as it attempts to discuss the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam problem (and the massive amount of exciting work it has spawned; this includes multiple subdisciplines of math and physics!) without using mathematical equations. This is really hard for a subject like this...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Arcane Gazebo recently blogged about a new automated praying service to which one can subscribe. That's what I call "awesome". As AG points out, doesn't this kind of miss the point?

Monday, April 06, 2009

2009 Baseball Predictions

The 2009 baseball season started yesterday with a 4-1 Braves victory over the Phillies. Derek Lowe turned in a stellar performance as the starter, and closer Mike Gonzalez was a little bit less stellar. Also, Brett Myers has the early lead in homeruns allowed. :)

Here are my fearless predictions for 2009:

National League:

East: Mets
Central: Cubs
West: Dodgers
Wild Card: Giants
NL winner: Mets

Of the above predictions, only my Wild Card one departs from most of the pundits. The Giants have an excellent starting staff, and I think that position players Travis Ishikawa and Pablo Sandoval are going to get really good really fast to make up for much of the weakness in the rest of the offense.

MVP: David Wright
Cy Young: Johan Santana
Rookie of the Year: I'm not sure, but I'll say Ishikawa. (Is Sandoval eligible? Doesn't he have too many plate appearances? At least one web site thinks he's a rookie.) I'll mention Cameron Maybin as well, but I'm not convinced he'll be the best rookie, even though he might well have the best career among the rookies.

Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (the manager of the surprise team)
Team on the rise: Giants
Team on the decline: Phillies
First manager fired: Dusty Baker

American League:

East: Yankees
Central: Indians
West: Athletics (after a fierce battle with The The Angels Angels of Anaheim)
Wild Card: Rays
AL winner: Yankees

These predictions are pretty consistent with those of the pundits, though I think most of them have the Angels over the Athletics.

MVP: Evan Longoria
Cy Young: CC Sabathia
Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters (even though he's starting the year in the minors)

Manager of the Year: Bob Geren (the manager of the surprise team)
Team on the rise: Oakland (check out their young starting pitching); honorable mention to Texas because of their young offense (though I just can't trust them to develop any pitching)
Team on the decline: Angels
First manager fired: Ozzie Guillen

World Series: Mets over Yankees in 5 games

One final prediction: As usual, most of my predictions will turn out to be completely wrong by the end of the year.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Play Ball!

Today is opening day for the 2009 baseball season. As has become usual practice, there will only be one game tonight and then things will really get going tomorrow. Tonight's game is between the Braves and the Phillies.

Play ball!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Quote of the Day

Today's quote comes from my father: "The internet is amazing."

By itself, this quote wouldn't be very interesting, but let's consider the context: First, my father is a luddite and is only just discovering the internet. Second, he doesn't go online himself. We were talking about the book "The Ascent of Man" and he wanted me to see how the author's name was spelled so that I'd be more likely to remember the guy's name. (I've heard of the book, of course, but not the author.) He had one of his office secretaries print out a page with the name---I was expecting to see the wikipedia page for the author, but it was actually the IMDB page---and that was when he uttered his comment. Maybe there is some hope after all, but there's another decade or so left to catch up... Anyway, the comment amused me greatly, given the context.

Google's 2009 April Fools joke (and other, much better, ones)

While I appreciate the subject matter of Google's April Fools joke this year, I just don't think their implementation is particularly amusing. Sorry, Google, but you've let me down this year. The idea was good, but this just didn't do it for me.

This year, I was lame and didn't do anything, so it's not like I have any foundation to back up the above comments. :)

Update: On the other hand, Expedia's $99 flights to Mars are a big win. Here is CNN's summary of April Fools jokes. (It would be really awesome if some of the ones they are reporting aren't actually jokes that anyone has pulled.) The Guardian has some fake stories on their website. The one I like best is about their impending conversion to Twitter format. Now that is awesome!

Update 2: Ah yes, and Rob Neyer in his blog has reminded me about the best. April Fools. joke. ever.